the Extracurricular Partnership and Relationship of Batman and Superman

The last son of Krypton is alone. Superman is one of a kind (excluding his cousin and clone and other Kryptonian beings that happened to survive). The Dark Knight is a loner. He is an island unto himself (expect for his butler and three adopted sons and biological son and the dependence of the police commissioner’s daughter).  These two men are excellent foils for each other. They are similar in regard to their orphanage, being raised by kind and decent people, and expanding their legacy into other individuals while still retaining the isolated nature that each character presents. They are also very dissimilar in the fact that while Superman comes across his talents and powers naturally, Batman has had to work his entire life to acquire his skills.

Superman and Batman. Batman and Superman. Whichever order a comic book reader prefers, when two of the most popular comic book characters of all time are together on the page, readers pay attention. What the reader sees is Superman, the embodiment of complete and utter wish fulfillment and Batman, the rich peak of human potential. Together they represent all that mankind desires. To be rich, ripped, and powerful. But the relationship between the two men is both unusual and understandable.

For several years, there was a comic book series called Superman/Batman. This was the title that demonstrated the relationship between the two characters. But over and over again many of the writers turned this opportunity to demonstrate the partnership of Batman and Superman into a forum to fill the characters thoughts about how cool the other guy was. Unfortunately, this turned many of the smaller story arcs into trying to convince the readers that the characters where worth reading. This wasn’t necessary. The characters were Superman and Batman; they were already worth reading. But there were well-thought out story arcs that gave credit to the title such as “Supergirl”, “Torment”, and “Search for Kryptonite”. These particular story arcs were successful not only because they showed the relationship between the two heroes ,but also because it wasn’t constant circular hero worship.

In the New 52, the relationship between Superman and Batman has been set up to be very much like the previous continuity. In issue #9 of Justice League, readers start to see this relationship reemerge in the main stream titles. The scene is set up to show Clark Kent eating a lonely lunch at his cubicle inside the Daily Planet while Batman is brooding in the Batcave. We also see depressing flashbacks of both Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent as children which sets the reader into an understanding that the two heroes have similar emotional baggage in regards to socializing.  When Clark’s phone goes off the readers can see that the text message is from Bruce Wayne. Batman is a texter. It makes sense as he is the gadget king of the Justice League, second only to Cyborg (on account that Cyborg is a…well…cyborg). These two characters talk to each other. Before this moment, there hasn’t been any evidence that the Justice League see each other socially (other than Flash and Green Lantern as they were friends before the formation of the Justice League).  After Clark reads the text from Bruce, the two heroes team up to do a little house cleaning at Arkham Asylum. What needs to be noted here is that Bruce texted Clark’s private cell phone. Not Superman’s communicator, but Clark Kent’s cellphone. Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne talk, not just Superman and Batman.

Readers see pieces of this partnership become more evident in Justice League #10, where it’s brought up that Batman doesn’t really trust anyone on the team. Superman responds to this assertion by stating that Batman trusts him. The Justice League itself is a bit surprised by this comment and is articulated by Green Lantern who states that they don’t actually know anything about Superman. It is in these next few panels where Batman reveals that he and Superman work together outside of Justice League business.

This separation from the main group doesn’t so much show isolation from them but instead shows that the partnership between Batman and Superman is growing. This partnership seems to be in its infancy but it also seems to be on its way back to a pre-New 52 state where Superman and Batman trust each other implicitly (even though Batman does keep a hefty amount of varying types of kryptonite secured in a lead lined panic room in the Batcave).

During the pre-New 52 era, Batman and Superman had a definite level of trust that wasn’t shared with the rest of the hero community.  During the Bruce Wayne: Fugitive event in 2002, readers find that Bruce Wayne has been framed for murder and has, for the most part, abandoned his alter ego of Bruce Wayne. He hits the streets with excessive violence and rigor, spending all of his time as Batman and focuses on his mission. His obsession takes over and Superman comes to Gotham. During this visit, Superman does not ask him whether he did or did not commit the murder but instead keeps asking why Batman hasn’t been trying to clear his name. Superman even asks him why Batman is shunning his real identity. To which Batman replies, “This IS my real identity.” Superman thinks on this comment and accepts that it has some truth to it.

The dialoging that occurs here is one sided. Superman is talking at (not to) Batman about reclaiming the part of his life that he is leaving to be tarnished. Batman is being his typical silent self as he lets Superman say what he came to say. But what is really happening here is an alien trying to make an appeal for Batman’s humanity. In this instance, Superman speaks on behalf of the “normal” part of Batman’s life that may soon be lost.

We see this trust and understanding continue in the original Hush story arc in the Batman title from 2002-2003. Here, the reader sees that Superman has been taken over by Poison Ivy and is trying to kill Batman and Catwoman. Through elaborate strategizing and trickery (plus a kryptonite ring), Batman manages to free Superman from Ivy’s control by bringing Superman’s humanity back to the surface by having him see Lois Lane is peril. After all the bad guys have been dealt with, the heroes talk about what happened on a rooftop, to which both are accustomed. Superman tells Batman that he is even more sure now that he gave the Kryptonite ring to the right person. Batman replies to this by saying, “What are…friends for?” It should be noted that here we see that Superman gave Batman that ring should such an instance occur where Superman may need to be put down. He gave the ring to Batman. He essentially gives Batman the loaded gun for his own possible execution. That is trust in a basic, dark, and scary form.

There are other writers, however, that like to put their own slant on the relationship of Batman and Superman. In the Matt Wagner work Trinity in 2003, readers see a slightly different relationship between the heroes. While this relationship is still positive and friendly and trusting, it inadvertently brings up a question that many readers tend think in regards to Superman.

Toward the end of the work, Superman and Wonder Woman are discussing Batman and his violent methods. Wonder Woman asks, “Why do you ALLOW him to continue like this?” Superman responds to her by stating how similar the two men are and brings up that unlike he and her, Batman has no super strength to work with. Finally he states, “I can’t find it in myself to deny the exercise of such bravery.”

This comment implies that Superman can in fact deny other heroes their God-given right as fictional characters to dress up and be vigilantes. The question that is brought up is: as the most powerful being on earth, what right does Superman have to stop other people from doing what they want? Superman gives the reason why he doesn’t stop Batman. But what about others? This question is not pursued any further in Wagner’s particular work but it makes a reader wonder.

Another question that comic book readers’ ponder is: who would win? Superman versus Batman. A cage match to see if the Man of Steel can squash the World’s Greatest Detective. In the last Superman/Batman annual, writers explore this question by having Batman and Superman listen in on a debate between two boys that are discussing what would occur. After the boys set up the rules and conditions of the fight, they conclude that it would be a draw. That Batman and Superman would destroy each other. Frankly, it just seemed to be a way for DC to keep both fanboys of Team Bat and Team Supes happy.

But in 1985 ,writer Frank Miller brought forth a different view of the relationship between the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel in the cornerstone of graphic novels, The Dark Knight Returns. In this particular work, Batman is annoyed by Superman every time he comes around. And while Superman seems very friendly toward Bruce he is also obviously patronizing. In Miller’s world, Batman and Superman are not friends. Rivals, maybe. Occasional co-workers, sure. But the two men are not friends. So much so that it seems that Bruce is jealous of Clark’s innate powers. He even states that Superman’s power should have been his. And in the final confrontation in the graphic novel, Batman beats the sense out of Superman and enjoys it. Thoroughly. Millar’s take on the relationship between Batman and Superman is not a rivalry anyone would want to get stuck in the middle of.

Another interesting take between Superman and Batman, or more accurately between Batman and all other super-powered people is shown in pre-New 52 Batman title # 701. DC superstar writer Grant Morrison takes back the helm in this issue as a bridge between Batman RIP and Final Crisis. It’s a great issue in nearly every aspect and is a much more controlled example of Morrison’s work (unlike the more trippy inconsistency of his current works. Bat-cow? Really?). Here we see Batman exhausted from his battle with Doctor Hurt and is barely patched up with Band-Aids when Superman calls him with the news of Orion’s death. Batman, putting on a strong face, gets back to work. In a very intimate dip into Batman’s thoughts readers see both vulnerability and honesty of his limitations. Bruce thinks, “Super-people. I’ve worked so hard to gain their respect, they sometimes forget I’m flesh and blood.” It’s a very human moment where Batman brings up his humanity compared to high endurance of metahumans like the sun-powered Superman.

This issue does more than give a satisfying end to the Batman RIP story arc. It shows the extraordinary willpower that Batman has. In RIP, Batman had been drugged, driven mad, buried alive, and in a helicopter crash into the ocean… in short he had a long week. What #701 also shows the readers is that even after all that, he suits right back up and gets to work. He answers Superman’s call without mentioning the fact that he had just been through the ringer.

The New 52 is currently laying the foundation for this level of partnership to return. It would be a tragedy to see Miller’s take on Superman and Batman to make it into the main stream continuity. It would also be equally disappointing to see Wagner’s Superman, a hair from being the judge of who can be heroic and who cannot, take position in DC. And while it’s interesting to debate who would beat who, the relationship between these two men when they are working together is satisfying. It’s not hero and side-kick that is being seen on the page but a partnership that works in congress to defeat whatever antagonist is present in that month’s issue.

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Nathan J. Harmon is a graduate of Missouri State University and teaches English in southwest Missouri

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