The end of a friendship can feel like a war, but that’s never more true than when we’re talking about the Justice League. Breakups can be messy, but when both parties are superheroes there’s no telling how much damage there will be or who will get caught in the crossfire. Injustice is the latest DC animated movie, and it tells the story of how the superhero community is torn apart when Superman embraces his darkest side. Based on the hit video game and comic book series, I previously compared the film to Super Friends meets Game of Thrones, but I think it can also be described as a breakup movie.
Batman and Superman have one of the most legendary friendships in superhero mythology (just look at those old World’s Finest covers), so it stands to reason that the end of their relationship would change the world. After the Joker tricks Superman into killing Lois Lane, the Man of Steel loses touch with his moral center and takes a new fascist approach to crimefighting. Batman tries to stop his friend from going down his bleak new path, but in the end, Bruce is forced to stand against Clark and the entire world finds itself caught in the middle. Is it possible that Batman and Superman’s friendship is what held the DC Universe together this entire time?
It’s almost as if the Joker wasn’t going after Superman when he targeted Lois. He knew the death of Lois and the destruction of Metropolis would wreck the Man of Steel, but perhaps his true target was Batman. Maybe the Joker wanted to strike at the Dark Knight by corrupting one of his best friends. Did the Joker have the foresight to know how this would tear the superhero community apart, or was that just a bonus for him? We’ll never know how much method there was to the Clown Prince’s madness because he didn’t live long enough to see the superhero civil war play out.
“There are some things even you can’t corrupt,” Batman tells the Joker. Batman had faith that Superman would do the right thing, and the Joker took that away from him.
During my first viewing of the movie, I pondered when Superman reached the point of no return. Was it when he killed the Joker, made his own prison, or slaughtered the kids at the rave? There’s a lot to unpack, but in light of my theory about his friendship with Batman being the lynchpin, perhaps it’s best to ask a different question: at what moment did the World’s Finest friendship fall apart?
It would be easy to point to their confrontation in the Batcave or Nightwing’s death, but Batman and Superman’s friendship crumbled during their first conversation in the Watchtower after the Joker’s murder. Superman needed compassion and let’s face it, that has never been Batman’s thing. The Dark Knight takes a rough approach with the Man of Steel, chastising him for killing the Joker and telling him he isn’t allowed to get angry. I get where Batman is coming from, but telling a man who just lost his city, his wife and his unborn child that they can’t be angry is irresponsible.
Batman has experienced loss. He knows how to channel that anger and he has trained his Robins to do the same. Why couldn’t he take that approach with Superman? I understand Bruce’s dilemma, since Superman going around killing people unchecked creates problems for society’s relationship with the superhero community. He had to take a tough line, but Clark also needed empathy. The Man of Steel needed compassion and he needed it from his friend.
That moment in the Watchtower is where the schism between Clark and Bruce began. If Batman had been more compassionate (which is a pretty tall order), then the fate of the entire superhero community would very likely have been different. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not victim blaming here. This absolutely doesn’t excuse the Joker’s role or Superman’s personal responsibility, but I truly believe Batman could’ve pulled his buddy from the abyss if he had tried harder to be a friend.
Still, to take the question even farther, this does make me wonder who Superman would be in a world without Batman and visa versa. Bruce and Clark each push each other to be the best version of themselves. They challenge each other on a personal level and know how to keep each other honest. When Batman and Superman work together, there is no limit to what they can do. But as Injustice demonstrates, when Batman and Superman are at odds, the world suffers.
Everyone loses someone in Injustice, and everyone reacts differently to that loss. Superman loses Lois and embraces authoritarianism and fascism. Harley loses the Joker and embraces heroism. Batman loses Nightwing and embraces his mission, and countless people lose someone in Metropolis. Everyone loses someone, but the DC Universe loses the World’s Finest team. After looking at all the evidence, that may have been the biggest loss of all.
Injustice is now available on 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack, Blu-ray and Digital wherever movies are sold.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.