Friday, July 07, 2006

It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

With the recent release of Superman Returns, it seems fitting to include a tribute to the Man of Steel in a blog inspired by his motto. Ever since he leaped from the pages of Action Comics in 1938, Superman has been an American icon. His powers (which include the ability to fly into outer space and melt steel beams with his eyes) border on the supernatural. But perhaps what really won our hearts is his code of honor.

He learned his moral code from his adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent. Discovering their extraterrestrial son’s powers, they could easily exploit them for their own gain—possibly to control the world. Instead, they tell Clark to use his strength to serve humanity, to fight evil and rescue those in trouble. When he grows to manhood, Clark does just that. Assuming a secret identity as a mild-mannered reporter, he repudiates the advantages that come with power to become Superman, “champion of the oppressed, the physical marvel who had sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need” (Action Comics #1, 1938).

Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman is the embodiment of the timeless values which made America great: respect for private property; honesty; a reverence for human life (his code includes a “no-kill” policy); equal treatment under the law; and an unwavering commitment to justice and fair play, even for accused murderers. In many ways he was also a product of the time in which he debuted. During the Great Depression, Americans were distrustful of government, and this comes across in the early villains Superman fights—corrupt politicians, slick lobbyists, and munitions magnates who are plotting to entangle the United States in overseas war; in other words, “those who sought to thwart the American way” (“Identity Crisis: the Many Faces of the Man of Steel”).

As America’s cultural and moral landscape decayed, Superman lost much of his wholesome image. In Superman II, for instance, he gives up his powers to sleep with Lois Lane. His abdication of responsibility nearly results in the world becoming enslaved by three power-mad dictators from Krypton. And in Superman Returns, we learn that the Man of Steel left earth “without any thought to what the consequences of his absence might be—for example, the villain Lex Luthor is out of prison now because Superman failed to appear and testify against him at his parole hearing” (Christianity Today).

But there is room for hope. In the WB series “Smallville,” Superman retains many of the values traditionally associated with the American way. In one episode, the teenaged Clark befriends a homeless teen with super speed who uses his ability to get whatever he wants. Clark counsels the youth against stealing, even from billionaire Lex Luther (who has not yet become Superman’s arch nemesis and ironically is Clark’s best friend). When the young man tells Clark that Luther’s insurance company will reimburse him for the loss, Clark insists it’s the principle that matters, not how wealthy his intended victim is. “There are laws,” he says. This commitment to upholding the rule of law—for rich and poor alike—was a hallmark of the early Superman comic books.

Perhaps the most endearing characteristic of “Smallville’s” incarnation of Superman is the redemptive effect Clark’s friendship has on Lex Luther in early episodes. Throughout the series, Luther continually affirms how much he looks to Clark as a model of integrity. And even though Luther often locks horns with Jonathan Kent, the young billionaire is always quick to acknowledge how fortunate Clark is to have parents who raised him with strong moral principles. In a television culture that frequently lampoons the traditional family, specifically fathers, Clark’s wholesome relationship with his dad is especially refreshing.

For 68 years, Superman has been the ultimate American hero. His popularity has endured through a Great Depression, two world wars, declining comic book sales, and an increasingly jaded public. Perhaps the reason Superman appeals to so many people is that we have an innate desire to see wrongs righted, to see the weak defended, to see justice prevail. In short, we need a savior to come and make things right in the world, to rescue us from the darkness.

Two thousand years ago, another extraterrestrial came to earth. Like Superman, he had powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. He could control the weather, walk on water, and even raise the dead. He, too, renounced the privileges that accompany power to serve mankind.

Like Clark Kent, he was raised in an inconsequential, backwater town, and few would have imagined he was destined for greatness.

He was sent to this planet with a mission not unlike the son of Jor-El’s: to save us from evil. But he was far more than a superhero. He was—and is—the eternally existing Son of the Living God.

For those of you who are crying out for a hero, he is your answer. Indeed he is the only answer—the ultimate champion in the battle between good and evil.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (Colossians 1:15-20).



Blogger Beth said...

Very nicely done. Have you seen the new Superman yet? Mitch saw it the other day and said it actually has Superman's Krypton father saying, "I sent them my only son" and I believe elsewhere the term "savior" is used as well.
It's about as clear a parallel as you can get.

July 07, 2006 1:45 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

I haven't seen it yet but I plan to eventually. I did hear about that line by Jor-El. There's another scene where Lois Lane tells Superman, "The world doesn't need a savior, and neither do I." To which Superman replies, "I hear the world crying for one every day." (I've read so much about the movie, I feel as if I've already seen it!)

Interestingly, the director of the movie is Jewish, and he is well-aware of the Christian parallels, as he revealed in an interview with "Christianity Today."

July 07, 2006 2:19 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Cool. I am continually amazed by how many redemptive stories creep into Hollywood. It's just too deep in our tribal memory to be otherwise, no matter how we may try to deny it.

July 07, 2006 2:33 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

A well-known non-Christian actor was once asked which theme is most appealing to Hollywood, and the person immediately answered, "Redemption."

One of my all-time favorite TV series is "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and many of the storylines center around the characters' quest for redemption.

July 07, 2006 5:04 PM  
Anonymous Galaxian said...

I love this!

If only all Americans would stand up for Truth, Justice, and the American way, our liberties would be secure. It's apathy that is destroying this nation, and people had better wake up before it's too late.

Officer Jack McLamb is a true hero if there ever was one. Time and time again he risked his career to stand up for his Oath of Office and protect the people he was charged to serve, and most so-called Americans would never take that risk. I fear we've become a nation of sheeple.

July 10, 2006 1:15 PM  
Blogger CrimsonLine said...

Good treatment of the Man of Steel. I used to write for an e-magazine called "The Kryptonian Cybernet." Superman's my favorite superhero.

Smallville's great, too - when it's not wallowing in teen sex romps. Their treatment of the Superman mythos has been awesome.

I don't know if you're interested, but I hang out at a Superman fan forum called "The Planet," part of There's a need for more Christians there - but be warned, the conversation there can be rough and the language salty.

July 20, 2006 7:29 AM  
Blogger Julie said...

Thanks for your feedback, Crimson Line. Smallville is my favorite show right now, though I was disappointed when it started playing up the teen sex angle.

I'd like to check out that Superman fan forum; thanks for suggesting it.

July 25, 2006 8:06 AM  

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