METROPOLIS - It was a surprise for the rest of us, but colleagues of the two super-friends say today's simultaneous announcements that Superman and Batman would cease collaboration was no surprise to them.
In a statement issued today from his Fortress of Solitude, Superman said although he "holds his distinguished colleague in the highest regard," he did not believe Batman's "grass-roots" approach to battling evil was having a "significant impact on reducing aggregate evil."
"Arresting criminals does not diminish evil, only the number of evil people," the statement said. "We must battle evil itself! If there were fewer evil people but the same amount of evil …. there would be an evil surplus! Evil….would be more accessible! Great Gods! That means arresting criminals could cause a backlash that would threaten the peace-loving citizens of earth! Evil people would multiply like… like…evil bunnies! Time...running...out! Must….stop…evil!"
Meanwhile back at the Batcave, a press conference was being held. Gotham City's most powerful and important people were gathered in one place today to hear a statement from Batman spokesman and concierge Alfred. Some journalists were there too. Alfred told the conference that the darker half of the Dynamic Duo planned to redouble his efforts to beat back bad guys and battle crime in his own bat-way, and his own bat-time.
According to the statement, Batman will retire as an active member of the Justice League of America effective today. However, negotiations are currently being held for Batman to continue supplying them with weapons and technology.
After reading the statement, Alfred offered his usual avuncular, Socratic take on the bat-decision.
"Superman's commitment to Truth, Justice, and the American Way has always been an inspiration to the young master," he said. "But don't you think this cause is better served by stopping criminals in our own city rather than spending time, for example, stopping an uprising of robot drones from planet Zarquon?"
But with the split now in the past, another side of the story is beginning to surface - a much darker tale of a fragile, stilted relationship between two people with little common ground outside their commitment to a single cause.
"We used to joke that Batman's only real super-power was his ability to find Superman's last nerve and work it," says Hal Jordan, a fellow JLA agent. According to him, even the official reason given for the split had its roots in the undercurrent of personal antagonism.
"Strategy meetings went well because Batman is a master tactician," he said. "And as invincible as Superman might be, he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Batman would always put him on point … Superman got to be out in front, which he loves … and we would be behind him when the shit hit the fan, which was fine with us!"
But policy issues would exacerbate the personal conflict, according to Jordan. Batman would frequently get overruled for two reasons: The Justice League, which is mainly staffed by extraterrestrials, had their own motives for siding with Superman's big-picture approach. And Superman had a major political edge in that if he did not agree with a ruling, the JLA board had no real way to enforce it.
"It really bothered Batman that most of the time, all he could do was vote 'yes, but with protest.' A lot of meetings just degenerated into potshots and mudslinging."
Outside the chambers, insiders say the two had little contact, avoiding each other when possible. And as it turns out, the now-you-see-them, now-you-don't behavior that has become a stereotype of superhero appearances originally had little to do with the desire to be enigmatic. While rookie heroes emulate the routine as part of their development, veterans share a chuckle over the legendary efforts of Superman and Batman to get away from each other as quickly and tactfully as possible.
"Batman had a sprinkler timer hooked up to the bat-signal … if he had to be somewhere Superman was going to be, he used to set it to go off ten minutes after he got there," explained Gotham Police Commissioner Jim Gordon. As for Superman, where did Clark Kent disappear to when superhero stuff started happening?
"Anywhere Batman wasn't!" laughs Jimmy Olsen, a long time friend of Superman and reporter for Metropolis newspaper "The Daily Planet".
But what really caused the rift between the two heroes? In a recent appearance on CNN's "Crossfire," Olsen and former Batman sidekick Dick Grayson debated the issue.
"Batman can be really harsh sometimes," Olsen said. "And he would do stuff like say obnoxious things about people in a really loud voice as though they couldn't hear him."
"Deep down, Superman is a farm boy. I mean, do you think he could keep up that hokey Clark Kent act if there wasn't some truth in it? But it's not like he's this gap-toothed yokel with his overall straps falling down. He's worked hard to break out of that hicktown stigma and his family gave up a lot to get him the breaks he needed. So Superman is really uptight about people who can't comport themselves properly in public, because he knows how important your image is to your credibility."
But while former Dark Knight cohort Dick Grayson agreed that Batman's personality was an acquired taste, he disagreed on who was being harsh.
"Batman can be … well, let's just say 'difficult.' Especially when he's been drinking," Grayson confessed. "But he's just high-strung. He has anxiety issues, you know. What with his parents and that thing. But if you give him a chance, he's really just a big love sponge."
Grayson went on to describe Superman as an "elitist" and a "control freak."
"Superman would never just let him be who he was, because the only way to be friends with Superman is to be what he thinks you should be. And if you don't meet his high-and-mighty standards he treats you like a pet who can't be paper trained."
In the end, however, we are left only with the black and white of what is and the gray of why. From the sources themselves, Batman has managed to elude even the most dedicated reporters. And when asked for his take on Superman's relationship with Batman, alter-ego Clark Kent only snapped, "I am Superman!"
"I mean, I am not Superman!" he added angrily, trying to clean his glasses without taking them off, and accidentally poking himself in the eye.