As Lex reminds us: “God vs. man.”
It is one analogy that ripples through the drama like a tensed muscle. And the film, which opens Friday, implores us to take sides in this supernatural battle.
Kal-El — his very name looks anciently divine — is the Cosmos Moses who arrived to Earth as an infant. And in the most recent Superman film, 2013’s “Man of Steel,” Henry Cavill’s title character struck poses that were positively Christlike. Superman is a comic-book savior that mankind — or at least Batmankind — will deny.
“He has the power to wipe out the entire human race,” Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) says at one point of Superman. “If we believe there is even a 1-percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty.”
After the type of combat destruction witnessed in “Man of Steel,” our vigilante Batman can no longer put his faith in this nearly omnipotent Son of Krypton.
And led by that theme, we must understand the two DC characters’ shared history to really appreciate the context of this epic collision.
For decades, Superman and Batman have been two sides of the same superhero coin. Their bond is one of the strongest among DC Comics’s roster of heroes, but the path to mutual respect wasn’t always easy. The two have different approaches to being a hero. One works in the light of day for all to see to serve as an inspiration. The other clings to the shadows and uses fear as his foremost tool.
These two “world’s finest,” as they’ve been called when together, don’t always see eye to flying eye. Sometimes, wearing capes can seem like the only thing they have in common. And when conflict arises between the two, it can even seem to turn into a David vs. Goliath scenario.
Superman, of course, is the most powerful of the superheroes. Countless playground debates over nearly eight decades have ended with the sentiment: “Well, he/she/they can’t beat Superman!” And in a sense, Batman can be seen as the Superman of those beings without powers. Purely from a physical standpoint, Batman could be looked at as a man with no hope.
In the rare but classic moments when the two have been pitted against each other, it is a meeting of two worlds.
Both heroes were orphaned by tragedy in childhood, with one using lessons learned from the American heartland when making heroic decisions; the other uses his pain of loss to create a fear he feels is necessary to rid the streets of violent criminals.
Superman bends steel; Batman bends wills.
Yet despite one hero seemingly having powers sent from the heavens (he actually gets them from our yellow sun), their matchups don’t always provide a clear-cut victory.
But what is it, exactly, about this day vs. night conflict that has intrigued readers for so many years? Is it the obviousness of who should win, or the surprise that comes when the battle doesn’t unfold as expected? Is it the mere fact that Batman remains standing — should that count for something? Or is it, in turn, about Superman’s mercy?
Do we root for the all-powerful to do what should come easily and presume Superman is the supreme being — one aided by flight, invulnerability, strength and heat vision? How could he lose?
Superman can loom as indestructible. Do we look at Batman’s humanity and become inspired by his determination not to back down in the face of these superpowers — despite only being human? And does Batman’s brilliant mind neutralize Superman’s strength? Despite the difference in power levels, Batman is still a formidable foe for Superman, always creating a counter move.
Is Batman the most relatable and realistic hero, and should we side with him when the Frank Miller-rendered version of Batman takes down Superman in the comics — with a boot to the face and his hands wrapped around Superman’s neck?
Perhaps it is a natural instinct to root for the underdog — if we can call Batman that.
Do these two represent a modern-day take on Greek mythology? And do we root for compromise should they be threatened by another foe?
Or perhaps we watch man and god spar because in this realm, that is the necessary path toward peace.
Heavens, let’s hope so.