After finishing Superman for All Seasons, I headed back to the Henrico County Public Library (Gayton branch) and picked up a copy of Superman: Brainiac by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, and John Sibal. The story features emotional confrontations between Superman and Brainiac based on the villain’s past assaults on Superman’s home planet of Krypton.
After a sound beating from the Man of Steel, Braniac attempts revenge by launching a rocket toward the Kansas farmhouse of Clark Kent’s parents. While the Kent’s dodge the projectile, the episode causes Jonathan Kent to suffer a fatal heart attack. In the brilliant depiction of Mr. Kent’s funeral, Clark notices a shadowed figure under the shade of a tree. Behind this man is another, gray-haired figure and an expensive-looking car. One can only conclude that these characters are Bruce Wayne and his butler Alfred Pennyworth.
This got me thinking about one of my favorite DC Comics tropes: the relationship between Superman and Batman. Whether in the comics, or adaptations like the animated Superman/Batman Public Enemies, the pairing of the characters has always intrigued me. Both in reality and in continuity, the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight are DC’s primary figureheads. They are key members of the Justice League of America and the company’s most recognizable icons.
How can one not buy into this pairing? On the one hand you have the ultra-powerful farm boy that insists on living as a symbol of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. On the other hand, you have the orphaned billionaire-turned-vigilante who has made himself an avatar of fear for the superstitious and cowardly criminals of Gotham City. The characters are polar opposites who, despite mutual respect, often clash over issues of ideology and method. Still, the similarities are hard to ignore. Neither man will compromise. Unless pressed to his limit, Superman will not take a life. Batman will not kill. Period. Unless you’re Darkseid, then he’ll try and get sent hurtling through time. But I digress…
The thing that really sells the pairing, however, is friendship. No words needed to be spoken between Bruce and Clark at Pa Kent’s funeral for the reader to feel the emotion of the moment. Similarly, Superman was right there to support Batman in his darkest hour, when the second Robin was killed. Who can forget the image of Superman holding the charred skeleton of the Dark Knight at the end of Final Crisis?
I guess what I’m getting at is the fact that I can relate to the World’s Finest, despite their larger-than-life status. Academically, it has something to do with male homo-social relationships. In reality, it’s all about bromance. I know that I’d be there for my buddies if they lost a parent (or sidekick?). I’d expect the same from them. Similarly, it’s not hard to picture Bruce and Clark leaving Lois Lane and Catwoman behind for the evening to have a few beers and joke about that time President Lex Luthor turned them into fugitives.