Tag Archives: superman

What Superman and Jesus *Really* Have in Common

I’ve made no secret among people I know that I was severely disappointed with this summer’s Man of Steel.  Among very long lists of reasons why, a major one has been the over-the-top force-feeding of the idea that Superman is a representation of Jesus.  On a normal day I’d assert that they are barely alike and that anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about.  I remember no parts of the Gospels that tell of Jesus saving Mary Magdalene from the bald and maniacal Roman governor, Lex Luthicus.  Nor do I remember scenes in Man of Steel where Kal-El spoke against the hypocritical politicians of Metropolis or sacrificing himself to execution as propitiation to Jor-El for the sins of Earth. (Take note: Jor-El did not send Kal-El to save the people of Earth; Jor-El sent Kal-El to Earth to save Kal-El and the Kryptonian race.  Where is that Jesus parallel again?)

But this evening I had something of an epiphany.  The two characters *are* alike.  Not necessarily in parallels within their stories, but in how their stories have been handled and treated.  In fact, they are so similar in this regard that I can explain it by describing only one, yet the description works perfectly for both:

The story is of a man of humble roots but a fantastic origin.  He grows up and gives his life to saving those who cannot save themselves.  His story has been told over many generations, and those who hear it and *understand* it have celebrated and been moved by its beauty. Over the course of many years, this story helped shape cultures and entire groups of people knew it as they knew their alphabet.

But as it became more commonplace, as the idea became engrained into the popular consciousness, many people claimed to know it but actually only knew the name and the images they had been shown throughout their lives.  They had never actually picked up a book about this man to learn what the real story was.  They knew the bullet points and little else.  They still claimed to like the story; they still claimed to like that incredible man, but as they allowed it to be about culture and not about the actual story–to not be something that they tried to really understand and to be moved by it–they lost touch with what the message was in the first place.

As culture and societies changed, people began to mock the story.  They said that we were too advanced or sophisticated or evolved to accept such nonsense.  They would point out aspects of it that they interpret to be childish, or remnants of a long-gone era.  The more holes they believed they found, the more the culture at large embraced those perceived holes as truth.

Throughout all of this, there always remained a steady stream of people who did read the story and who did understand the themes and ideas, and really did understand why it was so appealing.  They would find themselves unapologetically drawn to it, and they hoped and yearned for a day when the world would see the beauty in it again.

So they would tell the story again and again.  They would put it into modern contexts but keep the message the same; keep the characters exactly who they were all along while applying contemporary concerns and addressing current issues.  Sometimes through this, new people would find the truth about the story, and they would join the ranks of those who showed it to them and attempt to tell more.

So then what happens when someone comes along and wants to re-tell this story on a large scale, but their motives seem to be less about the story and more about their personal gain?  They update the story but remove and reverse all that made it what it was.  They render the original concept utterly meaningless by all the alterations they make.  All the world takes notice and celebrates the new interpretation because it is recognizable but flashier, is easy to swallow, and appeals to their senses; but those who have understood the story all along cry foul.  They try to tell everyone that THIS story is not THAT story, but their protests are ignored and ridiculed.

“It has to be updated for modern society!” the new audiences say.  “Surely you cannot expect us to go along with those outdated concepts.  You’re only upset because you think you own this story and you only want it told YOUR way!”

“But those concepts are exactly the ones that we need in this modern age!” the others reply back.  “The problem all along hasn’t been that the story is irrelevant, but that so many have missed what the story is really about!  Contextualizing it to today can work but this has betrayed what this character actually stood for, and has undermined the entire meaning and message of the original story.”

Yet it feels as if it will be to little avail.  How difficult it is to try to show others the quality of something when something that looks the same but is easier (yet emptier) is being offered to them by someone else.

And it is at this point that the two stories stop being similar.  I can live my life without people “getting” the actual story of Superman, but my heart aches over those who would take an easier, false Gospel and think that they know Christ.  So if we’re going to compare the two stories, let’s make sure we’re comparing what they really have in common.

Writing a Superman Story? Here’s Five Things You MUST Include . . .

I’ve heard it said that Superman is a hard character to write for, since he’s so powerful and finding a good foe or challenge for him can be something of a task.  I say, “Bull!”  Writing for Superman is EXTREMELY easy!  You can tell how easy it is if you read some of his graphic novels or watch some of his movies, because they all tend to do at least ONE of the following five things–usually more.

1.  Make a lot of allusions to Superman being like Jesus. Because, you know, Superman and Jesus are totally alike.  Personally, my favorite parts of the Bible are when Jesus busts through the walls of the Hebrew temple, melts the swords of the Romans with his heat vision, and freezes the Sea of Galilee with his ice breath right before walking out on it.  Therefore, be sure to toss in all kinds of allusions to how Kal-El is like the Son of God.  It makes perfect sense.  Last of an extinct alien race raised on Earth by adoptive parents to grow up and become an indestructible man flying around in his pajamas vs. one-third of a triune, creator deity, born of a virgin, sent to die for the salvation of mankind.  To-may-to, to-mah-to.

Perfect!

2.  Give Superman some kind of power, skill, or ability on a deistic level.  It’s a common misconception that Superman is too powerful.  He’s actually not powerful enough.  Being bulletproof, the ability to fly, vision powers, breath powers, super speed, super strength–all child’s play.  When you’re writing your story, feel free to make some new power up.  Anything.  Actually, the bigger the better.  We’ve seen new powers as small as erasing memories with a kiss, to as large as creating alternate universes inside the Fortress of Solitude.  Feel free to go beyond that, even (though it is tough to think about going much bigger than creating LIFE).  The beauty of understanding this about Superman is that he’s a walking deus ex machina.  It’s IMPOSSIBLE to write yourself into any corner with this guy.

. . . and fanboys everywhere will call your schlock "brilliant."

3.  Destroy the Fortress of Solitude.  Oh yeah, it’s got to go.  First, don’t ask yourself if it’s been destroyed before–not important.  Just blow the damn thing up.  Have someone trash it.  Have a meteor smash it.  Have a ball!  What’s a Fortress of Solitude if Superman is alone there all the time and no one knows about it?  Make it common knowledge, and then have them DESTROY IT.  Couldn’t be simpler.  And be sure to get to it quick, too.  Don’t waste your precious story time establishing it as a true place of refuge for the Man of Steel.  Just assume everyone already knows about it, have the bad guy show up, and BOOM goes the fortress.  Observe below:

plus

equals

Now you win!!

4.  Have some Kryptonians show up.  It’s really very logical when  you think about it.  Part of Superman’s character is there’s a deep lonliness in him because his entire race, his entire planet, no longer exists.  He’s the last Kryptonian.  So what better twist than to have some stray Kryptonians show up?  I mean, if General Zod was such a huge hit, then MORE Kryptonians equals Superman story gold!  Yet we can’t have EVERYONE come out of the Phantom Zone.  Just say they were wandering the galaxy somehow or somewhere.  Without a spaceship.  Oh, sure, there’s the fact that Superman gets his power because of the light from our yellow sun, so Kryptonians wandering around in space away from yellow stars doesn’t actually make any sense–but so what?  Just write it. 

Pictured: The Opposite of Extinct

5.  Do not, under any circumstances, bother with the difference between “dark and brooding” and “confident and serious.”  No one likes a hero who has it all together, right?  I mean, since the mid-1970’s, all of our heroes in comic books and action movies have been nothing but good-hearted, charming, stand-up citizens. . . . BORing.  We need heroes that are conflicted and moody and lonely and disturbed and, oh what’s that word the kids are using these days . . . “emo.”  The point of all of this is to help you understand how writing for Superman is easy, so trying to figure out the right balance between smiling altruist and “humanity” is out of the question.  That’s too hard.  That would require paying attention to his motivations to justify non-happy emotions, like anger.  Instead, just make him dark and angry all the time, OR make him really sad and whiny.  Your choice!

This makes Supes in no way like any other superhero!

Now you know  how to write the perfect Superman story!  Mix and match these five tips and you are guaranteed a winner!  Happy writing!