2012-06-21

Superman vs. The Elite – Why Superman Isn’t Jesus

by Yo Snyder

Super heroes are often used as examples of Christ
archetypes. This is understandable as they usually display amazing powers, are
generally self-sacrificing, help to protect the innocent and fight evil, and
let’s face it, they quite commonly die and come back to life again. So it’s
easy to see why those parallels are so often drawn. However, while I was watching the excellent Superman vs. The Elite, it occurred to
me that while there may be many similarities between super heroes – Superman in
particular — and Jesus, there is one distinguishing factor that separates them
and why we must always remember; Superman is not Jesus.

Superman vs. The Elite
continues DC and Warner Bros.’ excellent track record of making enjoyable
animated films. Why they can’t figure out how to duplicate that success with their
live-action films I just don’t know. The movie is based on just one issue Action Comics published way back on 2001
that was called “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way?” It
tackles some big questions about what the right way to solve today’s problems
may be if one has the power to truly make changes, and most interestingly of
all, whether or not Superman’s boy scout, goodie-two-shoes act is still relevant
in the harsher reality of today’s world. Is there still room for an
inspirational figure of good, or do we need to be more pragmatic? I’ll explore
that more in moment. For now, I just want to say this is a really good Superman
movie. It has some awesome action beats, a great moral dilemma, and some really
nice quiet, contemplative moments. Although I’ve always liked Tim Daly’s voice
for the animated Superman, George Newbern does a great job, capturing some nice
nuances as Superman struggles with his relevancy in the face of some new heroes
who seem to be more “with it”. Pauley Perrette also shines as Lois, showing a
tough, no-nonsense side and the soft side that’s obviously very much in love
with Clark. In fact, the Clark and Lois scenes are among the best in the movie
as she constantly provides the honest reality check Superman needs. The rest of
the cast also does a fine job, and when you mix top-notch voice talent with
some great animation along with a solid story, you get a really good Superman
animated film. Again, why can’t this be done for live-action? (Fingers crossed
for The Man of Steel.)

Now, back to the question of whether or not Superman is
still relevant and why he isn’t Jesus. Early in the film, Superman makes an
interesting statement. He talks about how he believes in humanity, how he
believes that deep down people are all basically good and what they need is an
example to inspire them to reach for that goodness within and use it to
accomplish great things. That right there is where Superman is separated from
Jesus in a very big way. First, Jesus didn’t have any such notion about
humanity being good because he knew that just wasn’t true. It’s not something
we really like to hear, but the Bible is very clear on this point. Psalm 14:3
clearly states “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there
is no one who does good, not even one.” This is further emphasized and repeated
in Romans 3 as Paul states quite clearly “all have sinned and fall short of the
glory of God” (Romans 3:23). So Jesus never thought that people were “basically
good”, which leads to the next point that separates him from Superman; Jesus
didn’t come to inspire, he came to change.

So many times I hear people talk about what an inspiring teacher
Jesus was and what a great moral example he was. If that was all he was, then
sure, he’s actually a lot like Superman. Superman wants to inspire goodness in
others by setting the example, by showing people what it looks like to be “better”.
Jesus didn’t come here for any such thing. He knew that inspiration wouldn’t be
enough because the fact is the nature of humanity isn’t basically good, it’s sinful.
In order for people to truly be better, to be good, they didn’t need
inspiration, they needed a change of nature. Jesus came as God in the flesh,
died on the cross to take care of sin since we couldn’t solve that problem on our
own, rose from the dead thereby conquering it so we no longer had to fear it,
ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to be with us. All of this makes
true change possible, allows us to truly experience goodness and righteousness,
and allows us to truly be “better” in a way that mere inspiration could never
provide. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 states so well, “Therefore, if anyone is in
Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” That’s something that even Superman just isn’t
capable of. The Man of Steel can save a body from a moment of immediate peril,
but only Jesus can save a soul and save it for eternity.

Now as for the question of whether or not a figure like Superman
is still relevant; is he still pertinent as a role model? I was talking about
this with someone the other day and they said that although the idea of an
inspiring figure like Superman is a great idea, the reality is he just isn’t
viable. Well, I’d have to agree with that… to a certain extent. Superman as a
role model isn’t viable because the fact of the matter is we just can’t live up
to his example. That was the whole point Jesus came to illustrate. No one can
ever be good enough, it just isn’t in us. Yet, with the right help, we can live
up to the example of the Man of Tomorrow, so in that sense, I think he’s a very
viable and relevant hero. No we can’t do it on our own, but through Jesus, we
can achieve those ideals that Superman represents. As a model for what’s
possible character-wise for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus,
Superman is a very viable role model and one we shouldn’t give up on or want to
see changed in order to be more “gritty, dark and relevant”. One of my least
favorite trends is that of the morally ambiguous, dark “anti-hero”; something
that all sounds like a big oxymoron to me. We need good examples, we need true
heroes, but more than anything we need Jesus’ help if we ever hope to see any
sort of true goodness. It’s far too easy to give in to the whole “might makes
right” type of thinking, and quite frankly, to get focused on our own narrow
self-interests. Concepts such as nobility, honor, and chivalry may be rare and
perhaps unpopular, but they aren’t unattainable. Superman inspires us to reach
for them, and Jesus helps us actually attain them and live them out.

Superman is not Jesus, or vice versa. While there are plenty
of parallels, the few things that set them apart really set them apart. The difference between the need for inspiration
and the need for change is the difference of eternity. Nevertheless, Superman vs. The Elite does a great job
of raising these questions even as it raises the question of whether or not we
even need a Superman, or a Savior for that matter. While it doesn’t get
everything right, it at least draws the correct conclusion that when it’s left
up to us to decide what’s right and good, that will only take us to a bad
place. Superman vs. The Elite is that
special kind of super hero movie that is not only a whole lot of fun, but
thought provoking and challenging as well. And it’s animated! (And by the way parents, just because it’s a cartoon
doesn’t mean it’s for kids; it’s violent and brutal, and also has some mild
innuendo to boot.) I just wish DC and Warner Bros. could do the same for the
live action films (outside of Nolan’s Batman films, naturally).

Score: 6 of 7