Superman and Batman, two of the most recognisable and influential superheroes, appeared early in the genre’s history and although both are immensely popular, Batman has had more success in maintaining relevance throughout both characters’ long histories. One of the reasons for this are issues of conformism and civil obedience, which have been a major part of both characters.
The Early Appeal of Superman and Batman
The main focus of Superman’s early appearances were the amazing feats he could perform with his extraordinary powers. In other words, his main appeal to a 1930s audience was the spectacle of a man who could leap tall buildings and bend steel girders. There is a precedent for this type of spectacle in mythology; the labours of Heracles are the first example that spring to mind. In transplanting this spectacle to a modern setting, Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster devised an immensely popular character and the first true superhero.
As has been noted many times, Superman was also a hero for depression era America. He was frequently fighting against crooks perpetrating urban crimes against the little guy struggling to survive in tough times. In this sense, Superman was a very positive character, fighting for what was right and never taking a life. In these early stories Superman rarely works with the authorities, he simply does what he feels is right, using his extraordinary abilities to help the people who need it the most.
Batman’s beginnings were very different….This is an excerpt from a longer essay published in Vivid Scribe’s Pop Thinking volume 2, available as a FREE ebook download here.