Article: Why Superman Actually Won in The Dark Knight Returns

To tie in with the release of Batman V. Superman in theaters (and no, I haven’t seen it yet.) I thought I’d post some clickbait to cash in  this quick article looking at their most famous confrontation in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which Snyder’s new film seems to be heavily borrowing from.

There are spoilers for a comic from 1986 ahead. 

The Dark Knight Returns is often used as an example of Batman beating Superman. Batman fans love that it happened. Superman fans hate that it happened. But Batman beating Superman seems to be the clear interpretation for most.

This mostly comes from Bruce’s one inner monologue line “I want you to remember the one man who beat you.” However, let’s look at what actually happens in the fight.

Superman is already weakened by a nuclear explosion blotting out the sun that almost killed him. Batman makes himself a suit of armor that drains the entire city’s power grid and gets Green Arrow to help him.


So from the start, this is clearly not an even fight. Batman’s fighting him while he’s in a weakened condition AND he’s brought in help.

But he still beats him, right?

No. Not even a little.

He gets in a few shots. But Superman?


That’s right. Three ribs. Throughout Superman’s inner monologue, he’s FAR more concerned with Batman’s health than his own. He’s clearly holding back.

But Batman wins in the end, right?

Let’s go back to that line about the one man who beat him. We have the panels here.


See that? That’s a flatline. Because Bruce is faking a heart attack. The whole fight is a fake because he knows he can’t beat Superman. The last image of the fight we get is this:


Superman’s injuries seem pretty minor, all things considered. It’s impressive that Batman was able to injure him, but I wouldn’t call that a victory considering that Superman broke three ribs. Yes, Batman accomplished his goal of faking his death, but that isn’t the same thing as winning a fight.

What Batman accomplished is more than that. He’s destroyed both Batman and Bruce Wayne because he knows now what Superman already knew: superheroes can’t work in Frank Miller’s world. They’re too loud, too political. Superman’s response is to work with the government, saving people in secret, trying to do his best to keep the world safe from behind the scenes. Batman keeps doing what he’s always done: punching criminals in the face and hoping that solves things. But it won’t. Superman was right. Oliver Queen was right.

Batman has to die and become a ghost, someone who can do things from behind the scenes. But even this can’t really be a victory because it only works since Superman lets him get away with it.


Superman knows what Bruce is doing and he approves in the most Superman way he can. If he’d wanted to dig Bruce up and drag him to the authorities, he could have. But he lets his friend go because Bruce has finally realized the truth and “grown up.”

So in conclusion, I’m giving this one to the man who walked away after a nuclear explosion, Kryptonite, and a city’s worth of power were thrown at him with nothing more than a few cuts and a bruised lip. The “Batman beat Superman” claim all across the Internet is at best debatable and at worst flat-out wrong.

7 thoughts on “Article: Why Superman Actually Won in The Dark Knight Returns

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  1. You see? You’ve said exactly what I have been saying all along. Without Kryptonite and any other thing that can weaken Superman, like a lack of our yellow sun,etc, Batman CANNOT beat Superman under normal conditions! Period!! Superman can crush him like a bug! And, I am a big fan of both heroes. But, I know that if these guys WERE real, Superman could beat Batman with no problem!

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