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Arguing about Batman versus Superman is like masturbation: A lot of people do it online, often instead of sex, and it's a lot of fun. Also like many arguments online, one side is backed up by intelligence and careful preparation while the other only keeps going because arguments just bounce off its stupid invulnerable skin.

Even Superman looks bored by his own comic.

Batman's Regular Stories Are Interesting

Superman is the icon, the original comic book superhero as we now understand the term, and 80 years later he's still kicking ass. But like many 80-year-old men, he repeats his stories too often. He's practically a mythological figure, but mythological figures are only interesting in epic confrontations. Zeus doing battle with the Titans is world-shaking. Superman facing the Prankster is about as interesting as Superman facing the mirror, super-flossing his super-teeth.

Yep, that's a weedy strip of organic matter he could get rid of by spitting hard. The Prankster's greatest crime was theft of the reader's time.

These monthly non-entity villains are the super-equivalent of rain on your way to work: It's never going to stop you, it just makes this regular chore slightly more annoying as you proceed in a straight line to the inevitable conclusion. Superman could solve most of his problems by flying toward the bad guy and then nothing else.

Helpfully demonstrated by the Authority's Apollo.

Not killing people is an important part of Superman's character, but there's a huge gap between "a moral code against murder" and "letting any idiot who can afford fancy dress waste four months of everyone's lives." Batman's insistence on the same code is much more impressive because he's actually risking himself for it. And Batman's everyday confrontations are still interesting. You know he's going to win, but he always has multiple methods, none of which are "Just be immune at them until they die of old age." He can turn one thug with a gun into one of the coolest takedowns of all time.

Batman disarming the good guy instead of the murderer, just to keep things interesting.

This is why Batman has brilliant video games and Superman doesn't. In the Arkham titles, Batman is far superior to his enemies, but will still be shot to death the second he screws up. That's what makes victory fun. Superman games are all annoying because he has to be ridiculously weakened, because challenge is impossible when you're a walking God Mode.

Titus Software
Making Superman magically depowered and forced to fly through hoops to get to the end, Superman 64 was mocked, but is actually based on 90 percent of all Superman plots.

A true Superman game would have an immortal main character racing against time to save innocent civilians with unavoidable consequences -- meaning it would be the worst game ever, based on time limits, escort missions and permanent failures.

Batman Gets to Be Himself

That title might sound odd when you're talking about a man with a secret identity dressed up as a giant latex rodent, but Batman has never been exposed to anti-vengeance-ite. Because Batman writers don't have to fight their own main character to write a story. Superman is only barely short of flying out of the page and punching the author for daring to inconvenience him. Powers are meant to define a hero, but Superman suffers superpowers like rising damp: They start out manageable but keep climbing until you have to tear the whole thing down and start again.

Sometimes with tragic results, like Roller Disco Superman.

Super ventriloquism, logo-throwing, existential micro-self projection -- no one has been given more ridiculous powers in fewer lines of writing since Mussolini. Which is why Superman has been affected by more chemicals and forces than hydrogen. Magic, hypnosis, an entire anti-rainbow of Kryptonite that made him suck ("anti" because regular rainbows are linked to strong men sucking in a good way), and whenever things get too troublesome they just block out the sun.

Which finally makes their capes useful, and adds yet another reason it sucks to be a female superhero.

Depowering Superman is meant to make us appreciate his inner resolve and true heroism, but actually makes us endure the non-adventures of Man-man. If he's not Super, we could be following any idiot, and seeing him running away is even worse than watching him effortlessly punch his millionth giant robot. One of the worst examples was Aliens vs. Superman. A Kryptonian finally teaching those literal-dickhead xenomorphs that attacking strangers in space is a bad idea would have been awesome, but instead he's depowered and spends four issues running away so hard that an entire world dies.

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You Don't Have to Care About Batman

The best Superman stories require that you care about him in the first place. Red Son, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, All-Star Superman (you're simply not qualified to talk about comics if you haven't read that), For the Man Who Has Everything ... they're all fantastic for fans and meaningless to anyone else. Red Son asks "What if he'd landed in Russia?" which means you care about him in America. Whatever wonderfully ends his story, which means you had to have been reading it until then. All-Star simply is Superman, and smelts the insane Silver Age junk into a shining piece of precious storytelling, but only fully works if you already knew about that crap.

But seriously, read it.

One of the greatest Superman stories ever written is Garth Ennis' Hitman/Superman.


Supes struggles with his inability to save everyone while an Irish-American murderer explains what he truly stands for. It's one of his finest moments, but only if you're all Nietzschean (and already care about the struggle of the Superman). You can't base your regular stories on how hard it is for you without being an emo whiner or a male porn star. Superman stories not based on his history or emotional struggles boil down to beginner Street Fighter: holding "forward" and "punch" and hoping it works. The only difference a really strong enemy makes is how hard he grimaces in the process. The worst example was The Death of Superman. DC promoted this as the story that would change everything, where Superman and Doomsday ineffectually punched each other for six issues until -- gasp! -- they punched each other even harder!

This was the 40th time he'd reminded us he had to hit the bad guy.

Batman's best stories are tough smart guy versus the villain. You don't need 40 years of back story to appreciate that. We enjoy that story with new characters in new movies and video games every week of the year. The recurring Bat-characters only make it even cooler for longtime fans.

Especially when he's fighting KGBeast, the only villain to beat Batman in the "costume is clearly a sex thing" contest.

Batman suffered just as much '50s lunacy as his Superfriend, but they've been bonuses in some modern plots, not the entire point.

You don't need to know about Planet X to understand how much ass Technicolor Dreamcoat Batman kicks.

Batman Is Smarter

Superman is meant to be super-intelligent, but his solution to every problem is either charging straight at it with his fists up or throwing things. If any Kryptonian kindergarten teachers had survived, Superman would spend most of his life in timeout. That's why his most famous villain is mastermind Lex Luthor: Someone has to do interesting things to keep the story moving. But because evil plans end the instant Superman finds the planner, they're based on distraction and deception, so we get to follow a confused man who mindlessly punches everything for four issues until he stumbles into someone who knows what he's doing. That's the exact plot of ending up in a mental institution.

Action Comics

Batman is the Master Detective. With him, we're actually following the trail instead of playing Kryptonian Whac-A-Mole until the Daily Planet or S.T.A.R. Labs or the Justice League Satellite or his super-vision suddenly tells him where to go punch things next. You know they're both going to save the day, but with Batman, you still get to wonder how. With Superman, you just flip a coin as to whether he'll end the movie by punching or lifting.

Warner Bros
Superman Returns added variety by choosing "lifting," but it was a mistake.

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Batman Benefits from the Shared Universe

The most crippling factor in mainstream comics is the shared universe. Hamlet never had to explain why Sherlock Holmes couldn't just solve the royal murder, and his play didn't end early because someone wanted to restart the universe to make Superman and Batman interesting again. (In fact, think about how badly you'd have to screw up to make that necessary!) But every crisis in DC has to explain how problems exist despite Superman's existence, and likewise, Superman has to stand around like a Kryptonian statue so that everyone else doesn't feel useless. Every time he stands next to Green Arrow, it just embarrasses both of them.

"I'm holding back the unstoppable pure energy beam! Quick, Oliver, use that bit of wood and string you carry!"

Putting super-powerful characters in a shared universe is like freezing them in amber -- you need a specialized team of experts to let them do anything afterward, and it never works right. Superman can knock the moon out of orbit, but he can't so much as punch out Captain Cold without first checking if the Flash wants to spend another four issues failing to realize that thermodynamics clearly don't apply to him.

Curses, if only I had a power that made me better at avoiding things!

But Batman benefits from other heroes so much that they made an entire series about it. The Brave and the Bold is all about an unpowered human keeping up with (and often outright embarrassing) heroes who can unmake mountains. Every time he meets another hero, the question is "How could he beat them?" a question he's already answered so hard that he once took out the entire Justice League by accident.

Either that or he's the best at partying (because he's the Best At Everything).

Sometimes it's by making Kryptonian skin transparent to the solar radiation it needs, other times it's by realizing that a magic ring doesn't prevent someone from being an asshole.

The Green Lantern Corps gives out gaudy rings like Christmas crackers.

Batman Teaches a Better Message

Another odd point for a man dressed as a giant domme-animal. But Batman's core message is that anyone can reach for the stars if they're kicked in the ass at escape velocity.

Simultaneously the worst and best motivational seminar ever conducted.

His whole point is being better than superheroes despite not having superpowers. His lesson is "Life sucks, wear a helmet, then install bat-ears and sonar technology into the helmet so you can track life down and make it swallow its own sucking tongue." Batman worked and learned to be everything he is, while Clark Kent has to pretend he wasn't just born better than everyone else. Sure, Bruce inherited infinite dollars, but that's only because a janitor of vengeance working overtime to afford moparangs isn't as cool. Batman penniless and alone kicks just as much ass (and has been in at least three story arcs). Superman is meant to represent everything humanity can strive to be, the pinnacle of selflessness, but he only reinforces the lesson "If you weren't born to the right parents, you are shit out of luck." Which is a weird angle for someone meant to embody the American dream.

Any non-U.S. citizens looking at this image have just been naturalized.

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Batman Would Lose the Fight

This debate always devolves to the playground level of "Who would win in a fight?" and this ultimate showdown proves that Batman is the better character. Because everyone knows the answer. It's obvious just looking at the two of them. He's the Goddamn Batman.

And he would lose. That's what makes him better.

"He always outwits me, so if I pull out his wits he'll be helpless!"

Batman faces the impossible and he makes a plan for it. Batman hurting Superman is always treated as a big scary deal, but Batman being hurt is business as usual, and he fights on anyway. His plans are the only case of a rich white man hunting an alien that humanity can be proud of. He knows more about the obsessive minutiae of the comics universe than the people arguing that he'd win, and he knows better, and he still does it.

In Soviet Russia, no memetic reversal, Batman STILL punches you.

A room full of Kryptonite nano-fog and power armor cursed with ancient magic doesn't work when your enemy can drop the moon onto whichever continent it's built on. Batman only gets a chance because Superman refuses to kill him, and is doomed because the same handicap hurts him far more. He won't kill, so the instant the sun lamps fail, the Kryptonite laser is out of alignment, the power-damping chains are cut, they're out of the gas-filled pipe under the city of innocents, the serum wears off, or anything at all is one micron less than perfect, he's toast. The second law of thermodynamics guarantees Super-iority. But facing impossible challenges is true heroism.

And awesome.

The most famous Bat-victory of all time, The Dark Knight Returns, was based on Superman being weakened from half-saving America from an atomic bomb, agreeing not to cripple Batman with laser vision, meeting at a time and place of Bruce's choosing, agreeing not to cripple etc. etc., walking into punching range of Bat's incredibly obvious machine, ANTCBWLV ... and even then Batman's best plan was "Die at the one moment it looks like I'm winning so he can't call takebacks."

And this is still the second-greatest moment in comics.

Supporting Superman because he'd win is like supporting a nuclear warhead because it would beat your smartphone -- of course it would, but which is more interesting? Which would you rather spend time with? Which has options beyond "soar in and just flatten everything instantly"? If your only requirement for loving someone is that they always win, you might as well go the whole hog and be a Yankees fan.

Smugness and gunfire ... yep, it's New York.

But to hit the smug Superman even once, that's Batman's victory. To show what humanity can achieve with work and dedication. To face the impossible as a challenge and a duty. Superman is just swatting a fly. Batman is reaching out to touch the face of God. By punching it.

The greatest.

Luke also explains how the Dark Knight's Dumbest Moments Come from His Best Bat-Qualities. Everything he loves about human heroes is why Batman is his second favorite, and why he has 6 Objective Reasons Iron Man Is Better Than Batman. He also tumbles and responds to every single tweet. (He's especially interested in any other character-vs.-character battles you might have.)

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