What I am about to say will probably make the heads of quite a few comic book fans explode, but here it is anyway. In the debate of Batman vs. Superman, I think they both suck. Now, I could give you a rundown about a great many superheroes and why I dislike them and everything that they represent, but these two old dinosaurs of the comic book era are the most painful part of comic universes and so I want to focus on them. Now, down to business. Why do I hate them so much? To start, we should talk about the angsty, dark crusader that is Batman.
Anyone who fights for a social issue related to incarceration, poverty, and crime will tell you that they love the idea of a caped billionaire running through a city sending people to jail and putting all his wealth towards new gadgets with which to “fight crime.” Okay, so that is the exact opposite of what they want to happen, and I will tell you why. The biggest problems with crime are that it is misconstrued as solely a poverty problem, and also that the key to solving it is prison. Any activist can tell you that is not at all the case. Crime can and does happen at any income level, just in varying forms. The difference is that the people at the lowest level of income and of color get thrown in jail more often and for longer periods of time than white upper-class people.
The next problem is that jail time fails to dissuade criminal behavior. The people who are of low-income utilizing things like drug dealing in order to support themselves are probably going to end up as repeat offenders. The same thing for any person convicted of robbery; the prison system failed to “teach them a lesson” because poverty is more powerful than the bars.
Batman, from what I have seen, never visibly supports low-income communities or communities of color (which, if this is based off of the U.S., could be a good use of his money). This would do so much more to reduce crime and offer people more opportunities. Not only that, he also never questions the prison system or how it could be modified to actually reform behavior. Yes, I understand that supervillains are important to take on and my solution is nowhere near a perfect one, but if Batman truly cared about his community perhaps he wouldn’t be jumping into an arms race against supervillains and instead settle for working towards supporting the people who need it.
Next on my list is the old favorite and icon, the one and only Superman. He has no money to give, so he is ill-equipped to address those problems. My issue with him is rather that he could best be utilized in more mundane matters. How much of an asset in terms of transportation of necessities would a flying and super-strong person be? He could fly much needed medicines to places in need quickly and efficiently, or he could help broker peace and stop wars simply by getting in between armies. Perhaps I am overestimating his abilities, but the point still stands. He could do a lot of good outside of fighting supervillains.
Honestly though, one of the best things he could do is to leave Earth. When you have such an incredible power, how will you know when you are using it for good? Good is what you say it is so long as no one is able to stop you. He would have to stay incredibly neutral, which he clearly is not, and he would probably still do more harm than good. Power attracts more power, and Superman would just attract an arms race with villains in the same way that Batman does. Not only that, he attracts villains from outer space which seems to cause much more trouble than he is worth.
Neither of these analyses are perfect solutions and I do not know all about these universes, but what I point to goes beyond them. At the end of the new Marvel movie Black Panther, T’Challa sets up a center for aide in Oakland, California. What I love so much about this ending is the acknowledgement of ways to help other than vigilante justice. This is also the reason that I dislike Superman and Batman. They represent the colonial idea of just and heroic. White men hoarding money and power in the name of “good.” They fail to address “small” problems that actually plague society and also work enough within our capitalistic western-centric society to please the broad white audience. They live the “fantasy” to be aspired towards, but what a terrible fantasy that represents.
A sad rich white man who mopes in his mansion building gadgets so that he can live out a fantasy of knocking heads together and an alien in the form of a sad white man who hides as a reporter who can decide what to do and do it without being stopped. It points to a larger problem.
I am not saying that superheroes need to stop fighting crime but what I want is more nuanced and realistic stories. We need to question why superheroes never donate time or money to their local homeless shelter or fight against our inhumane prison system. This is real activism work and it should be encouraged.
At the end of the day, I like a fantastical escape as much as anyone else. I love to see awesome heroes taking down the forces of evil. But I want to see them do so much more. I want to see them grow up impoverished. I want to see them deal with racism. And most importantly, I want to see them do the little things that other people in the real world can also do. Because those little actions are what can actually inspire us to be better. Those little actions might actually spur a change in this world.