Last night the second Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer released. And while the idea of the classic DC characters, Batman and Superman, may be new to theatergoers, fans of DC comics and graphic novels are familiar with the frequent hero clashes.
For example, I recently read “Injustice: Gods Among Us.” The graphic novel series is separate from the normal DC story arcs, though it does assume some current developments. For example, the old Robin, Dick Grayson, is Nightwing, and Bruce Wayne’s son Damion is the current Robin. This story seems to be based around a video game.
With a few exceptions, by and large most of the Marvel and DC comic book heroes have held to a certain ethic. Though they might pound the snot out of a bad guy, they will stop short of killing any of those bad guys. To my knowledge, this ethic has been pretty constant among most major characters and groups of heroes.
“Injustice” starts with Batman’s nemesis The Joker taking his act to Metropolis, and instigating mischief against Superman. Actually, “mischief” is far too weak a word for it. The Joker gets Superman’s wife and unborn child killed, and their death triggers a nuclear device that wipes out Metropolis itself. A news report in the comic says that eleven million people were killed.
And while Batman is talking to the Joker after taking him into custody, Superman breaks in and breaks that ethic of not killing a bad guy, and the main conflict of this story begins.
After what happened to Metropolis, Superman begins exerting his powers to make sure similar disasters don’t happen again. He calls for a worldwide ceasefire, and he and Wonder Woman enforce it. They and other allies try to end various conflicts. Their efforts put them in conflict even with other heroes, but most notable creates a rift between Supermand and Batman. In Volume 2, this rift continues to grow, and Vol 2 ends with these two heroes and their separate groups of allies in open conflict.
So, Superman’s new response to evil is a drastic use of force. He makes leaders of warring nations sit down and make peace, or else he would make peace for them. Batman’s response has been well-established beforehand—Arkham Asylum, a mental hospital where these criminals are put in the hopes that they will be helped.
To sum it up in a couple of words, it’s force vs therapy. Can the world be made better by a powerful ruler who enforces the rules, or do criminals just need to have their heads examined and fixed?
It’s an interesting source of conflict, especially considering the name of the series, “Injustice”, because it’s not always clear which side is just and which unjust.The shortcomings of both ways are shown, even early in this story. The failures of Arkham are shown with The Joker, but also later when another of Batman’s villain, Two-Face, makes an appearance. But Superman uses his new iron fist to disperse people who don’t seem to be doing anything expect protesting what he’s doing, and has the inmates of Arkham taken to a secret prison, and does so without any legal justification for his actions. It’s simply that no one can really stop him from doing it. Perhaps it is significant that the first hint of real conflict between Superman and Batman takes place in Arkham.
One of the problems with the force and therapy views of curing evil, and any other man-made cure, is shown very well in this story. The problem is that in these views, evil becomes something other people do, evil is a disease other people have, but not a disease of those trying to cure them. So Superman is blind to how his use of force is taking away people’s freedoms, or how his anger is making him lash out even against other heroes. So Batman is blind to how his paranoia is destroying the trust of his allies, and how he cares more for not killing then for being glad that his allies lived through a major conflict early in Vol 2. And both of them are blind to their own self-righteousness.
Both ways must be wrong, because neither way addresses what is wrong with mankind. They each get the problem wrong.
But I think this book may well start where our argument started— in the neighbourhood of the mad-house. Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin— a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing… The strongest saints and the strongest sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.1
Enforcing rules may be good, and therapy may have its place, but they are not the real cure for our condition. We are sinners, and therefore we sin. That is the one universal condition, the thing that every saint and every criminal, every patriot and every enemy, every cop and every criminal, every democratically elected leader and every military tyrant, every somebody and every nobody, the thing everyone has in common.
In conclusion, Injustice has been a good, thought-provoking series so far. There is a good bit of humor, so it’s not all death and darkness, but there are very serious elements, too. If comics are your thing, then this story is worth a look.
- Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy (p. 7) . Kindle Edition. ↩