Even to American ears, we suspect, Superman's pledge to uphold "truth, justice and the American way" has come to sound like a relic. So it is no surprise that the Man of Steel has lost out to a mere earthling with a cool car: Batman, not Superman, has been named the greatest comic hero ever in a poll of readers of the magazine Comic Heroes.
We're not surprised. Fictional heroes echo their times. When Superman arrived on our planet, via Action Comics in 1938, the "American Century" was in full swing. Superman was a metaphor for a robust but naive country. Almost invincible, wise, beloved, raised by a humble small-town family, handsome but shy with girls, holding a steady job, Superman/Clark Kent perfectly reflected America's self-image during and after the Second World War. Americans are not so cocksure today.
Batman, who appeared in 1939 in Detective Comics, has always been a much less sunny personality, which makes him better attuned to our troubled times. It's no coincidence that Batman has grown in stature, in cinema and elsewhere in popular culture, in recent years.
Batman/Bruce Wayne is a "grim avenger in the night", a billionaire scientist with no superpowers, a "dark knight" dedicated to fighting crime because as a boy he saw his parents murdered. In today's world everybody, even a superhero, is also a victim. And it never hurts to be rich.