With Batman and Superman currently battling each other on the big screen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," there's no more fitting time to explore the history of the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight fighting each other in the world of comic books.
Surprisingly enough, for characters who had both been in continuous publication as soon as Batman joined Superman at National Comics (now DC Comics) in 1939, the two heroes did not have a traditional team-up with each other in a comic book for more than a decade. While they shared the pages of "All Star Comics" a couple of times with the Justice Society of America, these were hardly crossovers. One appearance was the briefest of cameos and the other was a typical JSA story of the era in which the heroes split up and had their own solo stories, only interacting in brief framing sequences. They also teamed up a number of times on "The Adventures of Superman" radio show.
The first official crossover arrived in 1952's "The World's Mightiest Team" in "Superman" #76, by writer Edmond Hamilton and artists Curt Swan and Stan Kaye. If you're looking for the first Batman and Superman "fight," you'll find it in that issue, as the two heroes sort of find themselves vying for Lois Lane's affections by the end of the story (which involves Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Lois Lane all going on a cruise together). A little more than two years later, inflation caused DC to change "World's Finest Comics," which previously had one Batman story and one Superman story, to a single shared story starting with "World's Finest Comics" #71's "Batman - Double for Superman!" by Alvin Schwartz, Curt Swan and Stan Kaye.
Four years later, in 1958's "World's Finest Comics" #95 by Dave Wood, Dick Sprang and Ray Burnley, readers enjoyed the very first battle of the superheroes in the aptly titled "The Battle of the Super-Heroes!" The story finds Batman granted superpowers and suddenly acting like a jerk to Superman, who responds in kind. Robin eventually discovers it's all a plot by some alien gamblers who, like most comic book fans, always wanted to see who would win in a fight between the two heroes. There's a pretty epic battle in the story, with trees and boulders being used as weapons against each other. Robin's intervention led to the aliens reversing their hate ray and their "give Batman powers" ray and the World's Finest heroes became pals once again.
That story exemplifies several notable types of Batman/Superman fights, namely mind control and Batman gaining superpowers, both of which became common motifs in their conflicts. From here on out we'll run through the various notable types of stories that have led to the vast majority of their fights over the years, as well as name some notable examples that fit each type of Batman/Superman fight. Because so many of them are similar, it seems pointlessly repetitive to name every single fight, especially as there have been over forty Batman/Superman fights in the comics over the years -- and that's more than four tens and that's just terrible.
This is by far the most common story element in Batman/Superman fights, and it has led to many of the most famous fights between the two over the years.
One of the most significant fights between Batman and Superman occurred in 2003's "Batman" #612, by Jeph Loeb, Jim Lee and Scott Williams, which took place during the famous "Hush" storyline. The storyline was marked by using pretty much all of Batman's most famous friends and foes within it, and in this issue, Batman's longtime rogue, Poison Ivy, uses mind control to set Superman against his friend. This led to the famous quote by Batman about the differences between himself and Superman:
"If Clark wanted, he could use his superspeed and squish me into the cement. But I know how he thinks. Even more than the kryptonite, he's got one big weakness. Deep down, Clark's essentially a good person... and deep down, I'm not."
Mind control is the reason behind Batman and Superman's battle in the classic Chip Kidd/Alex Ross short story, "The Trust," from 2003's "Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross," where the two heroes battle it out in the middle of Metropolis, with Batman reflecting that Superman trusts him so much that he gives him access to ryptonite and that trust means so much to him that he'll even use a gun (a dart gun, with a kryptonite dart, but still) to help save his friend.
In the 2005 storyline, "Sacrifice," Maxwell Lord takes control of Superman's mind and makes him think that he is battling his greatest enemies (Doomsday, Darkseid and Brainiac, respectively) while he is actually injuring Batman. After Wonder Woman shows up and the two battle, Wonder Woman is forced to kill Maxwell Lord to break Superman out of his control.
More recently, in the "Endgame" storyline in "Batman" (Vol. 2) #36 by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and Danny Miki, Batman has to take on the entire Justice League, who are under the control of Joker's Venom. He takes out the rest of the team, but Superman turns out to be (understandably) a lot more difficult, even with an armor that has miniature red suns in its gauntlets.
By the way, while Superman is almost always the one being controlled, there have been times when Batman has been forced into fighting the Man of Steel. 1966's "World's Finest Comics" #163 "The Duel of the Super Duo" is a prime example in which Batman is hypnotized into dueling with a powerless Superman. Luckily, just like how Superman was able to break free of Poison Ivy's control during "Hush," Batman is able to avoid killing Superman in "The Duel of the Super Duos." That story, by the way, was drawn by Curt Swan and George Klein and written by a 14-year-old Jim Shooter!
THEY PRETEND TO FIGHT
Another common theme in fights between Batman and Superman is that they only pretend to fight. This is the set-up for the famously bizarre "The Superman-Batman Split!" from 1968's "World's Finest Comics" #176 by Cary Bates and Neal Adams (the issue was later reprinted in the 1980s with a striking Ed Hannigan cover showing Batman pummeling Superman with kryptonite gloves). Batman and Superman each seemingly side with an alien who claims that a rival alien is evil and needs to be stopped. Oddly enough, Batgirl ends up joining forces with Superman while Supergirl sides with Batman. In the end, the aliens are revealed to be the same person, a dying actor who wanted to see if he could pull off the greatest acting performance of all-time. As it turns out, Superman and Batman knew it the whole time but decided to go along with it to be nice to the respected actor -- the guy was dying, after all).
That was also the case for 1969's "World's Finest Comics" #185 "The Galactic Gamblers," by Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, where Batman and Superman are forced by alien gamblers to duel to the death. However, while they think Superman is powerless, he actually maintained his powers and used them to fake all of his fights with Batman.
In the clever but bizarre 1968's "World's Finest Comics" #182 "The Mad Manhunter," by Cary Bates, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, Batman appears to be cursed and go insane, causing him to even fight with Superman. As it turns out, though, it was Superman who was cursed the whole time and that Batman had to pretend to be nuts so that Superman wouldn't leave his side, as Superman's curse was that he would kill himself as soon as he got to be alone.
THEY'RE NOT ACTUALLY FIGHTING EACH OTHER
In "The Alien Superman" from 1959's "World's Finest Comics" #105 by Bill Finger, Dick Sprang and Sheldon Moldoff, Batman and Robin have to take on a seemingly mutated Superman, who looks strange and has strange new powers, to boot! As it turns out, it is not Superman that they're fighting at all, but a crook pretending to be Superman!
The shoe was on the other foot in "Batman and Robin, Medieval Bandits," from 1963's "World's Finest Comics" #132 by Bill Finger and Jim Mooney. There, two crooks go back in time and pretend to be Batman and fight against Superman in medieval times. The criminals somehow manage to synthesize kryptonite hundreds of years ago to use against the Man of Steel.
I suppose you could argue that this would also fit the famous "JLA" "Tower of Babel" storyline where Batman's plans for how to take down his teammates are stolen by Ra's Al Ghul and then used on the other heroes, including a synthetic red kryptonite used on Superman. They were not technically fighting each other, but Ra's was sort of working as a conduit between the two.
POWER CORRUPTS BATMAN
A surprisingly common theme is Batman gaining superpowers and then going nuts once he gains them. This was used somewhat recently in "Handful of Dust" from 2012's "Batman: The Dark Knight" #5 by David Finch and Paul Jenkins, where a modified version of Scarecrow's fear venom gives Batman super strength and sets him against Superman.
In 1979's "The Curse of Krypton!" from "World's Finest Comics" #258 by Denny O'Neil, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Dick Giordano, a Kryptonian virus transforms Batman into a super-strong bat-like creature. He attacks Superman while in a daze, but luckily Superman is able to cure him by the end of the issue.
This was also the basis for the awesomely weird "The Infinite Evolutions of Batman and Superman" from 1965's "World's Finest Comics" #151 by Edmond Hamilton, Curt Swan and Sheldon Moldoff, where a Kryptonian "evolution machine" evolves Batman 800,000 years, resulting in him having a super-intelligent brain (too big to fit into his cowl anymore) but also making him so jealous of Superman that he devolves Superman into a caveman. Hilarity ensues.
More recently, in the "Super-Bat" storyline from 2008's "Superman/Batman" #53-56 by Michael Green, Mike Johnson, Rags Morales and John Dell, where Batman gains Superman's powers through a magical spell and promptly gets so obsessed with using said powers to end all crime on Earth that he goes power mad, leading to a powerless Superman having to take him down (with the help of Zatanna, whose magical powers eventually reverse the spell that led to the original power switch).
Like Marvel's popular "What if...?" series, DC for years did "Imaginary Stories," where they could try out story ideas that would never fly in the "official" DC comic book continuity. The most famous example of a DC "imaginary story" was when Superman died in one of them in 1961's "Superman" #149, "The Death of Superman." So the World's Finest duo had their fair share of imaginary stories where they fought each other, as well.
The most notable one was 1965's "The Clash of Cape and Cowl" from "World's Finest Comics" #153 by Edmond Hamilton, Curt Swan and George Klein, where Dr. Thomas Wayne is killed while visiting Smallville. Bruce Wayne believes Superboy did it and vows to gain his revenge. He becomes Batman to get close to the now-grown Superman in the guise of friendship (he even trains Robin, although the two split when Robin learns of Batman's true motivations -- this led to the infamous panel that created the "My parents are deeeead!" meme). After teaming up with Lex Luthor, Batman learns that it was Luthor who killed his dad (by accident, but still). So right when Superman is about to die, Batman sacrifices himself instead.
Another notable one was 1968's "World's Finest Comics" #178 and #180 (yes, a two-part storyline split over three issues) by Cary Bates, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito where Superman loses his powers and becomes a non-powered hero known as Nova. Nova, though, is manipulated by a villain into wanting to kill Batman. In the end, things are resolved, but Superman decides to retire his Nova identity.
The Imaginary Story tradition continued in the 1990s, when DC launched Elseworlds, a whole line of comics where creators could tell stories outside of DC continuity. One of the most famous of these titles was "Superman: Red Son," by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, Kilian Plunkett and Walden Wong, where Superman lands in the USSR instead of Kansas. He ends up becoming a true Soviet Superpower. However, there are those in the Soviet Union who believe that Superman must be stopped, including a young man whose parents were murdered by Superman's KGB mentor. He becomes the Batman and teams up with the American Lex Luthor to almost defeat Superman courtesy of some red sun generators.
A more amusing example of this type of Batman/Superman fight occurred in 2007 "DCU Infinite Holiday Special" #1, where writer Kelley Puckett and artist Pete Woods have Batman convince Superman that Superman has more important things to do than pretend to be Santa Claus for a young boy who does not believe in Santa. When Superman comes by later to at least give the boy some presents, he sees that Bat-Santa has arrived to inspire the young boy. Superman is displeased in this hilariously twisted one-off story (you don't see that it is an Elseworlds story until the very end).
STORIES SET IN A POSSIBLE FUTURE
Stories set in a possible future as very similar to Imaginary Stories and Elseworlds tales, but since it is set in the future, who knows if they're not "real?" In Frank Miller's classic story, "The Dark Knight Returns," Superman is enlisted by the United States government to arrest Batman. Batman is ready for him and in the final book in the series, "The Dark Knight Falls" (by Miller, Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley), Batman hits him with everything he has, including Green Arrow firing a manufactured kryptonite arrow at Superman, and Batman is about to win when he instead fakes a heart attack so that he can get the government off his back.
When Batman resurfaces in "The Dark Knight Strikes Again" (by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley), Superman once again shows up to put him in his place, but instead Batman and some of his friends, like the Flash, proceed to rough Superman up (Batman is now using kryptonite gauntlets), leading to Batman's classic line, "I'm done talking. Get out of my cave."
In 1991, the DC heroes all participated in a crossover called "Armageddon 2001," where a time traveler from 2001 known as Waverider travels to 1991 to make contact with various heroes to see what their future holds, as he knows that one of them will turn into the evil Monarch who rules over Waverider's present, our future. In "Superman Annual" #3 by Dan Jurgens, Dusty Abell and a bunch of inkers, Superman has become a tyrant following a nuclear bomb going off in Metropolis, killing Lois Lane and all his friends. Eventually, Batman has to kill Superman in a sequence homaging "The Dark Knight Falls," with Batman now in the role of the government-sent adversary.
This is basically a variation on mind control, really, but there have been a couple of times when villains have taken advantage of Superman's amnesia to set him against his friends, like 1960's "World's Finest Comics" #111, by Bill Finger, Dick Sprang and Sheldon Moldoff, "Superman's Secret Kingdom!" which sees Superman become the king of an ancient city hidden in the South American jungle after a volcanic explosion gave him amnesia. When Batman and Robin show up to rescue him, the Man of Steel is manipulated into attacking them.
SIZING EACH OTHER UP IN INITIAL MEETINGS
This is a common superhero trope, as superheroes often fight each other when they first meet, but hasn't showed up that often in Batman/Superman instances since they've known each other since the 1940s (even in their famous 1952 first team-up, it's pretty clear that they're both already familiar with each other). However, following "Crisis on Infinite Earths" and "Flashpoint," we were able to see two "first" meetings between the two.
In "Man of Steel" #3 by John Byrne and Dick Giordano, we see the first Post-Crisis meeting between the two heroes, as Batman shocks Superman by revealing that he has a sensor that will trigger a bomb if super-dense tissue like Superman's body enters the aura around body and the bomb is hidden on an innocent person! This forces Superman to agree to team-up with Batman to stop a bad guy. When all is said and done, Superman learns that the bomb was hidden on Batman himself!
In "Justice League" #2 by Geoff Johns, Jim Lee and Scott Williams, a bunch of heroes are thrown together by attacks from Darkseid. When Superman shows up, Batman throws his entire utility belt at him to no avail.
JUST BLOWING OFF STEAM
One of the rarest reasons why Superman and Batman fight showed up in "The Feud Between Batman and Superman" in 1964's "World's Finest Comics" #143, by Edmond Hamilton, Curt Swan, Sheldon Moldoff and George Klein. In that story, Batman is severely injured while on a case with Superman and it causes Batman to begin to doubt himself. Superman decides to trick his friend into becoming his old self again by enlisting him on a case in the Bottled City of Kandor, where Superman is powerless and thus needs Batman's help to stop a bad guy. The bad guy is supposed to be fake, though, and when Batman finds out that his friend is tricking him out of pity, he decides to duel Superman in Kandorian combat. He kicks Superman's ass, naturally. Then he helps Superman stop the bad guy, who turns out is very real.
This happens a lot for superheroes in general, but not so much for Batman and Superman. One notable exception was in 2005's "Lex Luthor: Man of Steel" #3 by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo, where Lex Luthor gives Bruce Wayne some kryptonite and Superman sees him while holding it in Metropolis and decides to let Batman know not to mess around here by using his super breath to blow the kryptonite out of Batman's hands and then quickly knocking Batman out.
INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US
This is also an "imaginary story," but I think it's a special case and deserves get its own category. "Injustice: Gods Among Us" is a popular video game from 2013 about a universe where Superman is driven insane after the Joker tricks him into murdering Lois Lane and others. Batman and some heroes and villains stand against him, with Batman eventually figuring out the only way to win was to bring in version of the heroes from other universes (more heroic ones). The game basically revolved around the concept of "Who would win? Batman or Superman?" There is a tie-in comic book series, first written by Tom Taylor and currently written by Brian Buccellato.
Which category do you think the conflict in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" fits into? Let us know in the comments!