"The admiration that comes from the security we give becomes worship. Faith in a higher being is one thing. Faith in a higher being who lives among you -- is another."
"That's always happened. You have cults. You do, Clark. So does Diana. They're out there."
- Superman to Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) in The Power of Ion (Green Lantern issue #149)
“Our job, our purpose, is to protect people in the grand scheme of things. We keep the world spinning on its axis. Proverbially and literally. When the unimaginable occurs we step in and throttle the life out of it. We allow humanity to keep on living. But we don't do their living for them. Humanity helping humanity. And when you take all that out of their hands.. they aren't living, they're being kept. And when that happens... it changes. ”
- Superman in The Power of Ion (Green Lantern issue #149)
"Yes, it's Superman - strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman - who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel with his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a neverending battle for Truth, Justice, and the American Way."
- The opening narration of The Adventures of Superman as spoken by Bill Kennedy
"Look! Up in the sky!! It's a bird! It's a plane! IT'S SUPERMAN!!! "
- The opening narration of The Adventures of Superman as spoken by Bill Kennedy
June 20th, 2006
I had promised myself to not rant on the Christians for a while, but a recently published article in CNN.com could not be ignored. In the tradition of the Christians jumping on the bandwagon of The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the Christians have limbered up for yet another long jump to Superman Returns.
The following article was published by the Associated Press on Wednesday, June 14th.
Jesus Christ Superman
Superman seen in many ways through eyes of beholders -- us
LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- First there were the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Now, for many Christian moviegoers comes another gospel.
As the hype machine shifts into high gear for the upcoming release of "Superman Returns," some are reading deeply into the film whose hero returns from a deathlike absence to play savior to the world.
"It is so on the nose that anyone who has not caught on that Superman is a Christ figure, you think, 'Who else could it be referring to?' " said Steve Skelton, who wrote a book examining parallels between Superman and Christ.
As one of society's most enduring pop-culture icons, Superman has often been observed as more than just a man in tights.
In his early 1930's comic-book incarnation, he was a hero of the New Deal, aiding the destitute and cleaning up America's slums, said Tom De Haven, author of a book about Superman's status as an American icon and a novel about the hero's high-school days.
By the 1950's, fears of postwar urban lawlessness had turned him into a tireless crime fighter, while his early television persona envisioned him as an idealized father figure, De Haven said.
More recently, Quentin Tarantino had the villain of "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" wax philosophical about the Man of Steel: "Clark Kent is how Superman views us... Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race."
Some have also seen the hero as a gay icon, forced to live a double life with his super-self in the closet. A recent edition of the gay magazine "The Advocate" even asked on its cover, "How gay is Superman?"
But the comparison to Jesus is one that's been made almost since the character's origin in 1938, said Skelton, author of "The Gospel According to the World's Greatest Superhero."
Many simply see the story of a hero sent to Earth by his father to serve mankind as having clear enough New Testament overtones. Others have taken the comparison even further, reading the "El" in Superman's original name "Kal-El" and that of his father "Jor-El" as the Hebrew word for "God," among other theological interpretations.
Rumors and mythology
"Superman Returns," which premieres June 28, has been drawing its own comparisons to biblical accounts, especially after the appearance of its trailer earlier this year.
The preview shows the hero with his eyes closed as the voice of his father -- Marlon Brando's, courtesy of 1978's "Superman" -- tells him he was sent to Earth because humans "lack the light to show the way."
"For this reason," continues the voice, "I have sent them you, my only son."
Online message boards and Web logs quickly latched onto the biblical resonance of those lines.
"The allusion to Jesus Christ could hardly be accidental," wrote Christian blogger Tom Gilson.
"Is this a new Superman for the new Evangelist red state America? Superman as Jesus?" asked one contributor to the Portland-based blog site Urban Honking.
The premise of the new Superman movie alone has fueled speculation that it's wearing its biblical comparisons on its long, tight sleeve. Superman, in the film, returns to Earth after a long absence, a narrative that's been likened to Jesus' death and resurrection.
Meanwhile, news reports that "Passion of the Christ" star James Caviezel was originally in the running for the lead role in "Superman Returns," which eventually went to Brandon Routh, convinced others that the film's makers were playing up the New Testament comparisons.
Moviegoers who enter the theater looking for Christian imagery are unlikely to be disappointed. At one point, Superman sustains a stab wound reminiscent of the spear jabbed in Christ's side by a Roman soldier. In another scene, Routh poses with his arms outstretched as though crucified.
'These allegories are part of how you're raised'
Not everybody welcomes the Superman-Jesus comparisons.
"It's a misrecognition," said Amy Pedersen, who is writing her doctoral thesis in art history at the University of California, Los Angeles, on superhero comic books.
Pedersen said Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who introduced Superman in 1938 in a comic book, were Jews who were inspired by the Old Testament story of Moses and the supernatural golem character from Jewish folklore. (Author Michael Chabon made much of these similarities in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.")
The Christian allusions are recent innovations that compromise the integrity of the Superman myth, she said.
"This does not need to be a consistent cultural form from its beginning to its present, but something has to be maintained," Pedersen said.
"Superman Returns" director Bryan Singer said the notion of Superman as a messianic figure is simply another case of contemporary storytelling borrowing from ancient motifs.
Singer, who is Jewish, said his neighbors' Christianity played a powerful role in the community where he grew up.
"These allegories are part of how you're raised. They find their way into your work," he said. "They become ingrained in your storytelling, in the same way that the origin story of Superman is very much the story of Moses."
It's unlikely that studio executives, conscious of the size of the Christian audiences that were coaxed into theaters by the biblical echoes in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," would discourage religious associations.
"The way in which the Christian population can get behind a movie that they can agree with is a huge push financially," said Skelton, who also distributes Bible-study kits that draw scriptural lessons from classic television episodes. "It's a smart move in terms of attracting an audience."
At the same time, Superman is fixed firmly enough in popular secular culture so that the religious accents are unlikely to alienate a mainstream audience, said Craig Detweiler, who directs the film-studies program at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.
"Just like Jesus, in some ways (Superman) transcends parities and politics and can not be co-opted to serve the narrow interests of others," he said. "That could be one reason why studios aren't afraid to let Superman go that way, toward the religious."
"Superman Returns" is a Warner Bros. film. Warner Bros., like CNN, is a unit of Time Warner.
I understand that some people can see an Elvis' head in a potato chip and in a piece of toast. I'm sure the King of Rock and Roll would have written a gospel to a "hunk-a hunk-a burnin love" as well. Some people claim to see the Madonna in a rock as well as in humidity stains and mold growth on some refrigerators. Such is the Passion of the Fridge (as written in the book of Appliances 3:11).
Why Superman and why now?
As a more than avid comic book reader and Superman fan, I can tell you that these late comers have rocks in their heads... again. I just find it very convenient that these allegories come after the deaths of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. I mean this being a character that is 68 years old this month, they've certainly taken their sweet time in claiming a marketable fictional character as their own. But as you may or may not have inferred from some of my previous rants some factions of Christianity leap to an erroneous conclusion in a single bound.
I can see it already. The day after Superman Returns breaks most of the box office records. Christian adults will be telling their kids, "You see, Billy? Superman beats up Lex Luthor just like Jesus beats up the Pagans, homosexuals, and other non believers. Most homosexuals and Pagans shave their heads to be like Lex Luthor, so you can spot them easily. We must fight them like Superman. That's the American way."
Hey, see if I'm wrong.
Superman has always been one of may favorite comic book characters. I've been reading his stories in comic books since I was six. And since 1986 the stories have only gotten better. But you don't have to have read 34 years worth of comic books to get the lowdown on the man of steel, you can read his Wiki entry to see most of what you need to know about the Superman character as he is written today.
Superman has gone through some drastic changes over the decades but most of the main points have stayed consistent. Superman has a secret identity. His alter ego is Clark Kent. Much to the contrast of Superman as told by Bill in Kill Bill Volume 2, who says that the character of Clark Kent is Superman's critique of humanity. Bill says that Clark Kent is weak and cowardly and wears glasses to seem more frail. The character is actually quite different now. It's more that Clark Kent is Superman. The real personality is that of a Kansas farm boy. When Superman isn't saving the world from some crisis, he relaxes by being... himself, a simple guy from Kansas.
Since 1986, Clark Kent was rewritten to have been on his high school football team and has a personality currently of a crack investigative reporter. And were you to ask the character of what his most prized achievement is he'd probably say his Pulitzer Prize for his novel, Under A Yellow Sun. A feat that challenged his very human ability of creativity and writing.
As a matter of fact the thing that makes Superman so appealing nowadays is not his superhuman powers but his humanity and compassion toward humanity. Superman is the eternal optimist. Superman is sunshine and nobility. Superman sees the best in people. According to Batman, the eternal pessimist, Superman is a boy scout.
We can look at the personality of Superman as being molded and shaped by his foster parents, the Kents (Jonathan and Martha). Clark Kent got his name from his mother's family, The Clarks (hence Clark Kent - not many people know that Superman's middle name is Joseph. Most likely that's a nod to Superman's creator Joe Shuster).
If the character were to have been removed from the man molded ethics as the Kents gave young Clark, who knows how Kal-El (Superman's Kryponian name) would have conquered the Earth? All we do know is that his power was always tempered by his humanity.
Superman As a Christ-like Character
Superman is a character written in a classic style very much like Prometheus, Buddha, Odin, AND Jesus.
In 1992, Superman was killed by the villain Doomsday. In essence, he wasn't really killed. To understand what really happened you must know something about Superman's biology. Superman is powered by yellow solar radiation. He's like a battery. Over the last 35 years (he's apparently 35 in the comic books), Superman's body has absorbed a large amount of solar radiation. He can use this power for several feats: flight, heat vision, telescopic vision, etc.., strength, speed, and invulnerability. Most of the time, the amount of personal power that Superman uses is infinitesimally small. Doomsday, however, was (and is) a creature that is on par with Superman's strength and invulnerability. In order to defeat Doomsday, Superman used all of his power to stop him (for those of you have an unopened black sealed bag first edition of "The Death of Superman", that's what happened.*). It was theorized that leaving Superman in a solar chamber would have brought him back to life (which is pretty much what happened).
So, in the sense that Superman died and came back to life... yes, he is Christ-like. However, we should not discount other literary Pagan references that predate the New Testement of the same thing. Odin who sacrificed himself for knowledge by hanging on the tree of life for nine days (very much like a crucifiction). Buddha who gained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. Prometheus who stole fire from the gods and was punished by having his liver ripped out daily by vultures shows a dark transition of sacrifice for knowledge.
This is a common theme in literature of the Hero's Journey to the underworld and Superman's death in battle should not be confused with Christ's sacrifice to absolve the world of its sins.
Superman, though, IS NOT JESUS
Let me make some logical points about Superman that will clearly make the case that Superman is not, was not, and will never be Jesus.
- Jesus was born of a virgin - All depending on which version of Superman a reader goes with Superman was not born of a virgin. Although it can be argued that in John Byrne's 1986 Man of Steel that young Kal-El's genetic information was essentially a test tube baby sent to incubate on the Krypton to Earth trip. The movie has clearly defined young Kal-El the son of Jor-El and Lara. Now, if we WERE to take any kind of meaning as to the article's Christ-like implications that Superman is Jesus, he'd have been the son of a mother goddess and father god. So, it's a matter of Christians picking their own poison for that one. Either, he was born of no parents or by a god and goddess. This is more in alignment with a Pagan belief than a monotheistic Christian God.
- Jesus was apparently single and had no girl friends - As the Christians have a problem with the DaVinci Code and their being a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdelene, Superman had a love interest and eventually married Lois Lane. Christians will insist that Jesus was single and celibate all of his life. Clark Kent, as is rumored in the current storyline and in many alternate storylines, is not a virgin and the couple of Lois and Clark Kent may be expecting.
But let's not just look at Superman's comic book history. Let's view the movie Superman II by Warner Bros. Superman (Christopher Reeve) gives up his powers to lie in bed with Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). The giving up of powers is not as symbolic a gesture as the logical necessity to the fatality of a superhumanly strong male in bed with a frail mortal female. Just think of the velocity of a man's "magic moment" and you'll get the idea.**
- Jesus obeyed God the Father - As mentioned above, the ethics that young Clark gets and learns from his foster parents are the ones that guide him in his life. Jesus was born divine. Were the same case to be made with a young Kal-El, all depending on what comic book history a person would go by, Kal-El would have had no need for parents at all. His compassion and humanity would have been very different and possibly not for the better (There is an alternate story of Kal-El being raised by an Amish couple entitled The Nail). This is essentially a question of nature vs. nurture. As most comic book writers have portrayed the Kents as the guiding factor in young Clark's life he'd have had no need for any Kryptonian guidance.
But, once again, let's go to the movies. This time I refer to Superman I with Christopher Reeve. There is a pivotal scene after the earthquake when Superman, in anguish, flies to the heavens (I'm using this term specifically) and hears his father, Jor-El's voice. Jor-El (Marlon Brando) says, "IT IS FORBIDDEN FOR YOU TO INTERFERE WITH HUMAN HISTORY!!!". THEN he hears the voice of his earth father (Glen Ford) Jonathan Kent say, "What I do know son, is that YOU ARE HERE FOR A REASON."
But what happens?
He hears his OWN VOICE from Jonathan Kent's funeral "All these things I can do, all these powers, and I couldn't even save him." Then Superman goes back in time to interfere with human history. It is his own individuality and rejection of any paternal authority that guides his action.
Were this to be compared to Jesus's time in the Garden of
Gethsemane where he pleads with his Father "O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39). Yet, despite the fact that this will cost Jesus his life, he obeys his Father. It is clear that Superman would disobey his father when Jesus would not.
- Jesus had no alter ego - Jesus was Jesus all the time. As a matter of fact, when it came time for the betrayal, Judas identified Jesus. Jesus did not deny his own identity. For those of us who have read Superman and have seen him elude Lois Lane's inquiries on his secret identity we know that Superman has lied and tricked Lois countless times to keep his alter ego safe. Does it seem plausible that a man who is the "Son of God" need to break a commandment.
- Kryptonite - Were Superman shown as "The Son of God" would he have such an obvious vulnerability. I'm not sure scripture would support the theory of Jesus being killed by a green rock. Most theologians go with the theory that Jesus allowed himself to be sacrificed for the resurrection. I'm pretty sure that Superman is vulnerable to green, red, or gold kryptonite whether he allows it or not.
Truly, I can appreciate it when people wish to see characters and fiction that support for their own religion. No, really. In truth, The Chronicles of Narnia do just that***. But let me tell you that in the case of Superman Returns, to call Superman, "Jesus" or to make Superman "Christ-like" does more to tarnish the name of Christianity rather than illuminate it. Were I still a Catholic, I'd be more inclined to say that Jesus was a perfect being and Superman takes pride in his humanity. Were I to make a case for Jesus' humanity rather than his divinity back in the 12 century, I'd be tortured and killed as a heretic.
Granted, for those people who saw advanced screenings of Superman Returns, it is possible to say that Bryan Singer might have subconsciously placed debatable Christ-like symbolism in his character of Superman. It's possible. I don't know. I haven't seen the movie yet.
I have, however, read the book and gotten the movie guide. If people insist on accepting a concept of a character that has been around for 68 years in a science fiction medium and "suddenly" realizing that there could be a Christ parallel, I couldn't and wouldn't take them or their idea of religion and spirituality seriously.
Jesus is Jesus and Superman is Superman. If people confuse the two, all I can say is that I want some of what they're smoking.
*- It's still a collectable. Inside contains a black Superman arm band for mourning. I know someone who foolishly opened his.
**- Google in "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" for more of a detailed explanation. This is not for children.
***- C. S. Lewis wrote so specifically.