There are some arguments in geek culture that will never get old. Kirk vs. Picard. Who's the best Doctor in Doctor Who? And, of course, Superman vs. any other superhero worthy of a toe-to-toe fight. Everyone is well-aware of his Batman rivalry, and comic book fans can recall some of the odd times that the Man of Steel has taken on a Marvel character. What would happen, though, if he had to square off against someone like Goku?
For those unaware, Goku is essentially the Japanese pop-culture equivalent of Superman and hails from the Dragon Ball franchise. He's one of the few survivors of now-destroyed planet, was sent to Earth as a baby, and has since grown a deep affection for the world and its people. He's also crazy strong, can fly, and is an exceptional fighter who has saved the world from numerous villains over the years.
Many have undoubtedly theorized hypothetical situations where "Goku vs. Superman" happened, and as someone who has thought about this for the past couple of decades – non-continuously, mostly – I think there are key elements to this match-up that would quickly decide a definitive winner. I've outlined these specific scenarios below, along with further information about both characters, and I can say with great certainty the X-factors that would be responsible for each character's success in a throw-down between the two.
Known to humans as Clark Kent, Superman is the adopted son of Kansas and one of the sole survivors of the Planet Krypton. He stands for truth, justice, and the American way, and while he could very well control much of the world with his immense skill set, it's his morality and immense restraint that often keep him from becoming such a fearsome tyrant. He's saved the world more times than we can count, and we're pretty damn good at counting.
Superman boasts just about every golden-era superhero ability. His strength level is off the charts, and he can fly. He has super-speed, heat vision, x-ray vision, ice breath, and is also able to keep his identity a secret with a pair of glasses and a fumbling-about persona. As far as fighting abilities go, Superman is trained in the Kryptonian fighting arts of Torquasm-Rao and Torquasm-Vo, and his uppercut can knock someone's teeth back up through their eyeballs. He's also learned from the teachings of fellow heroes like Batman and Wonder Woman.
For all the great attributes Superman has, his biggest weakness can sap it all away in a heartbeat. Several different forms of Kryptonite can bring the Man of Steel to his knees, and can even kill him if he's exposed to them long enough. It's a pretty devastating weakness his enemies often utilize, and often the sole trump card at one's disposal if they wish to defeat Superman in the DC universe. Other than blotting out the sun, which has more than a few adverse effects to humankind as well.
Much like Superman, Goku is an alien that was sent to Earth just prior to the destruction of his planet. His life changed in Dragon Ball when he was discovered by Bulma, and he eventually found his way to a Martial Arts master named Master Roshi. Goku trained hard, and over the course of Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super, he has defeated some of the universe's greatest threats even when he initially seemed incapable of doing so.
As of Dragon Ball Super, Goku has a power level that rivals, and even exceeds, some of the Dragon Ball universe's gods. This includes unfathomable speed, as well as a strength that can rattle dimensions. Dragon Ball Z set a precedent that every foe Goku faced had to be vastly stronger than the prior one, so the only option was to continually make the beloved hero stronger until he literally became stronger than a god.
So what kind of weakness does someone as strong as Goku have? He's kind of stupid, for one, and tends to take battles less seriously than he should. He enjoys fighting, and therefore likes to drag things on and test his enemy, as opposed to promptly destroying them. Additionally, his "Ultra Instinct" ability drains an immense amount of stamina, so the otherworldly power can only be tapped for so long. If he doesn't finish the fight in that window, he's out for the count.
Goku vs. Superman
Given both fighters' attributes, now we can get down to figuring out who would win in the Goku vs. Superman fight. To get some logistical issues out of the way, there's no place where these two could have a drag-out battle without destroying most of Earth. Neither one would want that.
As such, they'd have to agree on a neutral uninhabited location that gets light from the yellow sun. That'd likely be Goku's request, too, as he wouldn't want to fight a Superman if he wasn't at full strength. Goku's honorable (and again, kind of stupid) like that, which also means that he'd likely also discourage any Dragon Ball Z cohorts from packing some Kryptonite in the chance that the Man of Steel gets the upper hand.
This essentially evens the playing field between the two, seeing as Goku's weaknesses are far less glaring than Superman's. Plus, it would put them in a position where there would have to be one definitive winner by the time it was all said and done. (This is also known as a writer's nightmare.)
Now, there are places on the internet (like Death Battle!) that have fictionalized this showdown before, though it's notable that a lot of the earlier Goku vs. Superman fight breakdowns were done prior to Dragon Ball Super. As previously mentioned, Goku (and his long-time rival Vegeta) got the strength and speed to take on literal gods in that series, which factors into the discussion pretty heavily.
Even though the peak of Goku's advanced abilities has a time limit, he is still pretty strong in his additional Saiyan evolutions leading up to that. So he's certainly on Superman's strength level now, even if he wasn't quite there yet in Dragonball GT.
Superman still has his vision-based abilities and ice breath, but the world of Dragon Ball has characters frequently using energy-based Ki blasts. If Goku is at a point where he can regularly deflect the latter attacks with no effort, it doesn't seem likely that heat or ice breath will do much more than temporarily distract him. I'd assume the same is true with Superman handling Ki blasts, and that he'd be able to take a standard Kamehameha without problems. So it's going to come down to a slug fest!
If Goku vs. Superman came down to a lick-for-lick brawl, Goku actually has a distinct advantage. He's by far a more experienced technical fighter than Superman, and is able to learn an adversary's style as a fight progresses. He's also got that "Ultra Instinct" ability, which certainly seems like the tactic that would put the Man of Steel down if Goku is able to tap into it. It's certainly not looking good for Superman, is it?
With that said, Superman still has a chance at ending this battle in the early stages. As mentioned, Goku rarely tends to go 100% right out of the gate. Superman could quickly turn up the heat on Goku and catch him off-guard before the Saiyan has a chance to fully power up. If the battle drags on though, it feels like Superman's chances of beating Goku drop with each passing minute.
And The Winner Is...
If we're talking Mastered Ultra Instinct Goku vs Superman, it's hard to justify Supes beating any Goku that isn't the godawful movie version. The Man of Steel's best bet would be to hold on long enough for Goku's stamina to drain, which would be quite a tall order given the Saiyan's immense strength and perfect reflexes in this heightened state. Goku's strength would exceed that of even some of the strongest versions of Superman, provided he could tap into the power, of course.
As mentioned though, there is that small chance Superman could win if he overwhelmed Goku heavily and early in the fight, but that's not usually the Man of Steel's style. Especially in a fight against another good guy, as neither man would be going for a killing blow, given their good nature and understanding that they're both working in the best interest of humanity. But uh, sorry, Superman fans, Goku's whole gimmick is overcoming impossible enemies, so he's not just going to stop now.
Of course, this is a fictional debate, so those who have their own thoughts on Goku vs. Superman are welcome to give their two cents in the comments section. We also have a poll, for those who want an easier way to make their voice heard. In either case, both parties should continue to stick with CinemaBlend for more fictional fight breakdowns like this, and the latest in other news happening in movies and television