During one of the many memorable exchanges in 1986's "Stand by Me," naive Vern muses about a battle between Mighty Mouse and Superman.
Teddy, already hardened at age 12, sets his pal straight: "Mighty Mouse is a cartoon. Superman is a real guy. No way a cartoon could beat up a real guy!"
"Yeah, maybe you're right," Vern responds. "It would be a good fight, though."
Fantasy "What-if" match-ups are a favorite battleground of geeks, a way to establish supremacy of fandom by using their knowledge-built theories to extend the story. But with the revolution in superhero flicks that began in 1978 with the buoyant "Superman," turned dark with "Batman" in 1989 and fully unleashed the Marvel universe in 2002 with "Spider-Man," intramural battles seem an almost logical cinematic next step.
Captain America and Iron Man are set to face-off in May in "Captain America: Civil War," which chronicles an Avengers schism sparked by ideological differences over government regulation of costumed do-gooders. But the Marvel superheroes are getting beaten to the punch by DC's two granddaddies of the comics with "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice," which hits theaters Friday.
Almost lost in the mix is Wonder Woman, who makes her modern-day big screen debut in what's shaping up as spring's first potential blockbuster.
The film has prompted enough hype to fill every theater in Metropolis and Gotham City, thanks, in part, to the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman. But main attraction is the marquee battle, spurred by Batman's concerns over the unchecked powers of the Krypton native, whose wars against bad guys have left a trail of destruction.
Such a fight would have been almost unimaginable in the white-bread DC comic book world of the 1950s, when "Stand by Me" was set. In the 1960s, Marvel's Stan Lee and Jack Kirby upended the superhero game by creating a slate of anti-heroes capable of feats of strength, but with feet of clay.
There are plenty of worthy villains out there, as recently evidenced by the "Avengers" movies. But fighting about ideas that carry real-life consequence represents a more internal – and sophisticated – struggle than mere good vs. evil. We're eons beyond kiddie favorites like Mighty Mouse, who, in an eight-minute cartoon, could save the day.
The upcoming superhero intramural battle movies seem made for times in which ambiguity rules the day, amid constant struggles to balance security and civil liberties. Still, the strongest appeal of the new films likely rests in Vern's observation as he walked the train tracks with his buddies in "Stand By Me": Everybody loves a good fight.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.