We had a guest lecturer in my Business class this morning.
He was a nice man, an entrepreneur and multi-time author who was wanting to teach us the methods of being successful, but no sooner had he posed his first question than division spread through the entire class. Motioning to two cardboard cutouts he had brought with him and placed in the front of the class, he turned to us and spoke three class-shattering words:
“Batman or Superman?”
He called for a vote. “Who likes Superman better?” he asked first. Twelve people – myself included – raised our hands, most of them timidly. “And Batman?” he asked. Over a hundred hands shot into the air, bold and unashamed.
This was very interesting to me. I like to consider myself a superhero fan – a nerd, some might even say – but the thing that has unfailingly amazed me is people’s absolutely love for Batman. I understand the interest in him and find him quite fascinating myself – the Joker is without a doubt my favorite fictional villain of all time – but how on earth is he more favorable than Superman? I’ve heard the various arguments, but none seem to hold up.
The guest speaker asked for the Superman proponents to defend themselves, and I gladly chipped in. Then, he asked the Batman-ers to do the same. “Batman earned his power; Superman was just given his.” “Superman is over-powered, unrelatable.” “Batman is realistic, Superman isn’t.” “Batman has depth; Superman is just a boy scout.”
It all culminated in the guest speaker turning to us and saying, “Here’s the thing: Superman is supernatural, and therefore it is impossible to be Superman. However, Batman is not impossible: He is simply a man that buys his intelligence and money, which get him the equipment and tools he needs in order to fight crime. Batman is obviously the better one.”
Isn’t is strange how our culture has changed over the years? Back in the day, Superman was the American ideal, while Batman was an equally famous character, but far from what Americans would consider idealistic. It wasn’t until Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy came out that Batman stepped to the forefront of American pop culture, replacing Superman as the figurehead of American heroism.
And this, I think, had caused America – and our sense of morality in general – so suffer.
Before I extrapolate on this point, I want to point out the fallacy in the above arguments. People claim that Batman earned his power whereas Superman was just given his, but this simply isn’t the truth. They were both given their power. If you are going to take away Superman’s supernatural abilities (which he simply possessed by existing), you have to take away Batman’s wealth (which he was born into as the child of Thomas and Martha Wayne). We need to realize where the two of them began: Superman grew up as an alien without parents and without a home, being raised by two poor farmers in rural Kansas. Batman grew up as a prestigious billionaire who lived lavishly and had his meals served to him by a butler. Batman was the one who was better off.
But here’s the thing: Superman’s humble beginnings don’t make him better than Batman. This is because it isn’t the powers you’re given that define who you are, but what you do with those powers.
Our culture doesn’t seem to think this way. More and more each day, we see people trying to define people’s values and character traits based on the things they had no control over: If you are a white male, you are “privileged,” and if you were born into wealth, you are a “thief.” But this isn’t how birth works; all your birth can tell you is your gender, your race, and the family you were born into. If you are born male, you are a boy. If you were born to white parents, you are Caucasian. If your parents were wealthy, you were born with a good financial backing. These things say nothing of your character or personality.
So while Bruce Wayne was born as the “privileged” son to Gotham City billionaires, that doesn’t make him automatically a worse person than the poor orphan alien boy being raised by two farmers out in the American plains. They are simply two different people born into two different backgrounds, granted two different opportunities to make a difference in the world. Superman’s supernatural abilities allowed him to become the hero he would one day become, just as Batman’s wealth did the same for him. Like I said before: It’s not what you’re given that defines you, but what you do with that gift.
Having established that neither hero is better than the other purely because of that which they were freely given (similarly to the Christian Gospel), what is it that truly differentiates Batman from Superman? Why is it that I find it so perplexing that people find batman more appealing? I believe it comes down to three factors: Motivation, style, and stance. And the misappropriation of these different factors has much to say about why morality in our society is quickly crumbling into nonexistence.
As a child, Batman witnessed his parents get murdered before his very eyes, and this was the motivation he needed to become the hero he would one day become. Much like the guest speaker said, Bruce used his various assets to train himself and acquire the necessary gadgets, so that in time he could go out into the crime-ridden streets of Gotham to take down one baddy after another.
Superman, on the other hand, chose to become a hero because he had the desire to help others. In most variations of the Superman story, it isn’t until well after he has been doing heroics for quite some time that Clark Kent learns that he is an alien at all; it was not the death of his parents that motivated him, but purely the desire to do good. He had grown up with these supernatural abilities, and he came to realize that he was not fulfilling his true purpose unless he was using those abilities for the benefit of mankind. He was in the world but not of it, yet still he willingly sacrificed himself for their own salvation (kinda like Jesus, eh?).
These two motivations are crucial: Batman was fueled by vengeance that only in time turned into a morally-driven hunger for justice, while Superman’s desire was, from the very beginning, fueled by nothing but his innate sense of morality and desire to help those in need. In essence, Batman needed external motivation to cue his heroics, while Superman needed to external motivation at all. It was at the core of who he was, a core value that he could not separate from himself.
Once again, this isn’t how our society thinks. We live in a very feelings-based culture that relies on external factors to define our actions. Why else do you think we see people rioting through the streets trying to take the law into their own hands, all because they were offended or hurt by something someone said? People have tried to become vigilantes in their own right, social justice warriors who think that they are fighting for some greater cause in their pursuit of a world without division (and therefore without opinion). This is why we can relate to Batman, whose anger and hatred for those who personally hurt him inspired him to go out and do something about it – that’s our natural response to offense! “Whoa, you said something I disagree with? I’ve gotta destroy you now.” We allow external factors to control or internal motivations, and that’s an issue.
Superman, however, is motivated not by emotion, but logic: “I am on this earth with something special to contribute; wouldn’t it be wrong it I didn’t make the most of what I have been given?” He is driven much more by a “Turn the other cheek” kind of lifestyle, determining his core values first and then acting upon those core values rather than blindly acting in a way that fits whatever emotion he is feeling in that moment. He could have easily demolished any bully who called him a nerd or a freak; he could have terrorized an entire town for saying that he was an alien who didn’t belong; he could have killed most of his villains with but a blast of fire from his eyes; but instead, Superman separates himself from his emotions and thinks logically and morally. Instead of making a reaction, he chooses to respond. This, I believe, is the first thing that gives him an advantage over Batman.
But what of their two different styles? The motivations of the characters in a way goes back to their origins, so rather than addressing why they do the things they do, let’s talk about how they do it. It couldn’t be more different.
Batman does most of his work off of scaring criminals. He works primarily in the night and nearly always lurks in the shadows, staying as hidden as possible and utilizing fear to drive his opponents into submission. He is a natural pessimist, refusing to trust anyone whatsoever and always assuming the worst of someone until they prove otherwise. (In the comics, Batman has folders on file explaining how to defeat every single member of the Justice League, his most trusted allies, in the event that they go rogue.) He fights for control of everything and is extremely frustrated when things don’t go according to his specified plan.
Most people would try to justify Batman’s action by arguing that this is simply because he is a product of the most crime-driven city in the entire nation, but this is another issue our society faces. We try to excuse our actions by claiming to be products of our surrounding environment, but there must come a time when we take responsibility for our own actions. When God confronted Adam, Adam blamed Eve (and God as well), and when God confronted Eve, she blamed the snake (and God as well). When God confronted the snake, however, the snake knew better than to blame anyone. They were all to blame, and thus they were all punished. So yes, we might be products of our environment, but all because I’m raised by murderous parents doesn’t justify me becoming a serial killer, does it? Neither does Batman’s upbringing in Gotham justify his fear-driven scare tactics, refusal to believe in people, and endless fight for control.
Superman, however, is the stark opposite. Whether day or night, Superman will be there, standing for “Truth, justice, and the [old] American way.” In recent years, the ‘S’ symbol on his chest has been pushed as the Kryptonian symbol for “hope,” so that when people look up into the sky and see Superman flying overhead, they see hope flying in. The world has done absolutely nothing for Superman other than consistently reject him, yet he continues to be a shining ray of light who consistently puts his life on the line to save the people who are not his own.
At last, we reach the stance of the two men. We’ve addressed where they come from, why they do things, and how they do them, but what is it that these two men actually stand for? What is the #1 reason that I feel Superman usurps Batman? We’ve addressed this a bit in the previous section, but allow me to restate it in different words.
The Dark Knight versus the Man of Steel – a vigilante lurking in the shadows versus an unstoppable force of supernatural strength.
Dark versus light – an instigator of fear versus a beacon of hope.
Man versus superman – a man relying on his own power and abilities to achieve meaning and satisfaction versus a man relying on supernatural abilities given to him by something that he is curious to learn more about.
Do you see how these are wrong?
Our world promotes the Batman point of view: You can achieve anything you set your heart to! You are in control of your own destiny. Morality is subjective to your own views and desires. Fear brings power, but there is no hope in humanity, because, after all, we are nothing but cosmic space dust. External factors should drive your internal motivations. You can’t stand up for truth since objective truth doesn’t exist! If someone has something that you don’t have – whether that be power, control, or some sort of ability or talent – they must be terrible people who deserve to be punished. If you are offended, take action. If you feel emotion, take action. If you feel anything at all, act on those feelings. React, react, react. Feel, feel, feel. This is what the world seems to be telling us nowadays.
But Superman teaches us something different. His world was destroyed, but he isn’t bitter about it and doesn’t take his anger out on others. He doesn’t let his humble beginnings distort his perception of the world in which he lives, but instead uses those humble beginnings as an opportunity to learn the values of human life and the beauty of each and every individual person. He doesn’t need an excuse to do good; he simply does it because he is both capable and willing. Though he has every reason to wallow in misery, he puts on a smile and gives hope to those in oppressing situations. Though the world often turns on and rejects him, he unfailing comes to their aid, standing for the objective good rather than bending to an emotion-filled subjectivity that every internal reaction would bid him do. He sees the good in people and offers grace upon grace, willingly limiting his own power so as to not destroy those he could so easily overcome. He stands for light, he stands for truth, and he stands for hope.
There is one more thing I disagreed with in regard to my guest speaker this morning. He said that since Superman is supernatural, being Superman is therefore unachievable to us, whereas Batman is a natural man and therefore achievable by our standards through things like hard work, money, and accrued skillsets. But my question is this: who says we are simply natural? Batman became a hero by his own doing, yes, but that left him dark, brooding, and cold – basically heartless and unsympathetic. Miserable. However, Superman called upon a power that was beyond this world, and through that power he was able to look beyond all past tragedies and become fearless of all future calamites, living in the present moment as a shining light to give hope to all those around him. Though Superman had just as many if not more reasons to be depressed and brooding, instead he was capable of calling upon a power that gave him optimism, hope, and joy, which like a river would then flow into others.
NOW LET'S BE HONEST...are we not capable of likewise calling upon a supernatural power to receive joy, happiness, and optimism? Fulfillment, abundance of life? The book of Ecclesiastes addresses life from the perspective of a man trying to gain meaning by his own two hands, and the author ended up much like Batman – meaningless, dark, fearful, and depressed. But in the final chapter of the story, the author figures out the trick that brings hope and light flooding back into to his life: “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth,” he says in 12:1, and later, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (v13). This is where the author concludes that true meaning can be found… in the supernatural force (God Himself) that gives you strength beyond comparison, hope without regression, and freedom from all depression!
If you’re looking for the way to live, for some sort of MOTIVATION to drive your forward, I’ve got good news for you: He is the Way.
If you’re looking for an objective truth by which to live, a morality on which you can base your style of living, I’ve got good news for you: He is the Truth.
If you’re looking for true fulfillment in life and a firm foundation to place your STANCE, I’ve got good news for you: He is the Life.
Batman’s a fun and complex character and is supremely interesting to read about, but Superman is the person we should strive to be. Establish your motivation. Establish your style. Establish your stance. You might live in the world, but you are not of it. Embrace that supernatural gift which is freely yours and use it to go out and change the world.
Get rid of the cowl, step from the shadows, and slap that ‘S’ on your chest. It’s time to make a change.