When I was growing up
in the public school system
, amongst many young comic book aficionados
, someone would every so often raise the quintessential comic book argument...
"Who's better: Batman or Superman?"
The answer was unanimous: Everyone sided with Batman. Batman was human, he could be killed, his actions were courageous as opposed to Superman, who is rarely in harm's way himself but whose actions often put the people he love in peril. Batman was dark, mysterious, and tragic. Superman was light, patriotic and ethical. I always tried to back Superman, offering my devil's advocate perspective which never satisfied and only disgusted.
It is because of this that I find it ironic that every time I turn on my radio I hear the Big Blue Boy Scout referenced in one way or another. Both Eminem and a band called Five For Fighting have hit songs called "Superman" (the latter's is quite obviously a dissertation of sorts on the character). The hero even gets a shout out on the Dave Matthews song "Where Are You Going?". This is not to overlook a vivid history of Superman related songs such as the Flaming Lips' "Waiting for a Superman", Goldfinger's "Superman" and the classic Our Lady Peace song "Superman's Dead" among many others. Which all raises the much more fascinating argument to me...
"There are really quite a few hit songs about Superman. Why aren't there nearly as many about Batman?"
Now I might as well point out the obvious flaw in my analysis, the term "Superman" does also exist in a much more peripheral sense, to mean a person of greater strength or even more specifically as Nietzsche's Overman, outside of it's common pop culture recognition. Whereas "Batman" is harder to articulate as an abstract idea, the word "Superman" has meanings outside of comic book nomenclature. This is the major failing of my argument, since you can mention both Superman the comic book character and Superman the Nietzschen ideal in conversation and specification isn't always neccessary. Nietzche's Superman bares similarities (if only a handful) to the comic book character, so distinguishing between the two within the confines of song lyrics makes matters even more difficult. Everyone has there own definition for the term Superman which does not neccessarily include either literal basis. To put it simply, to sing about a Superman isn't always to sing about the Superman.
It is safe to assume, however, one or two things in this instance. First, without intending any discourtesy to the intellect of pop musicians, most pop musicians are young and have an equally youthful audience. Pop music is the most readily accessible form of music for most people, and particularly of interest to younger people, who have not yet fully developed a sense of what they respond to, musically or otherwise. This is not a judgement on it as a style of music, it is in fact the basis of the style. Now, given that the audience that responds to pop music is generally young, it is safe to assume that the Superman comic book character is the subject the musicians are putting forward, because he is a more recognizable and familiar symbol than Nietzsche's, in fact the term used to describe his iconism is pop cultural, which, as in pop music means to be popular and familiar with the people. Since the Comic Superman image is ingrained deeply in pop culture, he is more likely to be the subject of pop music.
Secondly, should you not agree with the conclusion reached above, it is safe to assume that even without the songs that do not specify the Superman in question, there still appear to be more Superman songs out there than Batman songs. Since Eminem's album "The Eminem Show" has a reoccurring superhero theme, his song "Superman" is undoubtedly inspired by the Man of Steel. Five For Fighting's anthem goes in to detail about characteristics distinctive to Superman, and so they also have no real debate over whom they are talking about. Having these two spoken for, the closest comparison I can make for a Batman-themed song (despite the ambiguous referencing on Slim Shady's own "Bizness" and "Without Me", the artist fails to make any equal comparisons to Ole Supes) is off of the 2002 Snoop Dogg album "Paid tha Cost to Be da Bo$$", which features a track entitled and discussing "Batman and Robin", which adopts the habit of most Batman-themed songs and remixes the theme song from the 60's TV Show. Snoop's song, incidentally, hasn't recieved nearly as much radio play as either Super-Song, if any at all.
So why? Why is it that between the two, the one who resonates with musicians and listeners is the Alien and not the man? The one who's indestructable and not the one who bleeds? Why is it that the only people who want to tackle a Batman song only want to sample the television show's theme? It seems to me that though Batman is a human being, Superman has issues that young people can identify with more easily. Superman knows how it feels to be different, Superman knows what it's like to feel responsible for things he can't control. And in addition, Superman knows how to live a morally just life. He is a possitive role model to children and young people who need direction. Nietzche called his Superman "the goal of human evolution", is ours really any different? Perhaps it is this balance of responsibility and humanity that makes him such a popular subject, just as folk singers used to sing about Paul Bunyon and Johnny Appleseed - positive figures who inspire us to lead good, morally upstanding lives.
As for the Dark Knight? He too feels responsible for the people he protects, but his lifestyle was chosen more or less out of a need for revenge. His justice seems to stem more from madness and despair, but haven't there been any songs on these topics before? Is Batman just not the kind of hero who can make a good song? It seems every attempt to do so has had a campy element to it in the vein of the TV Show, never bothering to aim daringly towards Batman's dark psychological nature. Listen to anything recorded by Prince for the Batman Film Soundtrack, and you will see that even he, working inside the constructs of a dark, gothic film couldn't find a melody to convey the character as he was theatrically portrayed, and stuck to party tunes like the "BatDance". In fact, shuffle through any number of the songs written specifically for the Batman franchise and behold their awkwardness. Is part of the problem that Batman simply doesn't lend himself to an easily discernable style? Perhaps even since Batman the word does not have as broad a significance as the word Superman, it is more difficult for a songwriter to incorporate the terminology in to their work, for fear of backlash by fans who don't like comic books or superhero stories.
Whatever the reason, Superman songs seem to be more prevalent than Batman songs, halting the argument of Who's better: Batman or Superman? far from any easy answer. Perhaps some day someone will find a way to correctly vocalize the Batman character's inner song, and Superman songs will not seem so much more prevailing. But until then, I'm not worried. It's all music. As long as it raises your spirits, up, up, and away...