WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Shazam #12 by Jeff Loveness, Brandon Peterson, Mike Atiyeh and Rob Leigh, available now.
While Batman and Superman are close friends, there’s also an unspoken rivalry between the two. One is the most feared superhero on the planet, and the other is one of the most respected figures in the DC Universe. Superman and Batman represent two sides of the same coin: one is the bright hope meant to inspire the world from Metropolis, and the other is the Dark Knight who works in the shadows of Gotham City. While their methods and stories are usually as different as night and day, they also both fight to make the world a better, safer place.
This rivalry has been the source of many confrontations between the characters, both for fun and on a more serious note. The respect they have for one another makes them the World’s Finest — but they are also known to poke fun at each other. And such is the case in Shazam! #12, when Batman admits, once and for all, that he is better than Superman.
Shazam! #12 takes a break from the current “Seven Magiclands” storyline to feature a special story taking place before the events of Shazam! #1. Here, we first find Billy Batson’s powerful alter ego, Shazam, taking on a villainous anthropomorphic Crocodile Man named Herkimer, which prompts Freddy Freeman to recognize that Shazam doesn’t really have good villains outside of Black Adam and Doctor Sivana — not like Batman, who has Joker, Riddler, Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Bane and many, many more. Therefore, in an attempt to prove he’s ready to take on bigger villains, Billy flies to Gotham City.
Once he’s there, it doesn’t take him long to learn that Scarecrow is once again planning another attack on Gotham City. Shazam finds Crane in an abandoned warehouse, but the villain gets the drop on him and infects him with a dose of his fear gas.
Thankfully, Batman soon arrives to break Shazam free of the compound’s effects, and the two superheroes then join forces to take out the Scarecrow. Once the villain is defeated, Batman warns Billy that what he did was reckless. Billy understands that he messed up, and he apologizes. He explains that he just wants to help. And Batman then does something he rarely does: he goes easy on him, and tells him to take his time to become the superhero he wants to be.
Then, before they part ways, Billy says: “So… this count as a team-up?” Naturally, Batman answers that no, it isn’t a team-up. “Okay. sure,” Billy says in jest. “I get it. Fine. You only team up with Superman.” “Don’t be stupid,” Batman answers. “Superman teams up with me.” And with that, he jumps away.
The line is obviously meant as a jab at Superman, but it also highlights how Batman perceives his relationship with Superman. While the two of them are friends and Superman has all the superpowers of a Kryptonian, Batman still sees himself as the dominant force in their relationship.
It’s also worth noting that Batman is well aware that Shazam is really a child, and Batman seems to draw on his years of working with young heroes like Robin with this interaction. By telling Billy Batson this, Batman lets him in on a secret and validates Billy’s status as a trustworthy peer in the process. Even if Batman wasn’t being totally sincere, Billy Batson can still say he joked around with Batman, which a rare feat within the DC Universe.
The Dark Knight may just be a man, but moments like this show why so many — including Superman — consider Batman to be the greatest superhero in the DC Universe. And if his comments in this issue are any indication, Batman agrees.
In Jeff Loveness and Brandon Peterson's Shazam! #12, a team-up between Billy and Batman leads the Dark Knight to say what he thinks about Superman.