On Superman

A Tale of Two Orphans

The Man of Steel vs. The Caped Crusader

By Lou Anders

Batman and Superman: together, they are the ur-superheroes. Created in 1938 and 1939, they set the standard for all superhero comics. At one time portrayed as the best of friends, they even appeared together in a joint comic book, World’s Finest Comics, teaming up to fight crime and injustice every month from 1941 to 1986. But 1986 coincidentally saw the publication of Frank Miller’s historic miniseries The Dark Knight Returns, with its revamping of the two heroes’ relationship. Since then, things have been a little strained to say the least between the two superheroes. But to ascertain whether this is an unfortunate imposition of the grittier, more adult comics that characterized the 1990s, or an inevitable break arising from fundamental differences woven into their disparate characters, one has to look at their respective origins.

While it is true that both Batman and Superman are orphans, everything about their individual character and nature diverges from this one shared characteristic. As a small child, Bruce Wayne watched as both his parents were brutally gunned down in front of his eyes. Before he had reached maturity, he was present for a horrible, bloody and violent double murder. His life, previously one of privilege–the only son of the wealthiest family in America’s biggest city; essentially the closest to royalty we have over here–is over in a heartbeat. The arbitrary and transitory nature of our existence is brought home to him with crushing reality way before he’s prepared to handle it. I remember as a teenager  …

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