Because life is a series of edits

Why Jesus Is No Superman

In Thought on June 28, 2006 at 2:00 am

The new Superman movie releases this weekend, and the majority of the early reviews are positive. Newsweek and World ran glowing pieces on the movie, and a variety of other media less mainstream have also jumped on the bandwagon.

Personally, I've never been much of a Superman fan. I never bought the "disguise" of Clark Kent's glasses – come on! – and the whole underwear-on-the-outside-of-the-leotards thing (as well as the increasingly cornball sequels that came out in the early-80's when I was a kid) didn't help foster my affection for the guy.

Still, if "Superman Returns" can do for the Man of Steel what the recent Spider-Man and Batman Begins (the latter of which I thought was an amazing superhero film) did for their masked heroes, I'm more than willing to give this movie (and character) a fair shake (especially with Kevin Spacey, who is always fun to watch, as Lex Luthor).

In reading through some of the buzz yesterday, I came across this New York Times review, which seemed overly-fixated on Superman's savior complex. Here are a few quotes of interest:

"There's always been a hint of Jesus (and Moses) to the character (of Superman), from the omnipotence of his father to a costume that, with its swaths of red and blue, evokes the colors worn by the Virgin Mary in numerous Renaissance paintings. It's a hint that proves impossible not to take."

"Every era gets the superhero it deserves, or at least the one filmmakers think we want. For Mr. (Bryan) Singer (the film's director) that means a Superman who fights his foes in a scene that visually echoes the garden betrayal in 'The Passion of the Christ' and even hangs in the air much as Jesus did on the cross."
As I haven't seen the movie yet, I won't share any convictions that go beyond my experiences. However, I was intrigued by the reviewer's alignment of Christ with Superman, if for no other reason than I think it's a bad one (and not for the reasons you might assume).

From a literary perspective, Jesus is no Superman because Jesus is not a flawed character. Talk to any author, actor, or fan of any genre of literature, film, or theater and he or she will tell you that flawed characters are the most interesting to write about, play, or watch/read about. Jesus' "problem" (at least literarily speaking) is that he's perfect.

Is the idea of a flawed savior precisely why people admire characters like Superman and walk away from someone like Jesus? If so, what this seems to suggest is that our definition of what a savior is is often more about how we ourselves compare to him than what he saves us from.

People root for Superman because they can relate to a hero having flaws (in Superman's case: a severe allergic reaction to Kryptonite, a guilt complex about not being able to save his parents from Krypton's doom, a squelched love for Lois Lane). On the other hand, people despise Jesus because they can't relate to not having flaws – no killer allergic reactions, no forever-severed relationship with his Parent(s), no personal devastation at romance denied.

Aligning the Man of Sorrows with the Man of Steel doesn't really compare apples to apples, and Jesus – not Superman – sadly comes out the loser in the public eye. The truth is, when it comes to saviors, we like ours flawed because it makes being saved that much less humbling.

Maybe that's why we tolerate Superman in tights with the underwear on the outside, too.

  1. Craig – the blog looks great! Love the design – much easier to read like this. Interesting thoughts on SuperMan. At our evening worship service (Trio) at Central this past Sunday, some folks stuck around for “Movie Night” where we watched _The Incredibles_ and talked about our need for superheroes. Many similar issues to what you raise here in this article. Anyway, just wanted to leave a comment. :)

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