Friday Frivolity – The Sociology Behind Batman And Superman

Being Friday I’ve decided to post a little entertainment piece. Now I will warn you, this entry is for the nerdliest of nerds. I wrote a short article on the sociology of Superman and Batman. I know I know, it sounds terribly nerdy and boring. It’s actually quite interesting. Put your ego aside and read it. Come on. You know you really want to anyways.

Superman began in the early days as a champion of the people. He would do anything to keep those who were weaker or couldn’t fight back protected from injustice. Superman’s method’s however were often exactly what he fought, bullying.

Superman evolved into a model of law, order, and justice. He adopted a strict moral code. People began to refer to Superman as a boy scout. Superman would always follow the law, or the American government, no matter if it were disagreeable or not. Superman is our national perception of the American Midwest.

Batman is in many ways in direct contrast to Superman. If Superman is bright American optimism, Batman is the dark underbelly. Batman is rich and urban. This has warped him into a different kind of hero than Superman. Batman follows a very lose code. No killing. Batman’s crime fight is an obsession, unlike Superman who fights crime ultimately to simply uphold law and order.

Bruce Wayne decided to become Batman after his parents were killed in a senseless mugging (depending on which version you read, but they’re all pretty close to that basic story.)

Batman however is choosing to operate on vengeance. Had his parents not died, he probably would never have donned the cape and cowl. Interestingly enough, many of Batman’s villains operate on the same principal. Mr. Freeze for his wife, Poison Ivy kind of a terrorist for plants, Penguin for being bullied and made an outcast in high society, and of course the Joker was created by Batman himself (the degree of Batman’s direct influence depends on the source).

Batman operates outside the law. This is a standard in almost all adaptations of the character. He is a vigilante. Batman isn’t welcome sight to many. When people see Superman flying through the sky they think a wrong is going to be righted. When they see the bat signal they think oh hell something has gone wrong that we can’t handle.

A good tale illustrating Superman’s problematic idealism is the Elseworld’s story JLA: Age of Wonder. Superman comes to earth in the 1800s; helping usher in what he hopes will be a new age of egalitarian prosperity using technology from Krypton. Lex Luthor however corrupts this technology for his own purposes, which Supes fails to realize until it is nearly too late. Superman cannot believe that this technology that he sees as ultimately good for all in society, could be used for selfish despicable reasons.

Superman is much more egalitarian. Though his real parents are dead, adopted parents in a quite small country town raise him. When he discovers his powers, he chooses to fight crime for the good of the people. You’re right in saying this is much more idealistic. We all want to be Superman in some ways, but thank God there are people like Batman.

On a side, I think something interesting to ponder would be this: Would each be happy if crime ceased. That is Superman’s ultimate goal. I’m not so sure if Bruce would be so content to retire.

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