I want to play along with our pop culture superhero obsession, I do. I've seen the movies and the TV series, I've read several dozen superhero comics. My boys pretend to be the Flash and Captain America. But at the end of the day, I don't care that awful much about Superman or the Avengers or even Spider-Man. Give me Batman.
Mostly. I do have a thing for Wonder Woman, and I've developed an affection for Spider-Woman that's kind of hard to explain. I'll watch the next season of Daredevil and I’ll follow Arrow until it jumps the shark. My interest in those characters, however, is pretty limited, even casual. But Batman? I'll read pretty much anything with his name on the cover.
For me, Batman has the most spiritual narratives. I'd venture to say that, in general, D.C. excels Marvel in exploring the hero's soul, and no soul is darker than Bruce Wayne's.
Bruce Wayne suffered the ultimate psychic injustice in witnessing his parents’ murders. That fact, combined with the Gothic setting and the hard-boiled tone (a descendent of Gothic), makes for a hero not just up against incredible odds but against a fundamentally unjust world. Every criminal is his parents’ murderer. Every supervillain embodies the pervasive moral evil at the heart of us all. Other heroes live in worlds where most people are basically good. Batman, like the hard-boiled detective, lives in a broken world and knows he’s as broken as anyone, but he fights tooth and nail to do good anyway.
Arguably, Batman’s mythos is the most nihilistic in that it depends the least on luck, i.e., on something happening just in time because the good guys always win. Batman wins because he spends his free time thinking of and planning for every contingency; he wins by sheer force of will. And, yet, it remains the most spiritual precisely because it takes the pervasiveness of evil so seriously and because Batman opposes absolute evil with moral absolutes: criminals must answer to the law; no killing.
I think that’s why fans often favor him over Superman, and why in Justice League stories Batman somehow manages if not to be the key hero to somehow still be right. Superman, as Frank Miller showed in The Dark Knight Returns, is too public and thus can become co-opted by national governments. Wonder Woman is an outsider. The other guys are aliens or simply lack adequate cool. Batman stands for the capacity of the individual human to do what’s right in the face of insurmountable odds.
I’m aware of the merits of other heroes, and I’m sure you can point to a storyline here or there that’s worth reading, but I have my doubts that any other superhero story can really look into the abyss like Batman can. Iron-Man’s cool. Hulk’s anger mirrors our own inner rage. But for the icon of the human fronting an evil world, give me Batman.