Superman vs Batman

01Apr09

by The Great White Gypsy

superman-vs-batman

No, this isn’t one of those “who would win in a fight” questions, or “whose tights are less gay”.  This is a study in archetypes.  The hero, since the days of ancient mythology, has been a figure of human perseverance.  Overcoming external adversities and internal weaknesses is what we all strive for in our lives, even if we’re not going to put on boots and a cape to do it.

There are hundreds of superheroes in the comic world; too many to list here.  However, I believe that these masked crusaders can be put into two distinct categories: The Idealist and the Vigilante.  As far as longevity and popularity, no two characters can epitomize these distinctions better than Superman and Batman.

Superman is an alien.  He came from a planet far, far away, and was raised in small-town America.  He grew up having the values of this country’s culture engrained in him.  So when he moved to the big city and became a superhero, he also became the embodiment of American idealism.  Other superheroes, as well as his nemeses, refer to him as a “boy scout”.  This is because he firmly believes in a simply morality.  Innocent people must be protected.  Bad guys must be punished, but not by Superman.  Instead, he displays unwavering faith in the justice system, refusing to kill wrongdoers, and turning them over to authorities in full view of the public and media.  Captain America was a blatant manifestation of U.S. propaganda against Russia during the cold war.  Superman differs in only one color: instead of red, white, and blue, he is red, blue, and yellow.  Primary colors.  This implies that the convictions of Superman are universal, primary, inherent to the fabric of all human life, and America exemplifies all of them.  Superman is real, and he is American.

Batman is human.  He is the son of billionaires, who are killed by a simple mugger while wandering back from the opera through a bad neighborhood.  The shooter was acquitted, proving to Bruce Wayne that the system doesn’t work the way it should.  Rather than living off his inheritance and becoming a spineless socialite, he spent money on charities, and time honing his mind and body to become the ultimate vigilante.  Half the people in the city support him, and half condemn him.  Oddly enough, it’s mostly the upper class and politicians who consider him a menace.  He is the voice of the downtrodden and the only one willing to get his hands dirty in the pursuit of justice and morality, whether it’s a simple purse snatching or a diabolical scheme by The Joker.

I won’t pick a side here, as this is applicable to myriad religious, ethical, political, and personal aspects of modern culture.  But I will say that the main question in this battle of ethics is this: is it more important to stay within the law and defend justice as a human institution, or stain your hands with blood defending justice as an objective concept?

The paradox of both ideologies, however, is that the supervillains constantly attacking these respective cities probably wouldn’t exist if not for the appearance of the heroes.  A hero is only a hero if he has a reasonably equal counterpart, and it isn’t always as simple as black and white.  Is the Punisher a vigilante or a mass murderer?  Is Magneto a civil rights advocate or a dangerous militant leader?  Who was really warped, Rorschach or Ozymandias?

 I could discuss (at great length and tedium) Hinduism’s polytheistic dualities, the partisanship in American government, or Spiritual morality.  The point is that these make believe characters aren’t just silly stories for kids and nerds.  They are as much engrained in our society and our psychology as sports, finance, politics, and philosophy.  Every culture has their Hercules, their Thor, their Spider-Man.  They give us something to aspire to; an idea to relate to our own lives.  Because, though none of us are going to jump in our invisible jet and lasso evildoers, we all want to believe that our strengths outweigh our vices, and that we can overcome any problem that may arise.



One Response to “Superman vs Batman”

  1. 1 waxydan

    You’ve read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hero_with_a_Thousand_Faces ? Also (especially on the topic of Bruce Wayne and the morality of his fortune): http://www.amazon.co.uk/Batman-Philosophy-Knight-Blackwell-Culture/dp/0470270306

    (Batman would still win in a fight btw ;) )


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