If you’re even remotely into comic books or superheroes, chances are you’ve had the question, “Batman or Superman?,” posed to you at some point in your life. Some people have a genuine passion for superheroes in general, while others are hardcore one or the other: The Bat versus the Man of Steel. But how did these two characters come into their own to serve as two of the most popular superheroes of all time? What are their powers, their origin stories, and their ties to other characters? Let’s find out.
Batman: The Beginning
By night, Batman fights crime in Gotham City. During the day, however, he’s Bruce Wayne - a prominent businessman, philanthropist, eligible bachelor, and owner of Wayne Enterprises. In his childhood, Bruce witnessed the murder of his parents, Dr. Thomas and Martha Wayne. This kicked off his dedication to fighting justice and lead to his evolution as a crime-fighting superhero. Though Batman doesn’t have any super-human powers, per se, his talents lie in his supreme intelligence, martial art abilities, and incredible wealth that allows him the opportunities to fight and defend as he sees fit. To understand the true essence of Batman, however, it’s important to understand the evolution behind the character.
Following the great success of Superman in Action Comics in the late 1930s, the editors at National Comics Publications, which would come to be known as DC Comics, requested that additional superheroes be added to the comics. Such a simple request would spawn the creation of the Batman that millions know and love today.
The character of Batman was created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. Originally introduced as the “Bat-Man,” the character first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in 1939 in the story, “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate.” Though his name evolved from Bat-Man to Batman, the character has also come to be known as the Dark Knight, the World’s Greatest Detective, and the Caped Crusader.
Batman received his first solo comic title in 1940, though he still appeared as a main character in the Detective Comics. Batman’s well-known utility belt made its first appearance in July of 1939, while the batarang and Batman’s first official vehicle, the Batplane, were introduced in September of the same year. That November, Batman’s origin story was officially unveiled, giving readers the first understanding of the death and despair that helped shape the Dark Knight’s personality.
Batman’s trusty sidekick Robin was introduced in April of 1940, not only giving the character someone he could confide in, but also giving rise to the creation of junior sidekicks. Though fans today know Batman as someone who avoids guns and doesn’t kill his enemies or those he battles, that wasn’t always the case. Editor Whitney Ellsworth made that determination after the first solo issue of Batman was released. The first issue of Batman was also significant for its introduction of Catwoman and the Joker.
In the 1950s, comic book popularity took a bit of a downturn. Interest in Batman and Superman remained, however, and creators decided to pair the two together in “The Mightiest Team in the World” featured in Superman #76 in June of 1952. The story was so successful that it quickly became one of World’s Finest Comics most popular pairs. The series between the two characters continued until the cancelation of the company in 1986.
Some fans may be surprised to learn that the Caped Crusader’s legacy was almost cut short. In 1964 after significant downturn in comic book sales, DC Comics considered killing off the character. Instead, editor Julius Schwartz made a complete redesign, giving Batman a newer, more contemporary look. However, despite the changes, the comic book circulation dropped through the 1970s and 80s, with an all-time low in 1985.
Batman on Television
Though Batman may have gotten his start in comic books, his fan base grew substantially through his appearance on television and on the big screen. In January of 1966, the Batman television series premiered on the ABC network. With Adam West as its star, the series ended in 1968 after 120 episodes. The show became a pop culture hit but was far from the only television adaptation of Batman. In 1992, Batman: The Animated Series made its debut. The series collected multiple Emmy awards, and helped create the film Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, as well as spin-offs including The New Batman Adventures, Justice League, Superman: The Animated Series, and Justice League Unlimited.
Batman on the Big Screen
The portrayal of Batman on the big screen has led to quite a bit of controversy among his fans. Just as you will usually find a preference between Batman and Superman, there is also a preference between the actors who have brought the Dark Knight to life in theaters.
In 1989, director Tim Burton put his spin on Batman in the feature film of the same name. Starring Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, the film was a major hit, securing its place not only as the top-grossing film of the year, but also as the fifth highest grossing film of all time. Its success also led to the adaptation of three sequels: Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman and Robin. In 1992, Batman Returns was released. Keaton and Burton returned as actor and director, adding Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Christopher Walken to the cast. The film was well-received, and ultimately grossed $266.8 million worldwide.
Batman Forever was released in 1995 and starred Val Kilmer instead of Keaton. Burton remained as a producer, but Joel Schumacher directed the film. The cast was rounded out by Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face, Jim Carrey as the Riddler, and Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian. Though the film was considered a financial success after it grossed more than $336 million across the globe, its reviews were mixed, and Schumacher ultimately replaced Kilmer with George Clooney for the next film, Batman and Robin.
For film critics and fans alike, it seems as though filmmakers should have quit while they were ahead with the series. The film depicts Batman, played by Clooney, and Robin, played by Chris O’Donnell, as they try and save the world from Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman respectively. Despite making $238.2 million worldwide, the film has been called one of the 50 worst movies ever. Due to the film’s poor performance in reviews, its sequel, Batman Unchained, was cancelled.
Christopher Nolan’s Batman
Fortunately for fans, it’s fairly hard to kill the character of Batman. In 2005, Christopher Nolan took on the role as director with Christian Bale starring as Batman for the film Batman Begins. The series’ sequel, The Dark Knight, was released in 2008 and set the record for the highest grossing opening weekend of all time in the United States. The film also won two Academy Awards, including one for the performance of the late Heath Ledger’s Joker. The Dark Knight Rises, released in 2012, concluded the series.
Superman: The Beginning
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Nope. It’s just Superman. Also known as the Man of Steel, Superman made his first comic book appearance on April 18, 1938, in Action Comics #1. The character, a creation of writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, has remained a constant in the comic book world since his first appearance and is one of the few major characters who has stayed relatively consistent over time.
The Back Story
Superman’s origin story tells that he was sent to Earth as a baby by his parents, Jor-El and Lara, when his home planet of Krypton was destroyed. Though his Krypton name is Kal-El, Superman was discovered on Earth by Kansas farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent, who adopted him and gave him the name Clark.
Clark’s abilities were apparent almost immediately. He displayed superhuman strength and skin that was invulnerable to injury. As he grew, Clark’s parents urged him to only use his powers for good. In response, Clark decided to use an alter ego, Superman, to fight crime. During the day, Superman lives his life as Clark Kent, residing in the city of Metropolis and working as a journalist at the Daily Planet newspaper.
Superman’s adventures generally included his friend, Jimmy Olsen, Daily Planet Editor Perry White, and Superman’s love interest, fellow reporter Lois Lane. His primary enemy is Lex Luthor, a wealthy genius with an engineering background and the owner of a corporation called LexCorp.
Although Superman is known to be one of, if not the most popular superhero in the world, his success almost wasn’t ever realized. In January of 1933, Siegel created a short story for use in his self-published magazine, Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization. The piece, titled, “The Reign of the Superman,” was the first iteration of the character fans would come to know and love.
Siegel and Shuster tried in vain to have their comic strips of Superman published. Although one company, Consolidated Book Publishers, showed interest in the concept of The Supermancomic, they eventually declined. It was Siegel’s opinion that the two were being rejected because of their age, so he attempted to replace Shuster with a more well-known artist. When Shuster discovered Siegel’s plan, he destroyed the only copy of The Superman, minus the cover.
After being rejected by several other artists, Shuster and Siegel reconciled and began continuing the development of the character of Superman. It was during this time that the Superman origin story was created, as well as his infamous appearance, including his tights, the large “S” on his chest, and his cape.
In June of 1935, Siegel and Shuster found work with National Allied Publications owned by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. Despite Wheeler-Nicholson’s offer to publish Superman in one of his comic books, the men refused, citing Wheeler-Nicholson’s poor sense of business and lack of consistent payment for their other work. After one final rejection by McClure Newspaper Syndicate, and after Wheeler-Nicholson’s company was sold to Jack Liebowitz and Harry Donefeld and marketed under the name Detective Comics, Inc., the men relented. On April 18, 1938, Superman appeared in a 13-page spread in the first issue of Action Comics. Siegel and Shuster were paid approximately $130 for the 13 pages.
Though Siegel was initially given full creative control of Superman’s narrative, the success of the character was soon overwhelming, and an editor was brought in to make decisions regarding creative oversight. As also happened with Batman, Superman was forced to become less violent and more fan-friendly. In 1940, editor Whitney Ellsworth ordered that Superman not kill his enemies and banned any storylines or content with a sexual nature.
Superman was not the first superhero created. However, he redefined the industry and has remained the best-selling comic book character of all time as of February of 2015, selling over 600 million copies worldwide. Batman follows in second, with more than 460 million copies sold.
Beyond Comic Books
Though Superman was created and developed throughout the pages of comic books, soon his popularity expanded. In 1940, The Adventures of Supermanbegan appearing on live radio with Bud Collyer as the voice of Superman. The show targeted children and aired episodes that were initially 15 minutes long but expanded to 30 minutes after 1949. The show ran from 1940 until 1951 and produced a total of 2,088 episodes.
In 1941, Paramount Pictures produced a series of animated shorts featuring Superman. There was a total of 17 episodes created, with each episode having a production budget of $30,000 (excluding the first episode, which had a budget of $50,000).
In 1948, Kirk Alyn became the first actor to depict Superman on the big screen, appearing in a movie serial targeting children. A sequel, Atom Man vs. Superman, was released in 1950. Superman’s first feature film, Superman and the Mole Men, was released in 1951. In 1978, Christopher Reeve became the modern generation’s vision for the character when he appeared in the first big-budget film, aptly titled Superman.
The first Superman film created four sequels: Superman II, released in 1980, Superman III in 1983, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, in 1987, and Superman Returns in 2006. For the final sequel, Reeve was replaced by actor Brandon Routh. In 2013, Henry Cavill took on the role of Superman in the feature film Man of Steel. Produced by Warner Brothers, the film was designed as a reboot of the original film series.
Though equally impressive on their own, Batman and Superman have joined forces on a number of ventures, most recently on several films, including Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a 2016 sequel to the 2013 Man of Steel, and in Justice League,a 2017 film that brought together Superman, Batman, the Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg.
Though each has their own notable attributes, fans of each will undoubtedly find arguments as to why one or the other is the better superhero. If you’re looking to represent your favorite superhero, there’s no better place to shop than Sons of Gotham. With hundreds of styles, you can find whatever you’re looking for regardless of which character you prefer. Fans of Batman can click here to explore Sons of Gotham’s entire collection, while those who prefer Superman can find their new favorite products here.
Want to learn more about some of the other DC Comics characters? Check out our blog on the story of Supergirl and the story of Wonder Woman. Can’t decide which character is your favorite? We’ve got you covered with a breakdown of every DC superhero you can think of.
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