…what is pretty evident, however, is that Superman and Batman exist as a Taoist dualism, a yin to each other’s yang. Superman represents the positive potential of the superhero, always championing mercy, self-determination and self-mastery; Batman is the dark reflection, caught up by violence and driven by personal demons. Even their civilian identities are paralleled. Clark Kent is polite, clumsy and socially awkward and determinedly monogamous in her pursuit of Lois Lane: Bruce Wayne is wealthy, a socialite and promiscuous with his attentions. That these alter-egos are designed to disguise the hero’s ‘authentic’ identity ensures that their secret identities embody many of the qualities that their superheroic persona cannot contain – weakness for Superman, although it has been suggested that Clark Kent operates as a parody of human frailty as seen from Superman’s alien perspective, and social acceptability for Batman, as he is exactly the kind of entrepreneur who has increasingly been celebrated as a champion of capitalism to the extent that his preoccupation with street-level crime can be regarded as a defence of more conservative social hierarchies.
This dualism is not, however, reflected in the relationship between the characters during the Golden Age. The first time that they appear together in a story – as opposed to sharing a cover – sees them collecting money for orphans (All-Star Comics #7 (November-December 1941)), but it is over a decade later that they start spending any serious amount of time together. In Superman #76 (May-June 1952) they learn each other’s secret identities – a form of ‘coming out’ for the superhero. World’s Finest Comics #71 (July-August 1954) institutes a regular series of team-ups between the two and, in keeping with the Golden Age’s straightforward moral codes, there is no argument about the heroes’ differing approaches to crime-fighting.
It is only during ‘The Marvel Age’ that a superhero team-up would follow the pattern of initial distrust and conflict before the resolution arrived and the villains found themselves facing a double beating.
So, when Batman and Superman face off in that terrible film, it was less a variation on their history in the comic books than a steal from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight (which is apparently the only book that the director read, despite it being out of continuity and a particular, strong interpretation of the Batman mythos and not typical). DC did get in on the ‘superheroes having a row’ act in 1970, long after Marvel had introduced and exhausted the theme.
Here’s the inevitable link to someone talking about Green Lentern/Green Arrow #76.