WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Batman/Superman #2 by Joshua Williamson, David Marquez, Alejandro Sanchez and John J. Hill, in stores now.
Who would win in a fight, Superman or Shazam? It's a question comic book fans have been asking for decades, but DC Comics has yet to give us a definitive answer. If you look back at their previous altercations, there is always an interruption in the fighting. There is always some extenuating circumstance to explain why one hero beat the other.
It's hard to say for sure who has the edge in terms of raw power. Maybe Superman is the stronger fighter, but Shazam is powered by magic, which the Man of Steel is vulnerable to. But given the history these two share, one thing has become incredibly clear. In a fair fight, Superman cannot beat Shazam, and Batman/Superman #2 proves it.
EARTH'S MIGHTIEST NIGHTMARE, UNLEASHED
The Batman Who Laughs has infected six heroes and turned them into his own sleeper agents. Superman and Batman are on the trail to find these agents of the Dark Multiverse, but their first opponent proves to be a formidable one. Shazam has been transformed into the Earth's Mightiest Nightmare, and Superman can't compete.
A fight breaks out with the World's Finest duo taking on this evil version of Shazam, but things don't go so well for the heroes. Superman is tricked into believing Billy Batson is still somehow free of the Dark Multiverse influence that his stronger alter ego has been consumed by. However, it's all a lie and Billy uses this moment to overpower the Man of Steel.
Superman is very nearly infected by Shazam but is saved at the last minute by Batman ramming a Batplane into the enemy. The fight then quickly ends when Billy flees and the Man of Steel is forced to break off and save his teammate. While the heroes manage to survive, Superman makes it clear they were defeated.
In the end, the battle between these two powerhouses doesn't last very long, but it does prove to be decisive. Superman confesses why he was unable to fight Shazam, and it becomes clear why we have yet to see a definitive victory between these two.
THE MAN OF STEEL'S GREATEST WEAKNESS
Only ever able to see the mission in front of him, Batman is pissed that the Man of Steel let the enemy get away, but Superman is more human than that. "Underneath that darkness, I knew he was still Billy Batson," he admits. "So I held back. I had to. He's just a kid." At this moment, a man who can move planets with his bare hands admits that children are his greatest weakness.
This one dejected moment of defeat reveals why he can never hope to defeat Shazam, no matter the circumstances. Superman may be referring to his confrontation with a possessed child, but this is bigger than the Batman Who Laughs' plot. Underneath everything, Superman is a father, and he cannot harm a child. He will always hold back on some level when he fights Shazam.
He clearly has the power to defeat Billy Batson, as seen in Kingdom Come, but Shazam was a grown man by that point. There was nothing holding him back anymore. Think back to all the other major conflicts between Superman and Shazam, and how those battles were decided.
Their fight in Justice League of America #137 came to an end when Billy Batson forced an out of control Superman to save him from a deadly fall. In "Public Enemies," the Man of Steel and the World's Mightiest Mortal are too evenly matched, so he switches opponents with Batman.
You might think that Superman decisively defeated Shazam in the Justice League Unlimited episode, "Clash," but he's clearly driven into paranoia by Lex Luthor. If he can think past his aversion to fighting a child, the battle can be won, but it will take a lot of psychological manipulation first.
SO... WHO WOULD WIN IN A FIGHT?
Has the question finally been answered? We have seen Superman defeat a weakened Shazam in All-New Collectors Edition #58, while Shazam has previously knocked out Superman during Grant Morrison's run on JLA. But Superman's admission in Batman/Superman #2 changes everything.
We like to think of Superman and Shazam as evenly matched, but the two can never really face one another on an even playing field. Billy Batson is a child, while Clark Kent is a grown man. As a protector of the innocent, Superman will always have a problem fighting a child, and that's a massive advantage Shazam has over him.
Add in the fact that Superman is weak against Billy's magic, and it's hard to see how the Man of Steel could ever hope to defeat the World's Mightiest Mortal. Now add possession on top of all this, and Superman will be in trouble for the rematch. Let's hope he can get over his one true weakness before things go really bad.