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6/13 – Curious Cat Asks…

Who was the first writer to do the whole “constantly contrast Batman and Superman with each other” thing that is now de rigueur for books featuring the characters (with Kurt Busiek now extending it to Wonder Woman, as well, in Trinity)? Was it Frank Miller in Dark Knight Returns? Or was it earlier?

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32 Comments

It was either Miller in Dark Knight, or Byrne in Man of Steel. Prior to that, there was too much “chummy” backstory to make it work.

I agree with Mike. It would have to be ’86 or later, once Batman’s paranoid dark loner characterization became the status quo.

Yes, it was Frank.

I saw that comics history documentary on the History Channel a few years back, and Miller pretty much takes credit for it.

Take that as you will.

The Man of Steel (and Dark Knight; both Byrne and Miller fed each other material for it) certainly started the trend of emphasising their differences (and suggesting that there was an edgier relationship between them), but I would argue the differences weren’t actively explored the way we see today in stuff like Trinity until Dave Gibbons and Steve Rude’s Worlds’ Finest miniseries in 1990. In fact, they actively kept the two characters away from each other for the most part (with a few exceptions like Death In The Family in Batman and a couple of appearances in the Superman books) until then.

Miller and Byrne actually conferred on that. So really you have to count it as being essentially simultaneous with Dark Knight and Man of Steel. I forget which hit print first, but it came out of a conference the two of them had. Call it a tie.

HOWEVER — there was a very forced version of it in the last few issues of World’s Finest. It felt pulled out of nowhere and it was a lame in-story justification for canceling the book. I don’t think it should count… but technically I suppose you could include it.

Yeah, I was also thinking of the final issues of World’s Finest; it was certainly the first place I encountered the notion, though I’m not sure if that actually predates Dark Knight, Returns or simply predates my reading of Dark Kinight Returns. As a related “fun fact,” I recall the nature of their relationship being a question on Jeopardy! at the time (Maybe early 1986?), the answer, or question, I guess, referring to what had then become the status quo of them, as Alex put it, “merely tolerating each other.”

I’m going with Miller and Byrne on this one, a quintessential opposition but indeed, overplayed in several works now.

Does anyone else think that it’s not only overdone but was never that great an idea to begin with? I mean, especially nowadays given that Batman has been so neutered. Now that Batman’s villains have become so “realistically” dark and depraved and kill scores of people on par with reality’s worst serial killers on the planet and Batman not only refuses to kill them or play rough with them, and in fact often goes out of the way to protect and rescue these villains from other villains and murderous vigilantes, what exactly is the big ideological difference between Batman and Superman these days? Batman is just a big Pollyana these days. In fact, if he comes across any vigilante who may actually take extreme measures against a villain like Jason Todd’s Red Hood or the new Vigilante, he’ll go out of his way to take them down for being too mean to villains. In fact, he seems to hate vigilantes who are too brutal to villains more than he hates the villains that actually kill scores of innocents. Geez, he recently even shot Jason Todd to save the life of the Joker. Yet we keep reading Batman and Superman team-ups where there supposed to have such a conflict due to their supposed huge ideological divide when it comes to crimefighting, because Batman is supposedly so dark and cynical while Superman is the boy scout. Batman has done NOTHING edgy in the past 15 years and is just as big a Pollyanna as Superman, if not moreso since Superman at least executed some dangerous criminals once. Same goes for Wonder Woman, she at least was willing to kill Max Lord when no other options presented themselves. Batman not only would have let Max Lord lived, he’d probably have fought the whole Justice League singlehandedly in order to keep him alive to kill more people another day. Batman was the guy who tried to fight the Justice League in order to protect Dr. Light after he just finished raping Sue Dibny. That’s right, even Barry Allen and Ralph Dibney were more edgy and dangerous than the current bleeding-heart Batman.

This is why this supposed “darkness vs. light” ideological rift between Superman and Batman is so stupid and and doesn’t feel genuine. There is no real darkness vs. light difference, they’re both just boy scouts. The only difference is that Batman lacks social skills while Superman’s friendly. There are no actual lines of conduct or behavioural extremes that Batman is willing to cross but Superman wouldn’t that would create this tension DC tries to convince us should exist between them. It’s not like it’s Captain America trying to team up with the Punisher or something…It worked in Dark Knight Returns because that Batman genuinely was crazy and abusive and over-the-top with criminals. The current Batman is just a bleeding heart with bad social skills.

What about when Batman walked out of the JLA and started the Outsiders? I’m not really familiar with those issues, but could they be construed as starting or reflecting a rift between the characters? Or did they not really touch on the old Batman/Superman friendship at all?

Craig B is correct. Superman & Batman were first portrayed as not getting along when Batman quit the JLA & formed the Outsiders. This was reflected in the last few issues of World’s Finest, and the two of them reconciled in the last issue of WF (#350?). So I’d say it was Mike W. Barr who really got the ball rolling there.

Dark Knight & Man of Steel came along a couple of years after this. Miller & Byrne were the ones who really solidified them not getting along as the new status quo, of course.

Damn, beaten to the Outsideres reference.

And… geez, we’re back to the “Batman isn’t dark enough” comments? Don’t tell me we need a Knightfall II to put those on the back burner for another decade-and-a-half….

(The ideological difference has NOTHING to do with killing or violence and basically never has. Superman doesn’t like that Batman uses fear and intimidation to get his job done, while Batman feels that Superman SHOULD be using intimidation – being basically the most powerful being on the planet – more than he does.)

This may sound weird and may not actually be valid but I remeber the mini seires Squadron Supreme with Hyperion(Superman) and Nighthawk(Batman) being highly contrasted and while I know they are just homages and not the real thing this is as close as I can find of Superman and Batman being contrasted at an ealier time so while thet may not actaully be Superman and Batman I still think it’s valid.

Bernard the Poet

June 13, 2008 at 11:39 am

There had been a gradual drifting apart of Batman and Superman since the early ‘Seventies. As Batman’s ears got longer, he became more and more of a embittered vigilante, whereas Superman remained the boy scout he had always been. So although we can probably pinpoint Batman and the Outsiders 1 as the time Superman and Batman parted ways, it seemed a logical progression for the characters.

Don’t tell me we need a Knightfall II to put those on the back burner for another decade-and-a-half….

Knightfall was never a good refutation of the argument that Batman should be darker, because it used such an obnoxious and grating exaggeration of a dark Batman to make its point that the current Batman was the best choice. Azbats was such an exaggerated parody of a darker, tougher Batman, it almost lent more credibility to the people asking for Batman to be darker, because if editors needed to grossly exaggerate and demonize the opposing idea in order to make the current Batman incarnation look good rather than represent the opposing idea in a level and fair manner, it’s like a tacit admission that their position was weak and couldn’t stand up to a more objective and faircomparison between the two approaches. No one who was advocating a darker Batman requested the obnoxious, hallucinating, psychotic, ranting and raving extremist that was Azbats.

They never proved that a tougher Batman was a bad idea with Knightfall. All they proved was that they had to grossly exaggerate the idea of a tougher Batman while glossing over any of the possibl ebenefits of such an aggressive approach in order to justify the current criminal-loving version.

The ideological difference has NOTHING to do with killing or violence and basically never has. Superman doesn’t like that Batman uses fear and intimidation to get his job done, while Batman feels that Superman SHOULD be using intimidation – being basically the most powerful being on the planet – more than he does.

That’s my point…if they both don’t kill and don’t use excessive violence, and the only real difference is that one is a boy scout that smiles a lot and the other is a boy scout that just a little surlier and brusque, portraying their ideological differences as so extreme that they can’t get along after 10 years (comic book time) of being colleagues and have such extreme enmity is just stupid. Either keep them both as boy scouts and make them chummy like they were pre-Crisis, or keep them as having a longstanding mutual enmity but create a REAL ideological difference to justify this longstanding dynamic. For them to be so fundamentally similar yet have such a dysfunctional relatonship just because Superman thinks Batman’s costume is a little too scary makes them both look petty and ridiculous.

Post-Crisis DC writers, unthinkingly and slavishly aping Miller’s Dark Knight, tried to recreate the dynamic from that book, but the reason why it worked in Dark Knight was because they DID actually have radically different approaches. Miller’s Batman was really psychotic and abusive to criminals, while Superman “sold out” and was the government’s stooge going against everything Batman stood for. In today’s DCU, they have a similar dynamic, but what’s the extreme ideological difference to justify it?

Preach on, T.

What especially bugs me in batman books is when someone like the Joker escapes from Arkham (again), and in a mere CAPTION they say he killed 12 people. If these were mice in a terrarium, and every time you caught a mouse it’d just hop out of the terrarrium, I’d be looking for a better terrarium.

I think Batman’s too afraid to kill someone like the Joker, else he’d become as bad as they are. I mean, how can he not feel a large degre of responsibility for Joker’s murders if he keeps on catching Joker, scolding him, and locking him up in a mere revolving door?

But telling a story like that would remove Batman from his status quo. He’d either have to kill or he’d have to admit that he’s glorified red tape, not actual deterrence. Whichever way a writer went, what would come out wouldn’t be the Batman that has so meticulouly been created.

Hmm…Marvel has What If…, and DC has Elseworlds. Any regualr series where we follow a character through BOTH sides of a crucial choice? Like Sliding Doors?

I’d rather the grudging respect but disagreeing with methods than the garbage “Hey buddy, how was your trip” Busiek is putting out.

The difference between Batman and Superman has nothing to do with “darkness” and “light.” It has to do with the motivation behind both characters.

As (arguably) the most powerful person on Earth and (for a while) the last surviving Kryptonian, Superman is motivated to set a good example. He knows the world watches everything he does, and tries his hardest to make sure it is both helpful and meaningful. He wants to be to his fellow heroes and the rest of the world what his adoptive parents were to him — someone to look up to — and to be worthy of his planet’s legacy.

Batman is motivated by a desire to see justice done. He believes that fear, darkness and madness give criminals an unfair advantage over others. By becoming more terrifying, darker and more unpredictable than his foes, he seeks to balance the scales and make the world the kind of place where an eight-year-old will never have to see his parents gunned down in an alley. Unlike Superman, he doesn’t care what other people think of him — yet the limitations he places on himself are greater even than Superman’s.

Neither character would kill the Joker. Yet Batman would think nothing of breaking into Arkham Asylum, rummaging through sealed court documents or beating a henchman within an inch of his life in order to find the Joker and bring him to justice. Superman wouldn’t do that, and not just because he doesn’t have to. To him, it’s more important to do the job “right” than to get the job done.

To an extent, this division has always existed between the two characters. Prior to Miller and Byrne, both characters recognized and respected this difference: Batman understood the need for Superman to inspire others, and Superman appreciated the effectiveness of Batman’s methods. After ’86, things changed — though Byrne’s version seems like it was intended to be temporary.

In his first Superman annual, for instance, there’s a sense that the two characters are developing a respect for each other that could grow into friendship. I’m not sure who decided to keep the sense of opposition as the status quo.

Neither character would kill the Joker. Yet Batman would think nothing of breaking into Arkham Asylum, rummaging through sealed court documents or beating a henchman within an inch of his life in order to find the Joker and bring him to justice. Superman wouldn’t do that, and not just because he doesn’t have to. To him, it’s more important to do the job “right” than to get the job done.

To an extent, this division has always existed between the two characters.

I dunno about that — the Pre-Crisis Superman was pretty cavalier about using his super-senses to perform the equivalent sort of prying, and the Pre-Crisis Batman was a deputized member of the Gotham PD at various points.

The difference between Batman and Superman has nothing to do with “darkness” and “light.” It has to do with the motivation behind both characters.

As (arguably) the most powerful person on Earth and (for a while) the last surviving Kryptonian, Superman is motivated to set a good example. He knows the world watches everything he does, and tries his hardest to make sure it is both helpful and meaningful. He wants to be to his fellow heroes and the rest of the world what his adoptive parents were to him — someone to look up to — and to be worthy of his planet’s legacy.

Batman is motivated by a desire to see justice done. He believes that fear, darkness and madness give criminals an unfair advantage over others. By becoming more terrifying, darker and more unpredictable than his foes, he seeks to balance the scales and make the world the kind of place where an eight-year-old will never have to see his parents gunned down in an alley. Unlike Superman, he doesn’t care what other people think of him — yet the limitations he places on himself are greater even than Superman’s.

Honestly, it depends on the writer. For some writers, it’s explicitly about the darkness vs. the light, whatever that means. For others, it’s the reason you say, that they have a difference in motivation or approach. But my point remains: even if you’re right and it’s just about one guy wanting to be a shining beacon and another guy wanting to scare criminals, WHY ON EARTH WOULD THAT KEEP THEM AT EACH OTHER’S THROATS FOR 10 YEARS? Especially given that they’ve saved the world side by side hundreds of times, both refuse to kill or use lethal force, both fight evil, both have the same mutual friends, both have the same mutual enemies, have both had top positions in the Justice League for years, and now in New Earth continuity they are once again founders of the JLA…what is the reason for 10 years of mutual enmity and barely grudging respect? It makes sense in Frank MIller to have that much tension and enmity because they ended up on fundamentally different sides of a major conflict. It made sense in Man of Steel because they were both fairly new and knew little about each other so naturally had a little bit or wariness and distrust. Today, after being teammates for years and founding members of the JLA, knowing each other’s secret identities, fighting side by side for ten years in comic time, both sharing a revulsion with killing, after saving each other’s lives countless times, you mean to tell me that all that is still outweighed by the fact that they dislike each other’s fashion sense and social skills? It’s a fundamentally stupid premise. First off, given that Batman has absolutely no powers, why would Superman hold it against him that he doesn’t want to make a giant target out of himself by wearing bright clothes and doesn’t want to be more socially approachable and nonthreatening to people? Is DC trying to tell me that Superman is such a moron that he can’t understand why a man with absolutely no powers and invulnerability would want to cultivate a crimefighting technique of stealthiness and intimidation? To buy into this dynamic in the current DCU continuity is to admit that the characters are horribly petty and/or stupid and shortsighted.

Neither character would kill the Joker. Yet Batman would think nothing of breaking into Arkham Asylum, rummaging through sealed court documents or beating a henchman within an inch of his life in order to find the Joker and bring him to justice. Superman wouldn’t do that, and not just because he doesn’t have to. To him, it’s more important to do the job “right” than to get the job done.

I’m sorry, but it’s very rare that Batman would beat a thug within an inch of his life. The only time I’ve seen him do things like that was right after Jason Todd died and he was becoming unhinged in the Bat-books and maybe a few isolated incidents outside that. If anything, I’ve seen more stories of Batman trying to protect criminals from unnecessarily brutal vigilantes than I have of him beating thugs within an inch of their lives. He may dangled thugs from rooftops sometimes or use intimidations or run of the mill beatings, but I’ve seen Superman stories where he uses intimidation and violence to get thugs to talk too. He may not beat them with all out punches like Batman does, but that’s because he rarely punches nonpowered people in general due to his fear of killing them thanks to his ridiculous strength. But he’s definitely scared thugs into talking by flying around the city dangling them or doing other things to frighten them.

And as far as Batman violating privacy and civil rights by going through sealed court documents, Superman has followed people, spied on them with X-ray vision in just about every decade of his existence, used his X-ray vision to peer into forbidden envelopes, objects and hideaways, used his super-hearing to do similar things. I do not buy this difference either, Sure writers SAY they’re very different and repeat justifications in-story similar to what you’ve stated here, but in actual practice and actions they simply are not that different, or at least not different enough to explain why they can’t get along after 10 years of saving the world hundreds of times, saving each others lives even more often, sharing the same friends and enemies and found and serving on the Justice League together. Writers only do it because they like Dark KNight Returns but never bother taking the time to think beyond aping the superficial aspects of their dynamic in that book to discover why it doesn’t work in the current DCU.

Actually, let me just clarify my point for a second. I don’t have any natural preference for either dynamic. I’m cool with them being chummy, I’m cool with them having a mutual enmity but grudging respect for each other. I’m just saying that if you choose to go the route of mutual enmity but grudging respect, then have a valid reason for it that makes sense. Don’t say it’s because the invulnerable guy who can survive just about any attempt on his life wants the nonpowered guy to wear birght colors and be more public and approachable and thereby risk his life. Show them having fundamentally different ideologies that bring about radically different results. Show that they don’t know much about each other, and that keeps them at odds. Don’t have them team up so much or spend so much time saving the world or each other’s lives. Don’t have them found superteams together and serve side by side on them for years. Don;t show them knowing each other’s secret identities. Because for any normal, mature human beings, all these factors would far outweigh the superficial differences in methodology they currently. On the flipside, if you are going to have them have so much shared history and relationships and knowledge, then make their relationship chummier.

I wouldn’t have put it in quite the same terms, but for the first time, I actually agree with T. and think he argued his case well.

To those who believe they aren’t different enough, I couldn’t see Superman dangling a thug off a rooftop for information. Batman would never kill, but Superman would never even pretend to be a killer. That being said I like a route half-way between chummy and enmity with respect, if only because Batman shouldn’t really be chummy. They should respect each other without having any real problem with each other, but Batman should always keep the world at arms reach. I’d like to see Superman reach out to Batman, but Batman keep his distance most of the time.

Why are people talking as if the status quo is one of constant conflict? Curious Cat asked about them constantly being *contrasted*, a la the tedious competing narration in Batman-Superman, not being at odds. Since Morrison’s JLA #1 I’d say that the post-Crisis dynamic has been increasingly undone. They’re no longer at each other’s throats; they’re pretty damn chummy. That was true even before the Infinite Crisis reboot that placed the Trinity retroactively at the core of all modern DC history. Yes, they squabbled once on the moon just before InfC, but it was pretty forced– Batman’s real arguments were with Wonder Woman and the Power Pact, not with Superman.

Mike Loughlin

June 13, 2008 at 9:12 pm

The problem is DC’s treatment of Batman: Every couple years (at least since No Man’s Land) he goes through the same character arc: he builds up allies, nurtures them, then decides to go it alone only to see he needs his allies and, by gosh, they’re a family. He’s gone through the process with Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman, Huntress, Alfred, Gordon, etc. He’s gone through this arc with the JLA at least twice. It’s tired, but it’s easy melodrama (considered “in character,” I think, by both DC editors and fans) that can fuel an entire year of repetitive stories. His relationship with Superman can not be properly settled because none of Batman’s relationships can be.

I like the enmity to tentative allies to mutual respect to friends arc, but I only want to read it once. If Busiek & McDuffie keep Superman & Batman friends, even through their differences, that’s fine with me.

I thought much of Batman’s problem with Superman had to do with (among other things) one man having the power of a god, and Batman’s inability to trust making him unable to fully accept Superman. Superman doesn’t like Batman’s methods (which is, as T. pointed out, kind of stupid) or his pessimism and distrustful nature.

Mike Loughlin

June 13, 2008 at 9:13 pm

Or, more simply: Superman sees the good in everyone, and Batman expects the bad.

I actually really enjoy the spectrum that the “trinity” has provided (although I’m not digging the “Trinity” book, mainly because of the absolutely terrible Countdown-esque villain plot).

Superman has the power to stop a super-criminal by blowing on them. He also has the ability to physically destroy the planet, and probably nothing could stop him. So he’s the guy who whisks people off to jail without a scratch on them, because otherwise, he wouldn’t be Superman, he’d be Superjerk, and he’d be at war with the world.

Batman is just a detective; he has to break an arm or two sometimes to do his thing and stop the bad guy. So he’s okay with it, and considers Superman’s methods naive. But he won’t kill – it’s his quirk, and pretty much a pathological one. So when you narrow the power differential between them, Batman’s still willing to go further than Superman, though sometimes still not far enough.

And Wonder Woman, well, she’s almost Superman, but she’ll do what the two of them won’t. She’ll kill to save lives if she feels it’s necessary, she won’t hesitate, and she’ll stand up for her decision, pointing out after killing Lord that the other two can be high and mighty since she’s already done the dirty work. It’s a refreshing take on a female character compared to her male counterparts, and ties into her role as a dignitary.

Now, I didn’t get into DC until 52 and had to read back, so I don’t know my ass from my elbow on the history and I do know that this take on Wonder Woman is recent and seems sort of unpopular. But I think the trinity is a better concept than Superman/Batman, because Wonder Woman provides that element and puts a recognizable face on it that isn’t Cable or Red Robin or whoever.

Bernard the Poet

June 14, 2008 at 2:34 am

Batman and Superman have been consistently teamed up over the last sixty years because they are DC’s most famous (and marketable) properties, not because it has any intrinsic artistic merit. Quite the opposite.

There is little reason why an omnipotent being would need the regular assistance of a street level vigilante. It must be a struggle to give Batman a significant part without him becoming a Jimmy Olsen substitute – ie victim/hostage. That is why Superman becomes so much dumber whenever Batman enters the room.

So suggesting that Batman and Superman share profound philosophical differences justifies the comic’s existence and gives the writers something to do with Batman. However, the overall effect is often detrimental to Superman – who is portrayed as excessively naive and ineffectual.

I’m not sure where it started but it definitely ended during Jeph Loeb’s horrible BATMAN/SUPERMAN team-up book. EVERY single scene with those two was a deliberate contrast between “light” and “dark” that was so poorly written and obvious that it just bludgeoned you over the head with it. Yeah, Superman is nice and Batman is a crab, we get it. That might have been conceptually interesting in the 80’s but it’s so over now.

T. said: “This is why this supposed “darkness vs. light” ideological rift between Superman and Batman is so stupid and and doesn’t feel genuine.”

It’s more about clothing style. Superman is a “summer” and Batman is a “winter”. Superman likes primary colors and Batman has that mask that’s all scowly-like and angry.

Their differing opinions on what color the boxer-briefs you wear over your tights should be has caused YEARS of in-fighting and animosity. Trust me, I’ve seen friendships end over crap like that. It’s how it goes.

I like where T. is going but I would have to say the difference is one of ideology, The Bat of recent decades has been operating under a sort of ultra-paranoia. I’m thinking Tower of Babel or the long running story thread that he is almost always carrying kryptonite on him.
I think that the problem isn’t with the superman batman interaction but with reconciling the loner Batman personality with his involvement with the JLA and other groups. There are a lot of problems with having this characer, who I think in some cases is still portrayed as though he is attempting to keep the people of Gotham thinking he is an urban myth be at the head of a group of very high profile supes. He is popular and an interesting character though so including him in team-ups is going to happen regardless. The same problem exists with Wolverine over at Marvel.
The problem then would be entirely that if you want to portray Batman as doing both you’re going to get some ridiculous outcomes, this being one of them.

Compare/Contrast: I don’t mind the compare/contrast thing as long it’s done in a way that goes somewhere and builds something into the story. The problem is that it’s been do so much and so badly over the years that in the unlikely event a writer comes along with an angle on the story, I’m still likely to be pessimistic about it because it’s been done so much.

Knightquest: For the past few years, I’ve really come to believe that Batman’s psychological profile not only allows for but kind of demands that he whack the more serious villains out there. He wouldn’t do it to some random purse snatcher, but if he were consistent in his views, he’d feel obligated to take, say, the Joker down. For good. And if he legitimately had this worldview, I think that’d provide all the necessary incentive Superman would need to honestly not approve of Batman’s methods… except then you’d have to explain why Superman hasn’t taken him down already. His reasons for not doing so (“I’d become one of them”) never added up to me. He goes out every night without a badge, beats the crap out criminals and violates their civil rights, confiscates evidence without a warrant and interrogates other crooks without even a whiff of probable cause. But, hey, somehow he’s better than criminals because he doesn’t kill? Am I to believe there’s never been a criminal out there who beat the stuffings out of someone to obtain information?!? Batman’s a criminal by any definition of the word, not to mention a hypocrite. To me, it makes no sense why he wouldn’t go all the way and kill the more dangerous criminals (aside from the Comics Code that is, which, aside from Denny O’Neil, is probably where all this BS comes from in the first place).

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