Having watched The New Adventures of Superman when I was younger than I have a lot of nostalgia tied up with the character. Some people find him boring but, you know, he flies and can punch through concrete and lasers come out his eyes, I still think that's pretty cool. And it came as no surprise to me when a link appeared on my Facebook feed to an article on the parallels between Superman and the Gospel. The last movie, Superman Returns, went the whole hog and played up the parallels big time by portraying Superman as a Messianic type figure including one scene where he floated above the city, arms spread out in crucifixion pose listening to the cries or “prayers” of the people,
Even in the latest film, then there was a lot of talk about “believing” in Superman with Russell Crowe even saying that he would be like a god to the people of earth. But despite drawing heavily on religious, specifically Christian, imagery and thought then both films, indeed, any positive comparison between Superman and Jesus misses the point of who Jesus is. Of course, the big difference is that Superman is fiction and Jesus is both historical reality (when he walked this earth) and eternal reality (glorified in Heaven). But laying that aside there is still much to discuss.
Superheroes are very much ‘in’ at this moment in time; in fact I doubt there’s been a single week in the past few years in which there wasn’t some superhero flick showing at the cinema where man/boy x gains power y to defeat evil z whilst getting with girl b usually having an initial run of successes with his power then a major defeat which forces the hero to re-think/re-evaluate some part of his life or character which he then overcomes in a dramatic finale to beat the bad guy, win the girl and set up a sequel.
But this isn’t the time or place for a rant about the predictabilities of the genre. Instead I want to dig a bit deeper and investigate what superheroes represent in today’s culture. Fundamentally, superheroes are an admission of the powerlessness of the ordinary man. When faced with the big mad mess of the world that we live in then it is obvious that we are severely lacking in control.
To use an obvious example: there is precisely nothing that I can do to fight violent crime. This is because not only is it illegal for me to be a vigilante I also have none of the skills required to be a successful one. There is nothing I can do about the evil regimes of the world and their leaders. There is nothing I can do if an earthquake struck; I couldn’t for example turn back time by flying really fast around the world. I’m not Batman, Spiderman, Superman or any other man for that matter. It’s just me and my powerlessness against the world.