Greetings from the Odinson,
These are the debates that have been going on since the beginning. Who is stronger – Hulk or Thing? Who is faster – Superman or the Flash? Marvel vs. DC! Comic book history is thriving with great rivalries. The Odinson presents another question that has been debated by fanboys and girls for over seventy-five years now – Who would win – the Man of Steel or the Dark Knight Detective?
Great Rivalries in Comics History: Superman vs. Batman
Sent to planet Earth from a far off doomed world and granted super human abilities beyond those of mortal men, Clark Kent is faster than a speeding Bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!
When Bruce Wayne was a child, his parents were murdered in front him. In that moment, he declared war on crime. He has honed his body to near peek physical perfection. He uses his unrivaled martial arts skills, his Olympic level agility, his genius level intellect, and all the gadgets and toys money can buy to fight crime and injustice. He is vengeance. He is the night. He is Batman!
Superman’s very first appearance in the pages of Action Comics #1 launched the Age of Super Heroes. Exactly one year later, the Batman was born in the pages of Detective Comics #27. Batman’s dark, macabre look was in stark contrast to Superman’s bright and colorful look. They instantly became fan favorites and it would not be long before fans would begin to speculate – who would win, Superman or Batman?
Icons Meet for the First Time
It’s a tale that has been told many times, from many points of few, and constantly updated for new generations. Though they would one day become known as the World’s Finest, The rivalry of the DCU’s two greatest heroes can always be traced back to that first time they met.
Pre-Crisis: Superman #76 (1952) – This may not be the very first meeting of these icons, but it is the very first time they learned each other’s secret identity, a motif that became standard affair in their first meetings through the ages.
Post-Crisis: Man of Steel #3 (1986) – This time around John Byrne introduces the two icons in a caper that not only sets them at odds but beautifully illustrates the contrasting differences in their crime-fighting styles. Plus, this issue gives insight to how they see each other and how their rivalry has become more antagonistic than before.
The New 52: Justice League: Origin (2011) – Having easily dispatched the Green Lantern, the Man of Steel asks Batman, “So, what can you do?” This is a younger, brasher Superman still testing his limits and the boundaries to which he can take his powers. For Batman, it is a humbling first encounter and a lesson he takes to heart that it is time to step up his game. If gods are going to walk amongst mere mortals, then Batman will be prepared.
Other Media: The World’s Finest (1997) – This animated feature by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini features the Odinson’s absolute favorite interpretation of these heroes meeting for the first time. It shows their progression from rivals to allies to friends in a most entertaining way. Fingers crossed the upcoming Batman v. Superman film takes its cues from this gem.
World’s Finest #143 (1964) – When Batman’s confidence is shaken, and to help the Caped Crusader gain it back, Superman takes his partner to the Bottler City of Candor where they can spar on even ground.
Justice League of America #63 (1968) – “I am Spartacus!” A mind-controlled Superman is forced to fight his Justice League allies until the last man standing, and that last man is the Man of Steel!
The Dark Knight Returns #4 (1986) – Up until now, the rivalry had been a friendly one, but more so than any other entry on this list, this is the moment that truly launched a full blown rivalry between the two icons. Writer/artist Frank Miller devilishly takes great pride in being the man who destroyed the friendship of Superman and Batman. From this point on, the World’s Finest would never be the same again.
A Death in the Family (1989) – A grieve-stricken Batman lashes out and strikes Superman in the face, shattering the bones in his hand. It’s a poignant moment as it shows an emotional, vulnerable side of the Dark Knight rarely seen, and it shows Superman’s true weakness and ultimate regret. He’s a being with godlike powers and abilities but he cannot save everyone, and, in that moment, he cannot help his grieve-stricken friend.
Action Comics #753 (1999) – The world perceives Superman as out of control, so the World’s Greatest Heroes, led by Batman, set out to take the Man of Steel down. The world will soon learn that there is no stopping the Man of Steel once he has set his mind on something.
Tower of Babel (2000) – This time it’s the Batman that turns the tables on the World’s Greatest Heroes. Sort of. The diabolical madman Ra’s Al Ghul discovers the Caped Crusaders contingency plans for if he ever has to take down his allies. The villain uses this information to nearly destroy the Justice League. This tale showed the world that Batman, a man with no super powers, could actually take down the most power people alive, if he had to.
The Dark Knight Strikes Again (2001) – Angry with Batman’s return, Superman storms the Batcave, but the Dark Knight is ready. In possibly the most humbling moment of Superman’s life, through planning, ingenuity, and teamwork, Batman not only defeats the Man of Steel, but sends him away kicking rocks with his cape between his legs.
Batman #612 (2003) – Once again, a mind-controlled Superman is sent to destroy the Caped Crusader. Batman, facing a far superior foe, must think quickly on his feet and stay alive long enough to try and figure out a way to break Poison Ivy’s control on Superman before the Man Steel does something that he will surely regret. NOTE: For the full story see Hush.
Batman #36 (2014) – You guessed it, once again, a mind-controlled Man of Steel is sent, this time by the Joker, to destroy his Bat-foe. To make matters even worse, it’s the entire Justice League, mind-controlled and sent after the Bat. Luckily, the Dark Knight is not one to be caught off guard for long as contingencies he’s laid out just for a situation like this kick into overdrive. NOTE: For the full story see Endgame.
NOTE: Look for more on how easily it seems Superman can be mind-controlled in a future column.
Bonus Round (Interesting Twists on a Classic Rivalry):
Nightwing – Going all the way back to the beginning of his career as the Boy Wonder (see World’s Finest), Dick Grayson has said that Superman has had just as much influence on his maturation and development as a hero as his mentor Batman (see DC Comics Presents #31 and 58). Even his moniker – Nightwing – is a homage to the Man of Steel, for Superman was the original Nightwing (see The Adventures of Nightwing and Flamebird).
Wonder Woman – Superman and Wonder Woman may be the hottest couple in the current DCU, but there was a brief period a few years back when the Dark Knight and the Amazing Amazon entertained the idea of courting each other (see The Obsidian Age and JLA #80 and 90).
The Joker/ Lex Luthor – Superman and Batman have also had many memorable showdowns with each other’s arch foe (see DC Comics Presents #41 and 72, Superman #9, Superman/Batman #87, Emperor Joker, Batman #293 and 573, Rules of Engagement, Batman and Robin #34, and Justice League #32).
Injustice: Gods Among Us Year One – In an alternate reality, a Superman overcome with grief crosses the line and falls down a dark path that ignites a full blown war with Batman.
Sports – On a lighter note, never let it be said that the Caped Crusader and the Man of Tomorrow are not also highly competitive athletes and rivals on the courts and playing fields, and at back yard Bar-B-Qs.
These are the tales that have shaped Superman vs. Batman into one of the All-Time greatest comic book rivalries in history. Check out my past rivalries explored – Hulk vs. Thing and Superman vs. the Flash, and be on the lookout for future installments of Greatest Rivalries in Comic History including Hulk vs. Wolverine, Hulk vs. Thor, Punisher vs. Daredevil, Superman vs. Captain Marvel, and more!
My personal All-Time favorite moment from the history of the Superman/Batman rivalry came from the episode of the Super Friends cartoon titled Space Knights of Camelon. In it, our heroes are transported to a King Arthurian-like world where Batman is forced to duel an amnesiac Superman with lightsabers. Let me say that again. The Dark Knight and the Man of Steel battle each other armed with lightsabers!
Now, I’m ready for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell