“This is why Superman works alone.” A smug, throwaway George Clooney line, directed at the camera while he and Robin are getting dressed to fight Mr Freeze and Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin. But it's a lie. Superman doesn't work entirely alone. That line hints at a long and resounding friendship and occasional partnership between the two. Thankfully it didn't manage to kickstart a series of interconnected DC Movies (Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin being the basis? Can you imagine?) but it does go to show how, in whatever universe, you can't have a Batman without Superman. Apart from Nolan's, although, to be fair, Batman was retired for most of his life in those movies. Maybe Superman simply didn't have the time to show up and call on his best (super)friend.
One watched as his parents were shot and killed before his very eyes, becoming a borderline psychotic and psychopath – using his vast wealth and extensive training to buy gadgets and beat up criminals using only his bare hands. The other is the sole survivor of a doomed planet, gifted incredible superpowers by his birthright and upstanding morals by his adoptive human parents. One dresses in black and growls a lot. The other wears bright colours, a spit curl and calls people “ma'am.” As friendships go, you couldn't get less likely than The Dark Knight and The Boy Scout.
And yet, for almost as long as they've both been hanging around the DC Universe, Batman and Superman have remained firm friends. They've had their rough patches, sure, but who hasn't? Every bromance has that one scene in which the guys fall out for a while and sometimes even come to blows. Except in this case, there tends to be Kryptonite involved, and one of the friends has the power to literally punch the other's head off.
Not that Clark would ever do such a thing. Relentlessly cheerful as much of the Silver Age was (and also constrained by that darn comics' code) most of their battles took the form of friendly sports rivalries (usually egged on by aliens or their future selves or something equally bizarre) in which they'd compete like children at a children's sports' day, while cheerleaders Robin and Jimmy Olsen looked on from the sidelines. Where it all grew up, and the most iconic fight scene between the two – perhaps the darkest day of their friendship – is in Frank Miller's seminal Dark Knight Returns. Even casual comics fans will recall the day Batman and Superman finally came to blows. The highlight is a one-armed Green Arrow shooting Superman with a kryptonite arrow as Batman deals him one of the most brutal beatings of his life. What many Batfans fail (or choose not) to remember, however, is that Batman actually loses. Bruce may have Clark on the ropes for a while, but Batman never really stood a chance of actually, properly beating him. Even he knew that. The Dark Knight, he always did like to put on a show though.
They'll come to blows fairly often, Batman and Superman, usually because the latter's mind is being controlled, they've only just met for the first (and umpteenth) time or it's an alternate universe in which Superman crash-landed in either Russia or England. Of the more recent fights, the most notable is Hush (in which Superman is being mind-controlled by Poison Ivy) and the first Justice League arc of the 'New' DCU (“Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy. Fight me maybe?”). Red Son is the Russian alternate universe in question, while an English (Colin) Clark fights Bat Man (an angry cricketer) in True Brit. Geddit, Batman. But despite these occasional niggles and arguments, the driving force of the Batman/Superman relationship has been that of friendship. Why else would Batman agree to give Gotham City a leave of absence in order to run around the world with Clark, cleaning up every single bit of Kryptonite they could find on the planet? Now that's friendship, for you.
In World's Finest, by Dave Gibbons, the pair even go so far as to trade Christmas presents after beating the Joker and Lex Luthor. Superman's gift to Batman is a copy of The Mask of Zorro though (the movie Bruce and his parents went to see just before they were shot). Still, it's the thought that counts. Even if it is an insensitive thought. Just in case you think it all holiday cheer though, Bruce's response is classic Batman: “crime doesn't take a holiday, Clark.” That Batman, such a grinch. World's Finest is perhaps the best Batman/Superman team-up book available. There's just the right combination of odd-couple comedy, thrilling superheroic antics and retro fun. It's a comic which ends with Batman using the Batwing to set fire to the Joker's trousers while he stands in the middle of the street. Whoever said that Batman didn't know how to have a laugh?
The odd-couple relationship between the two is perhaps at its zenith in The Batman/Superman Annual, in which we learn how Bruce and Clark first came to learn one another's real identities. Boarding a cruise ship together, playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne and mild-mannered journalist Clark Kent find that they have both been booked into the same room. Hilarity, and Deadshot, ensues. The petty rivalry was at its most evident in The Batman Superman Movie, a WB animation in which Batman (once again) meets Superman for the first time. Inbetween foiling a team-up between the Joker and Luthor, the pair bicker over Bruce's decision to date Lois Lane. A real low-blow on the Dark Knight's part – no kryptonite required.
It's that chalk-and-cheese odd-couple relationship that makes Cluce (Brark?) work so well. It lets us see a friendlier, more cheerful side of the Batman; a sadder, lonelier side of Superman. The reason for Bruce and Clark's firm friendship is that, in spite of all of their differences, they recognise much of themselves in one another. They're both orphans, connected by tragedy, and protected by loving guardians who instilled a sense of right and wrong in the mixed up kids, directing their terrible powers (in Bruce's case, that rage is kind of a superpower) into something constructive and a force for good. Clark may not always agree with Bruce's methods, but he trusts him implicitly. Bruce may think Clark a bit clean-cut and annoying, but he respects his optimism and spirit.
The most touching Batman/Superman team-up doesn't have a single supervillain, superpower or costumed vigilante in sight. Smallville, Kansas: a young Clark Kent plays a happy game of baseball with his human chums. When one of them whacks the ball too hard, Clark goes to recover it. Stopped at the roadside, he sees a posh car, broken down. A sad-faced young boy watches as his Butler attempts to restart the engine. In but a few panels, we see the essence of Bruce and Clark. One's optimism, empathy and sociability – the other's deep, profound sadness. Neither child knows yet who they are or what they will become, but it remains one of the finest Batman/Superman stories ever told. No, it's fine – I've just a little dust in my eye, that's all.
The Batman and Superman story is a heart-warming tale of friendship, Batarangs and kryptonite. It's the World's Finest bromance.
Share your comments below or on Twitter @STARBURST_MAG
Find your local Starburst Magazine stockist HERE, or buy direct from us HERE. Our issues are also available as fully interactive iPad editions, loaded with multimedia, and can be downloaded via Apple HERE.
Click To Buy