Superman has always been a battle for hope – Chris Claremont
The noted and award-winning author Arthur C. Clarke once said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and as the superpowered beings that populate the DC Universe were gifted their powers through science or the arcane arts, Clarke’s sentiment would appear to be a governing law of that four-color universe.
But as true as it is, the schism that separates both is still very real, and the powers that science and magic bestow upon their champions are often incredibly different.
Following this thought to its natural conclusion forced us to reconsider what we knew about the capes and masks that fill the pages of our favorite books and make sure that we return to our local comic book store every single Wednesday to get our latest fix of superpowered action.
Why are magically powered and science-based superheroes so different, and which side of the superpowered coin is more powerful?
The more we thought about it, the more obvious the answer to our question became.
The only way to find out whether magic or science rules the superhero roost was to pit the greatest champions from each camp against each other, which inevitably led us to ask the question that has, at some point, captured the imagination of every four-color fanatic in fandom.
Is Superman stronger than Shazam, and if they did lock horns who would win?
The War Of The Gods
Superman’s origin story has become part of mainstream American mythology.
The last member of a doomed race sent to Earth to protect humanity from itself and the multitude of cosmic horrors eager to prey on it, Clark Kent epitomizes everything that a superhero should, and could be and is the ideal that every other masked hero who has followed in his wake aspires to live up to, and be.
He is, for all intents and purposes, a superpowered god.
While we’re on the subject of gods, Billy Batson, the mortal alter-ego of Shazam, literally embodies the power of the deities, kings, and heroes of mythology and legend.
Given the combined powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury after a fortuitous (or unfortunate, depending on your point of view) encounter with a magical subway car and a mysterious wizard, and able to summon them at will by uttering a single word, like Superman, Shazam is essentially a god.
Albeit one that relies on magic rather than the laws of physics and principles of science that govern the universe.
While they’re dependent on the different sides of the same superpowered coin for their powers, and as far as the majority of fandom is concerned, they’re pretty evenly matched.
So if these godlike beings did face off against each other, which of the long-standing caped mainstays (Superman having made his comic book debut in 1938, and Shazam following a year later under his original name, Captain Marvel, in 1939) would emerge as the victor?
It isn’t quite as difficult to predict a winner as you might think it is, as these superpowered titans have actually fought before, and every single time they have clashed, the winner has always been the same.
And to help guide you to the inevitable conclusion and answer the question that we posed earlier, we’re going to take a look at a couple of their more (in)famous confrontations.
In Alex Ross and Mark Waid’s groundbreaking mini-series about the nature of power and the way the public responds to it, Superman is forced to fight Shazam after the latter falls under the control of Lex Luthor.
It’s a battle for ages with each hero giving his all and refusing to quit, and it seems for a while at least, that Shazam has the upper hand, by taking advantage of Superman’s susceptibility to magic.
In the final moments of the fight, Superman manages to use Shazam’s lightning bolts against him to make him revert to his human form, which essentially renders him defenseless, making Superman the clear, and decisive victor.
We aren’t permitted the luxury of finding out what might have happened, had the fight lasted any longer as Superman’s triumph is brought to a premature climax by the threat of a nuclear strike that Shazam sacrifices himself to prevent.
It’s an enthralling and speculative showdown that helps to draw the curtain on this sublime story.
Justice League Unlimited
Shazam and Superman haven’t just fought in the pages of comics, they’ve also gone head to head in cartoons, and in the Justice League Unlimited episode Clash, they’re forced to fight each other at the behest of Lex Luthor, who again has managed to find a way to make Shazam (who in the cartoon goes by his previous name Captain Marvel for some reason – it’s a little confusing but we assume that it had something to do with copyright issues) his puppet, and uses him to strike at his greatest enemy, Superman.
The battle pretty much follows the same blueprint as Ross and Waid’s did, with Shazam initially taking control and exploiting Superman’s magical weakness, before the Man Of Steel turns the tables.
He uses Shazam’s lightning bolts against him which causes him to revert to his mortal form and silences him to prevent Billy from being able to shout “Shazam!” and assume his (not so) secret identity in order to carry on fighting.
The Superman vs Shazam Conclusion
Despite Superman’s vulnerability to magic, in two of their most epic encounters, Superman has managed to defeat Shazam.
The two victories aren’t exactly inconsequential and while there are bound to be naysayers and haters who will disagree with our inevitable conclusion, the facts, and the established canon speak for themselves.
They may be evenly matched on a purely physical level, with neither being stronger than the other, but every time Shazam and Superman have found themselves on the opposing sides of any conflict, the Man of Steel has always beaten the champion of magic.
Will the outcome always be the same? Who knows? Only time will tell.