Let’s settle a detail once and for all. Is The Dark Knight Returns the most iconic fight between Batman and Superman?
Batman vs. Superman, the fight that has often defined the very nature of DC’s two best-known heroes for a generation.
Do not miss: Who wins in a duel Batman vs Superman? DC gives the official result
It’s the combat that stretched each character’s potential to its limits. It has been referenced, applauded and adapted over and over again for decades.
We’re talking about the epic conclusion to Frank Miller’s 1986 classic: the fight between The Man of Steel and the Bat-Man at the end of The Dark Knight Returns.
For those who may have grown up in a post-Dark Knight world, the idea of Superman and Batman being at odds and even coming to blows is as natural as anything else they’ve done.
Superman is all about meting out daylight justice with calming power and a welcoming smile. Batman enacts amazing revenge in the night, combining his great intelligence and willpower to wage war against the criminals of his city. They are light and dark, natural opposites, and as such it is not surprising that they disagree.
But for those who had read DC comics in the fifty years before Dark Knight Returns, a depiction of the Superman/Batman relationship as more than just best friends was downright shocking.
As early as 1941, readers would see the two heroes smiling side by side on the cover and in the pages of World’s Finest Comics. These happy-go-lucky images of Superman and Batman (and Robin) hanging out, competing in sports, and working together informed decades of what became one of the strongest friendships in comics.
Back then, it just made perfect sense. Superman had the ultimate power and Batman the ultimate intellect. Crime, however much it defended itself, couldn’t stand a chance.
Together, Superman and Batman’s friendship was seen as the foundation of DC’s world of heroes, so what happened?
The origin of the rivalry
In 1986, Frank Miller wrote and illustrated what is now considered one of the greatest comics ever published: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. His conceit is that in present day, Bruce Wayne is fifty-five years old and retired as Batman for over ten years after the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd.
Gotham has sunk further into criminality and chaos, with its fraternity of supervillains replaced by a gang of violent young punks known as “The Mutants.” The other DC superheroes have largely disappeared from the public after increased scrutiny from the world at large led to widespread fear of their existence.
When this older Bruce has a new spiritual awakening and returns as Batman, the audience reaction is loud and immediate. Initially, the citizens of Gotham come to love and praise its revived war on crime, as the mutants are publicly defeated and the remaining members transform into the “Sons of Batman,” a gang that follows Gotham’s legendary protector in place of the destructive mutant leader.
Before long, however, the government becomes concerned, and President Ronald Reagan enlists Superman, who has been working exclusively for the American government for the past decade as a bought agent, to publicly take down Batman.
Superman, who had warned Bruce that sooner or later he would be called in to stop Batman, arrives in Gotham City hoping to reason with his former friend.
But Batman, clad in all-silver, electronically charged protective armor, is more than happy to give the Man of Steel everything he’s got before his aging body finally gives out.
Both contenders have mindsets heading into the fight. Superman, despite being annoyed by Batman’s stubbornness and unwillingness to listen to anyone, would rather not defeat him in a fight.
He resents the government using him and knows that if he wasn’t the one going after Batman, someone else would. As such, he hopes to inflict the minimum of pain. Just long enough for Bruce to come to his senses.
Batman, however, has been waiting for this. He is completely disgusted with Superman’s accession to government and maintains that those with the power to do what they were born to do should use that power as they see fit.
He also knew that eventually the government would send Superman to destroy it, so he goes into battle with contingencies he put in place years ago. His armor is protective and designed to augment his offensive capabilities, which he unleashes when Superman is weakened after surviving a nuclear warhead.
The tricks of the bat
There’s also the arsenal that Batman throws at Superman, though it’s repeatedly made clear that these serve as distractions more than anything. With Carrie Kelley’s Robin piloting the Batmobile (now reconfigured as a giant tank), Superman is hit with a missile that is said to be able to sink a warship, but he barely feels it. Batman’s attempts to shoot acid in his face and throw grenades at him yield even less impressive results.
Part of Bruce’s arsenal proves effective. Batman fires a sonic gun, a terrifying device that shatters all the shards of glass in the surrounding area, giving Superman a nosebleed. He also manages to stun him by electrocuting his face with energy siphoned from a nearby outlet and fitted to his suit.
However, these are momentary victories, as Superman quickly dispatches these weapons once they are used. The sonic gun is destroyed and Batman’s armor is dismantled in the blink of an eye once Superman realizes he’s getting punished. Within seconds, Superman is back in the fight and effortlessly breaks Batman’s wrist and three of his ribs.
Batman’s latest gimmick is a synthesized version of kryptonite, delivered via an arrowhead courtesy of Oliver Queen, the former Green Arrow who is supposed to have felt Superman’s government-approved wrath some years ago.
The kryptonite weakens Superman enough that he takes a few more hits and bleeds profusely, but he can still feel Batman’s racing heartbeat, which begins to drag on. Just as Batman has the Man of Steel by the throat, he suffers a heart attack and collapses into his opponent’s arms.
In the end, it was revealed that Batman’s supposed death was a ruse, something to get the government to stop worrying about him. Superman notices this and wordlessly accepts the secret. Batman, Robin, Green Arrow and the Sons of Batman continue their war on crime in secret, underground and hidden in the shadows.
But that’s in the context of the Dark Knight Returns story. Outside of this alternate Elseworlds universe, Superman and Batman’s relationship changed drastically. Beginning with John Byrne’s The Man of Steel #3, the World’s Finest team dynamic changed to one in which Superman began to see Batman as a more antagonistic crime fighter who brazenly operates outside the law.
Batman’s appraisal of Superman grew over the years into a wariness of the devastating potential he held for destruction should his mental faculties ever be compromised by evil. Their friendship started from scratch, beginning with an awkward relationship and solid trust, but in fact a trust built over time.
In Action Comics #654, Superman entrusts Batman with a piece of kryptonite, in case someone else uses it against Earth. The two would work together in the various iterations of the Justice League and would reveal their secret identities to each other years before they did with other members of the Leagues.
In other words, their friendship returned, but with a distinctive wariness and distaste for each other’s methods, along with a reluctant respect. Superman would offer his help in various Batman stories such as “Bruce Wayne: Fugitive” and “No Man’s Land”, while Batman would mourn his friend when the Doomsday monster temporarily killed him and attended his funeral. When Lex Luthor, President of the United States, went mad with power, Batman helped Superman take him down. Despite their differences, the best team in the world remained the best duo in DC, no matter how much they differed in their respective perspectives.
From cartoons to other media
But it is no longer an easy alliance and nowhere has this been clearer than when they appear on screen. In the three-part Superman: The Animated Series episode “World’s Finest,” Batman and Superman meet and come to blows before working together to stop Lex Luthor and the Joker.
Their pre-1986 friendship and battle from Dark Knight Returns was later brought to life in the Silver Age-style Batman: The Brave and the Bold series in the episode “Battle of the Super-Heroes.”
Most famously, their famous comic book battle was brought to life in a way clearly influenced by Frank Miller’s book in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, complete with Bat-Armor and Kryptonite gas.
Even the DC comedies got in on the action. Batman and Superman’s fight was even referenced and parodied in Lego Batman, Robot Chicken, and Teen Titans GO!
More than any other hero/villain battle or hero vs. hero brawl, DC’s two main titans are the only ones to have such an indelible feud for the masses, that it has influenced their portrayals throughout various iterations and mediums.
A tough battle between two friends, the compelling nature and circumstances of the fight keep it as possibly not only the most famous battle in DC, but also the most famous fight in all of comics.
Source: DC Comics
The Dark Knight Saga, the masterpiece of Frank Miller in SMASH and DC Comics Mexico
This masterpiece of modern comic storytelling brings a dark world and a darker man to life. Along with inker Klaus Janson and colorist Lynn Varley, writer/artist Frank Miller completely reinvented the Batman legend in his saga of a Gotham City gone bad in the near future, 10 years after the Dark Knight has retired. .
Crime runs rampant on the streets, and the man who was Batman continues to be tortured by the memory of his dead parents. As civil society crumbles around him, the long-suppressed vigilante aspect of Bruce Wayne is finally breaking free of his self-imposed shackles.
SMASH and DC Comics Mexico bring you Batman: The Dark Knight Saga. Frank Miller’s masterpiece that remains an undisputed classic and one of the most influential stories ever told in the comics medium.
Also being read:
This Is What Henry Cavill Would Look Like As Batman
This is what Robert Pattinson looks like as Batman
The most expensive movies in Hollywood
Gallants who have played ‘Batman’
Batman would die from flying like he does