Last month, the titanic battle of the century hit screens. The Thrilla in Vanilla! The Rumble in the Concrete Jungle! The Mayhem in Gotham! The Papadopoulos in Metropolis! (Okay, so that last one was reaching a little bit, but you try coming up with a word that rhymes with Superman’s stomping grounds. Besides, if you do a little research on George, you’ll see it actually kind of fits. But I digress.)
Now, there had been a lot of speculation leading up to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice among geeks and muggles alike. Talk of power sets, abilities, past confrontations, physics, all aimed at answering the ultimate question: who would win this epic face-off, Batman or Superman?
I’d argue that it’s a trick question, because Superman isn’t actually in this movie—the Man of Steel is. There’s a distinct difference between the two characters, and a reason why I say that, which I covered in my piece “The Death of a Hero.” But putting that aside, even if we say the character in Dawn of Justice is really Superman, the film doesn’t really answer the question. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, I won’t say why; you’ll have to go watch it for yourselves (or ask someone . . . or probably just look anywhere else on the Internet).
What I am going to do, however, is answer the original question: the age-old question of who would win in a battle between these two heroes. And I’ll do it right up front.
It’s Batman. Every time. Bar none.
Now, whenever this perennial question comes up, the first thing that people go to is the consideration of raw power. Superman leaps tall buildings in a single bound, he bends steel in his bare hands, and bullets bounce off his chest. How can a mere mortal hope to stand up to that?! The answer is simple: cunning! Well—that, and Batman is the baddest man on the planet.
To understand this as truth, one need only consider 1986’s The Dark Knight Returns. (Warning, spoilers are to follow.) This groundbreaking Frank Miller limited series tells the tale of an aging Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement as Batman to once again save the streets of Gotham. In the world of the story, vigilantes have been outlawed. Wonder Woman has returned to the Amazons, Green Lantern has gone to the stars, and Superman? Superman did the least of all; he went to work for the government, stopping insurrections and America’s enemies. Yet even with all of Superman’s power working for the land of the free, the country has still gone to hell . . . but Batman forces Gotham to fix itself with his sheer force of will.
There are two major pieces of this story that stand out in conveying Batman’s inherent value and, ultimately, power. The first is the retiring Commissioner Gordon trying to explain to the incoming Commissioner Yindel (who is anti-Batman) why she needs the Caped Crusader and why the welfare of Gotham isn’t as simple as the law. Gordon likens Batman to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the conspiracy theory that FDR knew of the attack on Pearl Harbor ahead of time but allowed it to happen in order to get the US into World War II. If FDR did know, it makes him complicit in the lives lost at Pearl Harbor and the destruction of the attacks. But this loss was also the thing that galvanized the country into getting into the war, one that would not have been won without the US intervention that ended up saving millions of lives and stemming the tide of fascism. If the theory were true, was it right for FDR to let the arguably “lesser of two evils” of Pearl Harbor happen to deal with the greater evil of Hitler and the Axis? Innocent lives were lost, but we won the war. Gordon explains that he came to the conclusion that the situation was too big; FDR was too big to judge in simple black and white. Yindel says that she doesn’t see what this has to do with Batman. Gordon concludes with a prophetic “Maybe you will.”
This naturally comes crashing back to Yindel in the fourth and final part of the series when she faces the same realization about Batman that Gordon did. After she has been hunting him with all her resources, with Batman fighting around her to help her save lives and protect the city while also going out of his way not to seriously hurt her or her officers, an electromagnetic pulse knocks out power across the country. The only city to come out okay is Gotham: after the city descends into chaos and rioting, the police not having the resources to handle all of the turmoil, Batman rides in with an army of followers, declares martial law, and restores order to the city. He does what Yindel and the leadership of the city cannot. He is breaking the law by being a vigilante, but he is ensuring justice, peace, and order in Gotham, something that is happening nowhere else. Yindel realizes in that moment that Batman is too big for her to judge. He is more than a man—he is a symbol, an idea, the same as Superman. In this respect, the heroes are on an equal level.
The second major piece from this story is the battle between Batman and Superman. Batman’s exploits start making national news, and it makes people question the government and status quo. So the president (either Reagan or someone Reaganesque) sends Superman to bring him in. Superman knows Batman won’t go quietly, and they set up to face off in Crime Alley, the place where Batman’s parents were killed. When Superman shows up, he searches for Batman, only to trigger missiles set up to be activated by his X-ray vision. He’s then fired upon by Robin in the armored tank version of the Batmobile. When Superman finally comes toward Batman, Batman hits him with a sonic ray. All of this is designed to wear Superman down so that Batman can fight him in an armored suit (similar to the one in Dawn of Justice) that is tapped into Gotham City’s power grid. Even at this point, however, Superman’s power levels are way above Batman’s, and he begins to take apart Batman’s suit, disconnect it from the grid, and hurt him. That’s when Batman hits him with Kryptonite that he synthesized, reducing Superman’s abilities to normal human levels, and proceeds to kick his Spandex behind.
All of this is why he will always win: he plans. He is already Superman’s equal as a symbol, as a force; though he’s just a man, he plans ahead and brings Superman down to his level power wise, and that allows him to succeed. Most people forget that Batman is the only nonpowered person on the Justice League, yet all the other heroes listen to him. He has even led them. He is able to hang with these titans because of his mind. He is a master strategist who considers every angle and makes a contingency for each one—even the Justice League members themselves, as seen in the animated feature Justice League: Doom and the comic-book story arc JLA: Tower of Babel. Both of these story lines deal with criminal masterminds, Vandal Savage and Ra’s al Ghul respectively, stealing Batman’s confidential files with detailed instructions on how to defeat the Justice League, including Superman . . . and including himself. Batman has devised ways to defeat all of them in the event that any of them are controlled, go crazy, go bad, or for any other reason must be taken down. The stories of course resolve, but it demonstrates the ability of Batman’s mind and why he will win. The other heroes depend on their powers, but Batman depends on strategy.
Batman also defeated Superman in the Batman: Hush story line with the combination of a Kryptonite ring and psychological trauma. The list goes on, but it all comes down to brain power, strategy, and planning. And Batman does that very well.
So, as you ponder the question of who will win in the battle, Batman already knows.
Because he’s planned it out.
Hint: it’s Batman.
Don’t miss the other Batman v Superman goodness here on Twin Cities Geek:
- “The Overstuffing of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (Mark McPherson)
- “Taking the Gotham Out of Batman” (Satish Jayaraj)
- “The Death of a Hero: How DC Killed Superman to Make Way for the Man of Steel” (Jonathan Palmer)