Batman v. Spider-Man

Batman v. Spider-Man January 18, 2013

Which is the greater hero, Batman or Spider-Man? Travis D. Smith considers their merits:

Batman seems rather to incarnate the willful modern project to end suffering by using reason to gain mastery over all things. Batman wages war against disorder in the cosmos as represented by the microcosm of Gotham City, a chaotic polis just this side of the state of nature. In Christopher Nolan’s film trilogy, Batman’s monomaniacal impulse is best captured in The Dark Knight, when we learn that Bruce Wayne has turned every cell phone in the city into a sonar device so as to spy on everyone everywhere. Acutely sensitive to man’s vulnerability and insecurity after seeing, as a boy, his parents brutally murdered, Batman believes innocent people need protectors because they can’t—or won’t—protect themselves. He uses his mastery of human psychology to solve crimes and apprehend criminals in a fashion that exemplifies the twin maxims that fear is the passion to be reckoned upon and it is better to be feared than loved.

With all due respect to Batman, there is another four-color character who represents an ideal that is nobler and yet more accessible: Spider-Man, who turned 50 this year, having debuted in August 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15. Spider-Man, I would argue, represents a reflection on the shortcomings of modernity, suggesting that it must be supplemented and supported by premodern wisdom and virtues—such as those articulated in the classical philosophical and biblical traditions—lest modern principles race to ruinous extremes. Whereas the rational order that the modern technological project aims to bring into being would absolve individuals of personal and interpersonal obligations, responsibility is the central theme of Peter Parker’s story. His costumed career is guided by the lesson learned from his Uncle Ben: that “with great power there must also come great responsibility.” Still, however great the responsibility that Spider-Man assumes, he does not make the mistake of seeking to impress a rational, moral order upon the universe. Spider-Man’s motto as it is translated into practice is more moderate and less meddlesome. The Webslinger comes to the rescue of people in dire distress, but he does not save them the trouble of taking responsibility for themselves. (Granted, Batman is not a bossy busybody in practice either, but only because crime-fighting keeps him occupied enough on a nightly basis. He would be more proactive in the prevention of all evil if only he could work it into his schedule.)


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