Spoiler Alert: Analysis of Superman & Batman
Due to the imminent release of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice it is the perfect time for an analysis on they’re differing ideologies and ultimately how they as metaphors effect us me in the real world. Furthermore, recently I was asked by Peter Duffy & Michaela Hollywood (co-founders of the awesome Muscle Owl) on their podcast who my favourite superhero was. The answer will always be Batman; this question prompted a deconstruction of my feelings regarding Batman and divergent superhero ideologies in general.
“Sometimes it’s only madness that makes us what we are.”
There are 2 main parallel directions regarding superhero archetypes, either the striving for perfection/god-like archetype (Superman) or the flawed/human superhero (Batman) archetype.
“Deep down, Clark’s essentially a good person… and deep down, I’m not.”
– Batman (Hush 2003)
Starting with Superman, he is usually depicted as somebody with powers that make him extraordinarily more than human, a saviour, the embodiment of perfection and a hero to be emulated. This superhero archetype does not suffer from any health issues, mental health issues, are usually very clever or fast (Flash) able to solve any kind of evil. In my opinion this is a very simplistic and naive superhero concept.
“Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us and on my soul, I swear until my dream of a world where dignity, hono(u)r and justice becomes the reality we all share I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.”
Superman’s worldview is a positive, optimistic one with strong altruistic principles that are supposedly human but his alter ego Clark Kent only acts human by becoming somewhat physically weaker, wearing glasses and with an ‘average’ life. This reinforces Superman’s god-like SUPERhumanity, that he apparently has extra knowledge about humanity or that his dream of perfection can ultimately be achieved. However, the problem will always be in defining what is perfection? It is similar to this notion of normality that we disabled people don’t seem to live up to so we are classed as abnormal. Superman becoming human by ‘faking’ being a ‘normal’ human by becoming weaker completely undermines normality, the metaphor for disability as it perpetuates society’s notion that disabled people cannot reach ‘normal’ let alone perfection. Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, I cannot physically do many simple tasks but I feel perfect or content in my life. Perfection is ultimately down to the perception of your own happiness and that can only be truly found within. There are more flaws in Superman’s ideals in comparison to a more character flawed Batman.
(to Superman) “Everyone looks up to you. They listen to you. If you tell them to fight, they’ll fight. But they need to be inspired. And let’s face it “Superman”… the last time you really inspired anyone — was when you were dead.”
– Batman (Infinite Crisis 2005)
The quotation above perfectly expresses my thoughts on Superman and why he never inspires me, his perfect, strong, kind, optimistic demeanour seems too simple or too perfect. His flaw is this perfection. It seems that the Superman stories DC comics have produced since the HUGE Death and Return of Superman event (1992-1993) has been lacking, the best storylines have been when focused on the brilliantly arrogant characterisation of Lex Luthor in Action Comics #890–900 (2010-2011). It must be difficult to create viable storylines or enemies to fight someone practically invincible like Superman. It’s bizarre to think that Superman may be the worst part of his comic.
(to Superman) “More powerful than a locomotive, and just about as subtle.”
The flawed or dark superhero concept Batman adheres to has become an avenue for fascinating character development and realistic human emotions. The flaws make the hero by giving them an edge or strong motivation rather than the powers defining the hero. There are many superheroes that embrace their dark side, such as: Daredevil, Hulk, Moon Knight, Punisher and Wolverine.
“Criminals, by nature, are a cowardly and superstitious lot. To instill fear into their hearts, I became a bat. A monster in the night. And in doing so, have I become the very thing that all monsters become – alone?”
– Batman (Hush 2003)
Batman is clearly a metaphor for a man battling bereavement and depression throughout his life; Bruce Wayne losing his parents has definitely created deep psychological scars. These psychological scars are what make Batman human; he is far from perfect with obsessions, compulsions, sociopathic tendencies but his flaws motivate him to perform extraordinary things that make him a superhero. The motivation behind Batman comes from him understanding his flaws, accepting them and ultimately embracing these shadows to thrive in them. This is Batman’s power, this ability to cope with tragedy, from his parent’s death, the second Robin’s (Jason Todd) death, Batgirl/Oracle (Barbara Gordon)’s paralysis, his paralysis after Bane’s broke his back and his son Damien Wayne’s death. He is most comfortable living in darkness, as a loner but his Bat family: Alfred, Robin, Batgirl, Nightwing, Red Hood keep him from going totally insane. The Joker is what Batman would become if he goes insane. His focus and determination to overcome anything is a powerful force for crime fighting and signifying that mental health issues do not stop you from greatness.
“People think it’s an obsession. A compulsion. As if there were an irresistible impulse to act. It’s never been like that. I chose this life. I know what I’m doing. And on any given day, I could stop doing it. Today, however, isn’t that day. And tomorrow won’t be either.”
– Batman (Identity Crisis 2004)
Batman’s mental abilities to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles, to be inventive with weapons or creating a Batmobile, have contingency plans for everything are similar many personality traits I have cultivated over the years due to my Duchenne. Mental abilities can bridge the gap between physical disability and life, as disabled people need more mental coherence to cope with DMD. Acceptance, compassion to oneself, resourceful, fully understanding every part of body/personality, how to stay calm in stressful situations, observational powers, on-going problem solving are important traits Batman.
The most important attribute Superheroes have taught me is the need for a strong mind and willpower to control fear (Green Lantern), anger (Hulk), multiple personalities (Deadpool) or the beast inside (Wolverine).