Superman as a “Christ-figure”

My first Superhero favorite was Superman. As time went on, I developed more sophisticated superhero tastes but I still remember as a really young child running around in Superman Underoos and a towel cape pretending to be the man in red in blue. In fact, in the most recent Superman movie, “Man of Steel,” the scene most touching to me was little Clark, pretending to be a Superhero with his towel cape, while his dad watched understanding the future significance of this small event.

Because my family has recently moved and been a bit busy, I wasn’t able to see the “Man of Steel” until this last weekend. I have to admit I was a little worried going to see it. I had read a lot of concerns about the movie, some from “fanboys” who hate anything that is not comic book “cannon.” But some thought provoking stuff too. All the hype had me walking into the theater concerned that it was going to be ultra dark, with a Superman full of teenage angst and glower, fighting bag guys with absolutely no moral compass (a real departure from the Superman I knew). But the movie didn’t come off that way for me at all… and made me wonder, why all the Superman hate? And I wonder if perhaps too many of us are trying to make too much of Superman.

As an Associate Pastor in Salt Lake City, a group of friends from the church and I met nearly once a month to watch a movie (of all sorts of genres) and then talk about how the movie intersected with life and faith. It was a fun group. For a while (until it became kind of a joke), I would ask the group who the “Christ-figure” in each movie was. What makes the question silly is that if you look hard enough, you can find a Christ-figure in nearly EVERY movie. All you need is one character who is a little more loving or self-sacrificial than everybody else. However, those characters are never actually Christ… they usually have just as many (or more) flaws as you and me.

In the Superhero world, Superman may be the greatest example of a “Christ-figure;” Both Jesus and Superman are out of this world, both have special abilities on earth, both could use their powers for great personal gain but choose the more humble way of service. Both are willing to sacrifice themselves for others.

I wonder if a lot of the “Man of Steel” hatred comes from people thinking the most recent incarnation of Superman is not “Christ-like-enough.” Superman had to kill people in this movie… this means Superman was not super-smart enough and super-ethical enough to come up with a better solution. Superman was so violent… this means Superman clearly was not super-powerful enough to deal with multiple threats and keep damage down and every single person safe all at once. Superman was not super-funny enough, or super-Christopher-Reeve enough, or super-make-every-decision-perfectly enough… Superman apparently is not Jesus Christ.

Well, Superman is not Jesus Christ. Superman may be from another planet, but it seems like his people are similar to humans in one major aspect… they and we all make bad decisions sometimes, we all sin, we all are too “human.” The difference between Superman and Christ that seems to matter most is that their origin stories are light years apart; Superman came to earth and got great power from our yellow sun while Christ had incredible power and humbly “emptied himself” to live among us (Philippians 2.5-11). It’s one difference that makes all the difference. And I wonder if maybe we should let simply let Superman be Superman and we should let Christ be Christ.

About messyfaithreverberantgrace

I like canoeing, beaches, reading, movies, and talking with people about faith and God.
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2 Responses to Superman as a “Christ-figure”

  1. Pingback: What if Superman behaved like God? | The BitterSweet End

  2. Kelly Digh says:

    I think Superman as a Christ-Figure is a pretty well-accepted translation of his character, and there are really obvious parallels, up to and including the Death of Superman (I cried, I wore the black band), and then his later resurrection (and the Reign of the Supermen).

    The problem is, I think, that like Christ, Superman has become a deeply-entrenched cultural icon, “the big blue Boy Scout.” That’s what he’s been from issue #1, and despite all the changes to his back story or his costume, this is who he continues to be.

    More importantly, though, is Clark Kent. The human side of Superman. (Side Note: Go watch Kill Bill and Kill Bill 2. at the end of KB2, David Carradine’s Bill goes off on a very thought-provoking side-trip with Clark Kent as an unflattering representation of humanity) Thanks to Christopher Reeve’s portrayal (up front? I AM A CHRISTOPHER REEVE FAN. THERE IS NO OTHER SUPERMAN.), both “the big blue Boy Scout” and the aw-shucks-gee-whiz-Lois version of Clark Kent is what is engrained and entrenched in our cultural memory.

    We as humans don’t fare well when we’re held up against the standard of Superman (how could we?) because we’re not aliens from another world. But you know what? We fail even worse when we’re held up against Clark Kent. Clark Kent reflects the “best” of humanity back at us; he is unfailingly kind, he is deliberately naieve, he nurtures love for a strong woman who would walk all over him (we know Lois Lane wears the pants in that relationship), heck, he even sends part of his Daily Planet paycheck home to Ma Kent! (at least in the movies. I don’t remember that ever coming up in the comics, but it’s been awhile since I’ve read them.)

    We don’t fare well when we’re held up to the standard of Jesus Christ, either. Like the alien Kal-El, we are never going to live up to the absolute divinity of God. But when we’re up against the human side? We don’t fare that great, either.

    I think that’s the source of the discontent. Dirty Superman up, drag him down to our level, and he’s easier to comprehend, to hold onto. But it’s also easier to hate him, because he’s no longer the shining example that he used to be. Dirtying Jesus up, dragging him down to our level is what makes people dislike Christianity as a whole, because really, when we’re infighting and grabbing and petty in our faith? Of course we’re not going to hold up to Jesus’ example.

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