I’ve been a Superman skeptic for a long time. I didn’t like him. At all. I thought he was overpowered, incredibly cliché, and utterly lacking in personality. I still believe that there is probably some truth to those criticisms, but there’s something I’ve learned about Superman that has trumped my skepticism.
It started when I went to see Man of Steel. I was highly skeptical. The only Superman movie I’d ever seen part of was Superman Returns, and I had fallen asleep half an hour into it and never finished it. I don’t fall asleep in movies. That’s how bad it was. Still, I went to see Man of Steel and I was pleasantly surprised. It was really good. Amy Adams presented Lois Lane as the deepest (yet still feminine) superhero love interest yet to come to film. Henry Cavill’s Superman was all about integrity, about doing the right thing. He does the right thing even when, as he tells the local priest, that he’s not sure he can trust mankind. Even more than that, however, was the incredibly obvious shaping of Superman as a Jesus figure.
There are numerous ways that the film does this. The most obvious of these is in Jor-El. He sends his only son, who was born in a way that to them was miraculous (the first natural birth on Krypton in years), to Earth. He does so knowing that his son will save them (“He’ll be a god to them”). Jor-El’s shadow later tells him “You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
That’s not even the cool part.
Superman’s Kryptonian name is Kal-El. His father’s name is Jor-El. El is the family name, and Superman is even called Son of El in the movie. At first these just sound like typical made up alien names, but they aren’t. These are Hebrew names. The “family name” El is short for Elohim, the name used for God in the Old Testament before His full name Jehovah (or Yahweh, depending on your pronunciation/spelling) is revealed in Exodus. The suffix “El” was still used in the Bible after that revelation, however. For example, the name of the town Bethel means house of God (Beth = house, El = God). In the Superman realm, Kal means voice, making Kal-El mean “The Voice of God.” Jor-El means “God will uplift.”
Coincidences happen, but not ones this huge. It gets even better. Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. They were both Jewish.
Here’s the conclusion I ultimately come to. We’ve got a character here whose very inception was done with a focus on making him essentially a Jesus figure. In a very real sense, his purpose was to show in some way the spirit of Christ. The integrity of that concept has remained with the character, and he continues to be one of the greatest characters morally speaking in comics today. And we don’t like him because he’s too strong? Seriously?
If we’re thinking about worldview as we should, then Superman ought to be one of our favorite superheroes of all time. We don’t have to fight against or justify selfish actions by him. We don’t have to worry about being presented with an anti-Christian worldview.
Batman is still my favorite, and always will be. But Superman has earned a special place in my nerdcave, because he is a perfect example of how my interest in entertainment and my desire for appropriate influences in harmony with the Christian walk can coexist.