There was a time when Superman and Batman were good ‘ole chums. I’m sure they’d play racket ball and discuss how their weeks were going. They would sit beer in hand, and stare out at the sunset talking about how it was a shame that Superman would outlive anyone he ever loved. Clark shedding those Super-tears. Bruce patting him gently on the head and telling him it’d be okay.
All that changed in 1986. A lot of things were going on in 1986. I was happily pooping my pants and playing Super Mario brothers. (It’s a tradition I carry on to this day.) The Red Sox were losing big games as usual, prompting diehards to scream “We AH CURSED!” But the most important thing for the comic book world was the release of The Dark Knight Returns.
The Dark Knight Returns, a four issue mini-series, was written by Frank Miller, one of the fathers of the modern comic book landscape. In four issues, The Dark Knight Returns took the characters of Superman and Batman, deconstructed them, and replaced them with the characters we know today.
Batman as a semi-crazed fascist, hell-bent on cleaning up the world? That’s Miller’s work. Superman as the ultimate boy scout? You can chalk that up to Miller as well. In four-issues Miller rewrote the psychic mythos of both characters. Miller saw Batman as the maniac who crosses every line but murder to clean up the streets. He became a fascist who does everything but murder. And it makes sense that this sort of character would need a foil. And that’s how you get Superman — the good farm boy with a heart of sugary mush. Miller just couldn’t see the two of them getting along.
Setting up Batman and Superman are the most epic of foils has given rise to one of the debates of my generation. In between “Yankees or Red Sox?” “Pepsi or Coke?”, and “Atheism or Divinity” comes “Are you a Superman fan, or a Batman fan?” It’s a deal-breaker. I’ve seen married couples come to physical blows over this disagreement.
Shouting “I would never raise my child a Kent sympathizer!” women have dragged their belongings out of the house as their confused children hugged their legs. I’ve seen this scene unfold a thousand times, each one as painful as the last.
There is no middle-ground in this war.
Until you get to me.
I don’t know why I have appointed myself the defense attorney for a fictional character’s reputation. It’s just a calling for me. Like those who go off to live in a monastery.
Let’s be real with each other: any guy who drives a tank and knows Kung-Fu is a unanimous inductee into the Bad Ass Hall of Fame. The problem for me starts when jazzed-up Batman fanatics spit their hurtful rhetoric about Superman, “Fuck Superman, man! He can’t be hurt! He’s invincible man! I just can’t relate to that shit!”
I heard it all over the place this past summer. It was a steamy July night when the midnight showing of The Dark Knight went down. And after the masses poured out of the building and into the damp night, the masturbating began.
“Oh man, Batman! It was sick!”
“Yeah dude, the Joker man! Amazing!”
“Holy shit when the Batmobile turns into the Batpod!!!!”
If exclamation points at the ends of sentences were actual physical objects, people would have been falling over in that parking lot from missing eyes. I stood there with my friends and I joined in with the orgy of praise. I loved the movie. But then I made the mistake of lobbing a criticism.
“The dude needs a psychiatrist.”
At once they were on me.
“What do you mean?”
And I retorted.
“I’m just saying a lot of people have their parents killed. And most of them are able to move on. He needs to see a psychiatrist, not don latex and beat people up.”
I knew I was trying to be pain in the ass. In a group of friends that love playfully pissing one another off, my behavior wasn’t out of the norm. My friends scoffed at me, and we went back to doing everything short of starting a cult dedicated to Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale.
But however much I was joking, my point was genuine. Batman zealots often make the argument that Superman is a character you can’t relate to. “I can’t relate to an alien who can’t get hurt.” And yet, somehow people can relate to Batman.
Maybe I’m missing something here. Let me recap my understanding of Batman.
Batman is billionaire Bruce Wayne. When he was young, his parents were murdered. He seems to know every single form of martial arts ever. He is a genius detective. He bangs roughly fourteen trillion women a year. And he his psyche has scars so deep they make Manson look sane. And to work all of this out he wields tanks and swords and Batarangs and hangs out secret laboratories.
Actually, never mind. He’s relatable. I always forget that all the Batman fans out there are billionaires with murdered parents who seek justice by donning garbs. And then there’s Superman. I’m going to piss off all you Batman fanatics and tell you a secret. I relate much more to Superman than I do to Batman. Why? Let me break it down for you.