As the title suggests, the upcoming stupid-ass movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will feature Batman and Superman opposing each other, at least for a while, before they inevitably come together to form what will become the Justice League of America. I do not follow this garbage film franchise, because it is stupid, but Wikipedia tells me that this film shares a continuity with Man of Steel, the bad 2013 movie in which Superman saved Earth by punching down a bunch of tall buildings with people in them and then snapping the bad guy’s spine with his hands.
This is to say, it is bullshit from the start, because it poses Batman against a bullshit version of Superman; a Superman dangerous enough to make rooting for him to get beat up seem like it might be a reasonable choice. Man of Steel’s Superman is a heedless, incoherent, city-wrecking alien menace—a grim ’n’ gritty anti-heroic thermonuclear bomb in a cape and tights. He is very un-Superman-like. He might as well be, like, Osama bin Laden, who also destroyed skyscrapers full of innocent people for what he believed were good reasons. The tentacled aliens in Independence Day probably thought they were preserving something worth leveling a major city for, too. If Batman fights this version of Superman, the thing to root for is for both of them to be vaporized by a meteor made of kryptonite.
Creating a Batman-versus-Superman fight, but then substituting in a Superman tweaked just enough to change the entire landscape of it, is not a new trick in the superhero business. Psychotic right-wing crank Frank Miller contorted like crazy to make it work for his batshit 1986 landmark comic miniseries The Dark Knight Returns. By the time the fight happened, Superman was:
- Both a willing symbol and an uncritical agent of Ronald Reagan’s apocalyptic federal government*
- More or less responsible for nuclear winter, an electromagnetic pulse that destroys Gotham City’s infrastructure, and the resulting carnage and chaos
- Severely weakened by a thermonuclear blast, lack of sunlight, and kryptonite
- Only hanging out in Gotham City for the purpose of helping the government cover up an embarrassment by corralling the man who had averted the end of civilization, on horseback, with the help of some teens.
The resulting conflict—which Batman won? Sort of? By having the upper hand at the moment he fakes his own death?—could not possibly answer the question of who would, or should, win a fight between Batman and Superman, because it isn’t a fight between Batman and Superman. It’s a fight between Batman and a phony Superman ginned up expressly for the purpose of making you root for Batman. Much like the conflict in this dumber-than-shit upcoming movie will be!
*Let us now pause for a moment to marvel at the political stupidity of this. Miller had the Randian Reagan government throwing itself behind an adopted undocumented alien immigrant newspaper journalist, against a trust-fund billionaire industrialist vigilante who’d just squashed city-wide riots by rallying a bunch of angry white teen boys to beat the shit out of poor people with no help from the government. Why did anyone ever think Frank Miller isn’t a goddamn moron?
The thing is, this gambit is the only way to construct some seemingly balanced, ambiguous Batman-against-Superman conflict. A fight between their iconic, traditional forms has both an obvious rooting interest and an obvious winner. Both are Superman.
Even on the terms of his most generous depictions, Batman is a dingus. He is a trust-fund billionaire who puts on a balaclava with ears so that he can do technology-enhanced karate at pickpockets and muggers; who sinks his fortune into paramilitary hardware in support of his one-man campaign to punch a major city into peace; whose concept of justice is throwing on his Goth Navy SEAL costume and terrifying people so they’ll follow the rules better; who evidently has never once considered that Gotham City’s continued awfulness might refute his methods. He throws darts shaped like his brand logo. He’s Jeff Bezos on steroids and paint-thinner fumes. He is a choad.
Imagine, if you can, the kind of grown-ass man who, privileged with essentially unlimited wealth and free time and inspired to do some good in the world with it, sits down and dreams up the following list of tools he will need:
- Bat-shaped shuriken
- A gun that fires a grappling hook
- A helmet with ears
- Ninja fighting skills
- A large cutout bat silhouette, so that the police can notify me by spotlight when there are some criminals to karate-chop for them
This is the list of a moron. Even George W. Bush’s list (“The Wite Hows; My Dade’s Frens”) was better than this list. The young billionaire industrialist who makes this list needs a fucking trustee to manage his wealth for him, and probably to cut his hot dogs into little half-circles so that he will not choke to death.
More than that, his entire concept of how to interact with the world is stupid. Scare the bad guys with karate is the least helpful, most moronic thing a young billionaire could do with his wealth and free time, short of building a doomsday device. If he quit with the crime-fighter malarkey, stayed home playing Xbox, and literally just paid property tax on all the shit he owns, he’d do more good than he does as Batman, because at least he would not be beating the shit out of people and undermining the civic justice system.
Even allowing pity for Bruce Wayne after the loss of his parents, and factoring in his grief and anger at their murder, there’s no getting around that he’s an unhelpful crazy person. What he does is bad, and in decades of doing it, he never produced a peaceful Gotham City, because beating the shit out of people while dressed like The Scariest Village Person rather obviously could never produce that, which is not news to literally anyone else, which is why he has to wear a mask when he does it. Masked men who do bad things on purpose to people weaker than them are villains. Even in comic books!
Now, contrast this malevolent bag of crap with Superman. Superman is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and can fire lasers from his eyeballs—and, crucially, he is not squandering unimaginable material wealth and privilege to produce these abilities via combat technology. These abilities are his privilege, and he uses them to serve humankind—literally every member of which is weaker than him—for free, while also reporting the news for them. He is not even a superstar corner outfielder, which would pay out pretty nice for a dude who could swing a bat at Mach 9 or whatever!
Even if the end result is similar—both of them do a fair amount of punching bad guys—this makes Superman morally superior to Batman and better to root for in a fight between them. Rooting for Batman to beat up Superman is rooting for the villain: the guy who inherited an incomprehensible capacity to pursue any goals he set for himself, punching-related or not, and used it to make himself into Darth Zimmerman and impose his own demented moral code on a city of millions. That’s dumb and gross. The specific thing Superman is for is toppling this type of malignant shithead.
More to the point, though, rooting for Batman is also self-defeating, because, c’mon, there’s no fucking way Batman wins that fight. Hell fucking no. Kung-Fu Chet Haze over here is beating up an alien god who could tie all of his limbs into knots in the time it takes him to discover that it’s happening? Who could melt even the toughest of Batman’s specialized gadgets with eyeball lasers from a mile away, or freeze him into cryo-sleep with his breath, or drop Mount Everest on his head from above the clouds? No he is not. That is not even a fight, because it would be over before Batman even knew it had begun. Goth Winklevoss would not even last long enough to land a punch; if he even finished throwing one before Superman punted his nuts into the roof of his mouth, it would be the most impressive feat in human history.
As you now cannot help but agree without being a wiener, the only way Batman ever defeats Superman—has ever defeated Superman, could ever defeat Superman—is with the assistance of the omnipotent comic book writer, monkeying with the terms of the conflict, bending its parameters to the advantage of the billionaire businessman. This makes a kind of sense, the child of outrageous privilege being given a boost from the powers that be to ensure his undeserved triumph over a self-reliant minority, and if such vile and rightly despised parties as Objectivists and Kyle Wagner prefer this outcome, that is no surprise.
If you wish to ally yourselves with them, to root against decency and selflessness in favor of a rich terrorist dressed like a vermin that gives rabies to adorable horses—that is a gross, bad, anti-horse choice you are free to make, I suppose. Fine! Suit yourself. This is why no one likes you at all.
Lead photo by Getty.