Batman vs Superman in the Comics

Batman vs Superman Dark Knight ReturnsUnless you’ve been living under Iraq (quick, what’s the statute of limitations on making puns about Saddam in his hidey-hole?), you’ll know that Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is hitting theatres this weekend, and it seems poised to shatter some records at the box office, to say nothing of its title characters’ bones.

Now, personally, I have pretty much the same reaction to a screening of Zack Snyder’s version of this fight as I do to a dog eating its own poop: Yes, I know it’s happening all over the world this weekend, but I don’t much feel like seeking it out and paying money to watch.

See, to me, the most appealing thing about watching Batman and Superman get into a fight is in seeing the contrast between the two characters. Every time they lock up in the comic books, those differences are always highlighted so that the reader can easily pick a side in the fight (hint: It’s Batman. It’s always Batman).

But in the movie — at least from what I’ve seen of it in the trailers, which is probably all of it, let’s be real — those differences have all but been erased thanks to the efforts of DC/WB to make Superman fit into the world of the Dark Knight.

Instead of the overly-patriotic, relentlessly optimistic “Big Blue Boy Scout,” this film seems to be giving us a militaristic, angsty, tortured soul dressed in a dark costume and forced to scowl for two and a half hours straight. Cracking a smile is this Superman’s Kryptonite.

But if those descriptors sound familiar (militaristic, angsty, tortured, scowl-obsessed), it’s because that’s how you’re supposed to describe The Batman. So where’s the fun in seeing a guy with superpowers fight a guy without superpowers, when that’s almost the only discernible difference between the two?

In the comics, the only reason you’d ever buy the idea of Batman besting Superman in combat is because Superman has to hold himself back. The reason he has to hold himself back is because he isn’t militaristic, angsty, or tortured. He holds himself back because he knows that, if he didn’t, he’d kill Batman just by looking at him (with his heat vision turned on, of course). And the reason he doesn’t want to do that is because he’s a good guy with strong values who stands for truth, justice, and you get the picture.

Batman’s main advantage in the fight (other than having access to the toys that his vast wealth can afford him) is the fact that he knows Superman can take whatever he can give and keep moving forward. Batman leaves nothing withheld when he fights Superman, because he knows he can’t really hurt Superman, not really, and he knows that Superman won’t begrudge Batman too much for trying whatever dirty tricks he can think up. Superman certainly won’t hurt him too badly for those tricks, at any rate.

The movie loses all of that when it depicts Superman as willing to murder.

And so, when Man of Steel was released, you heard a lot of fans crying foul, saying that’s not how Superman is supposed to act; that it’s not being faithful to the source material; that he isn’t supposed to murder people, etc; and you’d be absolutely justified if you tried to dismiss that as nerds complaining about trivial nonsense.

But, in this particular case, you can’t dismiss it. The core, fundamental essence of the Superman character is bungled in Man of Steel, and it throws off the entire dynamic when you start introducing other characters from the DC Universe into the mix — by screwing up Man of Steel’s execution (literally, in this case), you also botch Batman and Wonder Woman and all the other Justice League members before they’ve even appeared onscreen.

A brooding, dark Superman who’s willing to take extreme measures — including murder — to guarantee his victory renders Batman and Wonder Woman completely redundant, for example.

The argument, I think, is that if you make a virtuous, “lawful good” version of Superman, it comes across as outdated and boring. Sure. That’s true. But without it, there’s no moral compass by which to measure everyone else.

Fortunately, this isn’t the first time that Batman and Superman have fought each other, and so there are plenty of instances you can point to where somebody other than Zack Snyder got the storytelling right. And that’s why we’re here today!

Whether you’re new to comics or just want a fun refresher, I’m here to list a handful of times when the two heroes have squared off and it didn’t turn out to be completely stupid (I know, I’m only guessing that the movie’s going to be completely stupid, but, come on, we both know I’m right).

Let’s get to it!

batman vs superman hush

1. The Dark Knight Returns

This is the most obvious one, the one that the movie seems to be most heavily based upon, and it’s also the one with which you guys are probably most familiar.

In this story, set about 30 years in the future, the government has outlawed vigilantism, and so the superheroes of yesteryear are all gone, save one: Superman.

He works as a super-powered war machine, fighting on behalf of the American government. When nukes are launched by the Russians, for example, Superman is there to deflect them and make sure they don’t detonate on American soil.

When Batman comes out of retirement, though, and starts stirring stuff up, it’s not long before the President sends in Superman to neutralize the threat and restore order.

After his repeated warnings to stand down are ignored, Superman reluctantly brings the fight to Gotham, where he’s met by Batman in full combat armor and with a handful of other gadgets (and friends) at his disposal.

It’s pretty flawlessly done, for its time and place, and its impacts on Batman were immediate and long-lasting (this comic popularized the dark, mature tone of Batman that persists to this day). It really emphasizes Batman’s cunning and ingenuity, though it paints Superman as something of a clown.

In the end, Batman beats Superman to a standstill and then fakes his death, a trick that Superman picks up on and subsequently ignores, with a knowing wink to Robin.

WINNER: Batman

2. Batman: Hush

In Hush, Batman faces a new mysterious foe. This foe has intimate knowledge of Batman and Bruce Wayne, and he uses every chance he gets to use that knowledge in order to exploit the Bat’s weaknesses.

Throughout the series, Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery of Villains come at him, one after another, and do their best to bring him down. Of course, none of them are successful, because he’s Batman. Duh.

But a few of them get close. Most notably, Poison Ivy uses her poisoned… ivy… to take over Superman’s mind and command his actions — a common theme in Batman/Superman throw-downs is that Superman is usually under some form of brainwash or mind control.

So when Superman comes after Batman, Batman almost immediately recognizes that he’s under somebody else’s influence. Still, under the influence or not, that’s one massively powerful super-being that needs to be dealt with before he turns Batman into Silly Putty, and Batman doesn’t underestimate him for a second.

His main weapon that he brandishes here is a Kryptonite ring that Superman entrusted him with prior to Poison Ivy’s mind-control. See, at this point, the two heroes are also friends, and Superman trusts Batman more than anybody else to deliver the knock-out blow if he ever has it coming.

The most famous moment in this battle is when Batman takes a crack at Superman’s jaw (whilst wearing the aforementioned Kryptonite ring), and he’s explaining (in narration) why he’s not in any real danger when he fights Superman. He points out that the big difference between the two characters is that, deep down, Superman is a good person. And, deep down, Batman isn’t.

POW! Right in the kisser!

Eventually, Batman runs out of maneuvering room, and just when Superman is about to crush him into nothingness, Catwoman steps in and throws Lois Lane off the top of a building (Jeph Loeb’s writing is nothing if not subtle).

Superman’s protective instincts kick in, the mind control spell is broken, and the two BFFs join forces to bring in Poison Ivy.

WINNER: Superman, until outside interference costs him the victory

3. Superman: Red Son

What if Superman’s rocket crashed in Soviet Russia instead of Kansas?

That’s the central conceit behind this Elseworlds story. It’s not quite as simple as that makes it sound, but there’s your logline, in any case.

Of course, as you’d probably guess if you’ve ever seen anything about the Cold War as told by America, Superman is a bad guy in the Soviet Union. He’s a pawn of the government’s ruling class, helping to oppress people and keep order on behalf of those rotten commie rats.

Batman, on the other hand, represents the proletariat, and he joins forces with Lex Luthor and the KGB to hatch an elaborate plan to bring Superman to his knees: Batman has created a red sun machine, which emulates Krypton’s red sun and takes away Superman’s powers.

The plan works as it should until Superman convinces Wonder Woman (who Batman uses as bait to attract Superman to the machine in the first place) to break free of her bondage and rescue him.

She does, and he is.

Batman then realizes what’s coming next, and so he opts for martyrdom rather than being arrested by Superman. He commits suicide by exploding a small device he’s implanted next to his heart.

WINNER: Batman, until outside interference costs him the victory

4. Superman: Sacrifice

This series took place in the lead up to Infinite Crisis, when OMACs were running wild and Maxwell Lord had taken control of Checkmate.

Using his mind-manipulation powers, Max, the former leader of the Justice League International, commands Superman to protect his planet from the worst of his supervillain arch-enemies. When Darkseid shows up, Superman pulls out all of the stops, knowing that the hardest he can punch will barely make a dent in the all-powerful leader of Apokolips.

Except that Darkseid is actually Batman.

In a surprise twist that would later be made even more famous in Old Man Logan, Superman is led to believe that his best friends and Justice League teammates are actually his greatest foes, and so he accidentally pummels Batman within an inch of his life.

Their fight is short and altogether unremarkable. It’s what happens when Superman and Batman fight and Superman’s not afraid of killing. It’s what should happen in the movie this weekend, thanks to the way Superman is portrayed in Man of Steel.

Eventually, Superman turns his attention to Wonder Woman, and, as I mentioned, she’s not afraid of making difficult sacrifices (hey, that’s the title of the story!), so she snaps Maxwell Lord’s stack-of-dimes he calls a neck, and the day is saved.

WINNER: Superman

There you have it, America!

Four different stories, four different outcomes. And I’d be willing to bet real money that every single one of them is more entertaining than Zack Snyder’s take on the fight.

Of course, for the best version of Batman fighting Superman, go watch World’s Finest, by the creative team that brought us Batman and Superman: The Animated Serieseses.

In it, the two don’t come at each other as enemies that need to settle their beef with their fists. They come across more like two competing Alpha Males who use their own methods to constantly try to one-up one another.

Here’s a clip of them each figuring out the others’ secret identity:

That’s all for now. Comment below if you want to share your favorite Batman versus Superman fights. There are tons to choose from.

Thanks for reading!

batman versus superman