So Superman, Archie, and Jesus Walk Into A Bar…

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 16.884% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Yesterday, I held a poll asking which character has had more stories written about them – Archie, Superman, or King Arthur?  This generated a lot of interesting discussion.  But in remembering the conversation, I phrased the question slightly wrong:
Mike did not argue that “Superman has had more stories written about him than any other character.”
Mike argued that “Superman has had more adventures than any other character.”
Now that’s a different kettle of fish.
Then again, once we start unpacking the whole “Who has the most stories written about them?” then we start analyzing what a story is, which makes this a really fascinating question.  Because there are a whole bunch of considerations to Mike’s question that really flavor how it works.  Let’s look at them:
Breadth of Adventure.  
While there are a lot of stories told about Jesus and King Arthur, they tend to be the same stories recycled in only slightly different forms – which makes them going on the same adventure over and over again.
Which is not to say that Superman is immune!  Baby Superman has the same adventure leaving Krypton over and over again, and much the same adventure in meeting Lex Luthor for the first time, and much the same adventure in that one time he had to save Lois after she investigated some angry mobsters.  There’s a lot of recycling in any comic book canon.
By these standards, Archie, lacking an origin story or recurring villains per se, may have even more adventures.  Sure, they’re very similar adventures (who will he date, Betty or Veronica? Uh-oh, he’s in trouble with the Bee again), but they are separate.  Then again, Archie was never turned into a giant golden ape by Red Kryptonite.
Depth of Fandom.
Harry Potter was mentioned repeatedly as something who’s arguably had more adventures, and this is where Archie falls behind.  On, you’ll find hundreds of thousands of Harry Potter stories, lots of Superman stories (mostly Smallville), and pretty much no Archie stories.
People like Archie, but they’re just not invested in the mythology to create their own.  Certain fandoms inspire a lot of mucking around in the universe, and certain fandoms don’t.  Judging by the “self-created” stories, Archie falls far behind on any measure; yes, they can churn out twenty original stories a month, but a good fandom can do that without blinking.
Access To Technology/Length of Fandom.  
…that said, it’s not like King Arthur and the Greek and Roman Gods didn’t have a lot of adventures told about them.  Just not all of them survived.  It’s vital to remember that before Gutenberg created his crazy little press, storytelling was primarily vocal, and not recorded anywhere.  Yes, storytellers often told the “classics,” but I find it hard to believe that kids didn’t tell new stories with the same old heroes over campfires… Some of which, if they became popular enough to survive over the years, made it into the “official” canon, but most of which we never saw.
Tales told over campfires by illiterates don’t last, no matter how brilliantly told they may be.  (And one has to assume that given there often wasn’t much to do but think during the menial tasks of the day, some of that storytelling had to have been fantastically honed.)
Then again, the ancients were never in a space where a) their kids had this much free time, and b) could all be collected into one place where they could read the fanfic of people all over the world, inspiring and egging each other on.
So I’m not sure how much length counts.  We have a much more massive population now, and more communication.  It’s entirely possible that the amount of Harry Potter output actually has overtaken the original tales of the Greek mythos.
What Is A “Story”?  What is an “Adventure”?
Does a one-panel Archie gag count as a story?  What about a coloring book scene, where Superman is putting out a volcano?  What about some Mary Sue story, where the goal is to make Harry fall in love with a thinly-veiled version of the story’s writer?
Clearly, the characters are affected by these moments (even if it’s just “Archie falls prey to wily Jughead’s pun”), but is that a tale?  How’s that work?  Is it an “adventure” when the whole point of the story is that Watson’s cock winds up in Sherlock Holmes’ mouth?
And how far afield does one have to go before a the new details added to a retelling becomes a separate adventure?  If you turn Lex Luthor from a mad scientist into a greedy businessman, is that a new adventure?  Clearly Marion Zimmer Bradley’s take on King Arthur is a different adventure, but is Prince Valiant still King Arthur or has he become something else entirely?  When does it diverge sufficiently to become something new?
How does one delineate?
The Mythos
Superman’s not just Superman – he hangs out with a lot of friends.  So is it a separate story every time he shows up in the Justice League, or hangs around with Batman in a supporting role?  (I’d argue yes, but still.)  Likewise, the Greek and Roman pantheons are always hanging around each other, interfering and getting tangled up.
If you hang with a big pack of friends, you’re going to have more adventures.  Sorry, Jesus.
The Finality
With all that in mind, I’m going to agree with my friend Mike and say that based on the word “adventures,” I will proclaim him correct – Superman has had the most adventures.  But feel free to shill for your guy in the comments and explain why you think X has had more adventures.

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