Re: Superman vs. Batman

by Benjamin Domenech on 11:31 pm April 23, 2010


While I appreciate the effort put into this critical post (h/t the indispensable Galley Slaves), there’s a certain context which is lost within the assembled points, particularly Number 5. Pejman gives a nod to this in his reaction — namely, that Batman is fighting an ongoing war in which, in the larger scheme of things, he already knows full well that he will not or cannot prevail.

Batman is one mortal bent against the psychotic forces of superstition and vice assembled against him. Without the luxury of near-immortality or the supernatural ability to cross space and time like certain other superheroes, his victories are profoundly limited events, constrained within the context of putting the bad/insane guys away (again and again) in dark holes from whence it is only a question of when, not if, they will reemerge. Batman can never make Gotham into a utopia, will never end the tide of villainy or cruelty or abuse, will never bring back his parents. He knows this. Victory, in this context, would require human nature to be different than it is.

His standard of victory, then — the very idea of “winning” — becomes different than Superman’s, in most circumstances. Take, for example, the Millerized version of Superman v. Batman, in which the latter achieves his “win” by pummeling the kryptonite-weakened Man of Steel for a while and then pulling the old Count of Monte Cristo act — knowing that 1) he’ll have made his point, 2) only Supes will figure it out, and 3) this will give him the ability to go underground as a leader of a fascistic group of acolytes focused on the destruction of mutants and criminals. He preps during the Tower of Babel storyline to, if necessary, kill his fellow superheroes in defense of humanity, knowing it would spell his all-but-certain end at the hands of the rest of the JLA. Or if battling a demigod covers things other than the boy scout in the red cape, take the Final Crisis example of shooting Darkseid with the same weapon that killed Orion, knowing that it would instantly doom him.

In all these cases, the Caped Crusader runs headlong into death confident his victory will outlast his life. For the world’s greatest detective, any one of these foes is his Moriarty.


This is one of the reasons Batman provides a far more relevant example in this cynical and dangerously insane age: his humanity is established by the fact that he KNOWS his quest is doomed, a lost cause from the start — but even equipped with that knowledge, he refuses to quit, to ever give in, or give up.

As Gaiman writes it: “The end of the story of Batman is, he’s dead, because in the end, the Batman dies. What else am I going to do? Retire and play golf? I fight until I drop, and one day, I will drop. But until then, I fight.”

“There’s always something you can do.”

And that’s why he always wins.

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