Alberto Mingardi  

The politics of Batman vs Superman

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I shall confess that I haven't seen "Batman vs Superman". Yet I'm fascinated by the fact the superhero blockbuster is spurring some political discussion.

National Review's Armond White liked the movie, to the point of writing that "Snyder's thrillingly intelligent use of interior conflict and political antagonism vastly outclasses Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises -- all noxious -- which were bellwethers of our culture's decline". Alex Abad-Santos on Vox has a piece on Batman's views on altruism, and how he actually hypocritically doesn't "care about people as much as he said" he does. Abad-Santos's piece is full of spoilers, but I guess you should have seen the movie to fully appreciate it, and I didn't yet.

Abraham Riesman has a superb piece on all the confrontations between Batman and Superman in the past here.

Batman.jpgThe first "Batman vs Superman" scene I can remember is from a beloved graphic novel of my childhood, "Batman: the Dark Knight Returns" by Frank Miller. There, Batman is painted as a grumpy reactionary who revolts against a government which, muddied with incompetence, is waging a war against the Soviet Union. Superman, on the other hand, is a happy warrior in the service of the US government. A theme of the comic book, if I remember correctly, is Batman's being fed up with political correctness and the lack of respect for individuality (there are plenty of weirder things too: for example it takes nothing for Batman to turn a gang of criminals into an army of idealists).

My sense was most of the time that Superman was a more of an icon sympathetic to what we may call "the establishment," a defender of a status quo that he sees as benevolent, whereas Batman was instead more of an individualist (hard to say "an outsider" given the apparently endless resources available to Mr Wayne). After all, Batman becomes Batman reacting to what he sees as the injustice in this world and the ineffectiveness of government in dealing with it. Superman is Superman because he's born this way, and wants to put his power to the service of community.

But apparently in the new movie (see trailer here) one theme is the fact Superman is criticised with a protectionist and "nativist" slogan: Americans belong to Americans, and Earth to humans. Is Superman supposed to symbolise all what's good with immigration, and the fact that attracting talents is actually good for a country?

I'll go to the movies and then happily report.


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COMMENTS (5 to date)
Weir writes:

There's the unintended consequences, as the director has put it, of rescuing people, but there's also the opportunity cost of rescuing this person and not that person. Superman cares about one of us in particular: Lois Lane. If it weren't for her, he'd look down on us all with something a lot like contempt. As well he should, because we allow ourselves to be used and manipulated. Even the best of us, Batman, can't see that he's actually furthering Lex Luthor's will. Batman doesn't understand that he's not in control of his own actions. And Superman himself, a few seconds too late, discovers how he's been used. He's the sole survivor, if not quite the sole cause, of yet another atrocity. This is two years after the carnage in Metropolis when he brought General Zod to Earth. Without Superman, no General Zod. God brought the Devil following after him, or in other words, the superpower brought forth the supervillain.

Bill writes:
My sense was most of the time that Superman was a more of an icon sympathetic to what we may call "the establishment," a defender of a status quo that he sees as benevolent, whereas Batman was instead more of an individualist

Yet more evidence for me to make sense of why Batman was my favorite hero (or anti-hero) as a kid.

Adam Fitchett writes:

He thinks the Nolan films are "bellwethers of our cultural decline"? Three of the most carefully and thrillingly crafted films in movie history? One of which featured arguably the greatest villain performance of the 21st century? All of which feature an intense and intelligent power play between opposing worldviews? All of which feature state of the art special effects? Movies that rescued the superhero genre from its sugary, clich├ęd romanticism and gave us something gritty and hard to sink our teeth into? Movies that challenged our moral and political beliefs, making us sympathise with black, white and grey? He is out of his mind.

Andrew_FL writes:

Regarding whether Superman counts as an immigrant, there was at least one origin, Kryptonians develop outside their mother's womb in a "Birthing Matrix." Because of that, in such continuities, Superman counted for legal purposes as a natural born citizen of the United States (although this is based on a dubious interpretation of the 14th Amendment.) He even ran for President in one alternate future (Armageddon 2001).

On the politics of The Dark Knight Returns, the sequel features bizarre debates between Champagne Marxist Oliver Queen/Green Arrow and Radical Libertarian The Question-Which leave the reader wondering whether Frank Miller knew anything at all about the ideologies he was mocking.

J Mann writes:

As awesome as the Batman moments are in TDKR, it's the Superman moments that choke me up, remembering them 20 years later.

I won't quote them for fear of spoiling someone, but IMHO Superman steals that whole series in about 3 panels.

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