On March 25, 2016 millions of dreams came true. Batman and Superman, “The World’s Finest”, were in one movie and working together.
Well, sort of.
The film was called Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and it worked very hard to live up to its name. However, fans were disappointed by the portrayals of two of the greatest heroes to have ever been created. The fight felt forced, Batman came across as insane while Superman came out seeming depressed.
This was a departure from the core of the characters. Batman is supposed to represent honor and justice, and Superman should stand for hope even in the darkest times. For decades, the two paragons of justice have worked as part of a whole. As friends, they worked to build the Justice League. They differ in some areas, as all friends do, but for the most part they are able to put their differences aside for the greater good. Let’s take a look at the caped crusader and the big blue boy scout and find their common ground (besides their mothers’ shared namesake).
What do they stand for?
When people talk about Batman and Superman they often bring up their differences. They must have common values though, right? Batman and Superman have shared the world’s stage for years. They’ve worked together and fought side by side. But what do they stand for?
When Batman first appeared, his comics had a very serious tone, far more serious than those of Superman. He is the product of an act of violence, and violence begets violence, especially in Gotham City. In the early eighties the character was taken in even darker directions, and fans responded to that. Frank Miller introduced the world to a darker Batman that had never been seen before in The Dark Knight Rises, and Alan Moore added even more adult themes in The Killing Joke. It’s important to note that both of these stories were more mature takes on the caped crusader and were intended to take place outside of the main canon of Batman comics. These two stories changed the direction of the hero, and took him down a much darker and more violent path.
While Superman has the world to take care of, Batman keeps his focus on Gotham City. He may endeavor to save the world on occasion, but his attentions are typically aimed at home. He doesn’t participate in politics and exists apart from the law as a vigilante. Since he has no superpowers to speak of he relies on his intelligence, gadgets and fighting abilities to maintain order in a chaotic city.
Batman is representative of the common man in DC comics. His lack of powers doesn’t make him the weakest member of the Justice League, he is the most capable. While the rest of the league is busy saving the world, Batman focuses on street level crimes that affect the common man, ensuring that no other child grows up orphaned like him.
Superman is Kal-El from Krypton, and his powers are unmatched. In his early years he was the truest, bluest hero imaginable, instilled with American ideals and incredible abilities. It was in the 70’s that writers like Alan Moore and John Byrne shifted the focus of his stories to his ideology, what he means to the world, and to America.
Superman represents the hope of man. He is the embodiment of American ideals, but he helps everyone no matter which country they come from. He has the opportunity to show the world an alternative to war and destruction and his moral compass is always pointing north. Superman doesn’t just punch giant robots, he gives speeches about his point of view, and his desire for peace. He represents the voice of reason that comes from a man with unlimited power.
He does what he can to help all people, and by doing so carries the weight of the problems of an entire planet. Kryptonite may weaken him but his real weakness is his desire to make everyone happy. He takes on the largest responsibility for a world that he has adopted.
Despite their differences, Batman and Superman have quite a few similarities. Obviously they both wear costumes and capes, and maintain secret identities. Beyond these superficial levels of sameness, they’ve both lost their parents and they both feel like outsiders in the world. Neither of them can stand by and let injustice exist while they have the ability to stop it. The Man of Tomorrow and the World’s Greatest Detective do what they can to make the world better in their own ways. Their moral codes drive them along paths that allow for them to have a focus on doing what is right, even when it means putting themselves in harms way.
Do not kill
Their shared value of never taking the life of an enemy is a line that even the greatest of heroes finds hard not to cross. Captain America kills, Ironman kills, Wonder Woman kills, but not Bats and Supes.
Superman chooses not to kill because his abilities allow for him to find other ways to deal with threats. He is known to say that his powers do not make him judge, jury, or executioner. His goal is to rise above the violence and show the world a better way to handle issues.
Batman doesn’t kill because once that line is crossed, it will be too easy to do again. If he starts to kill he is no longer better than those he fights against. He’ll break bones, and scare criminals, but killing is a step too far. His goal is to save the lives of the citizens he has sworn to protect.
Batman and Superman have been working together since 1940 when DC Comics began publishing World’s Finest Comics. Batman had only been created the previous year, and was already starting to rival the sales of Superman’s Action Comics title, so the staff at DC decided to put them together. Over the decades the two have had their differences, but they have always worked together to right the wrongs that they see in the world.
The reality of the matter is that no matter how wary Batman may be of the all powerful alien, or how bothered Superman is by the vigilante’s brutality, they can see the benefit of teaming up and fighting side by side.
When Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was released it was a major moment for comic book fans. Two of the first superheroes, with three quarters of a century under their belts as friends, hit the silver screen together. It was the culmination of thousands of conversations, and debates inside of comic book shops. But it came as a massive disappointment to those who supported it most, those who wanted to see the two to find common ground and team up.
The truth is that fans wanted to see Batman and Superman work together. They wanted to root for the good guys, not wonder which one is more correct for punching the other through a wall. This was the opportunity to watch the two team up, and fight crime, like they do in the comics every week. Violence was not the answer to what makes Superman great. It isn’t why we love Batman. Sure we like when they punch people, but people who deserve it.
The problem here is the filmmakers’ misunderstanding of characters. We want the Brooding Bat, and we want the Big Blue Boy Scout. We want them to work together, we want them to fight the bad guys. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice had realism and served as a dirty mirror to real life, but that isn’t necessarily why we go to see a superhero movie. We want to see the good guys succeed, we want to escape real life, to live in a world of hope. The movie didn’t provide that for fans.
The biggest films in the world are ones with violence. It’s because violence sells, and superhero movies with violence are no different. Even if that’s not the only reason we come, it is a part of it. There isn’t a studio that would give us a Batman movie without punches or kicks. It looks cool when Superman uses his heat vision, when Batman swings in with a flying kick to a henchman’s stomach. It’s about the spectacle, and that makes sense. But the violence has to be earned, and the best way to do that is by understanding the characters and what motivates them. Too often today, superhero movies today miss the complexity of the starring heroes.
Batman doesn’t kill, and Superman doesn’t sulk. They put aside their differences for the greater good. Here’s hoping that Warner Bros. figures out a new direction for the characters going forward, that they take them in the directions that the fans are looking for. Fingers crossed.