For the majority of their history, Superman and Batman have been known as the World’s Finest, teaming up in various mediums from video games to television shows to comics. They’re the perfect crime fighting team, mixing brains and brawn. Yet for some reason, there’s a desire to pit them against each other. I never understood that desire, and frankly, I don’t understand any writer that chooses to make Superman and Batman enemies.
For starters, they balance each other out. Clark inspires Bruce to hold on to hope while Bruce reminds Clark that sometimes there are limitations to what they can do. Beyond that, their abilities mesh well. While Superman is a highly intelligent character, he is predominantly seen as a physical force. Paired with Batman – one of the greatest minds in the DC Universe – the two are unstoppable. There’s no mystery they can’t solve or foe they can’t defeat together.
Then there’s the legacy argument. The two have been friends for longer than they’ve been enemies. I wouldn’t be surprised if “Superman and Batman must be friends” was in a list of rules at DC. It just makes more sense to pair them up than pit them against each other. You can only have them fight so many times before it gets stale. With a friendship, you can have them grow. One of my favorite things in recent years was seeing Clark, Lois, Bruce, and Selina go out on a double date. I adored seeing Bruce and Clark be fathers together (back before Bendis decided to rob us of Jon being in the Teen Titans and effectively ruining the special factor of “Super Sons”). Even in stories where the two become adversaries at some point, it’s nice to see them be such integral parts of the other’s life. I like to imagine that one would always be the Best Man at the other’s wedding.
There’s also the part of me that strongly dislikes anything that reeks of Frank Miller. While I’m sure Superman and Batman were at odds at some point in the decades before “The Dark Knight Returns,” that story made the concept of these two characters duking it out the go-to for every contrarian writer. I’ll buy that Superman would trust Batman to have a contingency plan in the event of brainwashing or a meltdown, but I have never bought the notion that the two would despise the other. Especially when you factor in their involvement with the Justice League. Sure, we’ve all got coworkers we’re not fond of, but you can’t tell me they’re cordial at the Hall of Justice and then fighting with each other as soon as the meeting ends.
I’m not saying the two can’t disagree on things. I don’t want them to be Marge Simpson’s version of Itchy and Scratchy. They’re their own person with their own world experiences, after all. I just think constantly making them foes is the sign of a weak writer who doesn’t know what else to do with the characters.
Superman and Batman were best friends for nearly 50 years until the Crisis and then the John Byrne reboot. They had great adventures together, especially in the “World’s Finest” book. They always seemed to be able to count on each other and seemed to enjoy each other’s company. There was even a back-up feature which was an Imaginary Story featuring the adventures of the Super Sons. Clark and Bruce’s teenage sons who were also best fiends. So why the change?
Superman and Batman were both going through changes in their own books. John Byrne making Clark Kent the main identity and Superman the secret. While Frank Miller made Batman a much darker more introspective hero who was more of an urban myth in the story “Batman: Year One”. Their personalities were very different. No longer the close chums and confidants they were in the Pre-Crisis world. And I don’t think that was the wrong decision on DC’s part.
We now had two different heroes. Why would Batman seek out help from Superman when he basically kept to himself and didn’t want advice? He wasn’t even happy with help from Alfred. And Superman, while still the recognizable hero, had his parents and eventually Lois to help work out whatever problems that may have plagued him. DC seemed to think during the Golden, Silver and Bronze Age that their two marquee heroes must be friends. Best friends. But what did that accomplish? Some fun stories. Some even very silly stories. Which was fine at the time but they had their own cast of characters, many characters in Batman’s world. It almost seemed to be a marketing scheme to sell more books. No Superman and Batman did not need to be best friends. They were now mere aquaintances. While they would gain each other’s trust eventually and work well together, that close kinship was gone. Batman would take on another Robin and more mentees in time but was still very aloof. They don’t need each other. It’s nice when they get along but this is usually just for the occasional team up or JLA adventure.
Sometimes it’s better to have the two heroes stay in their own world. They seem to keep very busy on their own. Now and again there relationship shifts. At some point they became a lot closer Post-Crisis, only to change again later heading into “Infinite Crisis” where Batman would tell Superman how irrelevant he was. Nice “friend”.
The “New 52” would see them good friends again and that relationship would change one way or the other over the next decade. It’s hard to keep up. I don’t necessarily think the two should hate each other or have a complete lack of trust. Superman did entrust the piece of Kryptonite to Batman in case he went out of control after all. But best buds? No. Sometimes seeing the two at odds makes for a better story than the two just hanging out having a friendly conversation.
While their friendship is on better terms currently, it still lacks the chumminess of decades past and I’m okay with that. But in the end as long they’re there for each other if the need warrants, I’m okay with that.