There are a couple of eternal arguments going on in my life. These arguments are everlasting battles of will against any who stand opposed to my beliefs in the particular subject matter. These get so involved that most people who get into these arguments with me get to the point where we just agree to disagree on the topic and leave it at that, with a possible re-visiting of the topic at some future point in time when either of us are bored.
One of these arguments is who is the better character: Batman or Superman? Before I get started let me be perfectly clear: I'm not going to be going over the history of these characters. They are both so ingrained in American mythology that practically everyone knows some version of their history. If you don't know, look it up. There's some good story lines there!
In DC comics, there are three flagship characters. These three are the core of the DC universe, both in the comics and in the company itself. They are, in order: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman. You might wonder why the Amazonian princess isn't in contention here. The simple answer is comic books were/are/will be created mostly for boys. Girls have much more important things to do than read comics and argue about the relative strengths of the lead characters in those comics. Since Wonder Woman was created to appeal to girls, she has the privilege of being an undeniably awesome character and enjoys the presence of no real rival, whereas the rivalry between Superman & Batman has existed since Batman first came on the scene.
Let's start with the Man of Steel. To be fair, my position isn't that Superman is a bad character. There are a great many compelling story lines in his saga. I've enjoyed reading his comics, watching SOME of his shows, and some of his movies. Not to mention that Superman represents the unconscious fantasies of most American males. I will give all that to Supes. But the man is still an idiot. Superman grew up in a world that could never touch him. Granted, it took time for most of his flashy powers(like heat vision or flight) to develop, but he was invulnerable & super strong pretty much from childhood. This colors his perceptions now as an adult super-hero. Since nothing can ever hurt him, he always favors frontal assault style tactics. Bullets start flying, he gets in front of them. Lasers start flying, there he goes jumping in front. A bad guy shows up, Supes flies in through a wall and just starts breaking stuff. For someone who is loaded with so much supposedly advanced knowledge (all his training and learning from Krypton), Superman's thinking is remarkably limited. He's like a sledgehammer. There is rarely a time where he actually stops to think about what would be the most effective use of his powers in a given situation.
His greatest villain, Lex Luthor, has survived against the most powerful man on Earth for years simply by outsmarting him at every level. For all his power and personal charisma, Superman's greatest vulnerability (aside from the skittles rainbow of Kryptonite available) is his mind. The worse part is, he does NOTHING to improve himself, or expand his mind. In his mind, his strength comes from his abilities and so his abilities are the answer to everything. Superman isn't a bad character, he's just an idiotic one.
Then there's the Dark Knight. In essence, my position is that Batman is just better than Superman. I've always found it amazing, funny and exceptionally cool that the hero ranked second in the DC pantheon and biggest rival to Superman is a man who is a "super hero" (I debate that classification, but I'll use the term for ease of reference.) with no super-human abilities of any kind. Where Superman represents the ultimate fantasy of American males (some would argue males in general), Batman represents the height of human capability. No one could ever BE Superman, but with proper training, and enough money, a person can actually BE Batman. And that's a major key to the character. He represents the current pinnacle of what humanity can ACTUALLY achieve, should we CHOOSE to do it. Batman is a super hero because he DECIDED to be one. When he made that decision, he knew he would do whatever it took, make every necessary sacrifice, all to reach his goal. That decision colors everything in Batman's world.
Batman looks at every situation from a cold, pragmatic standpoint, picking and choosing his options with precision and doing exactly what is necessary to get the job done. Even DURING encounters, he's evaluating, assessing, adapting. Where Superman is a sledgehammer, Batman is a sword. Focused, subtle, yet powerful. A lot of people ridicule Bats because of all the gadgets he uses. But, look at it this way, every encounter Batman has, he learns from and makes himself better for his next encounter. He gathers information, and whatever he couldn't accomplish on his own, he designs & builds a tool to HELP him get the job done. It is my belief that the best way to beat Batman is to kill him during the first encounter. After that, he'll adapt and be able to overcome in the next encounter. It's also telling, that with all the knowledge that Superman possesses, he still goes to Batman for advice (and assistance). Ironically, Batman's greatest weakness is the very thing that defines him: he is only human. Mind-to-mind, Batman is virtually unbeatable.
At the end of the day, that cold focused determination, the determination to face the darkness of the world with the darkness inside him, the willingness to conceive of things other people, even other HEROES, don't want to see... those things are what makes Batman so appealing to me. Superman will never compare to that in a million years. Even to step on that playing field, Supes would have to become darker than he would ever allow. At heart, Superman will always be the Big Blue Boyscout and Batman will always be The Dark Knight.