Batman v Superman: The Morality Argument

We all remember this gem of a fight from The Avengers:

What works about this scene is that Iron Man and Thor have differing agendas for Loki. Iron Man wants Loki to give up the location of the Tesseract, and Thor wants to return Loki to Asgard to answer for the crimes he previously committed. These agendas are steeped in the characters of Iron Man and Thor, and logically pit the heroes against each other. I really hope that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is able to do this—and Captain America: Civil War as well.

With the epic clash of the two earliest DC Comics icons only a couple of weekends away, I want to weigh in on the question of: who will win, Batman or Superman? Specifically, there is an argument put forward by Batman fans to suggest that Superman would lose because of his morality. I want to submit that this morality argument actually works in Superman’s favor because the morality in question applies equally to Batman, and that if Batman were to go to the extremes advanced, Superman still wins.

Screenshot 2016-03-05 08.06.52Cards on the table, I prefer Superman to Batman because he’s a far more complex character than Batman. People get caught up in how powerful Superman is, forgetting that Spider-Man is really a teenaged version of the Kryptonian. Like Parker, Clark Kent wants to have friends, be a good journalist, and fall in love while using his abilities responsibly for the world around him. In fact, the famous Spider-Man dictum, “With great power comes great responsibility,” was something Clark Kent’s father told him in the 1948 Superman movie serial (Weldon 85)†! Superman has a much more fascinating emotional story than Batman does if the storytellers will tell it (something Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel failed to do).

In my experience, most people tend to side with Batman in this debate. He is a human, unlike the alien from Krypton, which makes Bruce Wayne much more relatable. Bruce Wayne has the things that the average person wants, like money and cars and women. People like that Batman is a genius and that his intellect is his primary weapon, before all the gadgets and ninja skillz—and those skillz are sweet! People like that he is morally grey, and that his rogues gallery is probably the one of the best. Joker is one of America’s favorite fictional characters, let alone villain.

In this debate, what people usually forget to bring up when Batman and Superman have faced off in the past is that the playing field has usually been leveled in favor of Batman. Frank Miller’s famous 1986 graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns*, has a weakened Superman facing off against an armored Batman teaming with Green Arrow and Robin. Jeeps Loeb and Jim Lee’s Batman: Hush‡ shows Superman trying to overcome Poison Ivey’s mind-control spores while trying to hold back when fighting Batman. And Scott Snyder and Greg Capulo’s Batman: End Game∝ shows Batman in an armored suit facing off a Superman poisoned by the Joker. There hasn’t been an honest fight between the two, in the modern age of comics at least.

That is because of the superpowers of Superman: Batman has no actual defense against them. Superman is almost as fast as the Flash—Superman can only move fast enough for time travel where as the Flash can move so much faster. Superman’s physical strength is immeasurable. Add to that his heat-vision (think laser beams) and x-ray vision. Superman has an eidetic memory—which means he can see something and perfectly recall it later. And, something people forget, he is an excellent investigative reporter possessing deductive and inductive reasoning skills. If Batman were to be able to beat that without weakening Superman, the “Superman is too powerful” objection (which I do understand, but don’t buy it) would then apply to Batman, making him invincible. The contest has to bring Superman down to Batman’s level in some way.

Screenshot 2016-03-05 08.00.39The thing that people often bring up in this debate is what could be called the morality argument. Batman would beat Superman because he is willing to do whatever it takes to defeat Superman, to cross moral lines that Superman won’t cross. That sounds good, but, this line of thought doesn’t work for two reasons.

First, the line that people are usually referring to is that Superman won’t kill. If a person were to read the entire canon of Superman (comics, novels, radio, TV, movies) they would see that Superman does cross that line, and often. Whether in the earliest comics, the beloved Christopher Reeves films, or Zack Snyder’s 2013 version, Superman has killed often—and it seems he likes to kill General Zod a lot. However, the people who make this argument forget that Batman has the same limitation. Batman doesn’t kill either (except when he does which is all throughout Batman’s canon as well, in all mediums and formats and eras). Therefore people cannot say that Superman’s restriction must stay in place while Batman’s doesn’t. This moral restraint is vital to both characters, not just Superman.

Secondly, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Batman kills Superman. Superman wins. Batman has ceased to be true to himself and has crossed the line that separates him from the Joker. Superman will have died remaining true to his ideals and identity. If death determines victory, as the “morality argument” posits, then Superman can’t lose if Batman kills him. However, Batman does lose if he kills Superman. The morality argument doesn’t favor Batman; it favors Superman.

So let’s be honest, Superman wins this fight very easily. Using his blinding speed—faster than time mind you—Superman knocks out Batman before he can even think to move an arm to get to his kryptonite ring stored in his utility belt. Superman then flies the Dark Knight to the Fortress of Solitude and Batman is imprisoned in the Phantom Zone before he wakes up. Thus, Superman wins without violating his own moral restrictions.Screenshot 2016-03-05 08.02.03

*Miller, Frank, Janson and Varley. Batman: The Dark Knight Saga (Deluxe Edition). Burbank: DC Comics, 2015. Print.
Loeb, Jeph and Jim Lee. Batman. DC Comics. Vol 1. #612 (2003). E-book. 05 March 2016.
Snyder, Scott and Greg Capulo. Batman. DC Comics. Vol 2. #36 (2014). E-book. 05 March 2016.
Weldon, Glenn. Superman: The Unauthorized Biography. Hoboken: Wiley, 2013. Print.

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~ by hankimler on March 5, 2016.

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