If you live in the western world – which I’m assuming you do if you were linked to this article – then you have no doubt seen a poster, billboard, TV commercial or a frickin’ cereal box asking you the question, “Who will win, Batman or Superman?” These promotions refer to the upcoming DC film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, in which audiences will witness “the greatest gladiator match in the history of the world” between the titular characters. Audience anticipation is sky high, and rightfully so!
This is not a comics-educated list of the “Top 10 ways Batman has beaten Superman” or some such overshared clickbait. I know a thing or two about comics – which I’ll touch on – but my argument here is more about common sense, characters and basic storytelling. Through growing up in the USA, and loving both characters: Batman and Superman in very different ways, it is not only my opinion that Batman will take the cake in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but that he just needs to.
I have to start with the video that prompted me to write this spiel. IGN, a website which I very much respect and admire, posted a particular video called: “I’ve Got Issues: Superman Would Beat Batman In, Like, A Second.” The video introduces a hypothetical grudge match between the two heroes, explaining:
“For our fair-fight scenario, the two are in prime health, they have their standard costumes on, and they are standing 20 yards apart in the middle of a desert with no civilians, or super-villains around to interfere. The bell sounds, and the fight to the death begins. And … Superman is the winner!”
The most intellectual response I can come up with to this is just: “duh!” Of course Superman would win in a cage match. That’s the point of Superman — he’s the strongest. The best. I don’t know a single person, adult or child, that isn’t aware of Superman being all-powerful – overpowered even. He is faster than a speeding bullet, able to shoot lasers out of his eyes, freeze oceans with his breath, reverse time by flying around the planet at light-speed. In Superman IV, he can even build walls with his eyes. Yes. His eyes. Need I go on?
So that’s Superman. What, then, can even come close to a challenge for him? Only like two things, Doomsday and cholesterol. If you didn’t know, Doomsday is a giant hulking alien designed to conquer planets. In ’90s comics, he kills Superman. That’s why he was invented: to beat Kal-El once. As for cholesterol, we all remember Jonathan Kent dying of a heart attack in the 1978 Superman.
The point of Pa Kent’s death, and a major theme running through that movie is that sometimes Superman can’t save everybody. Even a being with god-like powers can’t ward off the slow march to death that is a lower-class American Kansas diet.
Kal-El’s struggle is not: “will I be able to punch my way out of this?” Unless he’s fighting Doomsday, Superman simply grapples with the mortality of the humans around him.
And now we come to Batman. Many internet voices have asked; why does this petty human deserve to share the screen with a god? To list a few reasons: Bruce Wayne is a genius billionaire detective who doubles as a vigilante and a kick-ass costume designer. He didn’t start that way, however!
We all know Batman’s origin story by this point: dead parents, desire for revenge, intense willpower, physical fitness, lots of money, then finally: The Batman.
Every step in Bruce Wayne’s journey is traceable, understandable and frankly, do-able. There are no vague superpowers, other planets, and Messiah-like motivations to distance the audience further from the hero. Superman is Jesus. Batman could be you and me. That point is driven home quite directly in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, as Bruce Wayne tells Joseph Gordon Levitt’s John Blake, “The idea was to become a symbol. Batman could be anybody, and that’s the point.”
Batman is relatable. Look no further than Batman Begins (2005), heavily inspired by Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One to see a Bruce Wayne that fights his way through the very-human process of grieving; instead of wasting his life in perpetual rage over his parents’ murder, he decides to channel it. He acknowledges his greatest fear: ironically, bats, and uses it as a weapon against the criminal underworld.
With our two competitors side by side, who then, would win in a battle of sympathy? If every person in America cast a vote on who they most identify with, who’s their favorite, who would win, Batman or Superman?
It should be no surprise: it’s Batman! Batman has one of the most avid fan bases in the world. He has been adapted into everything from a campy ’60s TV show to crime sagas in comic form. Various incarnations of the Batman character are not only more numerous than those featuring Superman, but they are also better-selling, more critically-acclaimed and infinitely more marketable.
Let’s rewind to 2013 … Man of Steel releases in theaters, and features a version of Superman very much in line with the bleak tone established by Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. This tells me one thing: the producers, writers and director were not confident in Superman’s ability to charm audiences with his jerry-curl, alien powers and can-do American attitude alone. They were trying to inject a little more “Batman-flavor” into a Superman story.
The film started in production as a Man of Steel sequel, but it changed. Quickly. The writers have said that they started “peppering Batman into the story” until he reached the level of straight-up protagonist. Taking a look at the BVS Comic-Con trailer, it’s clear that Batman is the hero we should root for.
We see the damage that Superman caused to Metropolis in Man of Steel. His battle with Zod looked so epic in that film! But in Batman v Superman, we are now asked to see the other side. The human side. Like the heroic acts of firefighters during 9/11, we see Bruce charge into the cloud of debris as everyone else runs away. The next shot sees him comforting a young girl, whose parents presumably died in the collapse of the Wayne building.
The following trailers center on the bad-assery of the Batman as well. In the final trailer, we see Superman try to punch Batman in the face, only to be blocked by his arm. Electric guitar kicks in. It’s awesome, but how did Bruce match Supes’ strength? I’m guessing a kryptonite infused metal suit. Superman can be crippled by kryptonite, as well as high pitched frequencies and the red sun radiation (from his native solar system).
The “how” isn’t the point though; the point is the look on Superman’s face. It’s a look of fear, panic, anger and, for the first time in Kal-El’s superhuman life, humility.
This, and everything I’ve mentioned, is why Batman will beat Superman. Superman is not the audience, Batman is, and at the end of the day, we buy the tickets. We are going to want a satisfying ending, which in this case means a victory for Batman. Imagine walking out of the theater after having seen Batman killed by one flick of Superman’s finger. The credits would roll and we’d be pretty pissed!
We don’t want Batman destroying Superman, mind you. We like Superman! Superman’s point of view is completely in the “right” – he should be able to serve the Earth as a super powered guardian, because Metropolis’ destruction wasn’t his fault. He was saving the Earth from Zod, and still learning his own powers. Batman is wrong about him.
But Batman needs to win. If only just once, because a victory for Bruce Wayne is a victory for the human spirit. His ability to beat Superman is contingent on his genius intellect and careful execution of a well-thought out plan. Superman himself has called Batman “the most dangerous man on Earth” in the comics. Batman is the best that humanity has to offer, so you damn well better hope and expect him to put up a fight in BVS!
We’re hot off a trilogy of very good Batman films that successfully made audiences love the character. I would argue that in many ways, Batman represents the American dream to us. He shows us that with hard work and determination, anything is possible, even dressing up like a cave-dwelling mammal and scaring criminal’s half to death.
Batman v Superman is almost here and Justice League will come shortly after. With powerful mermen, flashes and Amazonian warrior women promptly taking over this DC universe, we need a character like Batman. Someone to see ourselves in. To root for as he jogs alongside the gods, cooking up a scheme and trying his very best to keep up.