Superman vs. Batman.
It’s one of popular culture’s more contentious debates — right up there with Big Mac/Whopper, Beatles/Stones and, of course, Ginger/Maryann — those definitive lines that, as followers of all things shallow, frivolous and otherwise trivial, cleave our collective ideology and separate Us from Them.
In this particular case, the real difference is one of motivation: Superman uses his powers to help people in danger (altruism); Batman’s raison d’etre is to give criminals what they deserve (revenge).
In recent years, Hollywood has done its part to tip the public scales in Batman’s favor, targeting our unfortunate capacity for human compassion with sympathetic portrayals of everyone’s favorite sociopath. Handsome leading men have updated the Dark Knight’s image, doing battle with deranged-yet-fabulous-looking supervillians in the tastefully lit alleys of ever-corrupt Gotham City. It all takes place (deliberately, of course) somewhere in the shadowy grey area between your own neighborhood and Superman’s day-glo Metropolis, which makes Batman just that much easier for us to relate to.
But what’s the real issue here? Which guy you can identify with, or which one’s the better superhero? Before you go pledging your undying devotion to the Caped Crusader, riddle me this, Batfans: Who would you want coming to your rescue?
First off, let’s get one thing straight. Superman is a genetically superior being from a distant planet whose powers aren’t even in the realm of Batman’s comprehension. Superman can fly; he has heat-vision, x-ray vision, microscopic vision and telescopic vision; he has super-human speed (“faster than a speeding bullet”), strength (“more powerful than a locomotive”) and hearing, not to mention an amazing resistance to hat-head. Batman, on the other hand, is a filthy-rich, earthbound Homo sapiens who could, I suppose, go up against a locomotive, but would probably come out of it looking something like Steve Buscemi’s character in “Fargo,” about halfway through being fed into that chipper-shredder.
Let’s look at a few hypothetical situations:
- Our hero is stranded alone on a deserted island. Superman flies home. Batman rings up the Batcave on the Batpager (better hope there’s not an emergency while Galaxy IV is out of commission) and waits several hours for Alfred to send a Batboat.
- Our hero is uniform-less, say, gettin’ busy with Gwyneth Paltrow or something, when he’s suddenly attacked by his arch-enemy. Superman grabs Lex Luthor and spins him around so fast, his flesh rips off his bones from the centrifugal force. Batman is screwed, because his Batstuff is scattered on the floor next to his wadded-up bullet-proof cape and cowl; the Joker cracks, “So is that a heat-seeking Bat-missile, or are you just happy to see me?!” (Cue maniacal laughter.)
- Our hero ties one on in Vegas and loses his entire fortune in a round of Guts. Superman returns to the Fortress of Solitude, sleeps it off and, nourished by the Earth’s yellow sun, continues fighting crime. A dazed, drooling Batman is pulled from the fountain in front of Caesar’s and, after failing to convince anyone of his situation (“No, really, I’m a superhero!”), spends the next few years reminiscing with Two Face in Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane.
- Our hero is exposed to a nuclear blast, then shoots heroin with a used needle. Superman withstands the blast and is immune to disease. Batman’s radiation-proof cape helps deflect some of the damage, but in his weakened condition a virus finishes him off.
Basically, Superman can do everything Batman does and more, only without the expensive gadgets. Utility belt? He don’t need no stinking utility belt!
In addition to his physical superiority, Superman’s a pretty centered dude. Batman, of course, is a lunatic. Here’s a not-so-unlikely conversation between the two:
Superman: “Hey, Batman. How’s it going?”
Batman: “Oh, man, I’m freaking out. My parents were gunned down in an alley and it’s making me feel all crazy and stuff. It’s all just so unfair, I feel like I’ve gotta go put on some tights and beat criminals up.”
Superman: “Your parents were killed in an alley? Gee, that’s sad. My whole freakin’ planet blew up. Now quit yer whining or I’ll burn your skull off.”
What with Batman’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, you never know what’s going to push him over the edge. He could end up behind someone with 11 items in the express lane and, next thing you know, he’s a subway freak with a sharpened screwdriver looking to get his name in the paper.
Superman, on the other hand, can cope like nobody’s business. Just in the last few years, he’s been stripped of his powers, killed, resurrected, engaged, dumped, engaged again, married and put in touch with his inner child. Besides, even if he went off his nut one day and committed a Super faux pas, he’s always got the evil twin thing going for him. For example, he might be feeling particularly displaced (“It’s a human thing, Superman, you wouldn’t understand”) and “forget” to put the earth back on its regularly scheduled course after moving it out of the way of an oncoming comet, thereby sending it on a collision course with the sun. All he has to say is, “Hey, it wasn’t me. Bizarro Superman did it.” (Could really come in handy when you forget to put the seat down, eh?) But, of course, Superman would never do such a thing because of his …
Superman grew up on a farm in Smallville, Kan., makes a meager living (along with his wife) as a mild-mannered news reporter and, as a stranger in a strange land, tries his hardest to fit in. He’s a family man who knows the meaning of hard work and the value of a dollar. Batman is a capitalist dog who exploits the working class to build his crimefighting toys.
The way Superman chooses to utilize his powers shows a far greater scope than Batman’s. Superman selflessly defends the entire globe against evil. (After all, he could pretty easily take over the planet if he wanted to.) Meanwhile, Batman skulks dramatically around Gotham City, cultivating intrigue, hoarding gadgets (You can almost hear him shrieking, “No, Robin! That’s my pot pie!”) and promoting his own cause under the banner of “justice.” I mean, if he’s so powerful and concentrates his efforts on just one city, why is it so hopelessly crime-infested?
And, I’m sorry, but you have to wonder about the motivation of a grown man who keeps a teenage boy (the current Robin is 14 or 15) around his cave, dressed in tight shorts, a mask and little booties. (You think the Bat-browser has the Hanson Web site bookmarked?) Humbert Humbert, move over — Jerry Springer would kill for this kind of deviance.
When there’s trouble, Superman is there!
Or: When there’s trouble, you gotta go up to the roof, fire up the Bat-signal, and wait.
Heck, even if Superman isn’t there, he can always reverse time (at least, according to the movie) and have another go at it. (“Do over!”) Even Batman couldn’t bankroll that trick.
If you’re still not convinced, here are sundry other reasons the Man of Steel (or Man of Energy, these days) is numero uno:
Superman was kicking Nazi butt in “dubbya-dubbya-too” while Batman was still a silver-spoon-fed mama’s boy.
Future Batman is nothing more than an old cripple who rules Gotham City with an army of Bat-Robots, while Future Superman is retired and gettin’ it on with Future Wonder Woman (See “Kingdom Come,” issues 1-4).
Superman has Krypto, the last dog from planet Krypton. Batman has Bat-Mite.
Jim Croce didn’t write “You don’t tug on Batman’s cape.”
Superman: Budweiser, “Exile on Main Street,” and Old Spice. Batman: Merlot, “Dark Side of the Moon,” and Drakkar Noir.