Jesus Christ Superman

The irony of Superman in the age of Postmodernism is that our world has no need for saviors.

Often I find myself in the middle of arguments where I defend Superman to my peers as a legitimate hero. Why, I am not certain. The topic of conversation always seems to revolve around the role of Batman in the DCU and how like an intercity child he possesses favorable merit as a comic book protagonist by nature that he had to study for years under the tutelage of various branches of the abysmal underworld, and has risen above circumstance to become a positive force in society.

Yeah, I know. They call those kinds of people “toofers,” which is 30 Rock lingo for a diversity hire.

There is something threatening about Superman implicitly. He’s perfect and idealized. Grant Morrison likens him to the Olympian Gods, but even that doesn’t do justice to the ending of All-Star Superman. People don’t believe in perfect anymore. That’s why Superman threatens them. He is something more.

As a Christian I can say that Superman is a savior figure and appreciate all the nuances and implications of the concept. The narrative lens of such a saying is multifaceted and not limited to any incarnation of the character. But on a personal, spiritual level I discovered who Jesus was through comics; namely, through Superman.

Superman is an outsider. He is born of a simple family, working among farmers and tradesmen. After preparing and living a solitary life with his adopted family, he went into the city to begin his ministry. Through his revolutionary actions Clark Kent revealed himself as the “Super Man,” what Mankind was meant to be. And, like Jesus’ own followers, the people misunderstood Superman’s Gospel as simply a means of attaining moral perfection. Superman is perfect for Man, that Man should not need to be perfect. Clark Kent’s sacrifice, the shedding of his humanity, is what saves the world time and time again.

Lex Luthor is proof of this. He is everything Man should be. He is powerful, a master of the material reality. He is a scholar of the fine arts, a true Renaissance man. Yet in his search for utopian modernism he is constantly thwarted by Superman. As long as Lex Luthor lives in the shadow of the Man of Steel  he is merely a parody of a man. Man and Man of Steel cannot share the same space in time. Grant Morrison says it best in All-Star Superman, in the final encounter between Lex and Kal-El. Here the embittered tycoon says, “I saw how to save the world! I could have made everyone see. I could have saved the world if it wasn’t for you!”

Saviors are threatening to us mere mortals. They are proofs that we are not enough, that Mankind does not have the answers or ingenuity to persevere into the future. What makes Superman so threatening is not that he is too bland, or doesn’t have an array of gadgets at his call, but that he knows what being truly human is really like. He undresses us down to our core as God become a Man, condescending to our finite reality and living with us as an unmatchable example. When the sideline call goes out, “It’s a bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Superman!” it causes our heads to tilt toward the heavens and wonder if he’s really there, watching us, hoping for us.

When I was in High School I wrote a speech entitled, “Why the World Needs Superman.” I took it all the way to regional finals in the Rotary 4-Way Test Speech Competition, until I was bested by some rich asshole from a prep school, whose money had garnered her favor and a plethora of speech coaches. I meant what I said then. Today, now that I am Christian, I still mean it, only my vision of who Superman is has changed.

The world needs Superman. Comic books need Superman. Without him everything falls apart. What is there to strive toward when morality is fluid and mutable? Not much. Like Lex Luthor we can try to simply be the best, and advance on our own time the human race, but it will never satisfy the perfection that is embodied in the Man of Steel.  I love Jesus, and I’m proud to say it, but it was Superman that showed me why I love Jesus and why Saviors are so important.

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Stuart Warren is the former managing editor and webmaster for Sequart Organization. Stuart earned a BA in English with an emphasis in Early Modern Studies at University of California Santa Barbara. An avid reader and historian, Stuart researches Nordic mythology and paganism and is self-taught in the Norwegian language (Bokmål). He is a novelist and comic book writer. Spirit of Orn, his breakout Science Fantasy epic is now available for purchase via Amazon Kindle and iBooks.

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  1. Respectfully, while I do think Superman often serves the role of savior, I don’t think he is a Christological one. That is, being a savior is not exclusively Christ-like — nor is it even exclusively religious.

    Admittedly, I explore this idea for a full chapter of What Is a Superhero?”, but I would be intrigued to hear more about why you feel Superman’s brand of salvation should be viewed through a Christian lens.

    (Please understand I’m neither questioning your personal faith nor Christianity in general; I’m merely separating the term “savior” from solely [soully?] a Christian context.)

    • I’d like to submit this idea for your consideration: ALL “saviours,” regardless of religious or cultural background – and ONLY to the degree that they enact true justice and goodness in a given situation – point to Christ. This goes beyond the intention of the story-tellers themselves. It’s simply because God has built into the very fabric of the cosmos a need for a Saviour, and all cultures detect that on a subliminal level, even if they refuse to accept the necessary link between that need and its corresponding reality: Jesus Christ.

      Another Lewis – Clive Staples – argued precisely along these lines when he wrote of the Gospel-pointing motifs of pagan mythologies.

  2. I say “savior” with the presuppositions in mind that I am a citizen of western civilization, which has inescapably been influenced by not only Christian theology, but also non-christian philosophies, like Platonism, that implies a divine like superstructure to existence.

    That being said, in this western context I would argue that the idea of a savior, though existing in other cultures around the world in varying permutations, can only be associated with christology and other Semitic messianic expectations. Given that Shuster and Seigel were both Jews and immigrants living in a sprawling urban metropolis, and that such struggles with ethno-religious identities were current topics in the burrows (See Eisner’s Contract with God), it would not be entirely a stretch to consider this influence endowed to Superman. Also one must consider that he is an outsider, a god-among-us archetype condescending himself to a humbler form ala Clark Kent but also a figure of promise in the context of his alien identity.

    Morrison’s Cosmic Superman, the unending reincarnation of the man of Steel interspersed throughout time and civilization is a highly stylized deconstruction of the original Superman origin story. Using his understanding of Superman allows the reader to generalize superman’s salvific potential to other contexts, but I believe the Christian archetype of Salvation, in substance and style, is the only true embodiment of the concept. I say this because that’s what I believe, but also because it’s hard to view, say, the Buddha as a savior because Buddhism places the role of savior upon the individual to disassociate one’s self from material reality (though don’t quote me on that). Superman is an individual, like Jesus, apart from mankind in essence but not in presence. He also is the one doing the saving, hence Luthor’s vain attempts to justify his existence in the face of Superman in All-Star Superman.

    Of course, because there is no definitive “doctrinal statement” on the nature of Superman’s purpose in DC or other extant works that are authoritative enough to substantiate an official stance on his character, I leave it to the community to determine what he should mean to them. I only suggest that subconsciously, people want Jesus, and so they create “Super” men/heroes/causes to fulfill that capacity and yearning for justice and stability in a chaotic world. For Shuster and Siegel, that man was the last son of Krypton.

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