Sorry, it’s not the DC vs Marvel II smackdown you’ve all (= nobody) been waiting for. Both comic-books are edging toward a remarkably similar status quo – in the case of Captain America it’s to make sure that Steve Rogers is wielding the shield in time for July’s Captain America: The First Avenger, and in the case of Batman it’s because Bruce Wayne will be forever the Caped Crusader and nobody can overwrite half a century of TV serials, movies and mythology.
There’s a sense of inevitability to this, as by sheer coincidence both have been governed by a remarkably similar chain of events over the last few years – here’s how they stack up.
The return of the sidekick presumed dead
Batman: Awkward second Robin Jason Todd, a character so unpopular that readers voted to have the Joker bludgeon him to death like the episode of Big Brother we’ve all been begging for, is rescued by Talia Al Ghul and brought back from the dead with a Lazarus pit to be used against Batman. Already a bit of a shit, the experience drives him mad. Batman finds him at the heart of a mystery and confronts him, thereby confronting his own guilt.
Read: Batman: Hush vol 2
Captain America: Plucky kid soldier Bucky, thought dead over the North Sea, is rescued by the cast of Hunt For The Red October and brought back to life with the aid of advanced Soviet cybernetics to be used against the hated capitalist pig dogs. His brain completely wiped, he’s reprogrammed Bourne-style. Captain America finds him at the heart of a conspiracy and confronts him, thereby confronting his own guilt.
Winner: Captain America, the Winter Soldier storyline was pure Cold War thriller. Nobody liked Jason Todd in the first place, let alone when he’s consciously written to be unlikeable.
The death of the title character
Batman: Killed by Darkseid’s Omega Sanction death gaze in Final Crisis issue 6, a sprawling cosmic clean-up of a mess that was created by a previous sprawling cosmic clean-up, linking up like a Human Centipede right back to 1985’s Crisis On Infinite Earths.
Read: Final Crisis
Captain America: Following his surrender to the government after the brutal Civil War, he is shot on the courthouse steps by what first appears to be Red Skull enforcer Crossbones, but is later revealed to be his lover and SHIELD handler Sharon Carter acting under hypnotic programming.
Winner: Captain America. As a courtesy, a character’s death should happen in his own book as opposed to being cynically shoehorned into a major event you’d otherwise have no interest in. Captain America’s death felt like the natural conclusion of Ed Brubaker’s run on the series, as well as logical outcome to Civil War – he died like a statesman. Batman, meanwhile, the world’s greatest detective and terror of the night, was killed by the magic eyes of an alien god.
The psychotic replacement
Batman: Jason Todd dons an armoured version of Batman’s outfit and shoots loads of criminals. Tim Drake asks him to stop, unsuccessfully, so Dick Grayson steps in to make him stop.
Captain America: The Punisher, lured out of his Garth Ennis-derived crime noir pocket universe in order to fire a rocket launcher at Stilt Man (really), dons an armoured, skull-adorned version of Captain America’s outfit and shoots loads of criminals. Winter Soldier/Bucky asks him to stop, successfully, after a spot of Alpha Male posturing from both of them.
Winner: Draw, both were dreadful. Jason Todd, as is already established, is just fundamentally charmless as a character, and the pain of having the Punisher back in the Marvel Universe proper was bad enough without seeing him in a horrible Captain Ameripunish outfit. It makes you pine for Xtreme Nineties Azrael Batman.
The well meaning, but nonetheless unsuitable replacement
Batman: Tim Drake, the third Robin, dons the Bat-suit to confront Jason, getting a Batarang in his abdomen for his trouble. He gives it a go because he feels someone needs to be Batman.
Captain America: Following Cap’s death, Iron Man, who is sort of responsible for it in the first place, convinces Clint Barton, currently Ronin and formerly Hawkeye, to take up the shield as his skill set makes him suitable to wield it. Some children (Patriot and Hawkeye from the Young Avengers) talk him out of it. He gives it a go because Iron Man feels someone needs to be Captain America.
Winner: Draw, both were lovely character pieces that said a lot about where they were at. Clint needed a purpose and Tim understood the dynamic of ‘Batman and Robin’ so well that he knew the world needed one. Everyone wins, that’s nice isn’t it?
The return of the original
Batman: It turns out that Darkseid’s magic murder vision didn’t kill Bruce, it just transported him back in time where he has to lay the foundation for his own future, or some shit, until a bunch time travelling characters rescue him. Or he rescues himself. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Captain America: It turned out that the assassin’s bullet didn’t kill Steve, it just transported him back in time where he has to replay his greatest battles throughout history, or some shit, until his Scooby Gang rescue him. Or he rescues himself. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Read: Captain America: Reborn
Winner: Captain America, but it was nearly a draw. Both are equally stupid, but at least Captain America’s involves his own allies and rogues gallery, and not Booster Gold, Vandal Savage, Johan Hex and Rip Hunter. Also, all of Batman’s ‘historical’ counterparts feel like they’re from a whacky Simpsons episode or something – serious, Bat-pirate and Bat-caveman.
My two daddies
Batman: With Bruce Wayne gone, Dick Grayson, the original sidekick, takes up the mantel, confronting his own inadequacies and finally being allowed to make his own mark on the role. Then Bruce comes back and decides they can both be Batman.
Captain America: With Steve Rogers gone, Bucky Barnes, the original sidekick, takes up the mantel, confronting his own inadequacies and finally being allowed to make his own mark on the role.Then Steve comes back and decides Bucky can continue being Captain America, while he takes over SHIELD as Commander Rogers.
Winner: The jury’s still out. Bucky has gone to prison for the crimes he committed as Winter Soldier and Steve looks primed to take up the shield once more, meanwhile Dick is being set up as incompetent in all the Bat-books which feels like a prelude to demotion. It’s a massive kick in the nuts for readers who have followed the characters for years and have been rewarded with some rare progression for properties usually frozen in continuity amber.
Whoever wins, we’ll probably lose.