As a Moviepilot fan and creator, I am addicted to all things comic books. I am also undoubtedly and unashamedly a passionate DC Comics fan. Before the internet and the access it now provides us to anything we crave, there were Saturday mornings and more importantly, Saturday morning cartoons. I was always up by 6 in the morning, knowing what cartoons were on, what channels and what times. And one of the most important Saturday morning cartoons was the Superfriends, the series and all its glorious variations that paved the way for The Justice League and every animated series since.
This was the cartoon that started it all for me on my path to being a DC comics fan. It was a milestone for comic book cartoons at the time because it was one of the first to pit a group of heroes against their “evil” counterparts. The cartoon that started it all. Sure, back then the entire conflict and story began and ended in 30-minute segments but it didn’t matter because these episodes were what every child at the time loved. All we needed to know was that there were superheroes and super-villains and they battled until the heroes won. Simpler methods for simpler times but that didn’t make being a child in the 80’s regretful or unimaginative.
It was through this cartoon that I was introduced to the greatest superhero team a child could ever pretend to be, as my picture above illustrates. Anyone who didn’t pretend being a “Super-hero” with a cape on is not a true comic book fan in my opinion. But let’s ask Batman what he thinks, shall we?
Alright, sheesh, I knew we should have asked Superman. Let’s get back on topic. Sorry!!
Specifically, 2 of the greatest and most powerful characters an imagination can create. Batman and Superman. And my love for both characters has only grown since. So I decided it was time to make the case for the 2 greatest comic book characters in the history of comics. Let me also add by saying this will get some Marvel fans upset, but that’s not why I am writing this. I have written a few DC v. Marvel articles and it never matters in the end. It’s always preferential and subjective but it isn’t my intent to start another DC v. Marvel flamewar.
It would be senseless for me to suggest that Superman is stronger or more powerful than say, The Hulk or Thor, for example, because these are subjective standards. Rather, I will be as objective as possible with topics that will accurately gauge the characters’ impact both in comic books and in the real world. This article will be my best attempt at reaching conclusions that come as close to objectivity as possible. So let’s begin.
Imagine for a moment if both Batman and Superman are dichotimized by every identifiable ability and/or quality. You would have an enormously super-powered individual on one end with Superman. And on the other end, you would have a human whose skills, intellect and abilities are beyond basic human traits but still grounded enough in humanity’s physical capabilities to make the character relatable and believable in any scenario with Batman.
Both Batman and Superman are your bookends, if you will, because they are the first 2 characters in all of comic books and they represent the origins of every character that has been created since. These are your archetypes and they have provided the blueprints for every superhero since. Be it any combination of super-strength, agility, intellect, personality traits or any other quality attributable to comic book characters today. They provided the gene pool of physical and mental qualities that make up comic book characters.
Every modern comic book character is a variation of both Batman and/or Superman. Moreover, even their financial success and longevity has provided the same for others. In other words, this is how you make a comic book character and this is how you sell him/her.
Let me illustrate and this is not a knock on Marvel or any characters mentioned. Daredevil is undoubtedly, Marvel’s Batman. Acrobatics, environment, fight skills and even the use of Gargoyles as pedestals, to name a few, are all qualities adopted from Batman.
Again, this isn’t a knock on Daredevil. It’s also irrelevant who you believe to be a more powerful character, because that’s not what I’m trying to prove. Obviously my opinion is entirely in favor of Batman but my point is simple. Regardless of who you believe to be stronger, more powerful, etc. it doesn’t change the fact that most of DD’s characteristics are provided for by Batman.
Another character who has benefited from Batman’s history is none other than Tony Stark. Billionaires, geniuses, butlers, and technology. Granted, Batman’s tech is more of his gadgets and vehicles, but the similarities are all there. You would be intellectually dishonest to claim otherwise.
Again, this isn’t a DC v. Marvel battle. It’s irrelevant who you favor and why. I only mean to illustrate the real world qualities about the character and show how he has impacted comic books in general. But the picture above beautifully illustrates the qualities and differences in each character.
On the other end, Superman’s personality as the “big blue boyscout,” easily a trait shared with Captain America. Both characters share honorable qualities, all-American, duty bound, born leaders, etc. Again, entirely derivative from the blueprints provided by Superman. But even with a character like the Hulk, you can place him closer to Superman because of his strength as the Hulk, and closer to Batman because of his intellect as Dr. Banner.
There is no doubt that comic books and their qualities owe themselves to the World’s Finest but just so I don’t single out Marvel characters alone, let me illustrate with a final character. Shazam, formerly known as Captain Marvel. This was a character that nearly took Superman off his throne with comic book sales. And it was one of the first times that courts took judicial and legal notice to say that Shazam was too similar to Superman and had to be discontinued.
The legal battle was illustrated in both character’s history and timelines. How? Well, ever since DC bought the rights to Shazam, Superman and Shazam have gone at it several times and made an entirely new weakness for Superman. Magic. The source of Shazam’s strength became another source of weakness for the Man of Steel. But again, both characters’ history and the industry are better for it. But you can see how real-world issues greatly affect the character and his history. There was only one way this battle was going to end and that was with Superman remaining superior. It has never changed since.
HISTORY AND LONGEVITY
Superman’s first appearance in Action Comics #1 established the superhero genre in comics. It was through Superman’s first appearance and success in comic book publication that paved the way for comic book characters and for Batman himself. Superman has been going strong since 1938 and there is a reason for that. Superman’s story is completely analogous to the era in which he was created. And his history has evolved with the times ever since. Even the iconic image’s use from Action Comics #1 was adopted by Bryan Singer in Superman Returns to respectfully represent the hero’s origin.
As IGN pointed out, “Superman was the blueprint for superheroes as we know them today,” when they named Superman “the greatest comic book character of all time.” These are not qualities you need to enjoy or appreciate for your comic book preferences. You don’t have to be a fan of Superman or anything related to him to appreciate what the character means to comic books and the comic book industry.
Moreover, Superman has been portrayed by more actors and through more mediums than any other character in comics. These are milestones not easily achievable or duplicated. Many comic book characters have been put away for years before returning to print. Captain America’s absence from comics in the real world was added to his history and origin. In other words, CA was frozen in ice for 50+ years to symbolically represent his absence from print. I am not a Superman historian, but I have found nothing to suggest that Superman hasn’t always been around since he first appeared.
Intended to be the complete antithesis to Superman. A human, not an alien. Born from crime, humanity’s worst social product. Forced to become a symbol of fear. Everything about him allows his audience to relate to his trials and tribulation. A character who has given us the greatest plots, history, qualities and rogues gallery. And more importantly through his evolution, Batman makes the tough decisions and does what is necessary so that only he has to burden them. A quality that has become more and more significant as his stories developed with him.
Batman evolved over time with his abilities and his gadgets. A Batmobile, utility belt, dark colors synonymous with Dracula, Darth Vader and darkness, in general. He made being bad very cool.
There is no way to portray the history of comics without including both of these characters. And there is isn’t a legitimate top 10 comic book character list that doesn’t include these 2 characters at the upper end. This is a testament to their significance and importance to the history of comics.
Both Batman and Superman have spawned a wealth of derivative characters that have been able to succeed on their own just by their relationship to each. The most important, in my opinion, is Richard Grayson. I say Richard Grayson because of all the important characters he’s portrayed through his own development and evolution. From Robin, a character created in response to the Comics Code Authority, that censored graphic comic book content, to Nightwing, a character who was capable of replacing Batman in skill, on paper, and one who was well received by the fans. But I am also just as easily a fan of Jason Todd, the Red Hood, Tim Drake, the Red Robin, and last but not least, Damian Wayne, the new Robin.
Then, there is Steel, Supergirl, Power girl and Kon-El, Superboy. To be honest, I didn’t follow any of the characters much until their appearances in animated series. I grew very attached to Superboy and Steel from their first appearance in Reign of the Supermen. But Superboy outshined Steel, IMO, through the Young Justice animated series. I’ve since grown to love each of these characters because of how well they have been portrayed through animated series, animated DVD releases, and modern comic books. But that is all because of their relation to Superman.
Again, however, despite any appreciation, or lack thereof, for these characters, they exist because of both Batman and Supermans’ impact on the comic book industry. Without the primary characters, none of the derivatives would have been able to survive outside of the primary relationship.
Yes, yes, I know, Marvel’s Avengers and AOU are bankable. Absolutely, there is no doubting Marvel’s success on the big screen. I don’t expect the teenagers or young adults to understand why Marvel’s recent success on the big screen doesn’t impact anything I’ve said till now or will say. Marvel has made great advancements in the cinema department but here’s why it doesn’t matter when you compare it to what both Batman and Superman have accomplished before it. And more importantly, let’s not forget who they owe their success to…
Before CGI, there were few characters worthy of the time and financial investment necessary to bring a comic book character to life. Before the Donner films, there were extremely low quality live-action films that could bring all of a comic book character’s qualities to life. But Superman and Superman II went above and beyond the limitations of special effects at the time.
It was through Superman that Christopher Reeves was able to make us believe that a man could fly.
Again, I don’t expect the younger crowd to understand or relate to this but I also wasn’t around when the Reeves movies were released in theaters. And I was only able to experience them for the first time on VHS, or in modern terms, when it was released on home video before DVD’s, Blu-Rays, etc. But even so, well after its release, its significance was as impactful as it was when it was in theaters. The movie overcame several barriers in place for comic book characters.
Understand what I am saying here. Imagine watching the original the Michael Keaton Batman films for the first time but 10-15 years after they were released. And again, understand that during that time, there were several other comic book movies released that went beyond that movie’s limits. Imagine if you watched The Dark Knight or The Avengers for the first time before you ever watched the Keaton Batman films. It would completely denigrate the experience from the Keaton films when compared to the extraordinary accomplishments in movies like The Dark Knight or The Avengers.
But with Superman and Superman II, even years after they were released, their magic never faded. It’s not simply because of how the character endured since he was created. The character’s history in addition to everyone’s skill involved that made those movies classics. Granted, today, the Donner films would be comparable to fan-made films if compared to modern standards.
Superman was also the first film to introduce A-list actors to the comic book industry. Marlon Brando was literally “god” in Hollywood and it only made sense to have him play Jor-El. I didn’t care for Hackman’s Lex Luthor, or Kevin Spacey’s after him but that was not either actor’s fault. That version of Lex was over the top comical, IMO. But make no mistake, casting Brando and Hackman in Superman and Superman II elevated the comic book genre and the industry. Something every comic book character and the industry itself owes to Superman.
Then there’s this:
Now, I was a huge fan of the Burton Batman films at the time and there’s no doubt that these films were the best portrayal of the character in their days but since the Nolan trilogy, it’s not hard at all to love Bale’s version and trilogy more. But, let’s talk about why the Burton films were as important as the Donner Superman films.
For one, the movies paralleled the each character’s release history. What do I mean? Well, Superman was the first comic book character in comics. He was also the first comic book character in a successful big-budget franchise with Christopher Reeves. It only made sense that the next successful big-budget movie would be Batman. As in comics, so too in live-action movies.
But aside from that. Burton’s films followed the same guidelines as the Donner films. A-list actors in Keaton and Nicholson. Though, admittedly, Keaton’s casting was called into question like many others after him, mainly because he was seen as more of a comedic actor, through films like Beetlejuice. But that was the only time the audience and fans would ever question Keaton’s acting abilities and range. Because he was Batman.
There should be no doubt that the success of these 2 movie franchises paved the way for the comic book industry, just as their comic book counterparts paved the way for both DC and Marvel publications to be what they are today.
Now let’s move to another franchise previously mentioned. The Nolan trilogy.
Another franchise that made great strides for the industry for several reasons but mainly three I will mention here. First, it was the first comic book franchise that banked $1 Billion dollars with The Dark Knight. Second, it was the first time an actor was awarded an Oscar for his portrayal of a comic book character, thereby elevating the industry again. And finally, it was the first time a comic book character was placed in the most realistic settings possible. It also paved the way for DC’s no nonsense and realistic formula. Where Christopher Reeves made us believe a man could fly, the Nolan trilogy made us believe it was possible for a man, dressed as a bat to do some serious crime-fighting with painful methods.
The next time someone claims that any character is more powerful than either Batman or Superman, they should remember this article. Batman is much more than a comic book character who is limited in strength by the fact that he’s just a human. And Superman is much more than a character who can be taken out by Kryptonite or magic. They are the foundation of everything we have the privilege of enjoying in comic books.
As I stated earlier, it is senseless and irrelevant to claim that there is a character who is more powerful than either Batman or Superman. Be it Hulk, Darkseid, Thanos, Doomsday, or any other character in existence, each of these characters was defined by the first two. Batman and Superman. The greatest and most powerful characters in the history of comic books.
You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you. They will stumble. They will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders….
Truer words have never been spoken….