With the craze over Injustice and Injustice 2, we’re reminded that every other alternate universe in the DC multiverse features an evil Superman.
Since the 90s as comic tastes turned darker, the idea of an evil Superman fascinated both writers and fans. After the Death of Superman, writers presented us with am evil Superman and an evil-ish Superman: Cyborg Superman and Eradicator (The Last Son of Krypton) respectively.
Both characters explored the idea of evil Superman in different ways. Cyborg Superman, really a previously established character named Hank Henshaw in disguise, acted more like a completely evil big bad along the lines of Darkseid or Braniac. He acted under the motivation of pure revenge and hate, and never had Superman-ish ideas on justice.
Eradicator woke up believing he was Superman but retained the killer instincts of the previous character even as he fought for what he thought was justice. He had some mercy, he didn’t kill the thief. He just burned his hands off.
But as DC began exploring alternate realities more in depth they started asking a question: What if the actual Kal-El turned evil? How would that mesh with his personality?
Superman’s powers weren’t half the reason why the idea of an evil Superman interested fans so much. DC already had plenty of super powered evil characters.
But people began to question the idea of an all-powerful, godlike hero who could be trusted implicitly. If Superman, earth’s greatest hero and greatest symbol of hope, began killing monsters like The Joker, who would speak against him? If he flew to the Middle East and shut down the militaries of warring factions, freeing the innocent captives and commanding an end to the fighting-or else, surely the voices of those fearing his possible turn to tyranny would be drowned out by those proclaiming their devotion to Superman as their new god.
How does humanity find its freedom again when humanity’s own god turns against them? Well, there’s one man who never accepted Superman as his god on any alternate world. And most times these two meet in a fight, Batman had Superman’s number. Most famously in The Dark Night Rises, Batman took down Superman with a power suit and kryptonite before faking his death.
Note: Green Arrow shot the kryptonite at Superman, but he’d said earlier in the series he only wanted a piece. Batman could have easily produced the kryptonite from any dispenser in his own suit.
But never was there a more one-sided beating than in Superman: Red Son. Using red flood lights, Batman depowered Superman and completely mopped the floor with him until Wonder Woman broke free and saved him. Even after that point Superman failed to capture Batman, Bat’s having hidden a bomb on his person.
It should be noted though that the Red Son version of Batman could not have been Bruce Wayne as he and his parents were native Russian.
But going by the pattern of Batman beating down Superman because of his intelligence and preparedness, doesn’t that make Superman the underdog in that situation?
If Batman turned evil, would Superman even stand a chance?
Evil versions of Batman exist in the DC multiverse, but they’re almost never a version of Bruce Wayne. Owl Man, the most well known evil Batman, is usually not Bruce Wayne but an evil brother named Thomas.
When Bruce Wayne does go evil (as we’ve seen more than once), it’s usually because of some manner of brainwashing, such as with the Black Lantern saga. So why don’t we see Bruce Wayne’s slow descent into madness and tyranny? Well, so far an important part of Batman’s character is his stubborn unwillingness to take a step on that slope. Even to the point of fault. Most notably is his refusal to kill the Joker, but DC has shown other instances in which Batman put his code of ethics over common sense, arguable even morality.
After Doctor Light raped Sue Dibny, Zatanna and members of the Justice League gave Light a sort of “magical lobotomy” that erased his memories of the rape and made him an incompetent moron. Which they probably considered quite merciful when they had the option of killing him and throwing him out of the airlock at the Watchtower.
But Batman caught them in the act and tried to stop them, forcing them to erase Batman’s memory of of what they’d done to Light.
Batman’s code of ethics and dealings with the Justice League revolve around his certainty that no one is incorruptible, including him. Bruce Wayne is so paranoid that even he could turn evil one day, he’s even made safeguards against brainwashing (albeit these safeguards have failed before) such as when the Court of Owls erased his identity and he fought them under a backup identity – which he’d created previously through self-hypnosis just in case anyone ever erased his memory.
Batman in no way felt sorry for Doctor Light, no more than he would have felt sorry for The Joker. Deep down he doesn’t give a damn if most killers live or die, as seen in his line in The Dark Knight Rises when four of Two Face’s thugs blow up.
“Leaving the world no poorer, four men die.”
And this is the reason for his unbending ethical code. What happened to Superman in the Justice Lords story arch and the Injustice video games could happen to him too. So rather than trusting in his feelings an intuition to guide his morality, he decided on an ethical code and keeps to it, in spite of his feelings, because of his self-control and discipline.
This is why an evil Batman, while not impossible, would be very difficult. Because there is no one in DC more disciplined than Batman.