It’s the most anticipated movie of the spring, and the launchpad for a whole universe of superhero movies—including the long-awaited assembly of the Justice League—so it’s funny to think that so much will be built on a foundation of animosity between two of the biggest heroes in comic book history. But Warner Bros. didn’t grab the idea for Batman v. Superman out of thin air. There is a tradition of the top two DC heroes being at odds in the comics. It makes sense: the former small-town farmboy gifted with godlike power and the driven, secretive scion of Gotham City do seem a strange pairing.
Yet, that wasn’t always the case.
Even the Batman vs. Superman: Their Greatest Battles collection, published in December, concedes that, as their earliest clash is from 1986, and two of the “battles” aren’t really battles. Sure, Superman and Batman argue in their first meeting of the Modern Age, and Batman tricks Superman, thus buying time to explain why he’s a vigilante, but it’s hardly a battle.
The second tale, from 1986, in the classic The Dark Knight Returns, is most definitely a battle, and a bloody one at that. Well, except for the ending, where Batman supposedly has a heart attack and dies, and Superman figures out the ruse during Bruce’s funeral but lets the deception slide. Heck, even Bruce realized that Clark would give him a pass so long as he stayed underground. Not quite a no-holds-barred conflict.
The other tales? One is a cute, imaginary tale of two young boys arguing over “who would win?” but, of course, they start from the premise that Bruce can’t use Kryptonite; another is a chapter from Batman’s Hush storyline in which Superman is controlled by Poison Ivy; another is a misunderstanding (yet another first “first” meeting of the heroes). And then there’s Batman versus the entire Justice League, who have been dosed by Joker venom.
It’s not exactly definitive proof of resounding enmity between the heroes. It’s also heavily stacked in Batman’s favor. He gets prep time, Superman is uncertain, he’s mind-controlled, he’s unwilling to kill.
We all know this fight wouldn’t be a draw. Superman would win, easily. But that makes for a short, dull story.
If you reach back before 1986, however, there’s a long tradition of Superman and Batman working together. They had a title specifically for their team-ups, World’s Finest. The co-starring title ran from 1954 to 1986, with a break in the early 1970s for Superman to team up with other heroes. Now, granted, they sometimes fought in those stories, and I’d have loved to see the inclusion of one of the wacky Super-Sons stories, in which the imaginary sons of the two men fought, teamed-up, and bickered, or even the tale from World’s Finest #246 that featured Superman’s “brother,” Kor-el. Alas, this new collection takes it all so seriously (which is not surprising, considering the grim tone of the trailers for the film).
Of course, if you’re in the mood for Superman and Batman being more than friends, there’s the pairing of Apollo and Midnighter, analogs for the characters that originally appeared in DC’s Wildstorm universe. Or, if you’re feeling especially daring, google “Superman Batman slash.” Just…not while you’re at work, or if there are kids nearby.
As for this new collection? It’s fun to read, even if one of the stories features Magpie, possibly one of the worst Batman villains ever. Just be aware that it’s slightly misnamed.