At last week’s Comic-Con in San Diego, it was announced that director Zack Snyder would serve as referee for the biggest cinematic superhero battle of our time. On one side, the Man of Steel, who led his film of the same name to box-office glory last month. On the other, Batman, a mere mortal whose most recent incarnations — Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movies — were both a critical and financial smash. The intended winners of Batman vs. Superman: us. (The real winner: Warner Bros.)
Superman and Batman can carry their own stories. These American icons have done so in comic books for 70 years and on the big screen for half that time. But it seems almost inevitable in our comic-book-consumed cinema that the two would eventually meet. They nearly did; Warner Bros. sounded a fanfare when it hired Troy director Wolfgang Petersen to helm a Batman vs. Superman in 2002, only to abandon the concept in favor of Nolan’s pitch. (Though the planned epic manifested itself as a now-infamous Easter egg in the 2007 film I Am Legend.) Now that Snyder is set to bring both heroes together in the same movie, we’ve taken a look back at their long history to figure out what story lines might influence the movie and, more important, to answer the question: How could Batman ever beat Superman? Isn’t that pretty much impossible? Read on.
New York World's Fair Comics (1940)
Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, became an instant classic when he debuted in Action Comics #1 on April 18, 1938. In hopes of replicating the freshly minted icon's success, artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger created Batman. The pulp-inspired crime fighter swooped into the pages of Detective Comics #27 on May 1939 and immediately matched Superman's popularity. Pairing the two titans was an inevitable business move for Action Comics publisher National Allied, who was in the process of merging with Detective Comics Inc. One year after his debut, Batman shared the spotlight with Superman on the cover of a 1940 New York World's Fair anthology comic. This format — Superman and Batman in the same issue, but with separate stories — would eventually be spun off into the World’s Finest title.
"The Mightiest Team in the World," Superman #76 (1952)
The first true crossover was in a Superman comic. It was quite hokey: Both in need of a rest and relaxation, Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent independently vacation on the same cruise. When they arrive, the ship is overbooked, forcing the two to share a cabin — and a bed. Trouble in paradise is diverted when a diamond thief provokes the two into action. It's in the process of suiting up that the duo learns of one another's alter egos. A competitive friendship is born, as the issue's front cover suggests: "This is a job for Superman!" "No, this is a job for Batman!"
"Batman - Double for Superman!" World's Finest Comics #71 (1954)
Though the moniker “World’s Finest” was used for the two heroes for a while, they only joined forces in issue 71. In it, the Man of Steel and Caped Crusader battle a gang of goons who obtain a piece of Green Kryptonite. A sloppy bit of heroism leaves Clark Kent's true identity lingering in the open. To keep the secret safe, Batman switches outfits with Superman. Kent is later discovered in Batman's outfit and Lois Lane writes it off as a silly bit of undercover reporting. Crafty!
"The Composite Superman!" World's Finest #142 (1964)
A staff of science-fiction writers took the superheroes into the realm of psychedelia. Author Edmond Hamilton introduced Composite Superman — a half-Batman, half-Superman with an array of superpowers — into the mythology. Composite Superman turns out to be a janitor at the Superman Museum, having been struck by lighting while cleaning the Legion of Super-Heroes' trophies and imbued with the heroes' signature moves — the literal embodiment of "the crossover."
"The Infinite Evolutions of Batman and Superman," World's Finest #151 (1965)
"What if?" stories were a regular go-to for World's Finest in the sixties. In #151, the superheroes are accidentally zapped by an "evolutionary ray" from Krypton, turning them into Super-Caveman and "The Batman of 800,000 A.D."
"The Sons of Superman and Batman," World's Finest #154 (1965)
Set in an "imaginary" universe, the iconic heroes are randomly given children. Kal-El Jr. and Bruce Wayne Jr. are brats. It's up to Superman and Batman to wrangle them. Parenting — a challenge for even the most infallible heroes.
"One Night in Gotham City," Man of Steel #3 (1986)
The seventies run of World's Finest took Superman and Batman through every scenario. They switched powers (#211); they fought robot versions of themselves (#217); Batman was forced to execute Superman in the Bottle City of Kandor (#240); and they defeated an inter-dimensional werewolf (#256). The episodes crescendoed with DC's brand-shattering "Crisis on Infinite Earths," an event that collapsed the multiple timelines and universes of every comic into one stripped-down continuity. This allowed Batman and Superman to meet for the first time … again.
Post-Crisis Batman was reintroduced in writer John Byrne's Man of Steel. While in pursuit of the villainess Magpie, Batman is pulled over by Superman. The Kryptonian do-gooder isn't a fan of vigilante justice. Luckily, fresh-faced Batman came prepared for interference; he keeps Superman at bay with the threat of a hidden bomb planted among Gotham innocents. If Superman penetrates an invisible forcefield surrounding Batman's suit, the bomb goes off. The comic ends with Batman wondering if he and Superman could ever be friends.
The Dark Knight Returns (1986)
During this year’s big Comic-Con reveal, Zack Snyder brought out Man of Steel actor Harry Lennix to recite a line from The Dark Knight Returns as a setup for the sequel reveal. Writer-artist Frank Miller's seminal series has everything Snyder could want: a grounded landscape, a satirical examination of superheroes akin to Watchmen, and moral questions that pit a retired Batman against Superman, now a government puppet. The tense story culminates with Batman, wearing an exoskeleton armor loaded with synthetic kryptonite, beating Superman to a bloody pulp. No wonder Sucker Punch director Snyder is a fan.
Batman: A Death in the Family (1989)
The death of Batman's second sidekick, Jason Todd, results in a milestone "tough love" encounter between Superman and the Dark Knight. After beating Todd to death with a crowbar, the Joker is hired to be Iran's representative at the U.N. It's a laugh in the face of a distraught Batman. He can't attack the villain owing to diplomatic immunity. So Superman, being a great friend, allows Bruce Wayne to punch him in the face a few times. They work together to stomp out the Joker's plans, but only after a moment of stress release.
World's Finest Vol. 2 (1990)
Legendary comic artist and writer Dave Gibbons revived World's Finest for a three-book arc that basked in the old fashioned. The most infamous villains in the DC Universe, Joker and Lex Luthor, swap cities and throw their respective heroes for a loop. Perhaps unrealistically, Superman and Batman barely even quibble in their decision to team-up. The quick agreement provides a great excuse for Gibbons to juxtapose the darkness of Batman and Gotham with the bright, boy scout optimism of Superman and Metropolis.
"Execution 2001," Superman Annual Vol. 2, #3 (1991)
Time-traveling hero Waverider gives Superman a glimpse into his future. He witnesses an atomic bomb dropping on Metropolis and killing Lois Lane. He witnesses himself destroying the world's nuclear weapons, and in turn, becoming an enemy of the world. Then, almost exactly like in The Dark Knight Returns, Batman is hired to kill him, exoskeleton and all.
"Year Seven: A Better World," World's Finest Vol. 3, #7 (1999)
After years of world expansion in their individual books — Batman was paralyzed and revived, Superman killed and brought back to life — the two were teamed late in the nineties for a new World's Finest. In the first issue, the death of a bystander during a hostage situation bonds the two men. They believe teamwork could have saved the man's life. On that day, they promise to fight crime together once a year. The highlight is "Year Seven," which starts with Batman and Superman flying out to Smallville for a heart to heart on the woes of the business and ends with them delivering a baby together. Not exactly blockbuster material.
Superman & Batman: Generations (1999)
Byrne's Golden Era throwback teams Superman and Batman in a fight against the Ultra-Humanite, a genius supervillain capable of transferring his mind into others. The arc spans between 1939 and 2919, allowing the duo to rail on everything from Nazis to Ra's Al Ghul to a robot Lex Luthor. John Byrne lets his imagination fly with two characters whose secret superpower here involves genre-bending.
"The Battle," Batman #612 (2003)
Batman and Superman finally come to blows in the fifth part of Jeph Loeb's "Hush" run. Though not all that relevant to the main mystery, Batman finds himself grappling with the Man of Steel, who is under the mind control of Poison Ivy. Thanks to the power of a Kryptonite ring, Batman holds his own.
"Public Enemies," Superman/Batman #1 - 6 (2003)
Jeph Loeb kicked off the series by turning the duo into outlaws on the run. Lex Luthor puts a billion-dollar bounty on Superman and Batman's heads, turning every villain — and even a few heroes — into bloodthirsty adversaries.
"The Supergirl," Superman/Batman #8 - 13 (2004)
Batman's paranoia hits a peak when a chunk of Kryptonite, carrying Superman's cryogenically frozen cousin Kara, lands on Earth. Superman is elated to have a fellow Kryptonian by his side, while Batman quietly investigates what secrets Kara might be withholding. What the arc lacks in large-scale action, it makes up for in psychological battles.
"Smoke and Mirrors," Superman/Batman #23 (2005)
Superman/Batman has moments of pure mayhem. After traveling to an alternate reality, Batman is inhabited by "Kryptonite Man" and spends a majority of this issue beating the living crap out of Superman.
"Stop Me if You've Heard This One ... ,” Superman/Batman Annual #1 (2006)
A retelling of Superman #76, complete with Bruce Wayn and Clark Kent awkwardly sharing a room aboard a cruise ship. The biggest update is the replacement of "random jewel thief" with the assassin Deathstroke.
Superman and Batman vs. Aliens and Predator (2007)
Yes, this happened. Batman and Superman discover both Predators and Xenomorphs living below one of Earth's volcanos. Realizing it's a disaster waiting to happen, they take action. A geek dream come true.
"Handful of Dust," Batman: The Dark Knight #5 (2012)
If it's not clear, Superman and Batman rarely fight each other voluntarily. In a recent crossover, Superman finds Batman drugged out of his mind by the menacing Scarecrow's toxins. The particular poison acts like a rage-induging steroid, giving Batman super strength and the urge to kill. He punches Superman through a wall. With no options, Superman retaliates. The hit almost kills Batman, but it's the cure he needs — the punch diminishes the effects of the poison.
"Cross World," Batman/Superman #1 (2013)
Is it a coincidence that DC launched a new Batman-Superman team-up comic a month prior to Zack Snyder's announcement? Most likely, as the run is steeped in multiverse logic that not even the weirdest comic-book movie would dare to touch. A string of Metropolis murders collides the investigations of Batman and Superman, who are disconnected in the new timeline. A scuffle and an otherworldly presence send them flying through a portal, dropping them in Smallville. Superman wakes up to find a different Batman, whom he immediately suspects of foul play. There's confusion, there's Batman vs. Superman fighting, there's the potential for alternate universe counterparts to grace its pages ...
Will Snyder set Batman vs. Superman in a multiverse full of Composite Men? Will he team up the Joker and Lex Luthor to take down the World's Finest? Or will Batman strap into an exoskeleton for a two-hour Superman beatdown?
We’re rooting for the cruise ship cabin introduction.