By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)
This is not an eye-catching lede or a crazy supposition, this is a fact: the only way that Batman could beat Superman would be if Superman didn’t try. If you read the first six pages of the first issue of writer/creator Mark Waid and artist Peter Krause’s comic Irredeemable (or the first six pages of the trade paperback, which tends to be what I collect these days) you would see that basic scenario laid out in graphic detail as the Plutonian faces the Hornet. (You can see a free digital preview of these six pages now at comixology.com).
Of course, I’m biased. I’m one of the rare Superman fans as opposed to Bats. I like Green Lantern over Green Arrow. (The obvious parallels break down when I try to shift to Marvel heroes. Captain America? A favorite, but not quite in the power realm of GL and Supes). I obviously have a thing for the ultimate Boy Scouts. I like the characters that have to hold back, that can’t give it their all, because if they did, someone would die. (Don’t bother trying to make me think Kryptonite and the color yellow make a difference in stopping Big Blue and Lantern. They only exist because no one knows what to do with characters this powerful. Lex Luthor? As Douglas Adams would say, “Mostly Harmless,” with Lex’s only good plan being the one he devised in Kingdom Come. That’s not a coincidence that Mark Waid wrote it and that it’s my favorite Superman story).
That’s why the first trade paperback of Irredeemable is so refreshing. What would happen if one of the ultimate heroes lost his ever-loving mind? (We saw glimpses of it when Hal Jordan became Parallax and I probably need to go back to read that to see if it needs to be added to my list of great stories). When all a hero has is his (or her) sense of right and wrong to guide them, when all they have are the rules of society and the rules they make for themselves (right, Doctor?¹) to keep from doing harm, it’s a tenuous link. When a hero is the nearest thing to a living God, the only thing that can stop the hero is another God, a hell of a lot of luck, or themselves.
I think the same is true of the great sports heroes and why I love to root for them. It’s amazing to watch a truly skilled athlete do what he does best. To watch Alex Rodriguez or Albert Pujols hit in their prime is a kind of living masterpiece. To watch Tiger Woods make a golf course seem obsolete is a thrill of human achievement. Well, it’s true while they are young. Unfortunately, like all humans, sports heroes have to grow old. It eventually ends. It always ends.
But, again, I’m in the minority. How do I know this for certain? Well, I have the great guys at Radiolab to thank for that information. We, as humans, root, root, root for the underdog 80% of the time and if they don’t win it’s a shame. We generally like to see the 15 seeds beat 2 seeds. We generally like to see upsets in the Super Bowl or college bowl games. We generally like to see the Yankees or the Red Sox and all their piles of money lose. We like to think that Batman, the ultimate in human intellect and training could beat the Kryptonian Superman like in The Dark Knight Returns that C.J. Bunce and Art Schmidt mentioned in their favorites worthy of adaptation.²
So, when athletes age, when they pass 30 and the leap out of bed in the morning gradually changes into swinging your legs over the side and pausing, taking that moment, before rising. The moment becomes longer. The hands move to the edge of the mattress to give that little extra push. The body bends forward so that the momentum of straightening helps to propel the body into space. The body that used to rush headlong into the day now stands before it in repose, knowing it will be there when the time comes to make the forward push into the stream of activity. Part of that pause comes from experience, from the idea that savoring those moments of calm and serenity helps to make the frantic moments acceptable, but part is that little voice in the back of the head that knows that one day the body won’t respond because as much as the mind won’t want to admit to growing old, it notices. It always notices.
We grow old. We watch our athletic heroes grow old and have to leave the game. We watch our intellectual and artistic heroes do the same, but the curve isn’t as dramatic and those heroes continue to amaze us and give us hope that we can stay amazing ourselves. Our fictional heroes remain the same though. They are immortal. But, of the immortals, only a couple of them are Gods. If they ever break that trust that we have in them, that’s when they become “Irredeemable.”
1. I think this is one of the reasons that I can’t get behind Rory Williams and his relationship with Amy Pond. I root for the Doctor. I root for him to be happy. The relationship with Amy Pond seemed like it could have been the one. But, that’s because I’m finite. There can never be a true human “one” for a Gallifreyan. Still, boo Rory.
2. I always think C.J. and I get along so well because our interests intersect so much, but are so different. He’s a Green Arrow guy and I’m a Green Lantern dude. We obviously differ on Alan Moore. We still have to discuss The Shawshank Redemption vs. The Green Mile.
You’re absolutely right. One look. That’s all it would take. Superman looks at… No, he glances at Batman, activates the ol’ heat vision, and Bruce Wayne is no more. It would be so childishly simple, and that’s what makes these Superman/Batman ‘battles’ so much fun. Because you know that Superman doesn’t really have to think much through, given his god-like powers; he can just dive into most situations and react his way out of them. But Batman, he’s not only very smart and cunning, but he’s a planner. He’s patient and conniving. He knows that Superman won’t kill him outright, and he uses that to his advantage. In fact, he counts on it. Even during the final battle in DKR, Superman is constantly trying to get Batman to come along quietly. And Batman rubs his face in it.
There’s the underdog component, for sure, but I think more than that, deep down inside, we root for Batman (most of us, anyway) because he’s human, and Superman is not from Earth. We want to believe that the human race can overcome any obstacle, even an invincible alien from another world. And Batman, like him or not, is the alpha-alpha male in every way. He’s like a world-famous athelete, compared to most all other super heroes, for the simple reason that he’s completely human. No magical ring, no chemical accident, no alien technology, not raised by amazons or merfolk. He’s the pinnacle of physical and mental perfection in humanity, and he uses his basest survival instincts, reined in by his intellect, to come out on top.
Superman could easily beat anyone, Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Darkseid, Bizarro, or just about anyone else (General Zod and Captain Marvel being possible exceptions). But Batman ‘finds a way’ albeit with more help from the writer than anyone or anything in the story itself. 🙂