Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed. Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all—their capacity for good—I have sent them you … my only son. – Jor-El (Superman, 1978)
The world we live in is complicated. So much so that, if we’re not careful, we tend to question the integrity of those things that are simple. And that’s the thing about Superman: He’s simple. He can do most anything, and most everything he chooses to do is good.
First appearing in Action Comics #1 back in 1938, Superman has spent nearly 75 years engaged in “the never ending battle for truth, justice and the American way.” But as society has shifted and conflicts around the globe have caused people to question the means of “the American way,” Superman’s vivid blues and reds have seemed increasingly out of touch with the graying of the world around him.
Sure, the iconic “S” shield can be found on virtually everything from T-shirts to tattoos, but it seems to have become more synonymous with the idea of power than with the virtues of Superman as a character. And while comic books have ridden a tidal wave of cultural relevance over the past decade—three of the top 10 highest grossing films of the last decade are movies based directly on comic books—inaccurate understanding of Superman’s simplicity has made him seem like a character from a bygone era.
A perfect example being 2006’s Superman Returns. Instead of starting fresh with the character, director Bryan Singer opted to make the $200 million-budgeted Returns as a sort-of sequel to Richard Donner’s Superman II. And if making a sequel to a 26-year old franchise (that also ignores the final two installments) wasn’t confusing enough, Singer also decided to take the divine undertones of the Donner films in a decidedly Last Temptation of Christ direction by having Superman “unknowingly” father a child with Lois Lane. A twist that seemingly sought to be both edgy and humanizing, but came off as completely out of character.
So while it might seem shallow or reaching to try and identify a superhero with the savior of mankind, one might also argue that it is telling to look back and see how people’s perceptions of the character of Superman and the person of Christ have mirrored each another—with attempts being made to bring “relevance” to both while they seemingly move from being staples of our society to the sidelines.
However, as Man of Steel screenwriter David Goyer says, “We didn’t come up with these allusions of Superman being Christ-like, that’s something that’s been embedded in the character from the beginning.” So, there’s reason to believe tha the new take in Man of Steel may embrace its subject’s multitude of messianic parallels. And such a change could benefit the perception of Christ, as well.
While it’s still too early to know for certain, Man of Steel seemingly promises to tell a bigger story than we’ve seen from Superman in cinema before, but also a story that is rooted in something simple: love.
The love of fathers for their son. The love of a son for his fathers. And how that love ultimately helps shape the choices the son makes—from the smallest decisions to the most fantastic of feats.
It’s a story that may be simple. But one that begs to be told.