Batman #400: BATMAN or SUPERMAN


Batman #400 was issued October, 1986.  It features a special introduction by Stephen King.  King's topic of choice. . . Batman or Superman.

This special introduction its on inside front and inside back covers.  


King writes: "When I was a kid there were certain questions which came up and had to be answered. . . or at least aired, if finding a conclusive answer proved impossible.

He then offers us a quick list of questions that had to be answered:
  • Whether or not Don Larsen's World series no-hitter was skill, fate, or just dumb luck.
  • What was at the center of golf balls.  
  • Why all the Disney characters wore gloves.
  • Was there such a thing as a complete set of green Davy Crockett trading cards.  King writes, "The red ones were easy, but the green ones were weirdly scarce."
  • Here's one I've given some time to: Would you come out in China upside down i it was really possible to dig all the way through the earth to the other side.  (And, may I add. . . at what point are you upside down?)
"These were questions asked and answered after you were too tired to swim out to the raft anymore and had to crash out on the beach, or when you were walking home from the baseball field in summer's sweet dusk with your feet burning inside your sneakers, or before you fell asleep on camp-outs."
Of course, this is exactly what we are treated to in the movie Stand By Me.  Questions kids ponder.  And. . . if Mickey is a mouse, Pluto is a dog. . . what's Goofy? 

And then there was this question: Who do you like better, Superman or Batman?

Before I tell you King's preference -- I took an unofficial poll.  I discovered a little generation gap.  Teens and adults pretty quickly choose Batman.  Children were divided, but Superman was still pretty popular with the kiddos.  We, it turns out, are a house divided!  The nine year old was offended anyone would think Batman was better than Superman.  She had not considered that anyone might hold a varying opinion.

King's vote: Batman.  (Come on, no surprise there, right?  He's writing the intro in the Batman comic.  I guess he would have had to do some more soul searching if D.C. had asked him to write an introduction!)

He assures us that he still "digs" Superman, because he's the "good" guy.  However, King explains that Superman is a little removed from the rest of us.  He can't be beat!  There's Kryptonite, even red and yellow Kryptonite, but "Batman was just a guy.  A rich guy, yes.  A strong guy, granted.  a smart guy, you bet.  But. . . he couldn't fly.  I think that formed my preference more than anything else."


King discusses the first Superman movie, and the tagline, "You'll Believe A Man can Fly."  He didn't!  He didn't believe it in the movie or the comic books.  "Ironically, the closest I ever came to believing it was in the TV series."  Interesting!  I love that old TV series.  And so do my kids.  We've watched them all, over and over.  "DON'T CALL ME CHIEF!"

King says the Batman TV show was "unpleasantly campy."  I must agree!  I saw it recently, and it pained me.  But, the actors were awesome.  They were trying to make it feel like a comic book; but in that vein, the Dick Tracy movie leads the pack, I think. 
"But when Batman swung down into the Joker's hideout on a rope or stopped The Penguin from dropping Robin into a bucket of boiling hog-fat with a well-thrown Batarang, I believed.  These were not likely things, I freely grand you that, but they were possible things.  I could believe in a Caped Crusader who swung on ropes, threw boomerangs with deadly accuracy, and drove like Richard Petty getting a pregnant woman to the hospital." 
(He also says he had trouble believing in Super-breath.)


Batman, King explains, really was a detective.  
"He had to be a detective.  He couldn't rely on super-breath to return Gotham city to its proper place after the crime had happened; he had to catch The Riddler or whomever the villain might be before he could jump start those nuclear jets.  Like Sherlock Holmes, Batman looked at the tracks the crooks left; he took finger prints; he picked up hairs from the scene of the crime and took testimony.  He kept files -- also a la Homes -- on the modus operandi of various criminals. He searched for patterns, knowing -- as all the great detectives have -- that if a pattern can be found, you can be there waiting for the criminal at his next stop."

So what's really up, Mr. King?  What's the bottom line?  

"Maybe the real reason that Batman appealed to me more than the other guy: There was something sinister about him.  That's right.  you heard me.  Sinister."

And this is where the article gets real sweet, my friends.  Because, remember, I love old radio, right?  And King now compares Batman to The Shadow.  I loved the shadow! 

Batman, King says, is like a vampire -- because he is a creature of the night.  All the more a comparison, as we now know that Superman gets his power from our sun.  Thus, making Superman all the more a day creature, and Batman a night creature!
"Oh, yeah, you saw him fighting crime in the day once in a while, but mostly he was a shape in the shadows or a grim-faced man-thing crashing through a window at some small hour of the morning, his cape floating around him like a great shadow.  In those Batman-busts-in-panels, you almost always saw a horrid species of fear on the faces of the hoods he was about to flush down the toilet, and I always flet a strong sense of identity with those expressions.  yeah, I thought (and still do think), sitting under a tree in our backyard, or maybe in the tub, or on the john (or, as a kid, under the covers with a flashlight).  Yeah, that's right, they should look scared, I'd sure be scared if something like that busted in one me.  I'd be scared even if I wasn't doing something wrong."
As if to give great credibility to this line of argument, the last page of the comic -- the page facing this exposition of Batman, is a series of night scenes,w tih Batman's cape wavering around him.  The Bat signal flashes in the sky. . .
"The night was his time; the shadows were his place; like the bat from which he took his name, he saw with his hands and feet and ears.  as Bruce Wayne, he was cheerful poshy, full of savoir faire and bonhomie, a fellow easily imagined in front of the fire in his book-line library with a balloon glass of brandy and a bowl of Cheez Doodles near at hand.  But when the Bat-Signal floated against one of Gotham's skyscrapers (or perhaps the underside of a handy passing cloud) a grim and unsmiling creature emerged from the Bat-Cave.  You could shoot him and he would bleed. . . you could crank him a good one on the head and he would fold up (at least for a while ). . . but you could never, never stop him."

King closes by noting that Batman was on the rise (1986) and he writes:
"I'd like to congratulate the Caped Crusader on his long and valiant history, thank him for the hours of pleasure he has given me, and wish him many more years of heroic crime-busting. 
Go get'em, Big Guy.  May your Bat-Signal never fall, your Batmobile never run out of the nuclear pellets it runs on your utility belt never come up fatally under-stocked at the wrong moment. 
And please, never come busting through my skylight int he middle of the night.  You'd probably scare me into a brain hemorrhage. . . and besides, Big Guy, i'm on your side.
I always was.
--Stephen King"
That's nice, it's really really nice.  Even sweet.  

I'll weigh in on my opinion -- Batman or Superman -- in the comments section, and invite you to do the same.



  1. I'd love to see what King would do writing a superhero comic one of these days.

  2. Okay. . . I'll go first. . .

    I prefer Superman. With respectful nods to King's arguments. The dark batman is really cool. But Batman gets. . . how do I say. . . complicated.

    And now some admissions: I'm not a comic book guy. So, I'm relying on pop culture TV and movies. . . and a few comics.

    Now I WANT to like Batman. But I was raised with Superman. it might be that simple. We were a superman household. I don't know why. Maybe because my mom thought Christopher Reeves was beautiful.

    Why I prefer Superman:

    1. He can fly. How cool is that? King can laugh all he wants, but the guy can fly! Yes, the Batmobile is cool. . . but who doesn't want to fly?

    2. He stands for truth, justice and the American way.

    3. He works for a newspaper and lives in an apartment. He works to be one of us.

    4. He has the fortress of solitude. I'll not argue it better than the bat cave, because it's obvious. A guy can say he's going to his bat cave. . . but what he really wants is solitude.

    5. There is something -- bare with me -- messianic about the guy. Consider (rememeber, I can't help it, okay!). . .
    --Superman came from the father above.
    --He lives among us as an ordinary man. (the Incarnation)
    --Superman was sent to save humanity. (Redemption)
    --Superman died, but came back! (Resurrection) Now seriously, can anyone see some connections here?
    --He stands opposed to evil.

    I mean, cool as Batman is, you make a connection that strong to the Messiah -- and a preacher just can't resist.

    Besides, he can fly!

  3. No one is going to like my cents. Here's the thing; I used to read superhero comics when I was a kid, and Superman used to be my favorite.

    Nowadays, my opinion toward all superhero comics, Marvel and DC, is summed u in a MAD Magazine compilation that's still on sale as of this date I believe, MAD about Superheroes. On the cover it features Supe and Bats posing for the cover and yet looking slightly perturbed by the addition of a grinning Alfred E. Neuman wearing a green bath-towel and MAD logo T-shirt.

    One panel in particular among the whole book sums up my thoughts on comic book super heroes, it's a final splash page in which the X-Men are facing off against a collective of their ultimate foe. The ringleader of the ultimate enemy grins, chews on a carrot and asks sarcasticly, "What's Up, Doc?"

    One of the X-Men says, "I think we're in trouble," to which another enemy replies in a voice dripping with menace, "Th-th-th-the-uh-th-th-the-uh-That's all folks."

    For me a big part is the difference between inspiration and invention in art. I'm not saying invention has no place, however there be good and bad as the pirates say.

    Another thing that killed superhero comics for me? I made one great mistake, I started reading Stephen King who got me interested in book by Mark Twain and from there my world had moved on. When I cam back to the old DC issues I was stunned by how, um, mediocre I guess they were.

    Sorry. So who do I like better? Well, the Looney Tunes of course.


  4. Chris. . .
    oh my,
    You don't have to base it on the comics. Which do you have a natural inclination toward?

    But I like that vote for Superman.

    As I said, I don't read comics, either. But I never did! Didn't even watch cartoons as a kid. Not that parents forbid it. . . just wasn't tha kind of kid. Spent a lot of time playing out back and making up stuff, not enough attention to sit through TV shows or read comics.

  5. Well, thanks for that at least, Reverend. To be fair, one of the things I've since come to not like about comics is the treatment of women in a lot of them.

    Based on what Ive seen, what it suggests to me is a basic immaturity on the writer's part, an inability to deal with women as women if you will. A clear case of stunted arrested devolopment. Reading over what I have written, maybe that's the falw I find in comics.


  6. There is no doubt that a great many superhero comics -- even today -- are written by and for people who are permanently encased in adolescence.

    In the great Superman or Batman debate, I take no side: I love them both.

  7. althought I don't have read a lot of super heroes comic books (I prefer Conan and horror anthologies like Creepy or the old Ec stuff)I prefer Batman, althought I think his gallery of villains the joker, the penguin... is ridiculous

  8. AHHHH!!!! Fransisco hit the nail on the head for me. How can you take a villain named "joker" or "penguin" as a serious threat. A guy named "Lex Luther" even sounds scary.

  9. There is sort of an irony for me in the fact that a human character like Batman can take out such omnipotent characters like Darkside (I know I spelled that wrong) yet he always seems crippled in the presence of some guy in clown make-up.

    Of course, devoted constant readers will see nothing strange in this.


  10. On the same not, it always seems strange to me that there is so much Kryptonite floating around! How do you get this stuff? Is Lex buying it off ebay?

  11. It just occured to me that ther's a King related question to ask about all this.

    Considering what's been said above about being "permanently encased in adolescents", I'd ask Bryant, knowing his opinions regarding the Dark Tower comics if it isn't maybe these same faults that makes the Tower comic series suffer as a whole?

    My own two cents amounts to the idea that whatever the Tower book series "Is", the comics are a definite reflection of what a lot of fans "Want" it to be, perhaps even feel they "Need" to be.


  12. Make that permanently encased in ASOLSCENCE, Chris. "Permanently encased in adolescents" would mean something entirely different.

    To answer the question: no, I don't think that is what makes the DT comics suffer at all. What's made them suffer, when they have suffered (which hasn't been every issue), is a too-rushed approach to adapting King's source material, along with a poor sense of where to take the story when it comes to key story details King has not yet written (such as the fall of Gilead).

  13. Well, it's sorta been a while since this entry.

    My take on DK Rises? I'm gonna be in trouble with a lot of Bat fans out there. Let sum up by giving reviews of all three Nolan/Batman films.

    Batman Begins: (shrugs) Meh.

    Dark Knight (shrugs) Meh.

    Dark Knight Rises: Meh.

    And now to get in even more trouble, I think the MST3K Rifftrax commentary for Dark Knight was hilarious, and predict that Dark Knight Rises will soon find it's way there as well.

    Suffice to say my opion of comic book superheroes remains the same. In fact, ever since reading Dostoyevsky (the greatest writer on the psychology of Sin), I've often wondered what would happen if the anarchists from the book "Demons" were to run into any of the comic book villains or super villains.

    It was no contest, Dost's. characters trumped any DC or marvel villain in my mind, these guys could whither Batman with a dour nihilistic glance.

    That's my thinking though.


  14. There is a whole Apocalypse Now thing going on with Batman. There is a strong element of the Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, which coincidentally in the Batman video game, by no small coincidence. Batman Rises even plays out the theme of both it And Apocalypse Now, so I don't wonder, or, rather I 'do' wonder. Apocalypse Now was filmed with an actual war and real death going on. The Heart of Darkness was immortalized in Flicker, by Theodore Roszak, as a movie filmed as a movie within a movie, with a live sacrafice within it. James Holmes performed a 'live sacrafice' in Aurora during it being shown. Superman's Neitzshe's fodder and the Dark Knights grandfather originated Skull and Bones.