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Batman And Superman Are Totally BFFs

“Batman v. Superman,” which is regrettably not a landmark Supreme Court decision1 but rather the hot movie ticket of the weekend, is the first major team-up in DC Comics’ foray into interlocking live-action movie universes. We’ve got the big three heavy hitters front and center — Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. In case the title isn’t enough to get the point across, this first installment involves Bats and Superman beating the hell out of each other.

This is peculiar, because Batman and Superman have by far the longest-running bromance in the history of DC Comics.

They’re the two big-ticket items of the DC universe, so naturally they interact on occasion. But the ties that bind them run far deeper than almost any other relationship either one shares: Batman has appeared alongside Kal-El more than any Robin, more than Alfred, more even than work-wife Commissioner Gordon. Superman has appeared alongside Bruce Wayne as often as he’s appeared with Lois Lane.

Make no mistake: The two loves in Supes’ life are a rock-star reporter and a guy who dresses up as a bat. Batman has his assortment of young wards, to be sure, but in the end the defining friendship of his life is with Superman.

Showing this involved pulling every single listed comic book appearance for Bruce Wayne and Kal-El across four unique universes2 listed in the DC Comics Wikia catalog, and then pulling every character who appeared in each of those.

At first I was expecting some sturdy competition for who was more independent. Batman seems to be a guy who does his own thing a lot; maybe that makes Superman the one in the relationship with a really one-sided text message history. Surprisingly not the case!

CHARACTER AKA NO. OF APPEARANCES SHARE OF COMICS
1 Kal-El Superman 1901 32%
2 Richard Grayson Nightwing/Robin 1846 32
3 James Gordon 1546 26
4 Alfred Pennyworth 1435 25
5 Diana of Themyscira Wonder Woman 1130 19
6 J’onn J’onzz Martian Manhunter 821 14
7 Timothy Drake Robin 799 14
8 Oliver Queen Green Arrow 785 13
9 Barbara Gordon Oracle 700 12
10 Hal Jordan Green Lantern 699 12
11 Orin/Arthur Curry Aquaman 689 12
12 Joker Joker 680 12
13 Bartholomew Allen The Flash 611 10
14 Katar Hol/Carter Hall Hawkman 589 10
15 Wallace West The Flash 581 10
16 Dinah Laurel Lance Black Canary 547 9
17 Selina Kyle Catwoman 489 8
18 Kara Zor-El Supergirl 424 7
19 Lois Lane 422 7
20 Raymond Palmer The Atom 386 7
21 Oswald Cobblepot The Penguin 356 6
22 Jason Todd Robin 352 6
23 Roy Harper Speedy 352 6
24 Harvey Bullock 349 6
25 Kyle Rayner Green Lantern 301 5
Who appears in Batman comics?

Source: DC Wikia

Or maybe Superman is social enough that he’s the one with Batman as his fourth or fifth groomsman. He has a friend whose entire shtick is that he’s “Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen,” after all. But it turns out that Superman is all about his gal and Batman:

CHARACTER AKA NO. OF APPEARANCES SHARE OF COMICS
1 Lois Lane 1930 36%
2 Bruce Wayne Batman 1901 35
3 Diana of Themyscira Wonder Woman 1331 25
4 James Olsen 1175 22
5 Perry White 910 17
6 Kara Zor-El Supergirl 883 16
7 J’onn J’onzz Martian Manhunter 813 15
8 Hal Jordan Green Lantern 806 15
9 Alexander Luthor Lex Luthor 798 15
10 Orin/Arthur Curry Aquaman 754 14
11 Oliver Queen Green Arrow 726 14
12 Richard Grayson Nightwing/Robin 651 12
13 Bartholomew Allen The Flash 647 12
14 Katar Hol/Carter Hall Hawkman 647 12
15 Wallace West The Flash 604 11
16 Dinah Laurel Lance Black Canary 479 9
17 Raymond Palmer The Atom 463 9
18 Kon-El Superboy 436 8
19 Lana Lang 393 7
20 Kyle Rayner Green Lantern 379 7
21 Jonathan Kent 365 7
22 Martha Clark 358 7
23 Roy Harper Speedy 341 6
24 Alan Scott Green Lantern 329 6
25 Jason Garrick The Flash 304 6
Who appears in Superman comics?

Source: DC Wikia

Batman hangs out with Superman slightly more than he hangs out with the longest-running Robin, Dick Grayson. Taking the Robins as a whole would put them ahead of Supes, but that’s cheating. It’s similar with Superman. Lois Lane edges out Bats by 29 appearances out of nearly 2,000. Only around a fifth of Batman’s and Superman’s joint appearances were linked to the Justice League or the Justice Society of America, which means they do hang out extracurricularly.

About a fifth of Batman’s and a quarter of Superman’s appearances also involve Wonder Woman.3 This is most likely due to all of their longtime memberships in various Justice-related organizations, but still there are extracurricular team-ups.

A few other observations:

  • That makes Diana of Themyscira a bigger person in Superman’s life than alleged ”pal” Jimmy Olsen, who I assume is the most emotionally and existentially devastated by these findings.
  • Superman hangs out with his parents in about 7 percent of comic books. Batman, eh, not so much.
  • Green Arrow gets around far more than I would have imagined. Ditto for the assorted Flashes and Green Lanterns
  • Aquaman, despite generations in comics, gets around approximately as much as I expected him to. Aquaman gets “new phone, who this” approximately once a month. He is on nobody’s Friends & Family plan. Still, by virtue of his larger league memberships, he seems to have appeared in about as many Batman comics as The Joker. He gets a participation trophy.

Now clearly, number of appearances is not always an indicator of close friendship. Just because they appeared together in a comic doesn’t necessarily mean they were allies, indeed, throughout their immense history, Superman and Batman have often been at crosspurposes. This appears to be where we find ourselves this weekend at the cinema.

In the end, however, Superman and Batman will work things out. I mean, they were in a group called the “Super Friends.”4

Footnotes

  1. Yet.
  2. The absolute basics: Earth-Two is the designation for DC Golden Age comic books, the ones where the heroes sometimes punch Hitler but otherwise have jolly adventures. Earth-One refers to continuity during the Silver Age, and because this two-earth arrangement was a massive pain they made a new continuity, New Earth, during an event called “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” Then some more stuff happened, but long story short in 2011 they relaunched the DC universe in a thing called Prime Earth. I pulled the appearances of Superman, Batman and anyone else appearing in the books only if they were from Earth-One, Earth-Two, New Earth or Prime Earth. Entities outside those continuities were disregarded. If there was a crossover and two characters from different worlds were hanging out, efforts were made to make sure this was counted as a single character appearance. Still, there are potentially some differences between the number of appearances we list and the actual ones, but my main point is that’s because of DC’s duct-taped-together timeline, and I’m asking you to throw me a bone because I really tried to fix it.
  3. I’m going to hedge on the actual number, just because her Golden Age appearances were under “Diana of Paradise Island” and subsequent appearances were under “Diana of Themyscira,” which is presumably Greek or whatever for “Paradise Island.” Anyway, sometimes these characters appeared contemporaneously and it’s probably not a whole lot of the time, but still I’ll hedge.
  4. By the way, played end to end, the “Super Friends” opening sequences basically are like a Hanna-Barbera “Too Many Cooks,” it really has to be seen to be believed.

Walt Hickey is FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.

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