looking at superheroes - myth, pop culture, ideology...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Myth of Superman pt. 2

Article at the Journal of Religion and Film titled 'Superman as Christ-Figure: The American Pop Culture Movie Messiah'. Its an academic examination of mythical parallels between Superman and the Christ figure.

Divine Mission

[24] Superman came from the planet Krypton, which in Greek means “hidden, secret,”38 just like the mythic location of Heaven. It also “sounds like “Tikkum olam” a Hebrew concept of restoring [correcting] the world’s wrongs.”39 This theme was reinforced by Jor-El in the Arctic Fortress of Solitude when he told Kal-El that his destiny and duty was to help right the wrongs of a troubled Earth. Similarly, Jesus was an off-world visitor of unspecified location who came to Earth to right cosmic wrongs with a God-inspired message of love. He left the planet with an expectation of a Second Coming, and a religio-political agenda that advocated God above Rome using the coin of love. Within S2, this Messianic “return” expectation was partially fulfilled near the end of the film when Superman apologised to the US President for being away so long. Thus implying “that Jesus has never been indifferent to our sorrows but that urgent reasons of his own have kept him away.”40

[25] Superman is the invincible crusader devoted to “truth, justice, and the American way.” Not for his own self-glorification, but acting like Jesus who claimed: “I seek not mine own glory” (John 8:50). Indeed, Superman was the guardian of Earth, its tireless servant who resisted many temptations and was therefore loved and adored by the people because of it. This resonated with the Apostle Paul’s claim of Christ’s humility who “took upon him the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7), and generated millions of followers worldwide as a consequence of his self-imposed servitude.

The article goes through twenty notable instances where the pop-culture myth of Superman intersects with Christian myth. Is Superman our messiah? A God-among men in this time of fear, corruption and capitalism? Perhaps. Personally, if there was a real Superman it'd be something of a cross between 'The Superman', Booster Gold and David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth.

The Superman/Christ parallel is something that was incorporated into the 1978 film deliberately. Director Richard Donner was aware of the narrative similarity between the texts. What I find interesting, is in the way the Superman/Christ myth has no closure. Since the 1940s, Superman stories have told us about his heroic feats. They have been popularised by comic books, serials, movies, television programs, costume parties, jokes, music. In the grand narrative of Superman, there is no death. The story goes on. Like Jesus, prior to the crucifixion/rebirth, the story of Superman is about a God living among men, using his supernatural powers to change the world of mere mortals into a better place.

In the early 1990s, DC Comics killed off Superman. It was the death. He would not exist after this.
He came back not long after. I guess that finishes off the narrative arc. The resurrection of the hero.

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