In my comic book reading lifetime, I’ve seen these characters as friends, allies, opponents, and blood enemies. I used to know that those last two would usually be an imaginary story, a ruse played on the villains, or else the temporary result of Red Kryptonite/mind control — emphasis on “used to.”

I don’t need them to be Super Friends like this…

…or sports buddies like on this Jack Burnley cover…

…but the “their methods are so different they’ll never trust each other” approach has never worked for me as the status quo.

This old issue was my first taste of the characters as “rivals” — even though it was a standard 1950s DC tale of easily solved problems & mistaken identity:

(Art by Win Mortimer) 

World’s Finest covers could always be counted on to offer glimpses into the unknown/unimaginable…

(Art by Curt Swan)

(Art by Neal Adams)

(Art by Ed Hannigan & Klaus Janson)

Then everyone lost their minds for The Dark Knight Returns. I include myself in that “everyone,” and the feud made sense in context of an imaginary story.

(Art by Frank Miller & Lynn Varley)

Still, issue #3 — Batman’s final confrontation with the Joker — was the highlight of the series for me, not the throwdown with Superman.

After the wild success of DKR, this dynamic seemed to creep into the “real” DC titles; suddenly, Superman was the boring “Boy Scout” to Batman’s edgy cool. No thank you.

Two of the best at finding the middle ground between extremes were John Byrne and Mark Waid (though they’d no doubt bristle at being included in the same sentence).

From Man of Steel

(Art by Byrne & Dick Giordano)

From Kingdom Come

(Art by Alex Ross)

The excellent “World’s Finest” crossover between the two animated series made me feel 10 years old again in the best way.

The nadir of this concept, the absolute rock bottom for this reader/viewer was a certain movie…

Of all my problems with the story — and it’s a long list — number one would be that Batman’s entire plan is the MURDER OF SUPERMAN! Not a hoax, not a dream, not an imaginary story.

Frank Miller’s operatic conflict looks subtle in comparison.

I realized later what had been itching in the back of my mind for the whole runtime: this would’ve been a perfect Earth-3 story, because the characters as presented work beautifully as Ultraman and Owl Man. Unfortunately they were dressed up as Superman and Batman.

Oh well. To end on a positive note, here are two favorite images from over the decades. First, some Neal Adams insanity…

And it’s always nice to let Darwyn Cooke have the last word (from New Frontier).