Superman’s Second Coming

I wanted to compose a post outlining the similarities between Supes and J.C., but I’m pretty lazy this morning and the following article I found online (beliefnet.com) is probably much better than anything I could come up with.

The article is republished without permission.

 “The parallels between the Man from Nazareth and the Man from Krypton are unmistakable.

By Stephen Skelton


Adapted by the author from “The Gospel According to the World’s Greatest Superhero.”

Superman is the Jesus Christ of superheroes. At first glance, with the second coming of Superman upon us in the form of “Superman Returns,” one might read that line and wonder just what Christian evangelicals are up to now. As one recent post on “Superman Returns” at rottentomatoes.com asked, “Can’t we leave God out of this for once?”

It depends on who the “we” is. In this case, that line–“Superman is the Jesus Christ of superheroes”–comes from none other than the director of “Superman Returns,” Bryan Singer, in an interview with Wizard magazine. And if those words don’t carry enough Christic resonance for you, when asked what “Superman Returns” is about, Singer told Entertainment Weekly magazine, “It’s a story about what happens when Messiahs come back.”

One might wonder just what Singer is up to. Why are the movie makers promoting Superman as a Christ figure? One reason is because the Superman storytellers always have; that spiritual history started almost in the beginning.

In the late 1930s, we first learned the identities of the kindly Kansas couple who take in the special star child when Pa Kent turns to Ma and says, “Look Mary! It’s a child.” With Mary as the mother, it is little surprise later on when we learn Pa’s middle name: Joseph. While Mary was later changed to Martha, Joseph continues to be Jonathan’s middle name today.

In 1942, George Lowther, narrator, writer and later director of the highly successful Superman radio show wrote the first Superman novel, “The Adventures of Superman.” In his novel, Lowther gave Superman and his father the last name of “El”–a Hebrew word for God. So from that point forward, with the father christened Jor-El and the son christened Kal-El, the Superman story became one of El (God) the father sending El (God) the son to save the Earth.

In 1952, George Reeves began his run in “The Adventures of Superman” television show. As Superman comic book writer/artist Jerry Ordway described, Reeves was “the fatherly Superman… mainly because Jack Larson’s Jimmy Olsen character was so integral to the plot.” As the son who represents a father, Reeves became–in the words he used at the beginning of each episode–the embodiment of that “strange visitor… who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.” Of course, we’re still talking about Superman.

In 1978, “Superman: The Movie” made explicit much of the symbolism linking Superman to Christ. So said Tom Mankiewicz, the writer of the movie, on the film’s DVD: “The metaphor was clearly there when Jor-El sends Superman to Earth with God sending Christ to save humanity.”

Among the many Gospel-inspired story elements, the film also incorporates the journey into the wilderness–like Christ going into the desert, Clark goes into the artic. There, Clark builds the Fortress of Solitude, which looks like a cathedral, to commune with the spirit of his father. He will emerge for his mission at age 30–the same age that Christ began his public ministry.

In 1992, in the “Death of Superman” comic book storyline, Superman dies. The death issue sold an astonishing six million copies, making it the best-selling comic book ever. The murderous villain responsible for our Christ-figure’s demise was called Doomsday: The Armageddon Creature–and if that doesn’t ring a biblical bell, after you finish this article, please turn in your Bible to the Book of Revelation.

After Superman’s death, it was only a short time later that his tomb was found empty. But don’t take my word for it. To quote Lois Lane, “Oh Lord! It’s empty! His tomb is empty!” And sure enough, after his literal death, Superman was literally resurrected to life. Good thing too, because neither his story, nor his re-telling of the Gospel story, was finished yet.

From 2001 to present, “Smallville” has been chronicling the beginning of the never-ending battle for truth and justice. Notably, in the pilot episode–with a nod to the Passion story–Clark winds up on a cross: The school bullies inadvertently get Clark around kryptonite, and in his weakened state, he is unable to resist as they tie him to a scarecrow mast in the middle of a cornfield. “I thought there were a lot of metaphors between Clark and Jesus, actually,” commented David Nutter, director of the episode. “And I tried to throw in as many of them as I could.”

Now, momentously, with the first Superman movie in nearly 20 years, Superman returns. As director Bryan Singer sums up, “There’s definitely an allegory–a Judeo-Christian allegory–that’s happening in the mythology of Superman, right up to the fact that he descends from the heavens.” Here he’s descending for the second time–an event with obvious allusions to the Second Coming.

As the storyline of the new film picks up, Superman has ascended into the heavens, returning to Krypton after the planet explodes to see if he is in fact the Only Son. The film focuses on his return, which the studio press release paints in spiritual language as “an epic journey of redemption.”

To prove that point, in the movie, Lois is heard to say the almost anti-Christic line: “The world doesn’t need a savior. And neither do I.” To which, Superman responds, “You wrote that the world doesn’t need a savior. But everyday I hear people crying for one.”

That last sentiment exactly encapsulates the way in which the popularly accepted Superman story has come into being. On one side, the Superman storytellers were looking to tell the most significant story they could–and they consciously gravitated toward the Gospel story. And on the other side, the audience was responding to the most profound figure they knew–and, consciously or not, they were drawn through the symbolism of the Gospel Savior.

In closing, our reading today comes from the well-known verses–originally found in “Superman: The Movie” and repeated in the first trailer for “Superman Returns”: “They can be a great people, Kal-El–they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you–my only son.”

Amen.”

Jumpboot’s note:  One glaring omission from Stephen’s list of commonalities between these two characters is that they’re both fictional.  As cool as it would be to have some guy in blue tights flying around saving the world or some other guy in a toga and sandals walking on water (also saving the world), it’s just not realistic. 

‘Nuff said.

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2 Responses

  1. One thing that I think should be commented on is the fact Supes creators Jerry Segal and Joe Schuster are both Jewish and all the parallels of Kal-El and Jesus Christ are due to other writes and contributors. I think those who make the comparison between the two are just those who aren’t talented enough to finding meaning in another way. And the reason for the Superman comes from them both being children from immigrants. Like their parents Superman was a refugee and able to not only find a place in America, but to have the opportunity to excel and do some good. As a stern comic fan, I’m hate when they make the Superman/Jesus commentary. M favorite Superman Stories that show Supes Humanity and personal flaws. And those stories are often told from the point of view of Lois Lane or Lex Luthor.

  2. I find it interesting that people draw more of a Jesus parallel when the story of being found by strangers and raised as one of there own until he finally comes to know his birthright as a savior is actual the Moses story, which is hugely predominant in Judaism and more of a footnote to Christians. I also think it’s hugely ethnocentric of us (Americans in general) to assume that any reference to any kind of “savior” is a direct reference to Jesus Christ. The whole concept of a “Christ” or Chosen/Anointed One coming to save us was also a belief of early Jews, not to mention the ten, or hundreds of other cultures and religions who had similar notions, centuries before Jesus was ever born. As a predominantly christian nation we just assume that our view is correct and all the others are just quaint myths and legends.

    One of the things I like about Superman or Star Wars or any of the thousands of fictional stories out there is that while they speak of the concepts of destiny and messiahs and prophecy and the like in a general way that can appeal to a broad population and allow us to bond under a common fascination (or obsession). I dislike it when a specific religion or denomination tries to claim any kind of ownership of any of these stories as a “christian story” or a “Jewish story” or what have you. Let the whole world know it and love it without having to show some kind of membership pass. Who knows? Maybe if you just let people see it for themselves, they’ll find the message you think is there without you having to point it out and beat them over the head with it.

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