Batman versus Superman as class warfare? Grant Morrison: ‘Bruce has a butler, Clark has a boss’

Aug. 13, 2010 | 9:34 p.m.

This is Part Two of the Hero Complex interview with Grant Morrison, the Scottish writer who has added a swirl of surreal and touch of the absurd to the top titles at DC Comics. (You can read Part One right here.) In this installment, he muses about the differences between the sunny-day champion of Metropolis and dark-night avenger of Gotham City. — Geoff Boucher

Superman Batman Frank Quitely

GB: Superman and Batman are the two defining icons among comic books, and now that you’ve spent considerable time with both of them as a writer, I’m curious how you’ve come to view them, both as separate figures and as linked opposites.

GM: Superman is very bright and optimistic. It’s all the simple things. He’s of the day and of the sunlight, and Batman is the creature of the night. I’m interested in the fact that they both believe in the same kind of things. But Batman is better. He’s screwed up. That what makes him cool. Even though he’s solved all his problems in his own head he is — as I see him — a man with a very dark sense of humor and a very dark view of the world. He has to overcome that constantly. He’s forever fighting to make the world better, which means it’s never good for Batman. The rest of us have good days. We don’t fight everyday. Batman fights every single day. He has that dark Plutonian side.

GB: The public personalities of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent don’t seem as polarized as their alter egos.

GM: Bruce Wayne is a rich man. He’s an artistocrat. Superman grew up as Clark Kent on a farm bailing hay, and he’s got a boss that shouts at him if he’s late to work. He’s actually more human; Batman is the fetish fantasy psyche of the aristocrat overlord who can do anything he wants, and that’s fascinating. The class difference between the two of them is important.

GB: I’ve never thought much about the class distinctions between the two.

Superman by Jim Lee

GM: You’re an American; you live in Los Angeles! You don’t have to think of class distinction in the same way we Brits do. But there is very much a distinction between the two. People often forget Superman is very much a put-upon guy. Bruce has a butler, Clark has a boss …

GB: True, but Clark also owns real estate in the Arctic, flies for free and can crush coal into fist-sized diamonds. He doesn’t need to have a boss.

Batman by Jim Lee

GM: Yeah, but he so wants to be like us. He pines after one girl while Batman has a whole host of fetish femmes fatale at his beck and call.

GB: The ladies love the car, I think.

GM: Of course. He’s got everything. I like that. He’s our kind of dream of the aristocrat. He’s even better than the Tony Stark/Iron Man thing; he’s got that as well as the dark side. That’s the difference between Superman and Batman. There both interesting to write, but Batman is the sexier one, definitely.

GB: As you look forward to “Batman Inc.” in October and the idea of the hero “franchising” himself, give us a snapshot moment that we can look forward to — some tantalizing panel or situation that has you excited.

GM: Oh, God, um, OK: Catwoman and Batman doing “Mission: Impossible” hanging upside-down, sneaking into Sivana’s lair to steal one of his super weapons. And Batman on top of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, in the daytime. That will be the first time we see him in the new Batman costume, and it’s in the daytime in Dubai. I’ve just found since the very beginning that it was best to put him in situations where he’s not normally comfortable. That’s where I’ve found the really interesting story potential.

– Geoff Boucher

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Illustrations: Top, Superman and Batman as drawn by Frank Quitely (DC Comics). Second and third, Jim Lee’s take on the iconic heroes (DC Comics). Bottom, Quitely’s cover for “Batman and Robin” No. 13 (DC Comics).

Comments


42 Responses to Batman versus Superman as class warfare? Grant Morrison: ‘Bruce has a butler, Clark has a boss’

  1. Great interview. Morrison puts such thought into these characters, and always comes up with such interesting takes.
    Another way we know Batman is an aristocrat: he sleeps late every day, while Clark Kent has to get up to go to work.

  2. Brett says:

    One thing that Clark and Bruce used to have in common was that both were orphans (though Clark lost the Kents when he an adult in the original comics). When John Byrne revamped the backstory of Superman in 1986, the Kents did not die off and continued to be part of Superman's cast of characters. This creates another schism between Clark and Bruce in that Clark has always had (since 1986, anyway) a family and stability of background, whereas Bruce, from childhood, was shaped by the murder of his parents and had a single father figure in his life (Alfred the butler). Though Alfred is obviously more than a mere butler, he is by definition a domestic employed by Bruce; almost a paid family member.

  3. JohnRJ08 says:

    I think most high school kids could have come up with this analysis of the two characters, so it's difficult to disagree with Morrison. I do think that Superman and Batman are not different sides of the same coin. The two can't exist in the same universe, which is why I'm hoping they never do a "Batman Meets Superman" feature film. In a world with Superman, Batman is irrelevant and unnecessary. Compared to an invulnerable super-alien who can move at near speed-of-light velocity, Batman is reduced to a costumed street brawler with expensive gadgets. Superman is a global force, while Batman is downtown Gotham City. If the two were ever to appear in a film together, one would have to suffer. Either Superman would have to be weakened in order to justify the need for Batman, or Batman would have to be given extraordinary powers that he has never displayed in any previous incarnation. Batman appears to be the more popular character now, thanks to Nolan's films and Bryan Singer's boring homage to the Donner film. But one decent Superman movie will put the Kryptonian back on top where he belongs.

    • Allen Kephart says:

      Batman and Superman have appeared side by side in the comic books for years- there have even been comic series like World's Finest and more recently Batman / Superman where they teamed up in every issue. They have both also teamed up numberous times along side other superheroes in the Justice League of America comics. And they have appeared together in the various cartoon TV shows about DC superheroes. I think it is funny that you say they can't exist in the same universe when they already have.

  4. matie says:

    Do you guys think that Superman is outdated and needs a revamp? Vote here in this poll:
    http://www.squidoo.com/SupermanOutdatedCharacter
    Matie

  5. Sam says:

    Superman or Clark Kent doesn't need to work. He could find every diamond or gold deposits on this planet. He doesn't even need to eat.
    Superman's alter ego Clark Kent is his way of trying to act human. That is being goofy, clumsy, and a nerd. That's how he really sees humans. He is trying his best to blend in.

    • Frank says:

      No, he is Clark. Clark's not an act, no matter what Tarantino/Bill says (and anyways, I always thought that Bill was proyecting his view of the world onto that Superman reading, in that monolog). Also, he wouldn't be as arrogant as to make such an act as a criticism of humanity; he wouldn't consider the clumsy nerd to be inferior to the strong and confident.

  6. Heisenberg says:

    Batman could beat Superman in a fight but he could not beat Darth Vader.
    I have spoken.

  7. Jayce Winters says:

    I agree with a lot of what Morrison said, and yeah he puts a lot of though and effort in his story telling, but it usually introduces corny characters and ends in FAIL. The whole Bruce Wayne traveling through time story arc is pointless and no where near entertaining.

  8. thoughts says:

    what i find strange about this, is, hasn't this essentially existed for quite some time?
    Batman has had "agents" for years. Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Helena Bertinelli, Jean-Paul Valley, and Stephanie Brown for starters.

  9. smith says:

    Uhhh okay so being a man who is so damaged and can't even have a good interpersonal relationship, and born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has big cars make Batman better a better hero and more attractive to women?
    Morrison, if I did not know who you were describing I would say you are describing a dick of a man whom sane women should stay far from and no hero team should even have working for them.
    For the record Morrison writes a dreadful Superman. Over hyped and corny beyond belief. All Star Superman was a prequel to the dumbest story ever Called DC One Million.
    It is amazing how Batman writers bend over backwards to make a human man who has a belt and grapple seem like a god. But Superman who is actually more complex is shoved aside and contained. Cause God forbid he should be seen as complex and cool.
    Maybe one day …just one day someone will write a decent Superman story or we might have creators willing to take the decent Superman stories like Kingdom Come and do something with it. But when you have men who want their bias to dominate the whole sandbox…Superman is just seen as simple.
    Bruce Timm that goes for you too.

    • Frank says:

      A couple of things: First, for the way he writes him, and for the things he says in Supergods, I think he means Batman is "better" in the sense that "the general population considers him cooler". If you see the interviews where he talks about why Batman and Iron man are the characters people like the most nowdays, you'll see that he agrees with you, regarding the silver spoon thing.
      He did make Batman into an infallible over-planner, but that's while he's in the JLA, he has to be like that. You don't fight cosmic-level threats just by throwing a batarang at them. But his run on Batman's own title was all about humanizing him again (I mean things like, Alfred reminding him to be Bruce again in the early issues, the fact that he has a son, the Black Glove showing him that no matters what he tought, some people over-plan as much as him, and hurt him) without dismissing his JLA-version.
      All Star Superman can be seen as corny, but only from a rather cynical point of view. Also, it's nowhere near to being a precuel to One Million. It only shares a couple of characters and events that are referenced (Solaris, the future Superman), but that's all.
      Also, sorry, but Kingdom Come is not that good. I usually love Mark Waid's writing, and I think he's one of the people that best get Superman, but the fact that Superman retires at the beggining just because the general population likes violent heroes that kill? That's terrible, and off-character as hell. Also, Superman wouldn't need the old guy saying to him "Hey, stop it with the wrecking everything. That's not cool." And, Alex Ross' art is great for covers, but its not that good when putting togheter a comic page… Also, is photo-realism the best that comics can aim at? Semiotically speaking, superhero comics have to show an augmented, hyper-reality; wanting to make them look just like photos feels like a step back, shy, and artistically conservative.

  10. Samuel Fry says:

    The premise of this article is ridiculous. The only reason Superman has a boss is because he wants to play it that way. Batman/Bruce Wayne is a mortal human, albiet a perfectly trained one; Superman/Kal-El is an alien superbeing. If any class warfare argument exists, Bruce Wayne represents the 'everyman' much more then Kal-El does. Put that Kryptonite in your pipe and smoke it!

  11. Thad says:

    "Baling", not "bailing" hay.

  12. amypoodle says:

    i'm going to assume this isn't one of those sites where people don't read other posts. i may be disappointed, but hey ho.
    @sam
    yeah, you're welcome to the quentin tarantino take on superman, it's perfectly valid, but personally i prefer a superman who sees the best in humanity, where superman and clark are integrated parts of the same whole. it's much harder to write and provides superman with a genuine motivation to want to save us.
    @smith
    but morrison's description differs considerably from your own, doesn't it? his take is that batman is 'better' because inspite of the darkness, bruce wayne still struggles on. this is almost the definition of heroism. and, depressing as you may find it, the idea that a complex, contradictory, but ever so handsome creature of the night is sexy is hardly a revelatory one. hello everyone from dracula to the rock god. maybe people should stay away from the guy, things haven't worked out that well for most of bruce's relationships, but that doesn't change the fact that there's an appeal there.
    finally, some posters here need to get over whether or not batman could take superman in a fight. it's superheroes 101 people. this isn't realism.

  13. smith says:

    "inspite of the darkness, bruce wayne still struggles on. this is almost the definition of heroism."
    @amypoodle. So Superman a man who lost his who race, who has to live with the idea he will lose his family and loved ones cause he is virtually immortal, who the whole is almost like paper, who chooses to have a job when he does not have too is the lesser hero? Boy, you people are weird. Superman can be a god but he chooses to be everyman. Because he knows that you can't set yourself up as a savior to humans if you don't understand what they fear. Superman writers have strayed too far from who Superman is and have made him into some unsophisticated hick.Batman is a spoiled rich kid with issues, who needs counseling has had the freedom to expand and do and be anything. The irony is he is human and limited in what he can do but he is set up as a God. He has become a parody of himself. I am the goddamn batman is right.
    DC you guys need to seriously have Superman go back to his roots. I think Siegel and Schuster would turn in their graves to hear how Morrison described Superman. It's as if Superman has no will or is blow about by the wind. John Bryne's take on Clark was interesting but it has put the character in a box and misrepresents what it means to be raised by famers etc.
    Superman is the perfect representation for the hero's journey, the lost king reared in obscurity, preparing him for ascension as a inspiration and leader, and protector. Who will make mistakes along the way and who will return long after Batman has passed the mantle. He should never be seen as just "simple".

  14. amypoodle says:

    sorry, just to be clear, smith, i wasn't arguing that superman is any less heroic than batman. you don't need to explain to me the ways in which the guy's great. really great.
    but then i experienced that greatness in ASS (lol, chortz, etc.), and i don't feel like we're really missing it – i can pick up that book, or moore's superman stuff (heck, his supreme stuff) anytime i like.
    anyway, moving on. whilst i partially recognise *my* batman and superman in your descriptions, i might suggest that we have very different interpretations of the characters (possibly even about what 'character' means in a comic book more generally, tbh), but you seem a little more invested in your take than i am in mine – you're probably more insistent on its primacy – so i don't think we're going to get much out of debating it.

  15. steve says:

    clark is a reporter, a knowbody. bruce is the rich guy who can have anythink
    superman is the hero of the world, women line up at his feet, world leader would wait in line to talk to him, batman cop in his own city try to arrest him half the time.

    but they both were mask, bruce is fake, and batman real.
    clark is fake, superman is fake, he act that way for the same reason a budy builder might be very nice to not scare people.

  16. gdkeen says:

    "GB: Superman and Batman are the two defining icons among comic books…"

    Umm…no, they aren't, not anymore. If anyone not sucking up to a DC artist were honest about it, the TWO defining icons would be Batman and……[give you a hint, not Superman].

  17. […] Morrison on class: Bruce has butler, Clark has boss […]

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