Thursday, March 17, 2016

Batman v Superman IV: Who Won More?

Batman and Superman have fought at least thirty-three times. In the last three posts, I gave the blow-by-blow of all of them. Now, to add up the score.

With Superman fully powered, Batman without prep time

Superman wins these battles again and again. Whether he knocks Batman down or just stands there and takes whatever Batman can dish out, Superman, when he's in his right mind, always comes out with a win, no sweat. However, the three times that Superman is under the mind control of a Batman villain, in "Hush" and in Scott Snyder's current run, Batman manages to incapacitate the mind-controlled Superman and bring him back to his normal self.

Superman 7 wins and no losses when he's in his right mind. Batman wakes up a mind-controlled Superman twice, Batman completely defeats a mind-controlled Superman once.

When Batman has superpowers

This is a strange category, because the nature of the superpowers can vary so much. Two of their first battles involved Batman possessing powers, an idea that didn't recur until 1979. 1 tie, 1 Superman 1, Batman assists the JSA in 1 win.

When Superman has no powers

In theory, taking away Superman's powers gives Batman the advantage, because Batman has trained and armed himself for that situation and Superman has not. However, Superman has actually matched Batman at 2 wins apiece in these stories, none of them published since 1968.

With Superman fully powered, Batman with prep time

This describes probably the best-remembered and most interesting of the matchups, but probably few readers are aware that Batman has been using prep time to beat Superman since as far back as 1961! Batman won five of these, but Superman's powers and wits bested Batman's plans in two stories (curiously, both published in 2006) when Superman wins a re-imagined version of Byrne's first meeting by seeing through the bomb-in-the-belt trick, and a fight in the Batcave when Superman is not taken down by the kryptonite ring.

Grand total

Counting all of the disparate scenarios, the win total is:
Superman 12, Batman 11, several ties, team battles, and non-fights.

The key takeaways are: When Batman has no prep time and Superman's in his right mind, the Man of Steel is unbeatable. When Batman has prep time and is in his right mind, the Caped Crusader almost always wins.

There's something trendy about having the two heroes fight. From 1968-1971, the heroes fought 8 times in 3 years, then only fought once in the next 14 years, but once the battles started up, they fought three times in just over a year. Then, hardly any more matchups for over a decade. Now, it appears to be trendy again, with over a third of the fights happening since the year 2000.

Having two of the most beloved superheroes fight is a curious thing. John Byrne and Frank Miller present it as inevitable: Of course these men have different methods; of course they would clash. In other stories, the writer felt compelled to dream up a fantastic explanation for the fight, subscribing to the more usual circumstance that the great heroes are also great friends.

Given that a fight must occur, it is a strange twist on the John Henry story: Can a hard-working man beat an unbeatable force? When Batman uses prep time to beat Superman, it is something hopeful for all of us, that humanity can triumph over every challenge, even their own hero. But in the fights where there is no prep time, writers almost universally agree that Superman must win, and take pains to say, further, that it shouldn't even be close.

The most common result in all of these battles, though, is that when the fight is over, the heroes realize their common cause and become at least allies, if not friends. The only exceptions to these are the Elseworlds where a very different Superman (like The Unholy Three's Zod as Superman) or very different Batman (the Batman who believes that Superboy killed his father) are in the fight.

So, as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hits the theatres, what we can be most certain of is that the end of the title is what matters. There'll be a fight, and if the comics are any indication, Batman's prep time will give him the upper hand. But when the battle ends, the two will join forces thereafter for their neverending war.


  1. Very well researched and write up. I won't even ask how you managed to sort thru 75 years of comics, let alone find those Golden Age ones.

    There's a line in the trailer that I think sums up there fights pretty well, "If I wanted it, you'd already be dead." There's just no reason Superman couldn't win any fight by heat visioning Batman from orbit or swooping in at superhuman speeds. Except of course the character's own morality usually prevents that option.

    As an aside, I'm surprised the trailers spoil so much. Yes, we know how these types of movies always end but the trailers outright tell us there'll be a pair of misunderstanding fights, prolly with split victories, and that they kiss and make up, Lex panics and over reacts, cue Zod resurrected into Doomsday and the Justice League.

  2. Superman-Batman #39-40 by Alan Burnett (of DC Animated Universe fame) also features a brief fight btw a mind-controlled Supes and Bats. Although most of it consists of Batman admitting defeat and running away so I'm not sure it meats your definition of a fight.

  3. Very cool group of articles here, I was not aware of all of these, particularly from the Silver Age and am impressed as always with Rikdad's research.
    While I was not a fan of the Man of Steel movie, I won't be going to theaters to see Batman vs. Superman. Rikdad, will you be doing a review?

  4. Thanks, sakei! I should say that an essential starting point to my research was to go through World's Finest covers browsers, which identified a lot of those fights for me. (Although a lot of covers are misleading!) But, to pick nits, there were no Golden Age fights – Superman and Batman's first few appearances in the JSA era had no fights (and damned little interaction), and were retconned away by their later "first" meeting in Superman #76.

    Your other comment reminds me of a fan cartoon I saw once that showed Superman winning the fight against Batman by pushing the Moon into the part of the Earth where Batman was, destroying an entire continent in order to get Batman. Then he pushed the Earth into the Sun. Lots of collateral damage, but point made: Batman can't win if the Kryptonian is going all-out.

  5. Thanks, Jonny! I think it's remarkable how some of the Sixties matchups were pretty well-thought-out, but are hardly remembered by fans.

    I had qualms with MOS, but I already have my ticket to BVS. If possible, I'll try to post a review the same night that I see it, six days from now.