The Old Nerd Argument, With A Slight Twist


Had an interesting thought this morning.  Or rather, an interesting train of thought.

I was idly thinking about Thor: The Dark World, wondering which of my friends I would be able to get together for a viewing, when I idly wondered how they were going to make it possible for Jane Foster to slap Loki and have him actually feel it:

Remember, Loki is a runt frost giant.  He survived a beating from the Hulk with no long-term effects.  And a puny human with no combat training just turned his head pretty good there.

That got me thinking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe superheroes and their abilities to hurt and be hurt in general, which led me to thinking about who was the better fighter.

Not “who would win the fight”.  That’s the classical nerd argument I’m referring to, but it’s not really in question here.  We’re not talking about the Justice League here, where each has such extreme superpowers that each is a viable threat to the others, the most powerful member of all is handicapped by a fighting style based on not hurting people, and the one guy with no powers at all knows all the other members’ Achilles’ Heels and has forty-eight backup plans apiece based on them.

Justice League

No, this is The Avengers, and the disparities in power level are just too extreme.  The only one who has any real chance against the Hulk is Thor, and even he would be well-advised to rely on distance attacks.  The others simply have no effective way to hurt him.

The Hulk Invulnerable

Thing is, even though the Hulk would almost certainly Win The Fight, he’s not a “fighter” in any real sense.  He’s a natural disaster on legs.  He uses his beyond-superhuman strength to smash his enemies (and/or the landmasses on which they’re located) and relies on his invulnerability to deal with any counterattacks.  That’s…does that even count as a fighting style?

Of course, this makes perfect sense.  After all, the Hulk is nothing more than a Gamma-powered symptom of Bruce Banner’s Multiple Personality Disorder set free to rampage, and Bruce has no combat training.  Where would the Hulk learn such skills?

So, if the Hulk would Win The Fight, but is actually the worst fighter, what about the rest?

Thor Catches Hammer

Theoretically, Thor should be the best fighter by far.  He’s generally assumed to be older than Loki, who is canonically more than 1,000 years old.  During that time, he’s received the best training that Asgard has to offer, and he’s been fighting whole races of enemies who are (relative to humans) superpowered in their own right.  And indeed, Thor has proven himself more than capable, going toe-to-toe with foes of equal or greater power (both when he was depowered and when he was in the full glory) and overcoming them with centuries of training and practice.

(Though it probably helps that Mjolnir is apparently magical enough to ring even the Hulk’s bell.)

On the other hand, it seems that Thor still suffers from The Hulk Problem.  That is to say, he uses his overwhelming power to solve the problem whenever he can, and only falls back on technique when sheer force isn’t enough.  Of course, that could just be my own ignorance talking.  You can’t do a lot of fencing with a hammer, but that doesn’t mean there’s no technique involved, and boxing and wresting are completely legitimate martial arts – the fact that they look like random brawling when in action doesn’t make them any less so.

And considering who he was brawling against in the last movie, and since we’ve already talked about The Hulk, that brings us to:

Tony Stark

I don’t think there’s much question here.  Take Tony out of his suit, and the only one he has a chance against is Bruce.  Not The Hulk of course – Bruce.

Put him in the suit, and the question gets a bit more blurry.  He’s the best powered-armor pilot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (granted, it’s a narrow field, but he makes the most of it), but does that count as a “fighting style”?  I’d actually say not.  For the most part, he acts as a pilot – flying his vehicle around the enemy and hitting them with distance attacks.  We see him fight in melee combat only a few times, and in those cases we see a few basic punches, tackles, and a head butt – all of which are maximized by clever use of the armor.

The one time we see Tony gearing up for a fight outside the armor, we know that he has little chance, because he’s gearing up to fight:

Because dammit, I liked this costume much better than the one in Avengers

Because dammit, I liked this costume much better than the one in Avengers

Cap is an interesting case.  He’s clearly a very good fighter…but just how good?  What is his training?  What is his technique?   He took part in many Brooklyn street brawls in his youth, but there’s only so much educational value in getting your ass kicked over and over again.  He received WWII-era hand-to-hand combat training when he joined the army, of course, and it seems that that is what he relied on when he finally developed the physical ability to use it properly.  His opponents after that point certainly don’t teach him anything new; most go down with a single hit, and the only foe who can take the punishment he dishes out is a weapons developer who took a prototype of the super-soldier serum.

He does develop some new and interesting techniques for that shield, though.

That finally brings us to the two most skilled fighters in the Avengers:



Either of them would lose against Cap, but again we’re back to a question of power: either of them fighting Cap is like Cap himself fighting Loki: they’re the more skilled, and they would land some good hits, but those hits wouldn’t do any lasting damage, and any counterblows (when they finally started landing, as his serum-enhanced stamina wore them down) would be devastating.  In the end, there could be only one outcome.

Barton and Romanoff have no superpowers whatsoever.  They don’t even have any super weapons – true, theirs are a little souped-up, perhaps even beyond what’s available in the real world, but on a battlefield that contains Mjolnir and the Iron Man armor, they don’t deserve the title of superweapons.  They have only their training and skills, and those are sufficient to make them Avengers.

So which of the two is the better?  Well, the movie conveniently already answered that for us:

I like this fight.  I really do.  It’s brutal.  It’s dirty.  There’s biting and hair-pulling.  Clint wisely pulls a knife at his first opportunity and still gets his head banged against the scenery for his troubles.  These are not two superheroes fighting for Truth, Justice, and The American Way with one hand tied behind their backs, these are two soldiers who need to do whatever they can to win.  Each uses their physical advantages to best effect: once his bow is taken out of the equation (but only then), Clint keeps trying to close, to pin and overwhelm Natasha with his greater bulk.  For her part, Natasha tries to keep the fight moving, so she can maximize her greater agility.  In the end, well, Clint is a sniper, the best in the MCU, but Natasha’s a ninja.

Somebody hit that girl with some Gamma Rays and give her a rematch with The Hulk.  We need to figure out Who Would Win The Fight.



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2 responses to “The Old Nerd Argument, With A Slight Twist

  1. In Marvel canon as I remember it, Cap is one of the best hand-to-hand combatants in the world, possibly the best. That’s before considering powers. The film version hasn’t been thawed out long enough yet to reach that level, but it’s only a matter of time.

    By contrast, DC’s Batman is really, really good at fighting, but he’s far from the best—preparation, gadgetry, and a talent for disengaging when things get too hot make up the difference, and when he’s forced to stand and fight he’s liable to get clobbered. That’s when he detonates the bomb he dropped behind you before the fight and defeats you by being Batman.

    • In Marvel canon as I remember it, Cap is one of the best hand-to-hand combatants in the world, possibly the best. That’s before considering powers. The film version hasn’t been thawed out long enough yet to reach that level, but it’s only a matter of time.

      I honestly hope not, to tell the truth. What’s the point of her being there if she’s not the best at something, and what is she the best at if Steve is the best mortal-level fighter in skill as well as power?

      As for Batman, it’s interesting to compare the role he serves in the Justice League to the one Captain America serves in The Avengers. Batman is a brilliant tactician, and without him, the powerhouses would have a much harder time of things, but he’s not really a leader the way Steve is. He doesn’t have the people skills. It’s almost like Newsies, really – Batman is the brain, and Superman is the voice.

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