What’s Up with the Man of Steel?

How the Original Superman Reflects the Superhero of Superheroes

In Hollywood Heroes: How Your Favorite Movies Reveal God, Frank and Zach Turek observe that the heroes of many of the world’s favorite movies “are willing to sacrifice themselves to save those threatened by evil.” Superman is just such a character, whose willingness to sacrifice himself is the capstone to an entire structure of parallels to the story of Christ.

Images of Christ in Superman Films

The movies about Superman repeatedly feature echoes of the life and ministry of Christ. In the original modern superhero movie, Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman, the title character’s father Jor-El tells his son, “I have sent them you . . . my only son,” evoking God the Father’s sending his only Son to atone for mankind’s sins as affirmed in John 3:16. In Bryan Singer’s 2006 Superman Returns, the hero lifts a kryptonite-generated land mass from the Atlantic Ocean and hurls it into space. The deadly radiation causes him to fall back after releasing the mass, his arms outstretched, evoking the crucified Christ. Later, in Metropolis General Hospital, he appears dead, but a nurse who passes through a corridor of armed policemen outside his room discovers his body is gone. The scene echoes the empty tomb guarded by Roman soldiers.

The Son of God took on human flesh to save all mankind by his ultimate sacrifice on the cross. As the son of the Kryptonian Jor-El, Superman is an alien from another planet who lives as a human being and strives to save all the people of Earth from threats terrestrial and extraterrestrial. In his earthly ministry, Jesus offered hope to people lost in sin. In Zack Snyder’s 2013 film Man of Steel, the hero explains to Lois Lane that the symbol on his chest is the Kryptonian character for hope. (When inverted, it means “resurrection.”)

In Man of Steel, Superman does not officially begin his mission on Earth until he is 33, the same age at which Jesus culminated his earthly ministry. After rival Kryptonians arrive on Earth and demand that authorities turn over Superman, Clark Kent consults a Smallville minister regarding the right response to General Zod’s demand. In the background, a stained-glass window depicts Christ in Gethsemane where he prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). Like Jesus, Clark contemplates sacrificing himself to save the people of Earth. Like Jesus, he decides to give himself up. Superman’s willingness to sacrifice himself parallels Christ’s commitment to fulfilling his Father’s will. In Snyder’s 2016 movie Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Superman is pierced by a spear-like protrusion from the body of the monster Doomsday, who is himself destroyed by Clark’s act of self-sacrifice. Then in Snyder’s 2017 Justice League, Clark emerges from his Smallville grave to save the world. Christological elements pervade the films.

Christ in the Comics

The comics include such elements as well. Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 (1938) in a story entitled “Champion of the Oppressed.” On the first page, readers learn that the hero has devoted “his existence to helping those in need.” In the course of twelve pages, he saves a man from execution on death row, gives a wife-beater a taste of his own medicine, rescues Lois Lane (of course), and intervenes to stop the war-mongering plans of a corrupt senator. The story establishes Superman as a person who cares about people under threat from evil, even as Jesus does when he casts out demons and gives his life for theirs.

When Siegel and Schuster, Superman’s creators, told the story of his otherworldly origin, they modeled Kal-El’s survival of the doomed planet Krypton on Moses’s survival in a reed basket. The destinies of both the infant prophet and the newborn superhero are left to chance. Moses is found by the pharaoh’s daughter, who rears her adopted son in the royal court. Kal-El is discovered by a childless couple who bring the foundling to their Kansas farm. Of course, Moses is a type of Christ himself, a champion of the oppressed children of Israel who performs great feats as God’s spokesman. None of this is surprising in a story penned by a young Jewish man whose father had died as a result of an attack by a shoplifter in his clothing store. At the time, Jews in Europe were surely hoping for a savior, too. Superman fit the requisite image.

Even Kal-El’s name connects him to the Mosaic-Messianic typology. The Hebrew word kal means “easy” or “light,” but some have suggested that Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster (the first man to draw and ink Superman) would have pronounced it as kol, a word that means “voice.” Since El means “God” in Hebrew, Clark Kent’s Kryptonian name may be interpreted to mean “voice of God.” While Moses spoke what God told him to say, Jesus spoke as God and is called the Word of God. They were both voices of God. The same is implied by Superman’s birth name.

Superman’s invulnerability, strength, and other remarkable powers make him a superhero and the inspiration of all of his kind that followed over the years. However, they are not the qualities that inspire the respect of both his fictional comrades and his real life readers. His honesty, self-sacrifice, dedication to justice, and reliable sense of what is right make him the real hero. They are also qualities Christians recognize and admire in Jesus. Whether Superman’s creators ever considered the parallels or not, they are as discernible in their hero with three names – Kal-El, Clark Kent, and Superman – as if they were intentional.

The Franchise Falls from Grace

Unfortunately, over the past few years the company that publishes Superman-related comics has aligned itself with the new religion of the Woke. On July 28, 2021, a new comic book, Superman: Son of Kal-El, arrived in comic shops with Jon Kent, the son of Lois and Clark, as the protagonist. The new series replaced a comic simply entitled Superman, which first appeared in June of 1939. The story in the fifth issue of Son of Kal-El focuses on Jon’s bisexuality. In the most recent issue of the Justice League comic, the elder Superman and all of his Justice League partners are killed, and new versions of the old heroes will take their place. Superman, the Christ-like icon of the past 84 years, will be replaced by his son, whose bisexuality seems to be his most important characteristic.

From earliest times, humans have told tales of superhuman heroes who took on impossible tasks for the sake of others. The Sumerians recounted the quest of Gilgamesh, the Greeks lionized the labors of Hercules, and the Romans regarded Aeneas as the model of manhood. In the introduction to Hollywood Heroes, the Tureks recall that C. S. Lewis “believed that God expressed Himself through the minds of ancient myth writers.” They go on to suggest that God might use today’s producers of superhero movies to accomplish the same end. To that end they explore the Christ figures in films based on Captain America, Iron Man, Batman, Wonder Woman, and others, all champions over malice and oppression who are willing to sacrifice themselves. These figures, along with Superman, have given themselves out of love for humanity with Christ-like compassion. The current heirs to their legacies, on the other hand, have been shaped for service to the perverse idea that sex is equivalent to love and that true heroism is the denial of objective morality. These new characters are not heroes. They are broken imitations.

is a retired secondary teacher of English and philosophy. For forty years he challenged students to dive deep into the classics of the Western canon, to think and write analytically, and to find the cultural constants reflected throughout that literature, art, and thought.

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