I was watching a countdown on teh YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-T2UJBpiOcg about the top DC superheroes. This particular list chooses Batman over Superman. Of the two, who would be your favorite?

Personally, I know Superman doesn't quite resonate so much with today's society as he did back in the 1930's, but there's a lot of value there. he's a character that inspires a great deal of hope, he's empowering to the downtrodden, he's just the best that there is in terms of the archetype of the superhero.

Batman, on the other hand, gets a lot of respect from the current generation. It's easy to understand his motivations, seemingly born out of anger and a sense of injustice. He also has a much better rogues gallery and supporting cast, IMO.

For me, I'm giving a slight edge to Batman here, but I'd love to hear people prove me wrong.

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Richard Willis said:

I was referring to the name "Superman." I've read the same thing about Clark Gable and Kent Taylor about the Clark Kent name.
 

Oops!  It's been a long time since I've had my foot in my mouth.  At least, it still fits.

My apologies for misreading your post.  I believe you're quite right about the origin of the "Superman" name.

Will Murray wrote an essay here in which he argues for the influence of Gladiator on Superman. If you'll pardon me, Richard, he says the story that Siegel reviewed Gladiator in his fanzine "has been debunked", and that there's a story Wylie wanted to sue DC but couldn't as his novel hadn't been copyrighted. The novel can be found at Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg.

Murray does think Doc Savage had some influence:

...the early Superman demonstrates some very specific Doc Savage tricks like putting people to sleep via pressing on a neck nerve and climbing brick walls by the sheer strength of his fingertips. Several early Superman plots are lifted straight from the pages of Doc Savage Magazine with minimal changes.

I'd like to know what stories he means, but I think Superman's resemblance to Doc Savage can be overstated. The early Superman likes showing his superiority, and Doc Savage didn't have that mentality. The box at the end of Superman's debut story describes him as a "a physical marvel, a mental wonder", but the early Superman didn't display Savage's scientific bent. Superman's original hideaway was a citadel in the hills outside Metropolis.(1) The Fortress of Solitude name was first in the strip, for an arctic hideaway, in 1948. That's after Siegel and Shuster were dropped by DC, and the familiar Fortress only came along at the start of the Silver Age.

Superman's resemblances to Danner are more specific than his resemblance to Hercules. Murray points out his combination of strength and near-indestructibility. In Gladiator chapter IV there's a bit where the ten year old Danner discovers what he can do. He races through the wilderness at incredible speed and takes tremendous leaps(2):

In those lonely, incredible moments Hugo found himself. There in the forest, beyond the eye of man, he learned that he was superhuman. It was a rapturous discovery. He knew at that hour that his strength was not a curse. He had inklings of his invulnerability. He ran. He shot up the steep trail like an express train, at a rate that would have to be measured in miles to the hour rather than yards to the minute. Tireless blood poured through his veins. Green streaked at his sides. In a short time he came to the end of the trail. He plunged on, careless of obstacles that would have stopped an ordinary mortal. From trunk to trunk he leaped a burned stretch. He flung himself from a high rock. he sped like a shadow across a pine-carpeted knoll. He gained the bare rocks of the first mountain, and in the open where the horror of no eye would tether his strength, he moved in flying bounds to its summit.

Later, when he speaks with his father, there's this exchange:

""...Did you ever watch an ant carry many times its weight? Or see a grasshopper jump fifty times its length? The insects have better muscles and nerves than we have. And I improved your body till it was relatively that strong. Can you understand that?"

"Sure. I'm like a man made out of iron instead of meat."

But Superman's characterisation is also unlike Danner's. Danner is restless and unable to fine fulfilment or a place in the world. Superman likes what he is and what he does. On the other hand, Murray describes a sequence in the novel I haven't read where Danner tries to use his strength to end political corruption, which resembles the early Superman's crusading.

I've not read John W. Campbell's Aarn Munro stories, which have been seen as another possible influence. Munro was super-scientist who had incredible strength because he grew up on Jupiter. He first appeared in The Mightiest Machine in 1934, so the unpublished first version of Superman predates him. The other stories Campbell wrote about him weren't accepted by the publisher and appeared after the war in The Incredible Planet. Both books can be found at Project Gutenberg. He was adapted into comics as Iron Munro, which is where Roy Thomas got the name for his Young All-Stars character. Iron Munro stories can be found here and here.

A comedic movie version of Gladiator starring Joe E. Brown appeared in 1938, but it didn't come out until August, and Action Comics started in May.

(1) In Gladiator chapter IV the young Danner constructs a fortress in the wilderness out of boulders and uses it to play fighting Indians.

(2) Taking tremendous leaps is also one of John Carter's abilities in the Martian books.

Richard Willis said:

I greatly enjoyed the Superman stories of the mid-50s to 1960, with the many supporting characters. The problem was that you always had to have kryptonite or magic to create any danger for him. With three to four stories a month (one in Action, two or three in Superman, plus more in Superboy, Adventure, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane), the stories would get repetitive. I read a lesser quantity of Batman stories at that time and didn't really enjoy him until the New Look.

I've learned to appreciate them now, and become a Wayne Boring fan in recent years, but my first encounters with Superman were with Australian reprints of 50s stories, and they put me off the character for years. I didn't fully change my mind, despite more pleasing encounters, until I realised I was regularly buying a local title which was running Martin Pasko's Superman run.

Luis Olavo de Moura Dantas said:

Batman, _particularly_ in the current "demigod" model, is IMO a fairly boring character, almost full satire.

Superman has not been consistently well written for decades, but at his best (which IMO means by taking full advantage of his sci-fi elements and putting full attention in his supporting cast) he is a far better vehicle for engaging stories than Batman could ever be.  Some of the best emphasize his nature as an utterly ethical alien.

Granted, I don't think the current market has much of a taste for what I see as prime Superman material.  Nor do I really see how one could avoid becoming repetitive when pressed for publishing dozens of Superman stories every year.

But then again, I don't think anyone managed any better with Batman, either.  And boy, does it show.

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Well said.

Batman did have an interesting supporting cast and was an interesting character in both guises, as Batman and as Bruce Wayne. But Bruce Wayne has essentially been written out of the title, and with him any of Bruce Wayne's friendships and relationships. And the only supporting character Batman deals with that he regards as and treats as an equal is Alfred; everyone else is someone to belittle and boss around. 

I stopped reading the Batman titles about 12 years ago (specifically, with the second issue of the "Hush" storyline); every time I try, I just get reminded of why I dropped them. As for Superman, I gave it the college try with the "New 52", but it proved to be just one reboot too many for me.

If I might flog one of my hobbyhorses - whoa there, Seabiscuit! - the promise of renewal offered by rebooting is a false one. With popular characters the wheel has already been invented. What makes the difference is the right touch in characterisation, exciting action, imagination, and good stories, not the flashy changes.

Jim Steranko's excellent "History of Comics" also mentions both Doc Savage and (IIRC) Hugo Danner (Gladiator) as likely influences on Superman.



ClarkKent_DC said:

Batman did have an interesting supporting cast and was an interesting character in both guises, as Batman and as Bruce Wayne. But Bruce Wayne has essentially been written out of the title, and with him any of Bruce Wayne's friendships and relationships. And the only supporting character Batman deals with that he regards as and treats as an equal is Alfred; everyone else is someone to belittle and boss around. 

My feelings exactly.  These days Bruce Wayne is far less of a real character than Clark Kent.  And Batman's characterization seems to have stagnated since it became fashionable to present him as the "anti-Superman".  He is grim, grim, grim, then bossy and pretentious, yet somehow always succesfull. 

I think seeing Grant Morrison present him in his early JLA run as the one true danger to the White Martians was just too much for me.  Superman seemed to be fully serious when saying such a silly thing.  That is not "characterization", that is satire.

Mike Barr used to make good use of Batman in "Batman and the Outsiders", largely because he treated Batman as a real character with a real supporting cast there.  These days one gets the sense that he can just barely deal with his own supposed protegés.

Come to think of it, I am not sure the current Batman is supposed to be taken for a human being.  He seems to be written as more of a supernatural being than, say,Doug Moench's Spectre (who at the time was basically separated from Jim Corrigan).  Sometimes it seems like the Spectre is supposed to be the less powerful of the two as well.  The stories suffer a lot from that.

Luis Olavo de Moura Dantas said:

Mike Barr used to make good use of Batman in "Batman and the Outsiders", largely because he treated Batman as a real character with a real supporting cast there. These days one gets the sense that he can just barely deal with his own supposed protegés.

I didn't read "Batman and the Outsiders," but I enjoyed the time when Batman had a small army, all working with him, not against him: Nightwing, Robin (Tim Drake), Oracle, Catwoman, Spoiler, Huntress, Batgirl (Cassandra Cain) and possibly others who slip my mind.

Luke Blanchard said:

Will Murray wrote an essay here in which he argues for the influence of Gladiator on Superman. If you'll pardon me, Richard, he says the story that Siegel reviewed Gladiator in his fanzine "has been debunked", and that there's a story Wylie wanted to sue DC but couldn't as his novel hadn't been copyrighted.

He doesn't say how it was debunked. I certainly have no reason to impugn the late Jerry Siegel, but he was just a man. His fanzine was of such small circulation that presumably the issue with the review simply no longer has existing copies. His writing of "The Reign of the Superman" for the following issue and its great similarities to Gladiator seem to debunk his assertion of never reading it. Will Murray goes on to say that it's clear thar Siegel not only was aware of Gladiator but had probably read it.

In 1940 when Wylie wanted to sue, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were making more money than any other writer or artist in comics, and more than most Americans. National was making a lot more but Siegel and Shuster at the time had a lucrative contract. Siegel's denial that he had ever read Gladiator and his assertions that Superman had sprung one night from his brow (in final form) based solely upon public domain characters are probably his reaction to the fear of his world falling apart. Fortunately for Jerry, Joe and National Periodicals Philip Wylie and/or his agent thought Gladiator was fluff and hadn't bothered to copyright it.

I refer anyone who wants to form their own opinion to the aforementioned book, Men of Tomorrow, which is well researched and documented. If there is another book as authoritative I'd like to hear about it.

Richard Willis said:

Luis Olavo de Moura Dantas said:

Mike Barr used to make good use of Batman in "Batman and the Outsiders", largely because he treated Batman as a real character with a real supporting cast there. These days one gets the sense that he can just barely deal with his own supposed protegés.

I didn't read "Batman and the Outsiders," but I enjoyed the time when Batman had a small army, all working with him, not against him: Nightwing, Robin (Tim Drake), Oracle, Catwoman, Spoiler, Huntress, Batgirl (Cassandra Cain) and possibly others who slip my mind.

Back when Batman and the Outsiders came out, I thought the idea was stupid. It was clearly just a way to get another Bat on the stands, despite the character being a "loner" who already reluctantly led an army of Bat-children PLUS was a major member of the Justice League. I thought it was just a terrible and unnecessary concept that undermined the very concept of Batman as he was portrayed at the time.

That being said, BATO quickly became one of my favorite Bat-titles, largely on the strength of Mike W. Barr's writing. (Naturally, the title went right off a cliff when Barr inevitably moved on.) If you get a chance, Richard, you might want to read some of the early Outsiders books, and other major MWB Batman stories, ESPECIALLY the ones he wrote for Brave & Bold toward the end of that book's run. They are, no kidding, the best Batman stories that ever ran in B&B.

IIRC, at the time Batman did not have any other disciples beyond the first Robin - and, of course, they even bothered to have his leaving the JLA a major reason for being of the Outsiders.  Which led to some interesting personal dynamics every once in a while, such as when Superman guest starred and met Geoforce.

When Batman did return to the JLA (Detroit version, my personal favorite) for a little while he had left the Outsiders already.  

Am I misremembering?

Siegel gave an early account of the origin of Superman during the Wonder Man trial in 1939. His testimony can be found here. I don't know when he went on record about Gladiator.

I can't see any similarities between Gladiator and "The Reign of the Superman". What the latter story reminds me of is "The Third Drug" by Edith Nesbit, which can currently be read at Google Books in The Feminine Future: Early Science Fiction by Women Writers edited by Mike Ashley. Nesbit's story first appeared in 1908 and the ISFDB doesn't list it as having appeared in Siegel's time in America. There may have been similar stories in the pulp magazines; I just happen to have read that one (in a collection Michael Moorcock edited, Before Armageddon.)

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