The first page of the latest installment in Superman’s never-ending battle against evil (Action Comics #786 for those interested in the number) opens with a familiar cliché: “Look, up in the sky.” After the typical not-a-bird, not-a-plane conclusion, a little boy exclaims, “It’s Superman—and he’s fighting Satan!” Although the villain in question did not turn out to be the real Fallen Angel (despite such ranting as “The Seventh Seal is broken”), this was only the beginning for the blatantly religious imagery saturating this popular comic book.
Turn a few pages in the same issue, and an alien race is calling on the Man of Steel to become … a Messiah?? Of course, while Superman is uncomfortable with such terminology, his sense of duty forces him to answer the call and deliver an alien race from an evil tyrant.
The only thing more unusual is that these sorts of stories are becoming more and more common in today’s comic book field. Take, for instance, his Mosaic “Let my people go” in Superman: the Man of Steel #115, or his epic battle with an all-powerful Joker in Action Comics #770. Perhaps the clincher would be the parallels in Action Comics #775: a supposed death, his killers even stake a claim to the left-overs of his cape, and then three panels later—BOOM—the comeback!
How did America’s most beloved superhero (from whom the very word is derived) somehow shift to become an embodiment of religious symbolism? After all, isn’t Superman supposed to fight mad scientists and propel giant comets from striking the Earth? There really doesn’t seem to be any definite point when the connection was made. Of course, it became obvious after his 1992 death in Superman #75, and even skeptics couldn’t deny it after the subsequent resurrection. Going back to the beginning, it does make sense that Jor El’s (by the way, check out the meaning in that name! Superman, son of El???) only son who was sent from the heavens to the earth; who performed miracles; died and was raised again, would one day be more than a mere superhero.
Stories written in Superman’s future cement this theory even further. After all, there is no way a story titled “Kingdom Come” could avoid the Messianic implications. In this Elseworlds account (a comic book term for a noncanonical story—wait, anybody making these connections?), Pastor Norman McCay is taken on a journey through the book of Revelation to see if Superman will fulfill the End Time prophecies.
Another relevant, but often overlooked, future story was Grant Morrison’s DC: One Million mini-series. In the climactic final issue, Superman returns unbelievably powerful after spending thousands of years absorbing sunlight, he remakes the world and rights all wrongs, and even resurrects his wife, Lois (and if you look closely, aren’t those two Superman symbols from which she emerges forming a Star of David?).
Now, none of this is suggesting we worship Superman like God, of course. But it does illustrate the popular Western trend of grafting Christianity to our popular culture. Naturally, with Superman probably being the incarnation of American pop culture and an icon for today’s and future generations, his history inevitably would resemble the Central Figure of our culture. Comic books are finally expressing more than simplistic plots, under-over-tights, and big-breasted knock-outs, plus they’re pretty entertaining! Oh, yeah, Superman’s not the only one making references to the Almighty …