On the heels of the recent Bat-week here at tor.com, I felt compelled to offer a dissenting opinion about Batman’s best friend/greatest enemy, Superman, the Man of Steel. Of course, the Superman v. Batman debate has been going on for centuries (or so) and there are many facets to this important social issue. I will present several of those facets, although not necessarily the most important or coherent.
First of all, I admit that I AM A SUPERMAN GUY. Leading scientists have long recognized that there are two fundamental species of humans: Superman people and Batman people. I don’t say they cannot coexist; they can. In fact, Susan, my wife and co-author, is a Batman person. That’s why she’s not co-authoring this blog, because this blog isn’t a debate. It’s here to lay out facts (as I see them) as to why Superman is super awesome, and Batman isn’t. If Susan wants to argue, she knows where to find me.
So, again, I am a Superman guy. That’s not to say I don’t like Batman; I do. I’ve read his comics. I’ve watched his movies and cartoons. They’re good. In fact, I’d go so far as to say there is more good Batman stuff out there than good Superman stuff. Much more. I don’t intend to make the argument that EVERY incarnation of Superman is better than EVERY incarnation of Batman. That’s ludicrous. And wrong. I’m not talking about comics or movies or television shows or pajamas or toys or anything like that.
What I’m saying is that at their core, at the heart of the character, at the center of their identity, at the point where they touch the zeitgeist, Superman is better. And, what’s more, Superman is better for you. I will now give you several examples where Superman is the superior role model and the better example of positive social interaction.
EXAMPLE 1: Well-adjusted orphan v. Self-destructive orphan. Supes and Bats are both orphans. Superman lost his birth parents at the tender age of baby, and then the lovely Kents raised him with homespun wisdom and warm-hearted nurturing. And then he lost the lovely Kents as a young man (at least that’s how it happened in the classic mythos; now the Kents are still hanging around so Superman can be an adult child, but that’s another story).
Batman lost his parents as a young boy and grew up in a cold, lonely mansion with nothing but his own thoughts and apparently books about bats for company (in the modern myth Alfred serves as a pseudo-father, but that’s not part of the core legend). There may also have been an Aunt Harriet around, but that’s neither here nor there. And don’t even talk about the little boy dressed as an acrobat he keeps in a cave under the mansion. That whole weird thing is really just distracting rather than illuminating to my point.
Orphan Superman became a well-adjusted, pleasant, industrious member of society, overcoming his inherent loneliness (he’s not even human, people!) to exhibit the positive character traits bestowed on him by his foster parents. Orphan Batman became a reclusive psychopath who, for pretty flimsy reasons, deals with the tragedy of his youth by dressing like a bat and pummeling criminals and freaks in a nightly orgy of maladjusted self-loathing. Superman pays tribute to his parents by living an upright life. Batman pays tribute to his by spending all their money to isolate himself in a brutal fantasy world.
EXAMPLE 2: Working Stiff v. Trust Fund Baby.Let’s face it, Superman doesn’t need to work for a living. He could take a few minutes out of his busy schedule every week to squeeze a lump of coal into a diamond and – voila – rent money. But he doesn’t do that. He gets up every day, shaves his super whiskers, and puts on a laborious disguise (glasses and necktie, and hat when it was fashionable) and goes into his thankless job at a great metropolitan newspaper. He pulls a paycheck like the rest of us, even though he could easily get by on his ability to fly and shoot laser beams out of his eyes and throw asteroids into the sun (not to mention living rent free in the Fortress of Solitude rather than keeping an expensive midtown Metropolis apartment). But he enjoys it!
On the other hand, Batman gets by as a cowled parasite, living off his father’s hard-earned fortune. He stays in a mansion. He goes to society parties. He drives fast cars. He has never worked an honest day in his life. And he never will! Two words: elitist snob jerk. Well, three words.
EXAMPLE 3: Optimist v. Pessimist.Superman likes to smile. He’s always smiling. He stands around with his balled fists on his hips, smiling away. He believes in the inherent good nature of people, and he’s here to protect us.
Batman never smiles. He believes everyone is bad, but they don’t all have the guts to act badly. Therefore, he’s here to punish us.
EXAMPLE 4: Democrat v. Fascist.It has become fashionable in the last few decades to portray Superman as a big dumb tool of the military-industrial complex, while Batman is some kind of wild hippie rebel, sticking it to The Man. I blame Frank Miller for that. Miller structured The Dark Knight Returnsthat way because Batman was the star of the book. If the book at been called Kal-El Returns, Batman would’ve been the government enforcer and Supes would’ve been some Kryptonian freedom fighter. Therefore, on the issue of Superman as a fascist, I say That’s Crap!
If either of our World’s Finest duo is a fascist, I think we all know who it is. Batman is willing to do anything to stop a criminal. He is a true vigilante. Law is meaningless to him; it’s order that counts. To the contrary, Superman believes in both Law and Order (™ Dick Wolf ). Is there any doubt by any rational human that Superman could smash every criminal in Metropolis and beyond if he set his blue-haired head to it? Or that Big Blue could overthrow every dictator from every nation in an afternoon with a few puffs of his super breath? Or that the Man of Tomorrow could usher in the enlightened and peaceful Rule of the Superman on Earth if he wished it. So why doesn’t he do any of that stuff?
BECAUSE HE’S SUPERMAN!
He’s not about telling you what to do. Laws, as flawed as they may be, are important because they are what separate us from chaos. Supes believes people have freewill to choose their own path. However that also means they must accept the consequences of their actions like sometimes getting socked in the face or having their machine gun barrels bent upward.
But, come on. You know that if Batman had the power to impose his will on the world, he would do it in a Gotham minute. And why? Because like all vigilantes, he hates messiness. He sees the world as good and bad, and he’s the one who knows the difference. Lucky for us, he isn’t powerful enough to do it, because Batman hates us. And that’s bad.
But Superman loves us.
And that’s good.
All images copyright DC Comics, used for illustrative purposes.
Clay and Susan Griffith are the authors ofThe Greyfriar: Vampire Empire Book 1 (Pyr Books). The second book in the Vampire Empire trilogy will be published September 2011. They are a married couple who have written and published together for more than a decade. Their credits not only include several books, but also numerous short stories published in many anthologies, some featuring noted genre characters like Kolchak the Night Stalker and The Phantom. They’ve also written for television and published graphic novels featuring characters such as The Tick and Allan Quatermain.