Likely before seeing the first promotional poster or teaser trailer, you were all slightly aghast and possibly even intrigued by the notion that the two most prominent defenders of justice would ever come to blows. DC’s Batman and Superman are indisputably the most beloved and long-standing comic book heroes known to man. Even if you didn’t grow up reading comic books or watching a single film of theirs, you absolutely knew the lore – their respective origin stories were etched into your brain as permanently as livestock branding.
That said, everyone was aware of the differentiation in character. Batman’s approach is less law-abiding, more forceful, and relies heavily on sleuthing from the shadows. Superman, meanwhile, lives by an uncompromising code of honor to uphold justice with as little collateral damage as possible. His confrontations are upfront, in the light of day and never contain an ounce of duplicity. You could argue that it’s easier for Superman to finish a day’s work of saving the world without blood on his hands because of his superhuman abilities. Batman is a mere mortal, realistically more prone to utilizing unconventional methods to resolve a crisis that Superman could accomplish with far less moral and physical strain. Could this perhaps be the root of the simmering rivalry between the two caped crusades that leads us to Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which is already in theaters as you’re reading this? Maybe so…and maybe not. I’m here to put aside all speculation and finally get to the crux of the matter – to the truth, if you will – of the “Batman versus Superman” origin story. Let’s turn the clock back to 1986 and consume some much-needed background knowledge…
The origin story that most inspired Zack Snyder’s latest critical bust was Frank Miller’s 1986 comic miniseries turned graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns. Created as a means of renewing interest in the beloved crime detective who dominated the comic book world for decades, The Dark Knight Returns finds an aging Batman pulled out of retirement to stop a gang known as the “Mutants” from terrorizing Gotham. Crime levels have risen since Batman last donned the cape. Old enemies from the the past, Two-Face – now completely absent of a Dr. Jekyll to keep Mr. Hyde at bay – and Joker have resurfaced to once again antagonize Gotham’s enforcer of justice. Attempting to assist in any way possible, a young girl named Carrie Kelley dons a fake Robin costume and, with the help of an also yanked-from-retirement Commissioner James Gordon, manages to help Batman neutralize the Mutants. The remnant members of the gang, inspired by Batman’s impressive art of physical intimidation, transform into a local militia (renaming themselves the “Sons of Batman”) and swear to violently defend against any future criminal wave unleashed upon Gotham.
The Sons of Batman’s rise to power raises suspicion from the U.S. Government, with the president himself concerned that Batman might not be able to rein in this new group of vigilantes. The President tasks Superman – portrayed here as an unwavering lapdog who never questions the ethical ramifications of an order – to take out Batman, the falsely presumed leader of the group, should Gotham once again fall into anarchy. Batman, meanwhile, is burdened by an extremely diabolical confrontation with Joker in which his insane nemesis commits suicide after being beaten to a pulp by the retired detective. Joker’s goal is twofold: humiliate Batman to the world and subsequently incriminate him for murder. The plan works, thereby placing Batman at the top of the GCPD’s “Most Wanted” list (similar to the ending of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight).
Before a showdown with Gotham’s law enforcement can ensue, the entire country is put of commission thanks to an electromagnetic pulse that wipes out the nation’s circuitry. Airplanes begin falling from the sky, looting and mob violence run rampant, and the only city that can maintain some semblance of order is…Gotham City? Yes, Batman is somehow able to usurp control of the Sons of Batman and utilize them as part of an aid relief effort to slowly rebuild the damaged nation. Enraged by Batman’s hero image restoration while he can only hang his head in shame, the president then tasks Superman to…*gulp*…assassinate Batman. Okay, so I’m sure Superman is dumb enough to think he can go along with the president’s highly illegal plan without spilling any blood in the process. Maybe a couple jabs and one or two kicks to the abdomen might convince Batman to get out of Dodge and never come back? Um, Clark Kent, this is Batman we’re talking about – he neither bows nor lays down arms to anyone.
Technically this major showdown should be renamed “Batman and Green Arrow versus Superman” since Oliver Queen gets in on the action to take down the thoroughly demented Superman. The fight of all fights takes place in “Crime Alley,” intentionally selected by Batman since it was also the murder site of his parents. Despite a few good hits to Batman’s arrogant jaw, Superman shockingly proves to be no match for two highly intelligent mortals. The two Justice League members outmaneuver the Man of Steel with tricks, cunning and gadgets aplenty. The winning blow lands in the form of a kryptonite-tipped arrow penetrating Superman’s body, though the arrow doesn’t extinguish Superman’s life. Batman – a man with a conscience it seems – refrained from concocting a lethal mixture of Kryptonite and only meant for the arrow to temporarily subdue Superman. Before he can boast victory, Batman, being the geriatric that he is at this point, has a heart attack. Even that turns out to be a ruse, a preparatory action taken by Batman to fake his own death and instantly disappear off the government’s radar. The comic ends with Superman accessing his penetrative hearing powers to listen to Bruce Wayne’s heartbeat during the billionaire’s funeral. Oh Bruce, you sly devil!
How much of this origin story will carry over to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is really anyone’s guess. I will be seeing the movie today, so without spoiling the film too much for readers who have yet to engulf themselves in the match of the millennium, please feel free to divulge any pertinent narrative or character development overlap between this movie and the original source. It’s clear that Green Arrow will not be involved (unless there’s a cameo I’m not aware of), but the good news is that Wonder Woman will make her presence/opinions known. I’m all for that! Also be sure to check out the incredible animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, released two years ago on home video and separated into two parts. I hope you enjoyed this minor history lesson of the comic book origins of Batman versus Superman!
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