Not often in literary history do two characters contrast and match each other so well. Batman and Superman are the figureheads of DC comics and were the only characters keeping the comic giant above the rising waters of collapse for well over two decades. It is natural that the characters, both 60 plus years in print, have acquired a massive fan base. The fan base of the two juggernauts of comics have been known to attack one another with claims on who is superior or who is the most interesting. With the entire fan “wars”, several recurring traits of the characters have been the basis of most claims on who is truly the best comic book character. Those traits are: the origins of the characters, their secret identities, and the style of justice they deliver.
First let’s talk about the Man of Steel himself, Superman, or Clark Kent if you prefer. His comic book origin, oddly enough, has gone through some odd changes and ret-cons during his tenure. Essentially the various origin stories all have Superman coming from his home planet of Krypton in a rocket, narrowly escaping the apocalypse that shattered his world. He was sent to the planet Earth, where Jonathan and Martha Kent, a caring family from Smallville longing for a child, found him they raised him as one of their own. In some older tellings, Clark began using his powers at a young age as the hero Superboy, but recently that was removed from history, as it didn’t make sense in the chronological timeline. Clark would eventually leave the city of Smallville to go to Metropolis. There he developed the Superman persona and began to defend the world from the likes of Lex Luthor, Braniac, and various other foes.
Superman’s secret identity is often a major topic of discussion when nerds gather. One argument is that Superman is his real identity and Clark Kent is his alter ego, being that he was born with his powers instead of gaining them in life. Others argue that he is Clark Kent and just so happens to be Superman, since he was raised to be human and later discovered he had powers. Either way both sides agree that Superman purposefully made his mild-mannered ego act different to Superman in every way. Clumsy, bumbling, and not all there best describes Clark in contrast to his Superman persona. Clark has gone so far out of his way that he often fools those he is around all the time, both as Superman and Clark. Lois Lane, Clark’s love interest, never figured out the identity of Superman despite being the one human, other than those of the superhero society, to be around Superman the most. Shows how far he goes with the personality change considering that the only thing hiding his identity is a pair of glasses and a “spit-curl.”
Superman, with the benefit of his secret identity, has developed a style of justice all his own. Instead of hunting down villains, Superman just stands back and reacts to every crisis, threat, and emergency, always protecting the lives of the innocent, and sometimes the evil, from immediate danger. Only after everyone is safe will he take on the main threat that is at hand.
Batman is a stark contrast to the Last Son of Krypton; for starters, Batman’s origins are slightly different from Superman. Batman, being born into a wealthy family as Bruce Wayne, lived a normal life until at a very young age his parents were killed at gunpoint during a back alley robbery. This moment would shape young Bruce Wayne’s life as his loyal butler Alfred raised him until he turned eighteen. At that age, Bruce began to travel the globe learning various martial arts and weapons training. After about six or seven years of globe hopping, Bruce returns to Gotham City and finds it corrupted beyond all belief. With crime lords ruling the streets and government offices, Bruce decides to take matters into his own hands. Using the bat (an image to strike fear in the hearts of crooks and villains of the city) Bruce developed the persona Batman. Compiling all his newly acquired skills and technology, courtesy of his own company Wayne Enterprises, Bruce wages an all out war against crime.
With this vigilante style of dealing with crime, Bruce was required to take up a secret identity in order to remain safe. Bruce did this by making Batman and Bruce fundamentally different. Bruce was seen primarily in the day and only out at night for mandatory public engagements to distract from any possible ideas of him being Batman. In stark contrast, Batman is never seen in the daytime (Unless fighting with the Justice League) and never makes public appearances (again unless he is with the Justice League). Bruce is fun and outgoing, trying anything and everything. He becomes a billionaire playboy spending outrageous amounts of money on lavish luxuries. In contrast, Batman is brooding and often rude to those he is around, (yes even the Justice League) never going over the top and playing it conservative. Another question often asked is, “Is Batman the alter ego or is it Bruce Wayne?” Much like the Superman debate this is highly disputed.
With his secret identity, Batman can deliver his own brand of justice. His style of justice is like that of a cowboy in the western movies of old. He came into a crime filled town and hunts down the cancer that is killing the city. While he is proactive instead of reactive, Batman is more of a detective. He uses his brains to hunt down his villains. While smarter than the average human, Batman is still only human and makes mistakes in his judgment, often plaguing him throughout his life.
All in all, Batman and Superman are fundamentally different. Comparing Batman to Superman is like comparing apples to oranges. Both are great and are too different to be compared to one another to see which is better. Sure they may have different origins, similar styles of identities and of course differing styles of justice. Most fans that want to argue this point should just sit down and read the characters for what they are and what they are not.