When Batman faces off against Superman in movie theaters next year, it’ll be the latest stage of a relationship that’s been around for more than half a century, with more than its fair share of ups-and-downs. Are DC Entertainment’s top two heroes friends, partners or rivals? The answer is all of the above, and then some. Here’s a quick guide to the highlights of their complicated companionship in comic books to date.
Although they had previously appeared together in 1941’s All-Star Comics No. 7 and 1945’s All-Star Comics No. 24 (Both times in their capacity as “honorary members” of super team the Justice Society of America), the first “proper” meeting of the characters wasn’t until 1952’s Superman No. 76.
In “The Mightiest Team in the World,” Superman and Batman run into each other on a cruise ship, when coincidence places their alter egos in the same cabin due to a double-booking mishap. In sharp contrast to the grim conflict offered in the trailer for Zack Snyder‘s movie, the two quickly become friends, teaming up not only to prevent a diamond thief from escaping, but also to toy with Lois Lane’s affections because such things were common back in that era.
Although “The Mightiest Team in the World” was a success, it took another couple of years for the two heroes to get together on a regular basis. 1954’s 71st issue of World’s Finest Comics (A series which had, since its inception, featured both Superman and Batman in separate stories in each issue) launched a regular feature where the Man of Steel and Dark Knight Detective teamed up on a monthly basis, which continued for the next three decades before coming to a conclusion with 1986’s World’s Finest Comics No. 323.
It wasn’t just Superman and Batman who came together for the series; during its run, World’s Finest also introduced the team of Jimmy Olsen and Robin, the Boy Wonder (1964’s World’s Finest No. 141, titled “The Olsen-Robin Team Versus The Superman-Batman Team!” Yes, even then, heroes were in conflict) and the Super-Sons, characters who were the crime fighting children of both Superman and Batman. (Called Superman Jr. and Batman Jr. — no, really — they debuted in 1973’s World’s Finest No. 215.)
Throughout the World’s Finest era — not to mention both characters’ time together on the Justice League of America, which debuted in 1960 in the pages of The Brave and The Bold No. 28 — Batman and Superman were the best of friends, able to solve almost any problem together with good humor and unwavering trust. Hell, they both had keys to each other’s secret hideouts, a true sign of superheroic bro-dom. (1985’s Superman Annual No. 11, a fan-favorite story featuring both characters by the Watchmen team of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, even centers around what present Batman got Superman for his birthday.) Come the reboot of DC’s superhero universe in the wake of the 1985-86 series Crisis on Infinite Earths, however, all that would change.
In the newly-revised history, Batman and Superman were suspicious of each others’ motives. Their “new” first meeting, in 1986’s Man of Steel No. 3, saw each being critical, if grudgingly respectful, of the other’s methods, with both wondering if they could become friends. That question was overshadowed by the same year’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller revisionist take on the Batman mythos, which climaxed with a showdown between an aged Batman and an angry, politically-motivated Superman that in many ways echoes what we’ve seen from the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie so far. Indeed, when announcing the project at San Diego Comic-Con in 2013, actor Harry Lennix quoted a passage from the comic:
The Dark Knight Returns fight sees Superman fight not only an armored Batman, but also a brand-new Robin and a one-armed Green Arrow, with the latter employing synthetic kryptonite that allows the Dark Knight to triumph — just before he appears to die of a heart attack. An exciting, visceral sequence, it unfortunately had the side effect of setting too much of the tone of the future of the relationship between the characters for years to come: 1991’s Superman Annual No. 3 and 2003’s Batman No. 612 were just two comics that referenced the scene in setting up fights between the two characters for spectacle’s sake.
Indeed, following Miller’s take, it took more than a decade for Superman and Batman to become friends again, despite continuing to work together on an occasional basis, such as 1987’s Action Comics Annual No. 1, where they teamed up to take on a town filled with vampires, or the 1990 revival of World’s Finest, where Lex Luthor and the Joker swapped cities for a period and caused the two heroes to have to team up one more time.
It wasn’t until 2003’s Superman/Batman — a monthly series that was, in all but name, a revival of the World’s Finest series — that the two really moved beyond animosity and suspicion, with writer Jeph Loeb (Now head of Marvel’s TV department) giving the two a relationship that blossomed into a full bromance, as events forced them to work together and become closer in the process, complete with complimentary narration that often focused on how much each admired the other. (The first two years of that series’ run — Nos. 1-25, specifically — are some of the most fun, if not entirely logical, stories teaming up the two heroes. The series ran 87 issues in total.)
With 2011’s second reboot of DC’s history, the relationship between Superman and Batman was once again started over, with something that mixed the mistrust of the post-Miller era and the camaraderie of the pair’s earlier relationship; the two work together not only in the monthly Justice League series written by DC CCO Geoff Johns, but also 2013-launched Batman/Superman, a monthly comic that directly focuses on the awkward friendship between the two characters thanks to the work of writer Greg Pak. In its first storyline, which ran in Nos. 1-4, the two heroes even got to visit an alternate Earth to see how different versions of themselves interacted.
If the comic book history of Superman and Batman teaches anything, it’s that those upset at the sight of Ben Affleck asking Henry Cavill if he bleeds shouldn’t worry too much; given enough time — not to mention the presence of a subsequent feature called Justice League Part 1 — the two will end up friends… or, at least, something relatively close to it.