By J.W. Schnarr
The question of Superman versus Batman is a battle as old as the 1940 New York World’s Fair, and one comic book fans never get tired of arguing about. This summer, Hollywood will weigh in on the subject. Will Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice be the end-all of the argument? My guess is a big, resounding ‘No.’
While Superman and Batman have come to blows several times over the course of their long-lived careers, Batman fans will almost invariably come back to the Frank Miller-penned series The Dark Knight Returns back in the ’80s, where a senior citizen version of Bruce Wayne more or less fights Superman to a draw. This, in spite of telling the Man of Steel he beats him (and then promptly keeling over from a faked heart attack)… and ignoring the fact Superman wasn’t operating at 100 per cent due to the fact he had just experienced a nuclear detonation going off in his hands. (Yeah, let’s see you try that one, Bruce!)
Really, the message here would seem to be the only way to beat Superman is to fake your own death so he’ll stop beating the holy living tar out of you. But don’t try to tell that to Batman fanboys unless you want to listen to someone say “But he already beat him!” like 46 times in a row.
The fight comes down to brains vs. brawn for fans. Superman is essentially a god living among us, while Batman is an expert tactician and, given enough time to prepare, can defeat anyone. That certainly is the rub of the Miller comics. Old man Bats has a host of gadgets he uses to take down Supes, while Superman basically spends the entire fight asking Batman to calm down so they can talk like rational men.
But consider this: Superman’s super-everything extends to his mind as well. Superman is super-smart, he retains knowledge at super speeds, and his brain clocks at a much higher speed than pretty much everyone on the planet. Superman’s brain is basically a quantum computer in a world full of 1970s Texas Instruments calculators. Superman comes from a family of scientists, has alien technology at his fingertips, and can build sentient robots. His mind is one of his powers, enhanced by the sun. Batman has none of those things.
In this context, the only possible way Batman even stands a fraction of a chance against Superman is if Bats does all of his planning beforehand and Supes basically does no planning at all (which happened in DKR).
Superman versus Batman actually reminds me of the Alan Moore-penned conflict between superheroes: Dr. Manhattan vs. Ozymandias in The Watchmen. Dr. Manhattan is another godlike being, and Ozymandias is another rich playboy who uses his intelligence to wipe out bad guys. But after trying to destroy Dr. Manhattan and failing utterly at it, Dr. Manhattan lays this gem on Ozymandias to consider:
“I’ve walked across the surface of the sun, seen events so tiny and so fast that they hardly can be said to have occurred at all.
“But you, Adrian… are just a man. And the world’s smartest man poses no more threat to me than does its smartest termite.”
Plus, we are forgetting one really important fact: Superman has already beaten Batman on numerous occasions. And while the Miller series is outside the official canon of the two heroes, Superman’s wins have come during the course of his regular working hours.
So who is going to win in the new movie?
In all honesty, if it follows most comic stories, they are going to fight to a draw, and then some bigger, more pressing bad guy is going to force them to work together for the good of humanity. In the process, they will earn a measure of grudging respect for what the other guy can do.
But even that is a cop out. Because we all really know that a fight between a god and a man would only be interesting if the man has any kind of chance at winning.
Superman throwing Batman into the sun or dissecting him with laser eyes would be interesting for just as long as it took Batman to die.
Batman digging deep and finding a place he never knew existed so he can defeat an impossibly overpowered enemy, well… that’s compelling. Ridiculous, but compelling.
Last year, Dorkly.com posted a great comic strip by Andy Kluthe and Andrew Bridgman titled The Simplest Solution to Batman v. Superman that sums this fight up perfectly.
Essentially, Bruce Wayne claims that as long as he’s Batman, Superman can never out-think him, and Superman will never win. In response, Superman travels back in time and saves Bruce Wayne’s parents as they are about to be killed, thus ending Batman before he ever begins in the most Superman-way possible.
And really, it’s just that simple for the Man of Steel.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this column stated The Watchmen was written by Frank Miller, when it was written by Alan Moore. The Times apologizes for this error.