SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Action Comics #1003 by Brian Michael Bendis, Yanick Paquette and Nathan Fairbairn, on sale now!
Something happened that led us to lose our way. The moment can be pinpointed to the iconic 1986 miniseries by Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns. Over the course of four issues, Miller gave readers a version of Batman they had never seen. While one could argue the grizzled take on Bruce Wayne represented some natural progression of the character, his relationships with his former Justice League members was shaky. That went doubly for Superman, who was basically a government-sanctioned weapon of mass destruction in the series.
A brutal Batman and a militarized Superman are bold takes on the characters, and their existence helped redefine what comics could be in the mid-1980s (along with Watchmen). But for many fans and creators, the wrong lesson was taken away from The Dark Knight Returns.
This isn’t to say Miller’s work was not a landmark moment in comics. Quite the opposite, actually. The Dark Knight Returns is a brilliant deconstruction of the superhero mythos and was built to act as a final curtain call for one of the medium’s greatest protagonists. There’s poetry in each page, and the imagery from the miniseries is nothing short of legendary. Visions of Bruce Wayne atop a building with a rifle, or Batman powering his armored suit with the street lamp his parents were gunned down under are visually arresting and will live on for generations to come.
However, the story was not designed to be taken as gospel. Batman and Superman have had their squabbles over the years, but they are more than just teammates and colleagues — they’re friends. That’s something a lot of pop culture seems to have forgotten. Thankfully, Brian Michael Bendis gave us all a fun little reminder in Action Comics #1003.
The whole besties revelation started when reporter Robinson Goode unknowingly exposes the Man of Steel to Kryptonite (at his workplace no less). Luckily, his friends have his back. Batman swoops in to essentially mug Goode and relieve her of the rogue chunk of Kryptonite, which he keeps. Why does he feel like he’s the only one responsible enough to wield such a powerful deterrent? If the stuff hurts his best bud, why keep it? Well, the little jab Batman gives Superman about turning it into a friendship memento should tell you everything you need to know about their relationship.
There has always been a mutual admiration between Superman and Batman, but with that admiration comes a certain level of jealousy. Batman views Superman as the perfect example of what it means to be human. Kal-El is an alien with god-like abilities, yet instead of succumbing to darker impulses he strives to be like us. This god wearing a Clark Kent mask is something almost unfathomable to even the greatest analytical mind.
On the other side of the coin is Superman’s admiration for Bruce’s bravery. Batman isn’t invulnerable, and he possesses no unearthly powers. He’s just a man. A really damn rich man, but a man all the same. The power Batman does have, in terms of wealth and stature, he uses to fight an uphill battle. There’s a romantic (and somewhat psychotic) sentiment to this crusade that is undeniable. Even if the methodology these two titans employ when it comes to making the world a better place is wildly different, they want the same things. Through that mutual drive, there is admiration and friendship.