Most of the time, when you see Superman and Batman fighting --- and boy howdy have we seen Superman and Batman fighting --- it's over some kind of ideological difference. It's a conflict that always seems to have its roots in mistrust between the ideas that those two characters represent, that extremely relatable conflict between a super-powered alien and a normal, regular, non-powered human who only has a billion dollars, a weaponized meteorite, and a rocket car to level the playing field.
But for me, that's only part of the story. I think if we just go a little deeper, we'll find that there's one major source of conflict between Superman and Batman that you almost never hear about.
Batman and Superman are hitting the big screen this week with the promise that they'll v each other harder than anyone has ever been v-ed before. But if you're looking for a comic that features some of the best examples of those two heroes going at it, I can highly recommend digging through a back issue bin to find yourself a copy of World's Finest Comics #197. It's an extra-sized issue that's crammed full of one story after another where Superman and Batman find themselves fighting against each other.
But even though all three of the stories in that issue are basically stone-cold classics, the best one by far is the one where Batman --- a grim, gritty, ruthless Batman --- lures Superman out to another planet so that he can lock him up in a jail cell and beat him with a laser whip whenever he doesn't obey. And it might just be the weirdest story about those two characters fighting that I've ever seen.
With the release of Batman v Superman hovering just over the horizon, I know that a lot of people are going back and reading some of their favorite stories about those two characters, and I, my friends, am no exception. The thing is, I'm not all that into seeing them fighting. I mean, yeah, it's good for a change of pace every now and then, but most of the time, I want to see the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight putting aside their differences to fight against a threat too great to deal with individually.
Like, say, an army of garden gnomes that are trying to convert science into magic so that a wizard can take over the world.
I don't know about you, but when I play Dungeons & Dragons, I'm looking for a very specific kind of quest. Storytelling and character development are nice, but really, at the end of the day, I want an epic that's full of magic swords, dragons, and a threat so huge that it puts an entire kingdom --- maybe even an entire world --- in the kind of dire peril that can only be thwarted by stout-hearted heroes who aren't above lying about their dice rolls when they need to. In other words, I need something that's a little more intense than helping some dude recover from being cursed with tiny little baby hands.
But apparently, that is exactly what the gaming community wanted back in 1988, when Advanced Dungeons & Dragons devoted the entirety of its opening arc to one character's harrowing recovery from having his hands shrunk, a tragedy that drove him to drink, caused him to lose faith in his gods, and gave us lots of truly hilarious panels where he holds normal-sized objects that suddenly look huge.
One of the greatest unsolved mysteries in the history of our planet is the question of what killed the dinosaurs. There is, of course, the leading theory that the Cretaceous-Paleogene Extinction Event was the result of a massive asteroid impact, something that's supported by a layer of sediment in the fossil record that includes high traces of iridium, and by the discovery of the massive Chicxulub crater, all of which amounts to a pretty compelling batch of scientific evidence. Personally, though, I don't buy it, and not just because of noted scientist Dr. Victor Fries and his assertion that the mass extinction was the result of the onset of an ice age.
No, my doubts come from the fact that, like everyone else who read Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back in 1989, I already know what killed the dinosaurs: It was the Ninja Turtles. Specifically, Leonardo. I know, I was surprised, too.
The Academy Awards are almost upon us, which means that it's time for the entire movie industry to rent out a very large room and say, "Good job, Movie Industry" to itself for about four hours. I'm told a lot of people find this very exciting, but as they have never, to my knowledge, even mentioned Bulbasaur's groundbreaking role in Pokemon: The First Movie, it's not really something I'm interested in. Besides, the movies that I tend to enjoy often value spectacle over substance. It might not win any awards, but I've often thought that there's a lot of value in giving audiences something that they just couldn't see otherwise.
Which, I imagine, is probably there were film producers in the DC Universe who were once so desperate for cool stunts that they decided to hire an actual superhero to handle them --- all without ever explaining to him how movies worked.
Promo comics are amazing. Since they're created for a wide audience that goes far beyond the normal readership, they always feature characters who have been boiled down to their most basic, accessible forms, but they're always at least two steps removed from what they should probably be doing. I mean, even if you boil them down to their most essential elements, the Justice League probably shouldn't be relying on a guy with a really nice drill to help them defeat a supervillain, and Batman doesn't usually fight crime by helping a small child overcome his allergies.
But that's part of what makes them great, and it only gets better when you're not exactly sure what's being promoted until you're about halfway through the comic. So today, I invite you to join me for 1992's Batman: A Word to the Wise, in which the Caped Crusader is called upon to extoll the virtues of literacy, a department store, and --- if I'm reading this correctly --- the entire nation of Canada.
Every February, I like to throw a bit of a spotlight on some of the more romantic pieces of superhero comics, but with Superman, that's pretty hard to do. I mean, sure, he'd eventually settle down with Lois Lane in one of the better romance stories in comics history, but for a long stretch of his history, he did everything he could to avoid letting anybody put a ring on it. Whether it was Lois, Lana, Lori, Lyla, or even Marybelle, the hillbilly whose lack of double-L initials should've disqualified her from contention well before she was carried over the Marryin' Rock, that dude was simply --- and famously --- not interested.
What you might not know, however, is why. It turns out that Superman wasn't just trying to protect his girlfriends from those who might use them to strike at him; it was that all this time, he was still carrying a torch for his first crush: Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt --- and the fact that she died in 30 BCE didn't stop them from dating for a week when he was fifteen.
Weird Silver Age comics are a finite resource. Granted, I could probably start now and do nothing but read weird back issues for the rest of my life --- which, believe it or not, is somehow not what I'm already doing --- but there were only so many stories produced in that era. With all the ones I've talked about over the years, I sometimes wonder if I'm on the verge of running out, and I wonder what my life is going to look like once I've taken you through every time Jimmy Olsen tried to date a viking robot, or Batman had to take on the scourge of gorilla crime.
And then I find out that there's a story I've never heard of before called "Clark Kent's Hillbilly Bride," and I realize that we've still got a long way to go before we're done here.
Superman is notoriously difficult to kill. It's kind of his thing, and even though people have been trying to pull it off for 77 years now, they've never really managed to. Even the most famous example of someone coming close had to involve an unstoppable giant bone monster in bike shorts and a spurious understanding of evolution, and even that didn't really work --- the main result was less shuffling off this mortal coil and more hanging around for a couple of years in dire need of a haircut.
But there is one person who might have a pretty good shot. Someone who knows all of Superman's weaknesses, and who has the resources to provide a squad of hitmen with everything they'd need to put a Kryptonite nail into the Man of Steel's coffin. That man is Clark Kent, and in Len Wein, Dick Dillin and Joe Giella's "A Matter of Light and Death," which opens with Clark hiring a trio of crooks to off his own alter-ego, and just keeps getting weirder from there.
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