Wednesday, February 3, 2016


"And I will WRECK his senior portrait, too!"

It was Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's The Dark Knight Returns which popularized, in the minds of fandom, the apotheosis of the Superman/Batman rivalry. Of course, the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader had fought one another countless times in the past, but Miller's first genuine magnum opus (and say what you will about the fella, he's had a few) introduced the central conceit which has entranced the often-resentful, adolescent emotional intelligence of the typical comic book fan -- that Superman and Batman hate each other.

Batman, drilling dirty peepholes.
Since then, the duo have come to blows, metaphorically and literally, on dozens of occasions. It's a pretty good guess that if you saw both of them in a square-bound prestige format comic book, they were going to throw down somewhere on the interior. Prior to these grim and gritty days, however, Batman and Superman turning on one another (this is distinctly opposed to "turning one another on," a subject for a different blogpost, possibly on Tumblr if not DeviantArt) was the exception rather than the rule.

Take, for example, World's Finest Comics vol.1 No.153 (November 1965), an imaginary story which postulates the existence of a world where Batman believes Superman to be responsible for the death of Thomas Wayne (Not Martha, though. Superman has standards), and dedicates his life to destroying the big lug.

The idea of Superman and Batman becoming bitter enemies was so unusual and jarring that it had to be consigned to a non-canonical story. Put that in your bat-pipe and super-smoke it.

In the story, Thomas Wayne appears to have survived the holdup which saw him and his wife killed before their son's eyes in mainstream reality ... Mom, however, snuffed it, just a like a Disney cartoon. Devoid of matrimonial bliss, Thomas Wayne turns his attention to the next-prettiest raven-haired nymphet of his acquaintance, the teen defender of Smallville himself, Superboy.

Developing an anti-kryptonite serum in his laboratory, Wayne is reluctant to hand it over until it's been tested, despite Superboy's desperate need for the protective measure. Denying the frustrated Boy of Steel apparently results in Wayne's death later in his laboratory, smacked straight-up dead as a blue-and-red streak vanishes into the night with the formula safely tucked under his wing.

At this point, fate does what fate does in these comics, and Bruce Wayne dedicates himself to a life of fighting crime -- specifically to develop the skills to defeat Superboy, prove his guilt, and bring him to justice.

Okay, get it out of your system.
Another feature of this reality is that the now-grown Superman is like basically the nicest, most beloved person on the planet. When Batman adopts Robin as a crimefighting partner, the Boy Wonder bails on the arrangement when he discovers Batman's red-hot hatred for the Metropolis Marvel. You'd think Robin might go off to warn Superman about his ex-boss' plans, but he actually just fucks off into nothingness, after posing for the internet's favorite Batman picture.

Meanwhile, Superman is literally doing such incredibly nice things like saving a South American village from an army ant invasion while refusing to harm the ants, instead building an ant-bridge for their needs. I'm sure they'd probably just eat the bridge, but it's a nice thought and it works the first time, at least. He also gives Batman a "flying belt" from another planet, just because Batman seems nice.

How does Batman repay this generosity? Well, he shoots Superman with radioactive tracking doohickeys, breaks into the Fortress of Solitude, slugs Superman with a kryptonite batarang and teams up with Luthor, of all things. Once you've teamed up with Lex Luthor, you can all but guarantee that you're on the wrong side, ain't you?

Luthor puts Superman in a green kryptonite isolation tank, all the better to ask him difficult quiz questions for cash and prizes. He also accidentally lets it slip that he's responsible for Thomas Wayne's murder, not Superman, and then just sort of idly kills Batman for the heck of it.

In the final panel, Batman's life-force fades away, as the Dark Knight perishes in the arms of his one-time enemy. "If this had happened differently, we could have been a great team" he chokes, somewhat presumptuously given that he just spent twenty years trying to railroad Superman into jail. This is just the kind of nice guy Superman is, though, that he doesn't just hurl Batman's corpse into the sun out of spite. It's what I would do.

Yeah, phew, thank goodness this will never happen.

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