With a title like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, one question immediately comes to mind: Who’s gonna win? The answer’s obvious, of course. It’s a superhero crossover! They’ll fight; Batman will have moments where he looks like he could win, but doesn’t; Superman will have moments where he looks like he could win, but doesn’t. Eventually, they’ll realize they’re on the same side and team up against a larger threat, which (based on the trailers) is probably gonna be Doomsday. That’s the formula for every superhero crossover ever written. My point here is that it’s more interesting to talk about why they fight and how someone like Batman can possibly take on Superman. Throughout 75-plus years of DC history, Batman and Superman have been everything from best friends to worst enemies. I’m gonna go over the history of their friendship and the history of them fighting each other.
I’ll be here all night if I have to.
As the two top-selling characters at DC, Batman and Superman were sharing a comic years before they ever actually met. World’s Finest debuted in 1941 with both of them on the cover, but we didn’t get a story about them meeting until 1952 in Superman #76. The ambitiously titled “The Mightiest Team in the World!” involved Batman and Superman meeting on a cruise ship.
I’m not even done, this adorably contrived scenario is even cuter in the 2003 update.
Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent sharing a bed will never not be funny to me. Anyway, after some hilarious shenanigans involving Lois Lane hitting on Batman, they work together and fight some kinda unimportant thing and become buddies. Batman and Superman were a great uncomplicated friendship in those early days. They were both costumed do-gooders who fought crime, and that was enough to make them the closest of super friends.
Maybe a little too close…
OK, guys, this isn’t even subtext.
I’m not here to judge you! I just want to make sure everyone is being safe.
These Guys Kinda Shouldn’t Like Each Other
It wasn’t the first time they had argued. Batman famously quit the Justice League and started the Outsiders when Superman insisted the League had to obey U.S. foreign policy. Everything changed, though, when Frank Miller wrote The Dark Knight Returns in 1986. Miller felt that Batman and Superman should naturally be at odds, as they were two extremely different people with opposing philosophies. Superman believes that, above all else, the public has to be able to trust them. Batman doesn’t play well with others, and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.
The story, which everyone should read, deals with an aging Batman coming out of retirement when Gotham needs him again. He finds the modern world less tolerant of his brutal vigilante tactics, no matter how necessary they are with the monsters he fights. Superman has become a glorified government lapdog, looking after U.S. interests in whatever part of the world President Reagan sends him to. He describes this as a natural change in his role, since people wouldn’t tolerate superheroes if they kept running around unchecked forever. Superman works within the system to survive, and Batman refuses to make this compromise. Eventually, Superman is sent to take Batman in and the aging Bruce Wayne makes his final stand. He builds a Batsuit that can plug into the city’s electric grid, a Batmobile decked out like a tank, and Kryptonite weapons as the cherry on top. It’s an epic conclusion to the most ancient rivalry in the comics.
This perspective on Batman & Superman became canon when the 1986 miniseries The Man of Steel retold Superman’s origins. In their new first meeting, Superman believes Batman is an “outlaw” and tries to arrest him. Batman reveals that he planned ahead for this, and protected himself with a force field that will trigger a bomb if Superman gets too close. Batman tells Superman that “defending a planet and cleaning up a city are two very different things.” They team up and Superman quickly realizes that he might be faster than Batman, but he’s not as good at keeping up with Gotham City’s psychopaths. The story ends with them decidedly not becoming friends, but at least developing a mutual respect for each other.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when they shifted back to becoming friends again… I want to say Jeph Loeb’s 2003 series Superman/Batman, which is the greatest tribute to their bromance ever written. Since then, their relationship has been more balanced. Bruce and Clark are great friends. They’re two very different people, and that sometimes leads to disagreements, but usually it makes them more effective as a team.
Despite their friendship, Batman has to live with the knowledge that Superman is the greatest weapon on the planet. If anybody ever controlled his mind or turned him evil, Superman could wipe out humanity. It’s been shown that Batman has a number of contingency plans in case any of the other Justice Leaguers go rogue. This was originally explored in the Tower of Babel storyline, which revealed that Batman has spent countless hours designing his own variants of Kryptonite. His choice for incapacitating Superman is a Red Kryptonite designed not to kill, but to overwhelm Superman with excruciating pain until he can be secured. It’s later shown that Batman goes everywhere carrying a simple Green Kryptonite ring in his utility belt.
The Greatest Battles
There have been a million articles exploring these fights already, so I don’t need to go over all of them in heavy detail. I’m just gonna do a quick run-through of the different ways that Batman has held his own against Superman.
Batman #612, Poison Ivy mind controls Superman and orders him to kill Batman. Batman holds Superman off with a Kryptonite ring, then orders Catwoman to push Lois Lane off a building. Putting Lois in danger forces Superman to come to his senses.
The Dark Knight Strikes Again #1, Batman beats the mother-loving crap out of Superman with Kryptonite boxing gloves and a good time is had by all. He finishes and says “I’m done talking. Get out of my cave.”
Batman (Volume 2) #36, a Jokerized Superman tries to kill Batman. Batman can barely hold his own inside a giant mecha designed to stop Superman. They destroy several buildings in their battle, and eventually Superman rips him out of the mecha anyway. Batman survives with his final move, chewing up a “Kryptonite gum” inside his helmet and spitting it in Superman’s face. “Who wins in a fight? The answer is always the same. Neither of us.”
I do think it’s worth mentioning that all of these fights assume a Superman who isn’t trying to kill Batman. In Superman/Batman #2 when Batman fights a deranged Superman from the future, the Superman quickly separates him from his Kryptonite and has him dead-to-rights.
Superman also pretty soundly whoops an unprepared Batman when they meet for the first time in Justice League #2, part of the “New 52” reboot.
The Bottom Line
Here it is, folks, the Billy Arrowsmith soapbox corner. I’m gonna end this article with a rant I’ve had inside me for awhile. People still keep asking the question: “Does Batman beat Superman?” And I can’t stand it.
The answer is… there’s no real answer. There are a million different variables here. Does Batman have time to prepare? Is Superman himself or is he being mind-controlled? Which version of Superman are we talking about, what powers does he have? Where are they fighting? Of course, like any other comic book fight, “who would win?” is a meaningless question. The winner is always whoever the writer needs to win for the story to work. No writer has ever wanted to tell a story one way, and then ended it halfway through instead because logic dictates one character should win.
Batman tends to beat Superman pretty often for one big reason… Superman constantly has to hold back. If they were both totally out to kill the other one, of course, Batman would be a red smear on the pavement before he put a hand on his utility belt. Superman is a really good person though, and he has to work REALLY hard to not accidentally kill Batman. So he’s completely handicapped. Batman, on the other hand, has spent years developing ways to neutralize Superman’s powers and will not hesitate to use them. He knows it would be impossible for him to accidentally kill Superman, so he can do whatever he wants.
Superman fighting Batman is basically like an adult fighting a toddler. Have you ever met a really angry toddler who was seriously trying to hurt you and not holding back? It’s awful! Like you can try to contain them and hold their limbs down, but you can’t use that much force or you’ll break them… and if they slip out of your grip they can really hit you hard in sensitive areas. They flail wildly and they also bite. Yes, of course, in a REAL fight you could obviously punt an angry toddler into next week… but you can’t just go around punting toddlers, so they have a lot of opportunities to do damage while you’re struggling to put them down with minimal force. Batman is an angry toddler with a genius-level understanding of weak points on the body, and a diaper filled with weaponry more advanced than anything known to mankind.
Thanks for reading! For more information on the history of Batman & Superman, check out the DC Comics Database on Wikia.