Is Superman Pop Culture's Jesus?
Superman may have become pop culture's Jesus in Zack Snyder's versions.
When Jewish immigrants Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster originally created Superman, his origin story was their own modern reinvention of the classic Moses story. Moses was sent away by his parents in an arc where he was eventually picked up and raised by an adopted family. The only difference was that Siegel and Schuster updated the iconography with sci-fi spin. Now, instead of fleeing from the wrath of tyrannical pharaoh demanding all male Hebrew children be drowned, Superman is the child of a scientist couple sent off in a spaceship ark as the last son of the dying world of krypton. He, too, becomes the adopted loving son, only Superman learns his innate values of truth and justice from them instead of growing up and using his super powers to wreak havoc on Smallville like Moses did to the Egyptian royal family who made the mistake of taking him in.
Despite the Jewish origins of Superman, in recent years he’s been co-opted by another popular religion. It’s not hard to see how Superman could be reinterpreted as a modern day Christ figure, especially after the infamous death of Superman storyline which saw him killed off in the comics fighting a big grey mash-up of Satan and the hulk called Doomsday. Much like everyone’s favorite biblical superhero, not long after his demise, Superman rose from the dead more powerful than before and igniting a trend we see continued to this very day—major comic publishers will kill off a character only to bring them back a few months later.
The Christ imagery has been creeping more and more into Superman films. It started with Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, which featured Superman lifting a continent into space to save earth but falling down in classic crucifixion pose. The film even goes as far as having Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor stab him in his ribs with a kryptonite spear making a comic book version of the Lance of Longinus.
The film was overstuffed with Christ metaphors. Zack Snyder took things even further in Man of Steel, where he gave the titular Man of Steel a beard as he wandered the great American wilderness as vagabond helping those in need. Not to mention the literal Christ imagery as Superman strikes another crucifixion posse after he flies out of Zod’s ship or his attempts to seek council by a priest in a church.
Zack Snyder took the Christ allusion to another level in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Just like Jesus, we see Superman put on trial. People violently protest him, labeling him as a false god demanding he go back home to his planet. All the while there’s a huge fanatical group of people looking to Superman as their messianic savior.
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice
If Superman is Jesus, what does that make Batman? Batman is obviously not very happy about any of this. Does that make Batman Judas, or is he more like Pontius Pilate passing a death sentence on what he sees as a false prophet? We can certainly draw some parallels between the two by looking at the comic book story arcs that Zack Snyder is drawing inspiration from for his new movie. For the record, nowadays no comic book movie is ever based on a single storyline. You can’t go into your local comic shop and find the direct story that something like Iron Man 3 or Guardians of the Galaxy was pulled from. When writing their big movies, rather than adapting a single story most production studios like to draw from smorgasbord of different elements to create a hodgepodge. They enjoy cherry picking the best and most compelling moments from a variety of different story arcs to try and make the best movie possible.
Batman vs. Superman draws its own inspiration from several different iconic stories. One of the most famous being Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. In Dark Knight Returns, Batman is an older grizzled veteran who’s been patrolling the streets of Gotham for over two decades but has been forced to go into retirement. But he comes out of retirement with a vengeance, and Gotham is a completely different place than it was before. Superheroes have largely been outlawed. Most have either quit or gone into hiding. Superman now works for the US government, protecting the country from potential communist invaders. Batman’s renewed clean-up in Gotham puts him afoul against the United States government as he makes them look terribly incompetent. Superman tries to warn Batman that if he doesn’t stop he’ll be forced to come after him. Batman doesn’t care and does what he does best, he prepares. That is where we see the now iconic Batmech suite come from. It’s a direct inspiration from the Dark Knight Returns as well as the climactic battle between Batman and Superman where Batman manages to beat Superman through sheer force of will.
A new cosmic entity crash landed into metropolis, wreaking havoc and destroying everything in his path. Many superheroes try to stop Doomsday, but they prove useless against his onslaught. Only Superman is a match for the beast, but Doomsday pushes Superman to his very limits. Superman is able to subdue Doomsday, but at the cost of his life, turning Superman in to a literal Christ figure as he sacrifices himself and dies for our sins against the grey comic incarnation of satan himself. But it’s a comic book so it wasn’t long before Superman returned, but his death proved a pivotal point of his character history showing that he was not completely invulnerable as well as painting the most explicit Christ parallel that filmmakers have been able to draw upon for decades.
About the Creator
Joshua Samuel Zook
Grew up in a religious household. Listened to countless sermons on the wrath of God. An epiphany struck him and he realized no one is that angry, not even God.
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