Spider-Man vs. Batman


I should have been cast as Spider-Man for that 2002 blockbuster. Why? Because I'm merely a radioactive spider-bite away from being the ever lovin' web-slinger.

Spidey is the greatest superhero ever to be inked in the page of a comic book largely because he's so much like his human audience. A science-loving bookworm at Midtown High in New York, Peter Parker was wrestling with the same adolescent social demons we all have long before the likes of Kraven the Hunter came along to complicate his world. Only upon that accidental chomp from an eight-legged lab inhabitant did young Parker gain the ability to scale walls, the proportional strength of an arachnid, and his Spidey Sense (you'll never, ever see Spider-Man hit from behind).

Like certain other caped marvels, Peter chose his heroic calling as tonic for profound grief, his beloved Uncle Ben having been murdered by a hoodlum Spider-Man chose to ignore. His mission is less about revenge, though, and more about the honoring of his lost father figure, and the mantra that keeps Ben alive in Peter's heart: "With great power comes great responsibility."

Peter's troubles hardly end with red and blue spandex, though. He spends his bachelor years fighting his alter ego's criminal reputation, one due largely to the agenda of his very employer, Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson. (And you thought your boss was a nag.) It's a challenge for Peter to simply pay rent for his apartment as a freelance photographer. No cozy cave for this crusader.

And of course, there's Mary Jane Watson. First as his out-of-reach romantic pursuit, then later as Mrs. Parker, Mary Jane makes Spider-Man more human than the most down-to-earth plot twist ever could. After all, what is more normal — more everyman — than the trials of young love?

Ultimately, a superhero is measured by the villains he thwarts. And Spidey's rogues gallery — Electro, Rhino, Doctor Octopus, Venom, and (yikes) the Green Goblin — would put Gotham City's bad boys out of business. Beyond making Spider-Man great, they are what make Spider-Man necessary.

I'll await the casting call for Spider-Man 4.

— Frank Murtaugh


Next year, Batman turns 70, and one of the great things about the character is his indestructibility — in the literary sense. He has gone through many iterations over his pop-icon lifetime: There's the pulp fiction crime-fighter, the campy Caped Crusader, the vigilante, the detective, the dark knight, the madman, the nippled-armor wearer, the psychologically damaged son, and the father figure. He has survived the worst of the incarnations and thrived during the best. Batman's versatility proves the strength of the character, the kernel of essential human truth written into his DNA that transcends time, genre, and hack writing. Only the greatest figures in literature can say the same.

I could be Batman. You could be Batman. Your neighbor could be Batman. Granted, none of us is, but Batman is no less or more human than you or I. He's no superhero: He wasn't bitten by a radioactive spider, exposed to cosmic or gamma rays, orphaned from an alien planet, or created in any other manner that doesn't exist.

What made Bruce Wayne was a traumatic childhood, and those things are as rare as a $1 bill. Sure, the youngster who saw his parents killed before his eyes was also fabulously wealthy and genetically predisposed for physical and mental talents. But if you stab him with a sword-umbrella, he'll bleed like anyone else. And the real reason he became Batman is strength of will. Not that we don't all wish we could climb up a wall, but willpower is an actually imitable characteristic.

I like kiddie lit as much as anybody, and Spider-Man speaks to the coming-of-age that we all go through. But, at some point, you've got to trade milk for meat. Batman speaks to "big boys and girls" ideas such as personal freedom, individualism, mastery of fear, responsibility to society, and crime and punishment. Batman trucks with Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Thomas Jefferson. (And what kid doesn't want to hear that it's the monsters who should be afraid of the dark?)

Plus, it's gotta count for something: Batman and Spider-Man go toe to toe, and Batman walks away 7 times out of 10. The evidence: Batman's body of work. Who hasn't Batman shown the ability to take out in his career? Give him ten minutes warning, however, and Spidey doesn't stand a chance.

— Greg Akers

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