Batman vs Spider-Man. Who would win in a fight?
A couple weeks ago, we asked listeners of the podcast to write in on who they think would win in a fight between Batman and Spider-Man. Former guest of the show and co-host of the What Did We Miss? podcast Matt wrote in with what we decided definitively answers the question. Below is the email in full which you can read for yourself instead of listening to me stumble through it on the podcast.
Being a fan of superhero comics means that at some point in your life you’ve probably gotten into a superhero X vs. superhero Y conversation. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was built on this idea that fans would want to see DC comic’s two big heavies go up against each other. Ultimately all this argument ever reveals is the arguer’s superhero of choice and rarely does it ever end in any sort of truth or enlightenment. Not that any of these arguments have any kind of merit outside of some nerdy bragging rights. So how do you determine the winner of a battle between Batman and Spider-Man. At first glance it would seem that Spider-Man is the obvious winner. Any super-powered being should be able to best any normal person, no matter how well equipped, with relative ease. Not so fast, say Batman fans! Batman is smart. An oft sighted example of Batman’s cunning ability to see ten steps ahead of his opponent is Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, a story in which Batman comes out of retirement to clean up the streets of Gotham once again. Good ole Bats defeats a government sanctioned Superman in hand to hand combat in the final issue of the four part miniseries. And how does he best his former friend and coworker? With Kyrptonite, d’uh. Superman was so powerful that his creators had to invent a dues ex machina device in order to give their character any of sort of obstacle from his opponents. With the right type of Kyrptonite a baby could defeat Superman, as it makes him weak and sick until he eventually dies. I’m sorry, but a billionaire acquiring a rare mineral, one that is publicly known to cripple Superman, is not evidence of Batman’s brilliant, strategic mind. It’s evidence that he has a lot of money. This rich equals smart equation is what got us Trump as president. And if we’re gonna reference one of the most popular Batman comics then it’s only fair to open up the playing field to the thousand plus issues of Batman comics and stories from television and film. The faux-realism of the Christopher Nolan Batman could in no way shape or form defeat any version of Spider-Man, not when he’s nearly bested by a pack of dogs. Nor do I think the cheeky Adam West version from the ‘60s could best a coronavirus infected, one-armed Spidey on his best day. Let’s not even talk about Pirate Batman. Heck, most Justice League stories revolve around heavy hitters Superman and Wonder-Woman taking down the big bad while Batman remains at a safe distance solving tech problems. And none of this takes into account the myriad number of times that he’s been bested by two-bit criminals, that time he broke his back, or the fifteen, yes FIFTEEN, times that he has died. (Don’t worry, he got better.) Fair is fair, and if we’re gonna apply this sort of rigorous look into Batman’s history then we also have to evaluate Spider-Man in the same way. Spidey has also bested top-tier Marvel characters such as Iron-Man, Thor, and the Hulk. What about Spidey’s Spidey-Mobile? Could Batman defeat the Iron-Spider costume? Spider-Man even faced off against Superman in a company crossover in the ‘70s. (Side Note: Spidey was winning until they both realized that they were being duped by Lex Luthor. Isn’t that always the way?) But Spidey has also faced his fair share of defeat and death. Oddly enough, Spider-Man has also died fifteen times. What are the odds! At least they have that in common. But where does that leave us? Here is a quote from Stan Lee which I hope will clarify things a little. He said: “So one Question I’m always asked. Who would win in a fight? And there’s one answer to all of that. It’s so simple, anyone should know this. The person who’d win in a fight is the person that the scriptwriter wants to win! If I’m writing a story, about The Thing, from the Fantastic Four, and he gets into a big fight with Spider-Man, and millions of people out there say Who Would Win? Well, it depends on who I want to win if I’m writing the script. If I want Spider-Man to win, he’ll win. If I want the Thing to win, he’ll win. These are fictitious characters, the writer can do whatever he wants with them! So stop asking those questions, ’cause I’ve had it with that.” It’s impossible to determine an outcome based off of their individual histories precisely because any outcome is predicated on whatever the writer needs or wants from that story. Of course Batman beat Superman because it was Batman’s story. And there are plenty of times in which Superman has defeated Batman. This may seem like a cop out but I’m more interested in the broader idea here. Any reference to specific stories in either characters history will just lead you down more one-way roads. At the end of the day if you’re still looking for a winner you need to reevaluate the question. You need to take it at face value. We do that by looking at the only constants that exist for each character. Things that are true in the majority of Spider-Man and Batman stories. Spidey has the ability to climb and adhere to most surfaces, super strength, heightened agility, and a preternatural ability to detect incoming blows and attacks. Not to mention his trusty web-shooters. Batman is in peak physical condition, a master of mixed martial arts, and an array of gadgets and weapons at his disposal. I know what you’re saying, “but Matt, Batman is always smart!” Yes, but how smart depends on who is writing Batman. It’s not a constant. Again, you can really get into the weeds with this but there’s always going to be counter-examples. Batman’s greatest trick is his ability to sneak up on his opponents to catch them by surprise. He's sneaky. Spider-Man’s spidey-sense renders this ability pointless. In hand to hand combat he can avoid all blows with his super-agility and Batman is no match for Spidey’s heightened strength. Winner = Spider-Man. And if you feel the need to add any caveats like, “but Batman would plan ahead and come up with a serum that counteracts Spider-Man’s spidey-sense” then you missed the broader argument that I was making. Sure, let’s say Batman has the time to do that. Well then we can also add that Spider-Man has the time to make a counter-serum because Peter Parker ain't no slouch in the science department. Blah blah blah. Batman can only win based on addendums and caveat after caveat. I love Batman! The first comic I ever purchased was a Batman comic. I own shirts. I’ve seen every Batman movie on opening night. Yes, even the dreaded Batman and Robin. What makes him great is not how smart he is, it’s his vulnerability. It’s his refusal to give up against all odds. Just because Batman loses doesn’t mean he’s not super cool, and I think that’s the biggest issue I run into with these sort of debates. No one wants their favorite hero to lose. Using these same metrics it’s pretty safe to say that Spider-Man would lose to the Hulk, Superman, and many many more heroes. At the end of day what makes these characters so great is their malleability. Like Stan Lee said, they can be whatever the writer needs them to be. What makes Spider-Man and Batman so great is what they stand for. Hope! The Hope that through their actions and perseverance they can prevent more of the same tragedies that had greatly shaped both of their lives. That with great power comes… well, you know the rest."
Be sure to check out Matt and Tony on What Did We Miss?, a podcast where they fill in their pop culture blind spots one episode at a time .