Editors Note: All editorials are solely the opinion of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of DC Comics News or its staff.
I had some issues with Man of Steel. I guess I should’ve known that I would from the start. After all, it shared the name of the 1986 relaunch by John Byrne that effectively made me almost ashamed to call myself a Superman fan for years. Also David Goyer was in charge of the script.
Anyway, now the sequel is set to come out. Batman’s in it for some reason. To be honest, I don’t care that Ben Affleck is playing the caped crusader. I enjoyed his rather nuanced performance in The Voyage of the Mimi. So I’ll reserve my judgment there.
My big concern is how the two titular characters are going to interact with one another. There’s a moment that I think defines their relationship better than any other. It wasn’t in Justice League (or Unlimited), or their self-titled series. It wasn’t even in a canon comic. It was in Justice, the miniseries by Alex Ross and Jim Krueger. The two heroes have a conversation that goes like this:
BATMAN: Have you ever thought about how similar we are, Clark? Our methods and our cities are not that different.
SUPERMAN: Your approach is fear-based, Bruce. You operate from the shadows. And Gotham is nothing like Metropolis. Not really.
BATMAN: Sure it is. Maybe the crimes are different, maybe the degree of violence is different, but that’s got nothing to do with the people who commit them… And everything to do with the fear of being found out and getting caught.
SUPERMAN: People suffer all kind of crimes, the worst of crimes, in your city, Bruce. Even children… That’s not your fault. No one can be everywhere at once. You can’t stop every crime. You can’t see everything.
BATMAN: But you can, Clark. You can see through walls. You can be on the other side of town in the blink of an eye. Everyone in Metropolis knows this. Is that the reason you do interviews and tell everyone you can see through walls? Is that the reason you let everyone know about you? When you do, Clark, you take the power out of the shadows. You steal away a criminal’s safety in the dark. You make them afraid.
I really do hope Goyer read that book.
Batman’s right, of course. He’s always right. Superman may not want to admit the truth, but that’s perfectly alright. Superman is the impossible and he believes in an impossible ideal. He’s my favorite character and always will be and a big part of that is the denial he has for the “hard truth.”
What it comes down to is fear. The fear is ancient and it sits deep down in our bones. Fear of the Devil versus fear of God. In this case, we see Batman as the Devil and Superman as God. People fear committing crimes in Gotham because they fear the shadowy thing waiting in the darkness that will punish them for their evil deeds. Batman hurts people. He plays mind games. He’s a master of theatricality and deception. I have no doubt that many citizens, criminal or otherwise, view him as evil. Perhaps a necessary evil, but evil nonetheless.
People fear committing crimes in Metropolis because they are always being watched by a God-like figure: Superman. He’s moral, incorruptible, unstoppable, and damn near omniscient. They fear his wrath and his judgment. Many people are inspired by him and his message of goodness and love. They look up to him. You’ve heard them do it. “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!”
But fear, that fear so low and primal you can feel it in your socks, is always the common denominator. Superman refuses that notion because he doesn’t want to be feared. He doesn’t want to see himself as a God.
Fear unites them. It helps them understand one another. It has always defined them. A long time ago, Clark Kent was just a scared little boy, afraid of what he was. And Bruce Wayne was lost and terrified in an alleyway.
Fear matters so much to them. But it’s love that makes them such good friends. It’s love that makes them respect one another so greatly. I don’t mean love for each other, at least not in the romantic sense. I mean that they see love in one another.
I’ve explained at length, many times, that Superman loves us. All of us. He thinks we’re worth saving. He sees all the hatred and bigotry and murder and filth in this world and it saddens him because he knows the wonders we could one day achieve. He knows the miracles we’d perform if we loved like he did.
And now I’m sure you’re wondering about Batman. He’s just after vengeance, right? No. Of course not. Couldn’t be more wrong. Bruce Wayne does what he does, night in and night out, because of love. He knows that no child should ever be left alone in the dark. He works to make sure that no child ever is. The truth of the matter is, what Batman does is only possible because of love. There is only so much pain and hatred, only so many broken hearts a person can endure before they are irreparable. Bruce Wayne is held together by love. He is driven by it.
Part of me knows that Goyer will ignore these nuances. That Batman vs Superman will be exactly what it sounds like: a Dark Knight Returns-inspired slugfest that dangerously and maliciously misinterprets one or both of the two greatest characters comics have to offer. But there’s another part of me that hopes for something better.