I’ve already been asked the above question at least 10 times by family members and a couple of friends and I expect I’ll be asked it many more times before Batman v Superman: Dawn of the R-rated DVD Cut gets released on March 25. For the sake of preemptively answering any lingering queries you may have about the oncoming slug fest, I will spend the entirety of this article telling you everything I know about the most popular superhero-on-superhero battle in all of comicdom.
Within the context of the film itself, why Batman and Superman are fighting is pretty easy to answer. The trailers and the marketing materials have made it pretty clear that the world and Batfleck in particular feel threatened by Superman after that his fight with Zod reduced Metropolis to ruins at the end of Man of Steel. Honestly, I can’t really blame them for feeling that way; Superman was punching Zod into skyscrapers that were presumably full of people. For his part, Clark Kent/Superman doesn’t approve of Batman’s vigilante tactics and I also can’t quite fault him for feeling that way, since Batfleck is in full-on psycho-thug Batman mode and is straight up breaking bones and branding badguys with the bat symbol.
So, yeah…we’re kind of at an impasse.
Lex Luthor will be stirring up the pot to try and get them to destroy each other, because that’s what super villains do. I suspect that Wonder Woman’s role will be to try to get them to drop the macho bullshit and make friends with each other. Doomsday will be a last ditch gamble on Luthor’s part to destroy all three heroes once he realizes his initial scheme has fallen through. Doomsday will most certainly be made from Zod’s DNA. Then, once the dust has settled, the trio will recruit more super friends to make a team in case stuff like that happens again and that’s how we will end up with the Justice League.
That’s my big, not-risky-at-all BvS prediction, because having superheroes stepping on each others toes before uniting against a common enemy is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Hell, we already saw versions of that scenario in The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. At this point, I’m in awe that movie goers aren’t as sick of this cliché as comics readers.
For those who don’t know, BvS did not invent the great Batman/Superman fight. These two have tussled more times than I can count in the comics and the occasional cartoon for decades. It has been the center of many spirited debates in the geek community for a long ass time and it has been fought over so much that pretty much all of the fun has been thoroughly drained from it. I think I got sick of the debate before I was legally old enough to drink. Speaking of drinking, I’m legitimately terrified that BvS will blow so much that it will turn me into an alcoholic. The stakes are high on this one.
I’m not particularly well-versed in old comics, but one of the earliest Batman/Superman fights I could find is from 1966, within the the pages of World’s Finest Comics #163, in which an evil alien forces the two heroes into gladiatorial combat against each other via hypnotic suggestion. That issue sadly isn’t available on Comixology, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Batman and Superman threw off the hypnosis and took down the villain at the end.
It wasn’t until the 1980s, the beginning of comics’ dark modern age, that the rivalry between DC’s two biggest heroes became deadly serious business. Frank Miller’s landmark 1986 miniseries The Dark Knight Returns ends with Superman (now working for the US government in DKR’s dystopian future setting) brawling with an elderly, armored-up Batman (a vigilante fugitive) in Crime Alley. Batman wins the fight in the most ridiculous and appropriately Batman-esque manner possible: by plugging his suit into Gotham’s power generator and using the power of the entire city to deliver a knockout blow followed by the most brutal head stomp in all of comics. Superman survives, and Batman fakes his death so he can train a new generation of Batmen to take his place. I first read DKR when I was 17 (for an English class, of all things) and I thought that fight was pretty badass. Looking back now, I begrudgingly acknowledge that it’s still awesome, though it’s far from my favorite comics moment for either character.
Granted, DKR was made by an all-time great writer/artist who was at the top of his game; of course it’s awesome. And like pretty much all awesome works of art, it inspired a legion of inferior imitators. Aside from the grim dark aesthetic, the Batman/Superman fight – or rather, the notion that they don’t get along and are often at odds with each other – is one of the biggest impacts DKR had on DC as a whole. It completely restructured the relationship of these two characters in a way that persists so strongly today that we’re now getting a very expensive movie about it.
There have been a bunch more Batman/Superman fights since DKR, notably in Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Batman: Hush storyline (Superman was under the influence of Poison Ivy’s mind control pheromones for that one) and also in the “Origin” arc of Justice League when DC relaunched everything with the New 52 initiative in 2011. That particular fight also involved the Hal Jordan version of Green Lantern, just in case it wasn’t boring enough. I can’t remember for the life of me how it started, though I do recall it was another one of those “let’s make the heroes fight and then kiss and make up in time to face the real villain” affairs. Miller himself even revisited the famous battle in his twice as ridiculous and half as good follow-up to DKR, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, published from 2001 to 2002. In the rematch, Batman beats the crap out of Superman using a pair of Kryptonite boxing gloves, and frankly, it wasn’t even the most bizarre scene in DKSA.
Lest I give the impression that I’m completely against any sort of Batman/Superman conflict, there is one instance where it was executed so well that I pretty much consider it the gold standard of that worn out storyline. Curiously, it didn’t happen in any comics; it was in the two part “World’s Finest” episodes of Superman: The Animated Series. Save for Batman somehow throwing Superman across the room in the video I embedded at the top of this article, the two don’t actually fight at all, but they start off not liking each other. They are forced to team-up when Lex Luthor hires the Joker to kill Superman and over the course of 42 glorious minutes, Batman and Superman are forced to put aside their differences and find out that, hey, they actually have a lot in common. Their relationship continued to develop over the course of a couple more crossovers and well into the Justice League cartoon, which functioned as a successor to their respective animated series.
To be uncharacteristically optimistic, maybe Snyder is shooting for something similar to “World’s Finest,” but just blown up to the bombastic proportions suitable for the guy who directed 300. After all, BvS, is supposed to lead into a proper Justice League film, which Snyder is also directing. But from what I’ve seen, it all just looks like a bazillion dollar version of those last few pages of DKR, to the point where Batfleck is basically Miller Batman (Brick shithouse proportions, graying hair, dark colors, short bat ears, oversized logo, the power armor, etc) come to life. It looks great and all, but I really don’t need a live action DKR. Part of what made the fight in that story so memorable was that it felt like the culmination of the relationship between those two heroes, spiraling downward into a violent end decades in the making.
By contrast, Batfleck takes it upon himself to take out Superman because he torn up a city, broke a dude’s neck and then cried about it. And while those are valid concerns, there’s no prior relationship between them; these aren’t former friends or allies turned against one another by circumstance. Pretty much the only reason for Batfleck being in this movie looking the way he does is to conjure up memories of Batman and Superman’s most well-known brawl and to bring it to life, probably in 3D. But no amount of CGI wizardry can make up for the context that made the DKR fight so great; it’s just going to be two dudes who feel threatened by each other getting into brawl, except one can break a city. I already feel bored.
And again this is just idle speculation on my part. Maybe Snyder has more than a superficial recreation of the DKR version of the Batman/Superman fight in mind. Maybe the finished product will blow my mind and be incredible and maybe I’ll like it so much that I’ll check out the R-rated DVD release; or maybe not and we’ll end up with another out of touch, alienating, too dark for its own good fiasco like Man of Steel.
Anyhow, I hope this column was helpful to the “Why are these guys fighting?!” crowd. I have a feeling that I’ll be writing a spiritual sequel of sorts when Captain America: Civil War comes around on May 6.