Why They Fight: A Brief History of Batman Battling Superman

For most comic book fans, the idea of two heroes clashing is exceedingly commonplace. Especially when it comes to Batman and Superman as their relationship, which has spanned three quarters of a century, has included a few squabbles here and there.

However, when the Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer dropped some two weeks ago, some were confused. Why were these god-like heroes fighting each other? For many, it seems like a silly question to even ponder, and it was echoed around social media on a much larger scale.

So, why do they fight? It’s certainly a valid question coming from non-fans that have no clue about the intricacies and nuances of Batman and Superman’s longtime relationship. Most images show the pairing standing side-by-side or fighting an enemy together—not nearly coming to blows. But over the course of any relationship, especially ones that last three quarters of a century, there’s bound to be some friction, some tension and some overall sour times. And in the case of Batman and Superman, there was definitely plenty of that. So, in an effort to shine some light on the age old question, “Why Do They Fight?”, let’s examine three notable, unpleasant and mostly violent encounters between the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight.

from Batman: Hush

The Dark Knight Returns

Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is the most obvious Batman and Superman battle of the bunch. Mainly because, based on the Batman v. Superman trailer, its this fight that the film seemingly draws from substantially.

It’s important to understand The Dark Knight Returns in context, however. It’s the Batman story that, when released in 1986, shifted pop culture’s image of Batman away from the campy 1966 television show to Miller’s much darker and more violent image of the Dark Knight. It was a turning point not only for Batman, but for comics in general. To this day, The Dark Knight Returns is frequently credited with the birth of today’s “modern age” of comics.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating characterizations Miller brought to the table in the story, however, was that of Superman. This Superman was no shining beacon fighting for truth and justice, but instead he has become a lackey for the United States government, running missions for the very Reagan-esque President. So, technically, he is still doing things the “American way”.

Set at a time when Batman is already in his ’60s, Russia and the United States are still in a Cold War-esque conflict, which results in Russia launching a nuclear missile. Superman manages to divert the warhead away from American civilians, but the resulting electro magnetic pulse from the weapon’s detonation sends the country into a complete blackout. Citizens take to rioting and looting in major cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. But in Gotham, Batman and his Mutant army (a reformed street gang) work to preserve the peace, which makes the President look pretty powerless. So, in order stop further embarrassment by the Caped Crusader, the President sends in his Superman to take out the Batman.

It’s for this battle with the Man of Steel that Batman debuts his armored suit that’s featured near the end of the first Batman v. Superman trailer. The fight itself is a brutal one, with Batman pulling out all the stops, including a sonic wave gun and acid to the face, both of which only neutralize Superman temporarily. After giving it his all, Batman appears bloodied and beaten with Superman on the verge of taking out his former ally. But Miller’s Dark Knight always seems to have another trick up his sleeve which, in this case, is Oliver Queen, a.k.a. Green Arrow, who takes down Superman with a Kryptonite-laced arrow. Though it doesn’t kill Supes, it does subdue him long enough for Batman to utter his famous proclamation, “I want you to remember, Clark. In all the years to come, in your most private moments, I want you to remember my hand at your throat. I want you to remember the one that beat you.”

Ironically, after saying that, Batman appears to die when his heart gives out. Superman, though badly beaten, lives on, but in this epic battle, Batman (barely) comes out on top.

From Batman: Hush

Batman: Hush

If The Dark Knight Returns ushered in comics’ modern age, then perhaps no storyarc embodies it more than Jeph Loeb’s critically acclaimed, thrilling Batman: Hush. It’s a sprawling mystery that includes nearly all of Batman’s greatest foes, adversaries, and yes, Superman. However, Batman and Superman spar under completely different circumstances.

In Batman: Hush, the two heroes come to blows simply because Superman is under the spell of Poison Ivy’s mind-control kisses. It’s easy to tell when she’s manipulating Superman because of the weeds growing out of his classic costume.

Batman and Superman’s battle in Bathman: Hush is quite different as the two still view each other as best friends. Batman only throws punches in self-defense, and all the while he’s trying to convince the good in Superman to reappear.

What’s surprising about this battle between them is the amount of quality shots Batman lands on Supes, some of which even draw blood. But again, Batman resorts to hypersonic weapons and blinding explosives to keep Superman at bay.

Once again, however, Batman needs help to neutralize the Man of Steel. Their tussle takes place in the cramped, dark sewer and rises to the street just in time for Catwoman, who happens it be working with Batman, to hurl Lois Lane off the top of a skyscraper. Batman shouts for Superman to save Lois, while knowing all along that if his plan failed Catwoman could still snag her. But the plan works as Superman shakes off whatever’s left of Ivy’s mind-control serum, and rescues a falling Louis.

After Superman comes to his senses, the two of them, with Catwoman’s help, neutralize Poison Ivy. While once again Batman gets the upper hand on Superman, thanks to a clever plan, one can make the argument that this fight ended in a tie. Their exchange afterward sums it up quite nicely:

“Always the Detective.” “Ever the Boy Scout.”

from Superman: Red Son

Superman: Red Son

The first Superman-centric story in this rundown is something else entirely. Mark Millar’s Superman: Red Son is a reimagining of Kal-El’s orgin story. Instead of crash landing in the Midwestern United States and raised by a Kansas family, his Kryptonian ship crash-lands in 1930s Russia. The result is a Superman whose allegiance lies with Stalin, and one that is the Soviet Union’s symbol of military might over the United States at the height of the Cold War.

Of course, this shift from classic Superman lore has multiple effects. Lex Luthor is an American born genius whose primary goal is to rid the world of the red-caped menace, while Superman upholds the tenets of socialism and fights for the everyman. For example, it’s revealed, when he stops a satellite from crashing into Metropolis, that Superman still won’t allow death and destruction, regardless of race or political affiliation.

Upon Stalin’s death, Superman is named his successor. However, some aren’t entirely trusting of an all-powerful alien as their ruler, and an uprising begins to take shape in the Soviet Union’s underground. Stalin’s son, Pyotr, who was passed over in favor of Superman, looks to take out Superman, and seeks the help of the one man who can possibly achieve that goal: Batman.

Superman: Red Son‘s Batman is still haunted by the brutal death of his parents, but his actions are far more politically based. His hope is to start an uprising in the Soviet Union’s underground. Pyotr knows this and persuades Batman to take out Superman on behalf of Lex Luthor.

This leads to a violent confrontation between the two that finds Batman using Wonder Woman as bait to draw Superman into the cold Siberian wilderness. Like their previous battles, Batman is never without a plan. When Superman arrives, Batman turns on solar lamps that mimic Krypton’s red sun, which were provided by Luthor. The lamps leave Superman powerless, and Batman wastes no time landing some vicious right hooks. Batman eventually knocks him out cold, and locks in him an underground bunker.

While previous fights have seen Batman using extra help to defeat Superman, this time around Superman has his own help when Wonder Woman escapes her shackles and destroys the generator powering the solar lamps, which leads to an easy escape for the Man of Steel. Batman realizes his plan failed, and rather than giving himself up, he sets off a bomb nestled inside his body and commits suicide. So, it’s safe to say that Superman took this fight.

These aren’t the only times Batman and Superman have come to blows, but they are three very different takes on their often tumultuous relationship. For those who were baffled by the Batman v. Superman Dawn of Justice trailer, hopefully this will give a bit more insight as two why these two heroes would battle each other instead of their enemies. However, as I expect Zack Snyder’s film to conclude, at the end of the day, Batman and Superman are more likely to share a firm handshake than punches to the face.