The Superman metaphor

One of the most iconic figures of this generation is that of Superman. He is arguably the first popular superhero and almost certainly the root of the genre’s popularity. The style is more popular in film now than ever before and there are at least five new superhero characters coming to the big screen this summer alone. Zack Snyder is set to direct a new reincarnation of Superman and quite honestly, I’m a little worried by that.

Superman is not just a man, he has become a symbol. The fragile identity behind the mask is normally the focus in tales of costumed vigilantes but with Superman it is his alter ego that receives far more attention. His real identity is of course much closer to Superman than Clark Kent, and this was something I have always found interesting with him.

It is his distinction from those of the normal world I think that has led to the comparisons to Jesus. He is a very messianic character who descends to earth with supernatural powers and saves the inhabitants from evil. He is distant from the others as he has a father higher than theirs and is above sin. is weaknesses are almost non-existent and many have claimed that this is a fundamental flaw in the character design.

Most superheroes are in fact much closer to being Christians than Christ. They distance themselves from their friends that chose to just be normal and pursue a higher cause. They have flaws and it is their struggle with trying to do good that is put in the spotlight rather than the great overcomer that they actually are. The rewards of this however are rarely shown, as it does not make a sufficiently interesting story.

What is curious to think of is why almost all other successful superheroes to follow Superman have had their focus reversed. This got me thinking as to whether Superman was a perfect Jesus metaphor or merely another Christian one. Is he the ultimate superhero that all others after have subconsciously opted to follow or is this distinction ludicrous?

I have switched between these two viewpoints and never agreed on one or the other. I find I can take a lot of encouragement from superhero films with regard to my faith. While I’d never be so full of myself to claim I was Superman, could I claim he was meant to be what I should be aiming for? One of the complaints about the character of Superman is that he is hard to relate to due to his near perfect nature. I personally loved Brando Routh’s version of the character in Superman returns and found him to be very vulnerable, but in a private way you’d expect a super-human would. He was also imperfect in the fact he had an illegitimate son and wasn’t physically capable of withstanding anything without some loss. He conquered in the end, but all heroes do, so to use this argument is to almost destroy all blockbuster cinema.

Either way, I adore the character for the way he challenges me to think. I prefer to think him of as a Jesus figure, as aiming to be just like another follower is actually a sin; God made you for who you are not to be like someone else. I think he encompasses the perfect role model figure so well that no other comic character has come close to attempting to rival that. All others have doubts about their choices but Superman is sure.

What do you think though, and feel free to comment on other superheroes too. Do you think there is a better case for the Jesus model or the Christian model? What do you see in superheroes, as they clearly have their fans to become as popular as they are today? In the words of Stan Lee, face front, true believers!

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