Superman vs Batman
What’s the real reason that Batman always wins?
On the surface, Batman and Superman are very different characters. But, when you get right down to it, they both stand for the same thing, one way or another. They both fight for the same cause, even being part of the same ‘Justice League.’ So why does the subject of them fighting come up so often, and what’s the real reason that Batman always wins?
When we take a closer look, it’s obvious that the two are quite different.
Batman grew from detective novels. He became the ultimate expression of the dark and mysterious champion for the cause of the innocent. In his original incarnation he was a ‘Noir detective’ but simply taken to comic-book extremes. Most of his early adventures could have been told very much the same without the need for his costume and theatrics and you could have easily replaced him with any tough and seasoned police officer.
Later he grew into the role of the Dark Knight as he slowly became increasingly larger than life and his backstory solidified into what we know today. There’s even a book on the subject of whether it would be possible to be Batman that comes at the question purely from the perspective of training. It ultimately suggests that it would just about be possible for a man to condition himself to this degree but that it would take remarkable discipline and self-application.
Batman has trained himself in martial-arts as well as the sciences of criminal detection. He maintains his body at the peak of physical fitness and acquires the tools of the trade—often building them himself. He’s a man who is driven to avenge the deaths of his parents, but has accepted that there’s no revenge to find. Instead of targeting the one man responsible for their deaths, he blames the entire situation that put the killer into the position he found himself in on that fateful night, although never going further than targeting crime, certainly never the entire system that puts it there. He goes out night after night, endlessly trying to wrest back a vestige of control over a world that stripped away every degree of it he ever felt he had. He’s a warrior in an eternal war against an unyielding enemy and it will never end, because he can never win.
He has changed over the years and now wears an array of armour, he drives a powerful custom-made car, he has a network of assistants and associates but he’s at his best when he’s a lone crusader for the ideals he truly believes in.
Superman is the opposite of all that. Clarke Kent was born with an array of gifts. He’s a visitor to our world and his abilities set him apart. His powers make him invulnerable and virtually omnipotent. He never had to train, never had to make himself more than he was, he simply had to master his abilities and then let his sense of duty do the rest.
The motivation in his stories isn’t in fighting to overcome adversity but in struggling to come to terms with what he is. He’s a more reluctant hero, he does what he does because he believes he should, not because he has to. He’s probably more motivated by the expectations of others than by anything else.
Where Batman’s past tragedies drive him, Superman is more motivated by his affection and connection to Louis Lane, a romantic interest that essentially defines his character. She represents humanity to him and his relationship with her is symbolic of his relationship with the rest of us.
These two characters each represent something different to the audience. Superman represents hope. He’s a shining icon, a beacon of strength of character. He was raised in Rural America where a strong sense of morality was instilled in him. That upbringing has defined who he is, he’s a small-town boy at heart who believes that people are essentially good. His almost childlike innocence is never tarnished and he projects his beliefs strongly to the audience. He is a character that encapsulates the best of mankind and is designed to inspire us to be the best version of ourselves.
Batman inspires fear in his enemies. His costume and appearance is designed to provoke a sense of dread in the criminal underground. Like Superman he’s a symbol, but not a symbol of good—a warning against being bad.
But why would these two characters fight when they both essentially want the same things?
Although they’re both aiming for the same end result, they’re both going about it in polar opposite ways. Where Batman has experienced the darkness that life has to offer, Superman has only ever embraced the light.
With their core philosophies being so completely opposed, it’s only natural that people project the idea of them competing. In essence, for much of the time, people aren’t really debating the idea of the two characters fighting as much as the ideals for which they stand for.
In the real world, we mostly sympathise with Batman’s standpoint. If the criminals have guns, we arm our police. If someone does something reprehensible, we punish them by stripping away their freedom. We hold threats over the heads of people in order to make them behave. If we adopted Superman’s principle, we would choose to police ourselves with unarmed monks who show us how to behave.
While the latter is perhaps a better philosophy and certainly something to aspire to, we all know that it wouldn’t work for the vast majority of the real world.
Superman has never been an enduring character and often fails to connect with the audience. Superman has one major flaw that his enemies ruthlessly exploit, and that is that he’s utterly, completely and totally invulnerable. We end up rooting for the other guy! They added Kryptonite later, to give stories some sense of drama, but essentially, there’s nothing that poses very much of a threat to a man who can fly through the sun and come out feeling better for it.
The audience doesn’t relate well to that. Not many of us can jump tall buildings with a single bound, fly at the speed of light, have bullets bounce off our eyeballs and punch holes in steel walls. For an audience to identify and sympathise with a character, we have to recognise our humanity in them. With Superman, he has no humanity to find and he has no real challenges to overcome.
Of course, this is the real reason for his close connection to Louis Lane, she exists to be put in peril so he can save her, but that demands that we identify with her and not with the main character of his own stories. It’s not fun to watch her getting in trouble and knowing her indestructible love-interest is going to save her, time after time, after time, after time…
Batman is human. We might not live his life but we can understand that the trauma driving him can feel very real. We can imagine the motivation to achieve the things he’s achieved and we can imagine ourselves in his position. He can be killed so every adventure has significant odds; there’s drama and tension to every act he performs.
He might not be a true superhero, and he may not have been bitten by a radioactive anything, but he’s a human being who we know we could be, if only we could work hard enough. Where Superman relies on everything he was given at birth, Batman has had to develop every advantage and gets by on his wits, his training and his personal resources.
If they really fought, there would be no threat to Superman so there would be no reason to care, but the danger to Batman would be very real, and that makes us invest in his struggle.
So ultimately, Batman has always defeated Superman. He’s used his mind and his tricks to overcome the immortal ‘Man of Steel’ at every encounter. But what’s the real reason that Batman always wins? What’s the real logic being the fact that Superman has always been defeated by a slightly crazy guy in black tights?
The answer is obvious.
Batman always wins because the audience wants him to.
It’s as simple as that.
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