At the most recent Comic-Con in San Diego, Warner Bros announced that the sequel to their successful “Man of Steel” film would be a superhero team-up of their two most iconic characters, Batman and Superman. Notwithstanding the fanboy excitement that greeted this news, the most striking aspect about this forthcoming film is how these two powerhouses go about their work in very different ways.
Batman, Bruce Wayne, aka the Dark Knight, is a self-made hero born from the tragedy of that literal dark night when he witnessed the murder of his parents. From that helplessness, the young Bruce Wayne forged himself into a physical, technical and financial expert, using his parents inheritance to build an underground cave of surveillance, gadgets and wicked-cool vehicles. As the Joker wondered in the first Batman feature film directed by Tim Burton, “Where does he get all those neat toys?” The literal answer is he got them from his wealth, but the figurative answer is he got them from a psyche scarred and darkened by rage and an insatiable need for vengeance. Batman is all about subterfuge and shadows, he exists in the periphery, in the dark street corners nobody wants to visit. He uses the cloak of night as a weapon against villains, and his greatest power isn’t his ingenuity, but his ability to create fear in the hearts of his enemies. Batman embraces darkness because he was born from it. He sees the worst in people because he’s haunted by death and loss. He’s paranoid and trusts almost no one, which is clear in the “Justice League” comics when Superman and the other heroes learn that Batman has compiled detailed files on how to take each of them down should they become a threat.
In contrast, Superman, Clark Kent, aka the Man of Steel, is a hero born from the destruction of his home planet Krypton. Though this was a tragedy, Superman was rescued upon his crash-landing on Earth by Jonathan and Martha Kent, a loving couple. From a young age, Clark was nurtured, encouraged and validated by the love and support of his parents, which helped him develop into a well-adjusted man secure with his place on Earth. Though the recent Superman film "Man of Steel" played a little fast and loose with comic history by portraying Clark as being confused about his role in the world, the classic origins of the red, white and blue hero have always been steeped in his overwhelming sense of his position as defender of mankind. This is most evident in the fact that Clark doesn’t even bother to wear a mask to hide his identity. The sly conceit in the Clark Kent alter ego is that he’s so nerdy and bumbling that no one would dare believe he is actually Superman. But what’s more interesting is that Clark feels no need to operate on the fringes of society. His everyday disguise is so lame that it shouldn’t work, but it does because readers understand that Clark needs even this thin subterfuge in order to do his work. In full costume, Superman is a sight to behold, an all-American man with a square jaw and blue eyes who does his work in full view of the world and embraces the acclaim and responsibility that comes with being a public hero. He demands the best of himself, and has become the gold standard not just for other heroes, but for regular civilians who look up to him. Superman challenges people, even bad guys, to be better human beings. He sees the light in everyone.
Given these differences, it will be fascinating to see how the upcoming Batman versus Superman film will play out. There’s an old saying, “you are what you do,” and with the opposing ways in which these two icons go about their business, the inevitable clash of personality and power could make for an explosive movie with lots of subtext to thrill viewers looking for more than just mindless entertainment.