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Claiming Superman

Superman Returns has hit the theatres, bringing the long-awaited return of the Man of Steel to the big screen. And as this movie hits the screen, opening to lukewarm but generally positive reviews, it seems that at least a couple of groups are intent on claiming Superman as their own.

Superman is Jesus Christ. Maybe not really Jesus Christ, but certainly a Christ-like figure. A type of Christ perhaps. It’s obvious, isn’t it? During a recent interview with Wizard magazine, Bryan Singer, Director of Superman Returns proclaimed “Superman is the Jesus Christ of superheroes.” When speaking to Entertainment Weekly magazine he said of this movie, “It’s a story about what happens when Messiahs come back…” Is Superman a Jesus figure? An article at Pastors.com, provided as a sermon outline and written by Stephen Skelton, claims that he is. Skelton says, “Singer is looking to tell the best story he can, and he has consciously pulled from the Gospel story. For us, the result is an opportunity to use the Superman story to share the Gospel.”

Stephen Skelton is the founder of The Entertainment Ministry, a company whose motto is “identifying God’s purposes in popular entertainment.” The company’s website says “we believe many stories that transcend social, racial and cultural barriers today do so because they contain spiritual truth for which all people have a God-given hunger. Accordingly, the ministry promotes a grassroots approach to using popular entertainment to engage a Christian worldview. To that end, we hope these Bible studies not only provide a time of good fellowship but also continue to equip the church with ways to reach the world beyond.” They create Bible studies based on popular television programs and films and ask, “Do you want to engage and energize your class…Do you want to bring Jesus to searchers ‘where they are’… Do you want to model the powerful parable approach of Christ… Then these Bible studies can serve you.”

Here are a few of the parallels to the story of Christ as told in Scripture. Do note that some of these may spoil the film for you, if you are intending to see it. I don’t really know. Because I haven’t seen the film and don’t ever recall reading a Superman comic I am unsure as to whether this is an original story, or a re-telling of an existing story. Skelton premises these quotes with this: “here are some items from the movie that can help you prepare an outreach message on Superman Returns.”

  • “As the story begins, Superman (our Christ figure) has ascended into the heavens. He has returned to his home planet Krypton to see if he is in fact the ‘only son.’ The time he is away from Earth is symbolic of the time between Christ’s ascension and return.”
  • “When Superman comes back, he finds a world much worse off than when he left. Most upsetting, Lois Lane has moved on. She has a fiance and a son named Jason (which is a variation of the name Jesus). There is some imagery here of the Virgin Birth. (Suffice it to say that the movie provides no other explanation—no explanatory conversation or flashback.)”
  • “When Superman arrives to stop him, [Lex] Luthor stabs Superman in the right side with a kryptonite dagger—which recalls the spear that pierced the right side of Christ. Thereafter, our superhero undergoes a brief re-enactment of the march of the Passion. Superman tries to crawl away from his persecutors while struggling under the weight of kryptonite poisoning.”
  • “Despite the deadly danger, Superman lifts this entire kryptonite-laced landmass into outer space, symbolically taking the weight of a world of sin upon himself. As in the Gospel story, this supreme act of sacrificial suffering has disastrous consequences and Superman plummets back toward the Earth—in the crucifixion pose.”
  • Rushed to the hospital, Superman lies near death. In the Daily Planet office, a proposed newspaper headline announces ‘Superman is Dead.’ However, a little later, back at the hospital, the room (like Christ’s tomb) is found empty—and Superman lives!

Skelton concludes, “In terms of Gospel imagery, Superman Returns is more than we could have hoped for. Plus, the film has action, eye-popping special effects (some used for Christic effect), and even a little romance.”

So there we have it. The church has claimed him. Superman is Jesus.

Or is he?

Superman is gay. Maybe not really gay, but certainly a gay-like figure. A type of homosexual perhaps. It’s obvious, isn’t it? In a recent much-discussed article, The Advocate, a popular and influential gay magazine asked “How Gay is Superman?” According to the article, he’s really gay. Or really gay-like, in any case. The article’s author, Alonso Duralde, reflects on why most of the entertainment he enjoyed as a child was geared towards women, and yet Superman resonated with him. “I was addicted to reruns of I Married Joan and old Ingrid Bergman flicks on the afternoon movie. I was the only boy in my sixth-grade class to read Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. Nothing could make me change the channel faster than an old Rat Patrol or Daktari episode popping up in the middle of my afternoon of TV. So why was I drawn to these heroic tales of adventure and derring-do?”

Duralde suggests three theories. First, like most gay kids, superheroes have to keep their “difference” a secret. “As kids with a nascent understanding of our queerness, a lot of us tamped down our own fabulousness—not to keep Lois safe or to stem the Nazi menace, but to watch our backs.” In Superman he saw a man who was also wrestling with a hidden secret about his true identity. Second, comic books are a lot like soap operas. They are ongoing stories that build one upon the other and often look back to what has happened in the past. “For a gay kid who never got into soaps, apart from the occasional Search for Tomorrow episode with our housekeeper, comics were my first window into labyrinthine story lines that involved numerous characters.” And finally, superheroes are “totally hot.” “If you were a little boy in search of idealized masculine imagery—or a little girl starved for images of strong, powerful women-comic books were often where you got your fill. And a lot of those boys grew up and were inspired to make themselves over in their heroes’ image.”

He concludes, “Not for nothing does gay director Bryan Singer have an eye for how to make the Superman suit most flattering to Brandon Routh in Superman Returns. And rubber nipples weren’t the only way that director Joel Schumacher made Batman and Robin look even more homoerotic than usual in the two sequels he directed. The iconography of superheroes definitely pushes a button or two with many gay men.”

So there we have it. Homosexuals have claimed him. Superman is gay.

Or is he?

Which one is it? Is Superman the ultimate Jesus figure, or is he the ultimate homosexual figure? I’m quite comfortable suggesting that he cannot be both.

I don’t know that anyone can answer if there is something more to Superman than just a superhero. But this I do know: the belief that Superman appeals to unbelievers because they crave a Messiah is not premised on a sound understanding of Scripture. Unbelievers surely crave many things and perhaps even a kind of redemption. But an unregenerate heart, a heart in which the Spirit has not begun to work, cannot crave the Jesus Christ of the Bible. They may crave a false Christ, a Christ of their own making. But not the real Christ. not the Christ who saves. Jesus Himself tells us this. In John 7:7 He says, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.”

What is there in an unbeliever that will make him respond favorably, on a spiritual level, to a Christ figure? According to the Bible, nothing. Until men have been regenerated, until the Spirit has begun to convict them of sin, there can be no move towards Him. There can be no acceptance of Him. There can be no desire for Him or perceived need of Him. Superman cannot be Jesus, the true Jesus, to your unbelieving friend of neighbor.

What is there in an unbeliever that will make him respond favorably, on a carnal level, to a gay figure? According to the Bible, plenty. Until men have been regenerated, until the Spirit has begun to convict them of sin, men will find solace in other sinners. They will find stories that affirm their sin and affirm their sinful choices. And, when looking in stories created by sinful men, they will never have far to look.

Superman isn’t Jesus. But I suppose he could be gay.