It is the most storied conflict in comic book history: Batman vs Superman. Too often it is ill-framed with Batman the hero and Superman the oppressor. And that is understandable. Superman is a god, he is an alien. How could someone who flies above the Earth see and understand those who walk it? But that is the mistake. If the last son chose, he could easily instill his will upon Earth. Every conflict, every rogue nation, every criminal and dissident could be brought low. But Superman doesn’t do that. The why is a lesson lost on most readers.
Krypton was destroyed by hubris, by the belief that Kryptonians were invulnerable, all knowing, conquerors of the cosmos. But it was this pride, this belief in their own infallibility that brought about their near extinction. A select few ruled the planet, believing they knew what was best for their people, an inner circle detached from their own civilization. On learning of the fate of his people, is it any wonder that Superman acquired humility. No one knows all, sees all, is omnipotent. We are all flawed and it is only through coming together, through trust, that we will grow and prosper, push back the night.
Superman reveals his face to the world, is proud to inspire and drive man to be better. He takes on the burden of being a man, letting his voice, just as much as his deeds, serve man. He wants nothing more than to walk amongst us, to draw us up with him, to make us better. He believes in our possibility. And that, to most, is the enemy?
Who is the Batman? He is a man, a most jaded man, he has retreated from the world because he trusts no one but himself. Whether he be the Dark Knight or the billionaire playboy, he is a recluse. He sees the worst in men, believes he alone can save us. In his pride, he believes no one else can, or should, take up his burden. Rather than through word or act, it is through fear that he seeks to maintain, not right, the status quo. He does not move to solve the corruption in Gotham. For all his money, he would rather spend on new weapons rather than economic programs to remove the poverty and destitution that drives crime and the creation of monsters.
Batman does not want to face the sole problem that he faces because to do so would require him to show real bravery. His parents were murdered. It was not a special event. There was nothing monumental about it. His parents were simply murdered in a random act. He has to forgive himself, realize that life has moments both dark and light, allow himself to mourn, and then move on. Their loss is a loss all feel eventually in their lives. But Batman made it something more. He made his parents saints, criminals demons, and himself a martyr. He has taken his grief, fostered that inner rot, and projected it; magnified it. Gotham, and its people, are his parents. The criminals are that lone gunmen. And every night he strikes out to right that wrong. But he never will. He refuses to let the city get better, he refuses to mature, and he lingers in the melancholy. Robins have come and gone abandoning him when they reached that point where they could follow him no farther. Alfred, his loyal servant, stays out of devotion, not conviction. And Gotham has become nothing more than a fascist state where fear drives all.
So why is Superman the villain and Batman the hero? Because of our juvenile hatred of the system? Because society itself can’t solve all ills? Because we believe if we were given the power to do so we could make the world a better place? Superman too often is made to represent the order as it is when that is not what he represents at all. Superman is the public servant trying to work within the system to make things better. Batman is the rebel, the revolutionary striving to overturn what is. But what does he offer once what is is no more? Emptiness. Hollowness. Nothingness.
The most apt comparison was made between Batman and Joker. They truly are two sides of the same coin, a cycle of chaos and order that will never be righted; a conflict brought about by one action that spirals ever more and more out of control until it threatens to consume everything. They exist solely to battle, never to stop and question why, and the battle will never end until they are removed; until death alone stills their futility against true balance. Superman is what exists beyond the battle. He is a creator, a believer, he is hope in times of despair. He trusts in us. So why do you trust in the Batman?