Batman versus Superman

Micro Trackball is into some serious superhero worship, just like I was when I was his age. He is in love with Batman and Superman. I have been getting a heavy dose of both of these guys (and together in Justice League) and I am amazed at how my reactions to them has not changed over time.

Batman has always been my favorite. Show me the bat symbol and a little zing of excitement goes through me. Why? He's the world's best detective, he is dark and brooding, has cool gadgets, has the Batcave and gets to use his dark side to do good. But most importantly - he has no superpowers. All his powers are of his own creation. The only thing he inherited from his parents was a fortune and a sense of basic decency. He is the ultimate meritocratic hero - a meritocrat disguised as an aristocrat. He wears the cowl because he can scare bad guys and because it is so cool. Batman could exist today. I could be Batman. You could be Batman.

Superman, on the other hand, is kind of empty. He is such a thin shallow character because he is nothing more than a fantasy, a godlike figure who comes from another world to save us all from ourselves or other space aliens, or to save Lois Lane again and again and again. He can essentially do anything to the point that his very existence is ridiculous. None of us can be Superman because we're human and not worthy. His personality and brains are kind of missing and there's not much there there. And the villains, other than the simplistic Lex Luthor, are all from bad sci-fi casting 101.

Truth is, Superman is the Man of Cardboard, not of Steel. He sounds like a bad idea from a grade school creative writing assignment. The whole Superman story should have been left behind after a broken pitch meeting for a direct to video sci-fi film if it had been created now. But at the dawn of comics, in the Depression, he became wildly popular. Now he still exists as a hugely popular superhero. But the question persists - can a Superman story stand on it's own without Lois Lane? Not really, because between the two of them, she's the only actual character.

Batman has some interesting narrative possibilities. He is a vigilante who has vowed to not kill. He is compassionate but a loner. All of his villains are other normal or abnormal humans. He isn't loaded with all the angst and bitching and whining of the Marvel superheroes but he does have his problems. He is pretty human. He is a standalone character with more story potential and doesn't need the same old supporting cast to keep it interesting.

Superman, if he were alive, would be universally reviled. The public really dislikes 'perfect' people. A guy who is better than anyone is hated by everyone. He would be told that us mere mortals can solve our own problems, thank you very much. If his super hearing picked up two people in mortal danger, and he could save only one, he would be hated for letting the other person die. Maybe if he had a gut, or a heroin addiction, or was funny or something, he could fit in better. But the public would still love to hate him.

Batman would have rock-star status, in part because he would be a dark mystery.

While both heroes are of course, escapist myths, they are strongly different flavors. Flavors that probably say something about the type of people drawn to them. The best escapist fiction needs to provide the audience with a way they can fit into that world and to be happy there. Superman, while more cheery (no ghettos in Metropolis) offers a bleak view of how the reader might fit into such a universe. You either are Superman (and you're not) or you just panic for a while until he shows up. Everyone is scenery or cannon fodder for Supes and his godlike foes. Actually being him would be a really boring gig. Fans just want his powers, not his job or his life. Supes is like being God in the Old Testament - omnipotent, but not really the focus of attention and not really challenged. Someone else's Deus Ex Machina. People buying into that ideal are waiting for a savior to sweep in and fix everything that's wrong. That's fine if you're three, but not if you're an adult.

Batman, on the other hand, usually lives in a more realistic universe with a human scale. The villains are people too, and even though Gotham is gritty, people can choose to be good or bad, to make moral choices and to live with the consequences. Everyone bears responsibility for how their life has turned out and how their community does. Batman does judge people and dislikes the helpless types waiting for a superman. Here is a billionaire who not only runs a huge corporation that is oriented to help Gotham, he is personally cleaning up the streets too. He is not going to pat you on the head because he respects each person enough to expect them to do better. That's great if you're an adult, but it's perfect if you're three, or five, or nine years old.

So we'll see who Micro prefers as he gets drawn deeper and deeper into the superhero realm. I've already noticed that he while he really digs Superman, he doesn't know what hardly any of his powers are and when playing with him, doesn't know what to do with a guy who can beat up everyone else. Batman he understands better - he needs a Batgrapple to fly through the air, he throws Batarangs, he has a distinctive voice. Batman can win or lose. He hasn't pondered yet what a fight between them would be like, but he's right on the cusp of it.

The truth is, Superman would kill Batman in a second. But Batman would know that ahead of time and would use all his skills and smarts to figure out a way to avoid the fight or to neutralize Superman's powers.

What would Superman be thinking about such a fight? Um, nothing? Who knows?

Go Batman.

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