The Spirituality of Superheroes

From Halloween to Comic-Con conventions, one costume that prevails is that of the superhero. We dress up like them, we fantasize about them, we hang pictures of them in our rooms and offices. Kids and adults alike want to be them. Why? Because the world of comic book superheroes reflects the culture it seeks to represent on the page and on the screen. Over the years, our favourite superheroes have changed their looks, their nationalities, and even their creeds – all to accommodate us. We identify with them at their best and at their worst. We watch them succeed through insufferable odds, and we find the courage to attempt the same. There is an uncanny parallel to the battles they fight on earth and the battles we are commanded to fight in the spiritual realm. Our favourite superheroes may not be the Roman centurions Paul used as the basis for his Ephesians 6 weapons checklist, but they are soldiers nonetheless.

The first full length trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released a few months ago, and critics and fans alike have been buzzing ever since. Even a person without a single spiritual bone in their body will be able to detect the spiritual undertone that director Zach Snyder will be riding on this movie. And Superman is the biggest object of scrutiny.

Superman stands in the Supreme Court and is judged for the uproar he’s caused, while crowds gather outside with picket signs condemning this “false god.” Lois Lane, his steadfast supporter from the Daily Planet, tells him not to give up because the symbol on his suit means something, and the hope it gives people is all they have. Amid flashes of Superman saving a family from the roof of their house during a flood, protecting space rockets from explosions, walking down an aisle of kneeling soldiers provided to aid him, and standing surrounded by a crowd of people reaching out just to touch him, Martha Kent’s voice narrates the scenes in the advising tone only a mother can take: “People hate what they don’t understand. Be their hero, Clark. Be their angel, be their monument, be anything they need you to be — or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing. You never did.”

Why does any of this matter? It’s just a movie, right? Yes, and no. Movies, like the superheroes they’re about, reflect culture. And ours is changing.

Zack Snyder does not shy away from the parallels he made. In a CNN interview about the first film, Man of Steel, he states: “When we started to examine the Superman mythology, in the most classic sense, I really wanted to press upon the film the ‘why’ of him, which has been 75 years in the making… The Christ-like parallels, I didn’t make that stuff up. We weren’t like, ‘Hey, let’s add this!’… That is the tried-and-true Superman metaphor.”

The battle of Bruce Wayne and the people against Superman all too clearly reflects the never-ending battle of man against God. Superman is the salvation they don’t want. He is the strength they think they can live without. He, like Jesus, is the one who is sentenced and ridiculed by some, and worshipped by others, yet who “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7). More comparisons can be made all day. In this growing culture of do-it-yourself and Christian intolerance from the media, the fight between our favourite superheroes continues to give us some uncanny chills.



Photo by (flickr CC) Greenog