Superman, as some have noted, can’t even get top billing in his own sequel. And truthfully, Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is just one of a long, long line of stories where Superman plays the antagonist to the guy with the pointy ears. But there’s a reason for that: Superman makes for a truly great Batman villain.
Batman Is The Underdog
People love a triumphant story, but that’s really, really hard to do when you’ve got Batman as your star. He’s a billionaire ninja detective, and those three things give you the tools to solve pretty much any situation us normal people run into with ease. If he can’t beat it up or get it arrested, he’ll just pay someone to deal with it.
However, you can’t do that with Superman. Superman’s actually a challenge. Just like every sports movie has to feature the scrappy underdog defeating the opponent who has every advantage, Batman has to earn his victory. And, really, fans have loved it for years; track how often Batman has clowned Superman, even when they’re ostensibly friends.
Superman Always Thinks He’s Right
It’s a storytelling standard that the villain thinks he’s the good guy in any plot worth watching. And that’s doubly true of Superman because he is usually right. One of the reasons DC loves pitting Superman and Batman against each other is that Batman has to struggle with his limits and the moral greys of crimefighting, and Superman can just make an executive decision and act on it. This is right, that is wrong, and what are you going to do, tell Superman no?
Most of the time, Batman is fighting people decidedly in the wrong. At best, your typical Batman rogue is a thief who arguably is only hurting a handful of people. At worst they’re insane terrorists with a goofy theme. Putting him up against somebody who thinks they’re fighting for the greater good is a nice change of pace.
Getting His Butt Kicked Makes Superman More Relatable
If Superman were real — moral imperative, superpowers and all — most people would resent him. Here’s a guy who has had everything handed to him. He got superpowers thanks to his genetics. He never needs to eat or work out. He never gets old, or gets sick, or feels overwhelmed. Anything you want to do he’s either already done or can do on a whim. He’s Jaden Smith, except useful.
And, in truth, it’s a problem for DC and has been for years. Superman is boringly invincible and nice, so here comes Batman to take Mr. Smug Boy Scout down a peg or two. Showing that Superman can, in fact, get beaten up and is sometimes actually wrong does wonders for the guy as a character, because it actually shows he’s not Mr. Perfect all the time.
The Fights Are Awesome
All right, so that’s not a deep, intellectual reason to love Superman as a Batman villain. But hey, we don’t read comics because they’re dull. Watching Batman pull out every toy in his arsenal, and Superman taking the abuse, is always a hoot. We just hope in the movie he gets to climb into that bitchin’ power armor from The Dark Knight Returns. Supes needs a spiked boot to the face.