Let’s be clear: ethically, when heroes fight heroes, nobody wins (other than the comic industry).
I often find myself on the least popular end of a binary debate. I’m not a contrarian by nature, nor am I someone who revels in being “that guy.” I often try to see things from multiple points of view, yet I still tend to fall on the side underdog. Consumers have been susceptible to this plot device ever sense a shepherd boy took down a giant with a bit of string and a stone. In fact, most Hollywood narratives seem to boil down to this conflict. We all know who to root for because of this shtick, whether it’s a bobsled team, a slum dog, or multimillionaire emotionally unstable narcissist with commitment issues who likes to play dress up.
When it comes to Superman versus Batman, we all know Superman is Goliath and Batman is David. That’s why nine out of ten people pick Batman to win in a fight. We are trained to think that way. Countless meme’s attest to this group-think. Countless comic fans will lift up their limp, broken hero and declare victory. It is, after all, what the masses want and what we are a constantly given.
But is it? Does Batman always win?
One of my favorite series of comics is Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo's “Lex Luthor: Man of Steel.” Azzarello creates a story that is focused on Superman without actually having him appear in much of the series. In fact, Superman only says two sentences the entire run (though Clark Kent gets in few one-liners too). The story is about the lengths that Lex will go to undermine Superman. Part of that involves Lex Luthor convincing Bruce Wayne that Superman is a threat to humanity. Lex gives Bruce some Kryptonite with the subtle suggestion that Batman takes down Superman for the greater good. We never see Bruce actively agree to Lex’s plan, but he takes the rock and we see the Dark Knight holding it on a rooftop.
What happens next can be only described as the shortest, most one-sided fight in the history of comics. Superman blows the Kryptonite out of Batman’s hand and knocking the Caped Crusader from his perch. Batman hangs from a stone gargoyle and tries to use the bat-claw to grapple the alien rock. Superman catches the claw and takes Batman into the sky before letting him drop to the street below. Tumbling, Gotham’s Master Detective casts out his bat-rope to snare another stone gargoyle. Superman slices through the stone with his heat vision. Hitting the ground less gracefully than he is used to, Batman lifts his eyes to see the burning embers of an angry god hover above him. A fist descends towards the cowl of vigilante, and the readers see the noticeable flinch upon his face. Instead of punching through his friends skull, Superman uses his x-ray vision to see the box that contained the present from Lex. He reaches into Batman’s utility belt, pulls it out, crushes it before his eyes, then flies away.
This is exactly how it should happen. Batman is so far out of his league that he knows he is at Superman’s mercy. He should be saying, “but for the grace of Kal-El go I.” Yet for some reason this isn’t how it plays out in most Batman/Superman fights. Most of the time Batman wins, right? Well, what does “winning” look like?
Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s greatest contribution to the Batman mythos is Hush. The rebirth of Jason Todd has had lasting implications upon the Bat-Family to this day. It is sometimes easy to forget that buried in this remarkable story arc is a battle between Batman and a Poison Ivy controlled Superman. If you haven’t read Hush, stop reading my dribble and order it (I prefer the “unwrapped” version with all of Jim Lee’s notes in the margins). I won’t spoil the plot but the battle goes down like this:
Poison Ivy has slipped Superman a lipstick mickey, and basically tells him to kill Batman and Catwoman. Batman’s first move is to run, TO RUN, because he knows he can’t beat Superman. He and Catwoman hide in the Lex Corp crafted, lead lined tunnels under the city. Superman is predictable, even when mind controlled, so he has to use that to his advantage. Even with the Kryptonite ring that Superman gave him, Batman is no match for him. Batman has placed himself under the Daily Planet, in the heart of Metropolis, putting thousands of people at risk. His ace in the hole is sending Catwoman to grab Superman’s wife and drop her from the top of the Daily Planet. This causes Superman to breakout of Ivy’s hold and save Lois before she hits the pavement.
To exemplify Batman’s thinking, Loeb gives us some of the most iconic lines ever thought by a character: “If Clark wanted to, he could use his super speed and squish me into the cement. But I know how he thinks. Even more than the Kryptonite, he’s got one big weakness. Deep down, Clark is essentially a good person… and deep down, I am not.”
This is essentially “winning” for Batman. In almost all the instances in modern comics, when Batman trades blow for blow with Superman, it is the goodness of Superman that he exploits in order to save himself, prove a point, or press an agenda. Most of the time Batman ends up so utterly beaten by the exchange that it will take weeks for Pennysworth to stitch him back up, while Superman just has to lay on the beach for a half hour thinking pure thoughts.
Some may say that Batman is smarter than Superman. To those I say, you need to read more Superman mythos. He’s one of the most brilliant scientists on Earth and has the technological advantage of a Krpytonian pedigree (see All Star Superman or Superman: Earth 1 for reference).
This is my crux of my argument. Superman, as we all know, is vastly more righteous than Batman. Superman, as we all know, is vastly more powerful than Batman. Superman, as most people should know, is more intelligent than Batman. Therefore, Superman is greater (in every respect) than Batman. He only loses to the Dark Knight because he either chooses to, or is too good to do that which Batman is willing to do.
Let the hate mail flow.