If you’ve seen the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice posters and trailers and wondered why Batman and Superman are fighting each other… well, you clearly haven’t read too many of their comics. Over the years, many of our best writers and artists have given in to the allure of pitting the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight against each other in a brains-vs-brawn fight to the finish. Some of these battles have been brutally violent, while others have been much less serious and fun. However, all have grabbed the attention of fans and served as a reminder that even the best of friends have the occasionally falling out. It’s just that when the friends in question happen to be two of the most popular super heroes in the world, those falling outs tend to get messy. Like, level the whole city messy.
Below are five of the best and most beloved fights between Superman and Batman from throughout their comic book history. Some of these ended with Batman as the victor, some with Superman and some were draws, but reading any of them is the perfect way to get prepped and pumped for their big screen battle next week.
The Dark Knight Returns
Let’s get the big, obvious one out of the way first. The climactic battle between an aged Batman and an ethically compromised Superman that caps off Frank Miller’s iconic THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS is not only one of the best clashes between Batman and Superman, but one of the best moments in comics—period. It pretty much set the standard as far as battles between these two icons go and its influence can clearly be seen in Batman v Superman (notably in the armor suit that Batman wears to even the playing field against the powerful Kryptonian).
In this gritty confrontation, Batman pulls no punches, utilizing Kryptonite (shot by an Oliver Queen who clearly has one major chip on his shoulder), his tank-like Batmobile and two highly-charged electric gauntlets to bring Superman down. And it works, briefly, until he… well, we won’t spoil the ending, in case any of you out there haven’t read it. Just know that it culminates with one of the most dramatic, chill-inducing monologs ever set to paper. It’s little wonder Zack Snyder used it when first announcing Batman v Superman in 2013.
So many fights in life seem to be over a woman. Only in this case, the woman is Poison Ivy, who has taken control of Superman and set him loose on an unprepared Batman and Catwoman in this classic confrontation from Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s BATMAN: HUSH.
When the advantage is stacked so clearly in the Man of Steel’s favor, Batman’s greatest weapon is the ability to prepare, something he doesn’t get in this skirmish. Instead, what we see is the Dark Knight’s peerless ability to think on the fly, using all that he knows about Superman against him. Ultimately, Batman’s victory is achieved by using Superman’s love for Lois Lane against him—dropping her from a building knowing that Superman’s inherent goodness will overpower Ivy’s toxin and bring him back to his senses in enough time to rescue Lois. It’s a shocking and extreme tactic and it makes clear the very distinct differences between our two heroes, suggesting that Batman’s willingness to blur the line about heroic behavior may be enough to give him the advantage. As he says during the fight, “Deep down, Clark’s essentially a good person…and deep down, I’m not.”
Lex Luthor: Man of Steel
Of the battles on the list, this one may be the most passive, but it’s also the only one that acknowledges the elephant in the room when it comes to the whole Superman vs. Batman thing—even with Batman’s considerable intelligence and resources, Superman is still overwhelmingly more powerful than the Dark Knight. How can Batman hope to defeat someone who’s practically indestructible and possesses super strength, super speed, heat vision and freeze breath?
In short, he can’t.
LEX LUTHOR: MAN OF STEEL features one of the few bouts between Batman and Superman where Batman loses. In fact, he can’t even put up much of a fight, despite having Kryptonite in his corner. In this comic miniseries written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Lee Bermejo, Lex Luthor convinces Bruce Wayne that Superman is a threat and provides him with the Kryptonite in question. Only when Batman confronts Kal-El, the Kryptonian quickly takes him down, blowing the Kryptonite out of his hand before relentlessly tossing him around like a ragdoll. Ouch.
Superman/Batman – “Who Would Win?”
Since the Golden Age of super heroes, fans have been wondering which of their favorite heroes would win in a fight. But rarely have they done it in as clever a fashion as this under-the-radar little gem did when it was published in the pages of SUPERMAN/BATMAN #78 back in 2011. Written by Joe and Jack Kelly and drawn by Ed Benes, this single issue story gets meta as it looks in on a pair of young Batman and Superman fans debating which of the two heroes would win in a fight while imagining a massive melee between them that culminates with Superman throwing Batman into outer space before Batman turns the tables by blocking out the sun with a squadron of probes.
Yes, it’s over the top, but that’s very much the point, and it ends with the young fans realizing the same thing that most comic book fans figure out when debating the topic. Neither of the heroes would really win if they were to fight because neither would give up until one or both of them were dead, and they’d never do that to each other. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to discuss—a point that’s brought home when we see that even Batman and Superman debate it between themselves.
The most recent battle on the list, this acclaimed Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo storyline kicked off with Batman single-handedly taking down some of the Justice League’s heaviest hitters, including Wonder Woman, the Flash and Aquaman, and culminating in a massive battle against a sinister Superman. Similar to the Superman/Batman fight in Batman: Hush, the Man of Steel has been infected by a toxin here, but in this case, it’s the Joker’s…and it’s no laughing matter. The poison causes Superman to lose all semblance of his usual self, meaning Batman can’t rely on Superman’s deep-rooted decency to win out. This proves to be a real problem as the suit Batman designed to combat his fellow Justice Leaguers was built under the assumption that there were lines Superman would never cross.
Ultimately, Batman wins—barely—after he spits a piece of Kryptonite in Superman’s eye as a last resort. It proves to be the thing that brings the big man down, but it’s a fair bet that Batman’s going to be feeling this one in the morning.
There are a couple of different things that set BATMAN: ENDGAME’s fight apart as one of the best. First, this fight isn’t just between Batman and Superman, but Batman and much of the Justice League. It just ends with a one-on-one battle with Kal-El. Second, the fact that it’s the Joker behind the whole thing makes so much sense, you have to wonder why we haven’t seen it more often. After all, what better way to defeat your mortal enemy than turning his best (and most powerful) friend against him?
Interested in experiencing these epic confrontations yourself? They’re all available to read digitally, and four of them are included in our recent graphic novel collection, BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: THE GREATEST BATTLES, which is now available in comic shops worldwide. Where will Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck’s Dawn of Justice smackdown rank on the list? We’ll know the answer to that in about a week. But if their battle is anything like the comic book clashes that precede it, we know the real winner of Batman v Superman will be the fans.