Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is nearly upon us. Finally, we will get to see three of DC’s most popular superheroes together, inhabiting a shared universe for the first time on the big screen. With the movie titled as it is, the age-old debate has gained new momentum.
You know which debate I’m talking about.
Batman versus Superman.
For the record, I’m a bigger fan of Wonder Woman, but I digress.
All of this back and forth has caused me to consider my stance on the issue. Reconsider, rather—I’ve made up my mind a long time ago—because I’ve been getting asked who of the two I prefer and why a lot more often these days. So, because I needed something to write about, I’ve decided to outline the exact reasons I prefer Superman over Batman.
In my youth—and by youth I mean from age five till ten—I was a hardcore Batman kid. I remember watching the Adam West TV show, doing the “bat-dance” (totally a real thing; YouTube it if you’ve never seen its glory), and seeing the Tim Burton movies. I had the action figures, including one with the real rubber suit that you could dress Bruce Wayne in. I could quote Batman Forever in its entirety, and seeing Batman & Robin was one of the greatest moments of my eight-year old life. Not to mention the cartoon (which is still arguably one of the best animated series ever) with the iconic voices of both Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy. Sure I had seen the Christopher Reeves Superman movies, I occasionally watched the Superman animated series (which wasn’t as good as Batman’s), and I had a toy or two of Supes, but for most of my childhood the man of steel was a peripheral figure at best, one I hardly acknowledged.
In retrospect it makes sense. I was born right around the time when Tim Burton’s vision of the Dark Knight returned the character to his darker, grittier roots, erasing the campiness that was Adam West from the public consciousness (for the most part) and kicking off a renewed interest in the Caped Crusader. For those couple of years, Batman was an inescapable figure. He was everywhere.
And then there was Batman & Robin.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that craptastic movie virtually undid all the good will people had toward Batman and Co, making the film franchise (which was already on shaky ground with Batman Forever) a laughingstock once again.
Even so, I remained a loyal member of the Bat-camp. For the most part. It was around this time when my interests strayed more to other—read, Marvel—superheroes. Even so, I still considered Batman to be my favorite DC character.
And then there came Smallville.
I’m not going to debate the merits of the long-running show (that’d be a whole article by itself), but I believe that regardless of the quality of some the episodes or storylines—or the finale—Tom Welling was perfectly cast as the adolescent Clark Kent.
Smallville debuted when I was eleven years old, and it was my younger brother who convinced me to give the show a chance. In the years since, I’ve asserted that the show was instrumental in my switching sides, so to speak. But why?
Firstly, the issue I’d always had with Superman was that he seemed so unrelatable. Here was this being with every superpower in the book, with not a flaw to be found, fighting the good fight like the big blue Boy Scout everyone likes to call him. What’s the fun in that? With Smallville, though, Clark was portrayed as a guy who, sure, had some pretty out of the ordinary abilities, but who was exceedingly…human. He was unsure of himself, reluctant, selfish at times—in other words, he was flawed. When Smallville began, Clark Kent was very far from the “ideal hero” that he was supposed to become, and that was the first time I had seen Superman portrayed in that light. It was a portrayal that made me actually give a rip about the character.
My love of comic books and their characters hasn’t diminished as I’ve gotten older. But it has become a bit more refined and complex. I don’t just like them because of the cool costumes or the powers or the action (although, not going to lie, that’s a big part of it). Comic books aren’t just about people running around in spandex; they are an excellent medium for exploring complex issues, and with regard to Batman and Superman, for me, one of those issues is: what do you do with negativity? Do you channel it, turn it into something you can wield, or do you resist it, fight it with your own positivity? To me, that is the fundamental difference between Batman and Superman, and I don’t think that one methodology is better than the other. Either of them are a means to an end, a way to turn something bad into something good.
I think what drives Batman can be boiled down to fear. He was afraid of bats, so he channeled that fear and uses it against the criminals of Gotham. He channels his emotions—fear, anger, hate—into positive actions. Superman is the direct contrast to this in that, rather than using his emotions to fuel his actions, he struggles to resist them. His is a battle of restraint, of self-control. As an adult, I’ve come to realize that I can relate more to the latter.
Another fundamental difference between Batman and Superman is their inherent humanity. Bruce Wayne is a human, and he has the same weaknesses and strengths as any other human. As such, he understands the deeper workings of the human mind. Clark Kent is the perennial outsider. No matter how long he spends among humans, he will never be one, and he will never feel like one. I can relate to the latter. The nuances of normal human interaction have always eluded me, and it is a real challenge to understand and apply them even today.
I don’t mean to bash Batman. I respect and enjoy the character (mostly), and there are aspects of his story that I do relate to. But ultimately, although both Batman and Superman struggle with their inner, darker nature, it is Superman’s ideology and methodology that I find to be the most similar to what I as a person identify with the most.