The worlds of scientific research and superhero comics rarely overlap, but when they do, the results can be pretty, pretty awesome. The latest blast of superhero-related science informs us that Superman is the greatest superhero, and Batman is the worst superhero. That’s according to researchers from the University of Leicester in the UK.
The findings stem from a series of papers published over the last several years in the Journal of Physics Special Topics and the Journal of Interdisciplinary Science Topics on studies that scrutinized many heroes hailing from both the Marvel and DC universes.
The overall conclusion: Superman is the “best equipped to fight and prevail against his enemies.” The researchers went over all of his abilities and determined exactly what kinds of physical characteristics the Man of Steel would need to possess in order for his powers to work.
For example, one paper looks at Superman’s ability to reverse the polarity of the Earth’s spin, as he does in the 1978 film:
“In order to achieve the feat of completely reversing the polarity of the spin, Superman had to increase his mass 13.7 million times by travelling extremely close to the speed of light. And whilst there is no danger of the moon being significantly affected by Superman, near Earth objects will however be pulled towards the Earth.”
“In conclusion, Superman’s act would not only have set near Earth objects, such as asteroids that happen to be near close to Earth due to their orbit around the sun, on a course for Earth but the changes in atmo- spheric pressure and wind speed due the wind speed still travelling at the speed before rotation change (twice the angular velocity of Earth) will most likely cause extinction. So spread the word: Do not try this at home.
Because Batman does not possess any supernatural powers, the only thing the researchers could really evaluate was his ability to glide down from a high elevation using his cape — which allegedly slows him down and gives the ability to sort of glide.
“Looking at the case for gliding from a fairly tall building of height 150 m, Batman can glide to a distance of about 350 m, which is reasonable; the problem with the glide lies in his velocity as he reaches ground level. The velocity rises rapidly to a maximum of a little over 110km/hr before steadying to a constant speed of around 80 km/hr. At these high speeds any impact would likely be fatal if not severely damaging (consider impact with a car travelling at these speeds)…Clearly gliding using a batcape is not a safe way to travel, unless a method to rapidly slow down is used such as a parachute.”
Of course, nerds will be nerds — meaning they’re going to disagree, and get loud about it. James Kakalios, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota and author of The Physics of Superheroes, told The Guardian the students failed to take into account Batmans biggest strength: his intellect. “Batman always has a plan, and with enough time and resources, he has demonstrated an ability to singlehandedly take down every member of the Justice League,” he said.
But disagreements will never disappear from the world of comic book superheroes. The timeless question of whether Batman or Superman is better couldn’t even be solved by the $250 million tire fire that was Batman v Superman. It doesn’t look like even science can put this question to rest.