Superman’s Pal Bruce Wayne Confesses: Why I Love to Wear My Underwear on the Outside…

Deep down, Clark is essentially a good person… and deep down, I’m not – Bruce Wayne/Batman

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Batman has been connected to Superman from the very beginning.

Batman’s  origins began with the loss of his parents while Superman’s origins began with the gain of his new adoptive parents.

Superman too lost his birth parents, but he was a baby then and never truly knew them.

Growing up with Ma and Pa Kent from Kansas, Superman was loved and adored.

Batman too was loved by his parents Thomas and Martha Wayne.

Somewhere between the ages of 8-10 years old (depending on who is restarting the DC universe this week) his parents were cruelly gunned down in an alleyway outside a theater.  Bruce Wayne knows the pain of loss deeper than Clark can through direct experience.

Alfred looked after Bruce after he lost his parents, so Bruce was never truly alone.  But the loss of any loved one, especially our parents can leave psychological scars that last a lifetime.  Bruce led a privileged life, and while technically an orphan, he was never without a primary caregiver, and lead a pampered life of privilege.

Clark lost his entire planet, Kryptonian civilization and race of people, but his pain was more of an existential angst than deep personal suffering.  Superman grew up in Kansas and later moved to Metropolis – the city of light where he would become a god among men under earth’s yellow sun, and yet struggle to relate to the every day man and woman.

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Batman was created as a direct response to the gosh darn swell sales of the Big Red and Blue Cheese, and has been linked to his spiritual brother ever since his inception.

While Superman is the sun god from Smallville in a brightly coloured heroic costume that recalls the american flag and protective roles like policemen (and women), Batman is the grim avenger, the antithesis of Superman.  The original Batman was depicted in black, or black and grey.  Black being the colour traditionally worn by villains in Hollywood films and pulp fiction.

Both characters in their original incarnations wore the old “underwear on the outside”, a definite fashion faux pas in DC’s post-52 brave new world of heroes and villains, where they have been retrofitted with long pants/tights minus the overshorts or “man bloomers”.

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In the 1940s, superheroes such as Batman and Superman and their Justice Society Contemporaries Hawkman, The Spectre, and Dr. Fate wore their underwear on the outside for a different reason.  The connotation in that era was not bad fashion sense but related to old time strongmen, wrestlers and acrobats, many of whom were well known for putting on shows for the public.

Rather what was implied in the visual iconography of the underoos on the outside was pure physical strength and athleticism above the average mortal.

Saxon Detectice Comics Batman Origin Weight Lift Single Panel

Old time strongmen such as Eugen Sandow or Arthur Saxon [Saxon pictured above next to Bruce Wayne] would often wear their undersized briefs to show off their muscularity during public displays of strength.  They also might wear the underzised underoos for publicity photos or photos in mail order courses teaching their methods of strength training.

Old time wrestlers, particularly the show wrestlers that preceded the modern day spectacle of the NWA, WWF, WWE, WCW, ECW, TNA and other similar leagues would often wear tight shorts or briefs over top of their stockings, as the stockings tended to be see through and would slip around as they wrestled.  The tight little shorts they wore were not really underwear, but closer to modern day swimwear, it just looked like underwear because it was so tight and form fitting.

In the modern era UFC fighters often wear very form fitting tight shorts that don’t hinder their movements, particularly kicks and arm bars among other common techniques.  Loose fitting shorts would only hinder their techniques, or get caught on things, causing the fight to be stopped so somebody could fix their shorts, which is not only time wasting, but pretty embarrassing for the fighter.  Whatever the profession, a male character wearing small shorts implies a man of action and athleticism.

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Circus performers such as strongmen, acrobats and flying trapeze artists were also known to wear the old underoos on outside.  The crossover of this visual iconography is probably most relatable through Batman’s apprentice Robin, who was formerly a trapeze artist before swearing an oath to war on criminals alongside Batman.  Robin’s superhero costume is not far removed from his trapeze artist costume.

So whether wrestlers, weight lifters, strongmen or circus performers the connotation of the little shorts over top of tights on Superman and Batman immediately suggests a figure of above average strength, power and grace.  The addition of the chest logo “S” or chevron on Superman was a further indicator of a person of good moral character.  A champion of the people, a modern era Hercules in the case of Superman.  The bright primary colours, chest insignia and acrobatic outfit came to symbolise the Superhero quite literally as well as symbolically.  In Peter Coogan’s book Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre he delves into the often confusing distinctions of what defines a SUPER-hero as opposed to pulp characters, science heroes, dual identity characters and masked adventurers.

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“The difference between Superman and earlier figures such as the Shadow or Doc Savage lies in the element of identity central to the superhero, the costume. Although Superman was not the first costumed hero, his costume marks a clear and striking departure from those of the pulp heroes. A pulp hero’s costume does not emblematize the character’s identity. The slouch hat, black cloak, and red scarf of the Shadow or the mask and fangs of the Spider disguise their faces but do not proclaim their identities. Superman’s costume does, particularly through his “S” chevron.  Similarly, Batman’s costume proclaims him a bat man, just as Spider-Man’s webbed costume proclaims him a spider man. These costumes are iconic representations of the superhero identity.

Color plays an important role in the iconicity of the superhero costume. In his chapter on color, [in Scott McCloud’s ‘Understanding Comics’] McCloud shows the way the bright, primary colors of superhero comics are “less than expressionistic,”

but therefore more iconic, due to their simplicity. Specifically with reference to costumes, McCloud says, “Because costume colors remained exactly the same, panel after panel, they came to symbolize the characters in the mind of the reader”

-Peter Coogan, Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre, page 33

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Another common trait amongst old time strongmen, physical culturists and lifters in the Iron Game like Eugen Sandow, George Hackenschmidt, Arthur Saxon and friends was that the strongmen were known for their well developed intellects, IRON WILL and mental discipline.  These traits would become synonymous with superheroes, most notably Batman.  The Superhero costume then would symbolise not only a physical dynamo of sound moral character, but a character of intelligence, internal will power and discipline.

Those silly little shorts on the outside and bright tights seem just a little bit less ridiculous when viewed in that context.  The Superhero costume became symbolic not just of Champions, Physical Marvels and Titans of the people, but symbolic of an entire genre.  The cape, mask and costume crowd has thrilled readers for over three quarters of a century.  The superhero ideal is one that is strong in our culture, not just in North America where the superhero was born and conceived, but around the globe people of all ages look to superheroes for entertainment, inspiration and sound moral values in uncertain times.

Batman appeared around a year after Superman, and Wonder Woman a couple of years later – bringing some much needed feminine energy to balance out DC’s testosterone laden Titans.  In the modern era DC’s holy trinity of superheroes would frequently be featured together in the Justice League comics, annual company ‘event’ stories, as well as their own various monthly comic books and occasional  graphic novels.  But in the early years Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman would only appear together on promotional ads, merchandise or the odd comic book cover.

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Superman and Batman first appeared together on the cover of the promotional anthology title New York World’s Fair Comics #1 in 1939.  They also appeared together on the cover of World’s Best Comics #1,1941 the title that would lead to the ongoing World’s Finest Comics.  While Batman and Superman appeared on various comic book covers together, inside the various anthology books were solo tales of Batman, Superman and other Golden Age characters, including non-superhero characters.

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The World’s Greatest Superheroes finally shared some brief panels together in All Star Comics #7, 1941 but not until Superman #76, 1952 did the two officially meet in a full length story in The Mightiest Team in the World.

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Soon afterward Superman and Batman would be teaming up in a regular ongoing book – World’s Finest Comics #71, 1954.  The previous issues while regularly showing Batman, Superman and often Robin together on the cover in comical fun loving situations were mostly solo stories and reprints of earlier Batman or Superman stories.  With World’s Finest Comics #71, the foundation stones of the Superman/Batman friendship that would last through the next thirty years were laid down.

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Hey kids, is Batman bullet-proof?  Let’s hope so, otherwise this issue is bound to end in tears for little Billy and Jimmy.

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Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne switch super-identities in a gimmicky, totally non-nonsensical story.  Guess that explains the bullets bouncing off of Batman’s chest then.  Despite its eccentricities (like the backwards step for feminism where Lois Lane is portrayed as a complete idiot) the story is still great fun to read.

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Happy trails pard’ner!  I’ll just step blindly off this building without looking, while you go catch whoever put that graffiti on the sun.

World’s Finest Comics came to an end with issue #323, 1986.  While Batman and Superman would appear in each other’s books now and then, they would not be teaming up again on a regular basis until the revival of the JLA in Grant Morrison’s JLA #1, 1997 which ran for 125 issues.  This book was followed by the fan favourite Superman / Batman #1, 2003 ongoing title by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, their six issue story arc kicked off an ongoing six-issue story arc format by various popular writers and artists paired together for each story arc.  The book was surprisingly successful and ran for 87 issues.  The follow up to this book was Batman / Superman in 2013, a confusing book of varying quality set in DC’s post-52 continuity.

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Over the years the various Superman / Batman team up comic books have traditionally handled spectacular over the top stories, gimmick covers, gimmick stories and anything that gets the reader hooked and wanting to turn the page or buy the book.  Overall, the books are pretty fun to read from the earliest World’s Finest Comics with Superman, Batman and Robin enjoying leisurely pursuits and athletic activities on the covers to the later less frivolous covers focusing on one nightmarish scenario after another, that were conveniently wrapped up in an issue or two.

The JLA books from the various eras are great fun, particularly Grant Morrison’s run but we don’t see a whole lot of Superman and Batman together.  They are typically the leaders of the team, who usually divide into smaller teams or squads as they face each new crisis month to month.

Seeing DC’s big two icons in a regular ongoing book just makes sense.  Allowing the focus to shift away from the monthly soap opera like stories in the various Batman and Superman ongoing titles – to larger then life adventures in the team up books makes for a refreshing change.

Whether Worlds Finest, Brave and the Bold (DC’s other team-up book, often featuring Batman with various DC heroes) or Superman/Batman – the team-up style books were usually not limited by the continuity of the monthly character books.  It makes them far easier to get into, you can pick up a fun story, read the whole thing in a short time and walk away without having to buy ten or more monthly books.

The Loeb / McGuinness Superman/Batman book in particular was a great read, and a real return to form of the earlier over the top gimmick stories that had you frantically turning the page to find out what happens next.  Darkseid brainwashes Supergirl, Batman punches the president in the face!  You get the idea.

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So in the early stories of Batman and Superman, the two were good friends who teamed up often on increasingly bizarre adventures.  Before they started teaming up from World’s Finest Comics issue#71 onwards, the previous issues were solo stories featuring Superman or Batman and Robin, who only appeared together on the covers.

They finally met in person in short tales in All Star Comics #7, and Superman #76, before moving on to be featured in their ongoing team ups from Worlds Finest Comics from#71.  Later they had ongoing team-up stories in the fan favourite Morrison/Porter JLA and the Loeb/McGuinness Superman/Batman titles.

The early years of their super-relationship were coloured by fantastical tales, science fiction stories and imaginary stories, often involving alternate worlds and more and more ridiculous scenarios to fill out the gimmick covers. The gimmick covers were often throw away gags that the writer had to fill as best they could in any given issue.  The idea was to get young readers to pick up the book, turn the page and inquire into what madness awaited them in this months senses-shattering issue of adventure!

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In later years while still friends, Superman and Batman’s relationship would take on an adversarial role when DC realised how much fans liked seeing Batman and Superman fighting each other – no matter how contrived the situation.  While the contest of champions served a narrative purpose in Miller’s seminal alternate world Dark Knight Returns other tales of the clash of DCs most popular titans were of varying quality.

In John Bryne’s 1986 Man of Steel mini-series relaunch of Superman, he encounters Batman as a stranger.  Later in Grant Morrison’s JLA and the Loeb / McGuinness Superman/Batman book, the two are old friends once again, seemingly with their rivalry behind them, until the next sales slump or gimmick book around the corner.

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Ultimately, a cool image of two popular heroes fighting each other on the cover, or in the book helps sell comics.  Even if it makes little sense for two good friends to be at each others throats a couple times a year, then go back to normal for the duration of their relationship with selective amnesia.  Supes and The Bat at times are like bickering brothers or an old married couple.  They respect each other, but often have very different views on issues, and that can lead to them falling out.  But no matter how many times that happens, they eventually reconcile and their bonds only grow deeper and stronger.

Gimmick covers, gimmick stories and events are  the bread and butter of traditional superhero comics, and while gimmicks get old very fast, there is something genuinely thrilling in seeing the philosophical differences between Superman and Batman leading up to an uneven slug-fest that has rabid fans foaming at the mouth.

But ultimately, whatever differences they may have, Batman and Superman are lifelong friends.  No amount of ret-conning, revamping, relaunching, new universes or alternate universes can break the bonds of true friendship.  While the next live action version of the World’s Finest will likely seem them at each other’s throats, we all know the Batman v Superman film can only end in the beginning of Superman and Batman’s lifelong friendship.

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3 thoughts on “Superman’s Pal Bruce Wayne Confesses: Why I Love to Wear My Underwear on the Outside…

  1. Great write-up! I love love the Loeb run on Superman/Batman and thankfully the latest arc on the new 52 Batman/Superman is amazing again. I just hope the cinematic universe doesn’t get so caught up on the whole Batman v Superman gimmick that they forget the friendship the characters inherently share. After Batman v Superman I wouldn’t mind a Batman/Superman sequel later down the line haha

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    1. My prediction is that any film directed by Snyder (whom I like) will be dark, cynical and violent. But the next solo Batman film will surely be lighter in tone, if for no other reason than to distinguish it from the relentlessly bleak Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises. I’d like to see a solo Batman film that is closer in tone to a Bond film, similar to the Bat-comics of the 1970s.
      I think the biggest mistake DC can make is go too light in tone with any of their films, aping Marvel’s Avengers. I hope that JLA manages to be its own thing, and not be a poor copy of the Avengers.

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