Batman always has been and always will be my favorite superhero. The other night I had a dream that I saw an early screening of The Dark Knight Rises. In my dream it was a meta-existentialist film that included a Robin who also dressed like Batman and Jack Nicholson playing an older version of Heath Ledger’s Joker.
That doesn’t seem like a bad way to bring back Nicholson, by the way.
However — and I know this will sound “controversial” as far as comic book fandom goes but whatever — I think Superman’s psychology is far more interesting. Batman is not complicated: a kid sees his parents killed and goes off on a vendetta, complete with a rigid moral code. It’s interesting, sure, but only because it’s relatable and, by extension, uncomplicated (that is to say, if it were complicated it wouldn’t be so relatable).
I can’t actually wrap my head around Superman’s psychology, though. A lot of it stems from his relationship with Lex Luthor. One of the first things I wrote about on this blog is why Batman must not kill the Joker. Yet I can’t understand why Superman hasn’t flicked Lex Luthor’s head right off.
Seriously. That dude’s a giant dick. All Superman has to do is look at Lex Luthor and made that bald head blow up. Do it!
Over and over, Lex Luthor finds other people to take the fall for his crimes. Superman knows this. But he chooses to do nothing until he can capture Lex fair and square. Maybe this is why it’s better that only fictional characters be gifted with powers beyond those of mortal men. I’d be hard pressed to not overreact at least once, after deciding I knew better than everyone else, and take matters into my own hands. Lex would be the first guy who’s head I’d take off with a superdropkick.
Honestly, there’s a very good chance l would decide most people are too stupid to be trusted and crown myself ruler of the world.
That’s where the psychology becomes even more interesting to me. It’s not that Superman resists temptation to be selfish (i.e., take shit because he wants it and he can) but how does he resist the temptation to take care of humans by simply treating them like children? That’s probably what I would do with his powers. I’d force everyone to obey my rules for their own good. I’d be like the scary kindergarten teacher that no one wants to fuck with. Only my students would be everyone on the planet. And I’d teach lessons like “don’t be stupid assholes.”
Maybe Superman just realizes all-powerful does not mean all-knowing and his rules are just as likely as anyone else’s to be flawed. He seems to understand the need for democracy over dictatorship, if only to try and compensate for the inherent mistakes of any one person. Which implies an incredible amount of healthy self awareness on Superman’s part.
I think we can say that Superman’s greatest super power may be super mental health. Is that a by product of his other super powers? Is it a product of his upbringing? What’s it like to be some mentally stable?
We all deal with mentally unstable people in our lives. We all have our own psychological issues. These are important things to explore. But Superman’s healthy mental state will always be more fascinating to me. If only because people like that are so rare both in real life and in fiction.