6 No. 1 April 2002
as Christ-Figure: The American
Pop Culture Movie Messiah
Anton Karl Kozlovic
School of Humanities
The Flinders University of South Australia
Holy subtexts abound within the
popular cinema. Superman: The Movie
(1978) and Superman II
(1981) were examined as a protracted secular analogue of the Jesus story.
The literature was reviewed and twenty Superman-Jesus parallels plus eight
Christic personalistic traits were explicated. It was concluded that
Superman is not only a legitimate Christ-figure, but the
American pop culture movie Messiah.
 Superman is
considered "a universal icon,"1 "the apocalyptic
hero par excellence,"2 and "the most omnipotent
hero ever invented."3
Scriptwriter Mario Puzo
originally constructed Superman: The
Movie (aka Superman,
hereafter S1)4 as a mythologic story based on "a Greek
tragedy."5 Later, other writers were hired and the
script reshaped at director Richard Donner's insistence.6
Donner initially disowned Superman's religious origins. Presumably
because of duress: "I had life threats, because people accused me of
approaching Brando as God and his son was Jesus...we had Scotland Yard,
the FBI, and the LAPD looking in to them. I literally had people saying
that my blood would run in the streets for doing that.7
 However, many
years later, Donner gladly admitted to the Christic subtext: "It's a
motif I had done at the beginning when Brando sent Chris [Reeve] to Earth
and said, 'I send them my only son.' It was God sending Christ to
Earth."8 It was a dramaturgical decision that made
good sense, for just as Superman was literally a super-man, Jesus was
"the ultimate Super Jew of his day,"9 the
"Christian super-hero,"10 the pop culture "God
with us" (Matt. 1:23).11 Indeed, many Jesus-Superman
parallels exist within S1 and S2 because both films were planned, scripted and partially shot
Superman - Jesus Parallels
 The filmmakers
were able to build into their production(s) many parallels that
incorporated direct character transpositions, sacred symbolism, verbal
identifiers, Christic signifiers, divine colouring, biblical phraseology
and scriptural allusions. For example:
1.0 Divine Paternity
 David Bruce
considered the infant Kal-El (Lee Quigley) to be the only begotten son of
Jor-El (Marlon Brando), thus forming the second member of the Holy trinity
(Matt. 28:19).12 Kal-El was the son of Jor-El just as
Jesus was "the Son of God" (Mark 1:1; Heb. 10:29; 1 John 4:15).
Indeed, in Superman II
(hereafter S2), Lex Luthor (Gene
Hackman) described Superman (Christopher Reeve) as "the son of Jor
El" thereby mimicking the biblical form. To further establish the
paternity of the Jor-El/Kal-El, God/Jesus, Father/Son relationship, the
holographic Jor-El in the newly constructed Fortress of Solitude
specifically referred to Kal-El as "my son" and to himself as "your
father." Their indissoluble genetic link was further indicated by their
respective hairstyles. The stately Jor-El, the teenage Clark Kent (Jeff
East) and the adult Superman (but not the adult Clark Kent) had cute
forelocks dangling upon their foreheads. This biological fact resonated
with Jesus's identity claim that: "if ye had known me, ye should have
known my Father also" (John 14:7).
2.0 Divine Diaspora
Superman was an alien immigrant, and like a diaspora Jew, he was forced to
leave his starry home (a threatened Krypton) to find a new life amongst
strangers in a strange land (Earth). Later, he would again leave his home
(Smallville) to live in the Arctic wilderness (ensconced inside the
Fortress of Solitude). And then for a third time he would leave his Arctic
home to live in a bustling urban city (Metropolis) going about his
heavenly Father's (Jor-El's) work. Likewise, Jesus left his celestial
home in the heavens to come to the Earth realm. Later, he left his rural
home Nazareth (an ancient Smallville) to wander through desert
wildernesses, followed by missionary work throughout the Roman-dominated
world while doing his heavenly Father's (Yahweh's) work.
3.0 Earthly Existence
speaking, the corporeal nature of Jesus is itself a sacred sign. The need
for a deliverer "is expressed in the biblical messianic hope that God
would send his Messiah in the form of a single human being, a person just
like us, who could speak to us and show us, through human
words and deeds, the way to the truth and the life."13
Superman was the fictional, secular equivalent of that sacred hope. As E.
G. Marshall (playing the US President in S2)
confessed: "Eventually, one day, we'll make contact with that
[extraterrestrial] life, and I think that's part of the attraction of
Superman...the chance--the hope, even--that there is
a superbeing, a form of superman, that there is
an intelligence greater than our own."14 Christians
call this intelligence God.
4.0 Divine Signature Signs
After his starship crash-landed in a field, baby Kal-El (Aaron Sholinski)
emerged totally naked (symbolic of birth) from its womb-like cave within a
rural setting (analogous to Jesus's humble stable manger). His small
arms were outstretched in a cruciform posture, the unmistakable signature
sign of Jesus Christ. To confirm his alien nature, the extraterrestrial
baby physically lifted the back of the disabled truck belonging to his
astonished, and soon-to-be foster parents.
Christopher Reeve had bright blue eyes. This is part of a long tradition
of celluloid saviours having blue eyes. For example, Jeffrey Hunter in King
of Kings had "dreamy blue eyes,"15 Jurgen
Prochnow in The Seventh Sign had
"piercing blue eyes,"16 while Father Peter Malone
complained that Robert Powell's eyes in Jesus
of Nazareth "were too blue."17
In this sense,
the Superman filmmakers were faithful to the sacred cinema conventions of
Jesus. However, biblically speaking, there is no physical description of
Jesus, let alone his eye-colour, but being a Jew of Jewish parentage and
environment, one images that Semitic brown eyes would be the norm.
5.0 Costume Symbolism and the Significance of Blue
gaudy tricot costume consisted of a blue-suit, red-cape and
yellow-accessories. However, Lex Luthor facetiously referred to Superman
as "the blue boy" in S2, while a newspaper article referred to the Man of Steel as a
"blue bomb" in S1. Indeed,
on his first day on the job, Clark Kent wore a dark blue, three-piece
suit, a dark blue hat, a light blue shirt, and a blue-stripped necktie!
Why ignore his other signature colours? Biblically speaking, blue is the
symbolic colour of "the heavenly origins of Christ (as the sky is
blue)."18 Blue is also "the color of the divine, of
truth, and of fidelity (in the sense of clinging to truth, as well as with
reference to the fixed firmament of heaven)...blue is also a purity
symbol."19 These are attributes of both Jesus and
Superman, and it may help explain the frequent deployment of blue-eyed
 In "the comic
books 'Kal-El' is Kryptonian for 'Star Child' - which ties into
the Child of the Christmas Star."20 This child is
Jesus (Matt. 1:25), the divine child from the stars whose other name was
"Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" (Matt. 1:23).
Superman miraculously arrived, preordained, on terra firma as a star-child
inside a spaceship that physically looked like a Christmas star. When Lois
Lane (Margot Kidder) was flying with Superman in S1
she thought of him as "a friend from another star," just like Jesus
being referred to as the "bright and morning star" (Rev. 22:16).
 The Lord once
claimed that: "I am Alpha and Omega" (Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13), and so
it is significant that in S2,
Luthor could only track Superman using his alpha wave detector. The
earthly name Clark Kent instead of his Kryptonian name Kal-El (or Earth
variant) was given him by his earthly parents and adopted by Superman for
his day-to-day human persona. This naming choice resonated with the
difference between the earthly name of "Jesus" (Matt. 1:25) given him
by his foster father Joseph, and "Emmanuel" (Mat. 1:23), the name
given him by the Angel of the Lord. The title-cum-name "Superman" was
also equivalent to Jesus's title-cum-name "Christ."
 To subtly
reinforce his Christic nature, in S1,
a car driver who was interrupted by Superman's street drilling
spontaneously cried out "Gee!" (aka "Jee!"). This is a euphemistic
corruption of "either "Jesus!" or "God"...the origins of this
word are known to few of its users."21 Further slang
religious associations occurred when the train driver discovered the
collapsed railway tracks and spontaneously cried out "Holy Mackerel!"
This mock religious oath implied the summoning a sacred being, and lo and
behold, Superman came to their timely rescue.
 The Jewish
influence of Superman's name and occupation can also be detected "in
the suffix - man, a suffix common to many contemporary Jewish names (e.g.,
Silverman, Freedman, etc)."22 After Superman rescued
the fallen child at Niagara Falls in S2,
a soft, unidentified voice from the crowd answered an unasked question
with: "Of course he's Jewish." Interestingly, the Hebrew origin of
Super is Sopher which means scribe. "One has only to recall that
Superman's alter ego, Clark Kent, was in daily life a mild-mannered
reporter - a modern scribe - for the Daily
7.0 Superman-Jesus-Star Associations
 During the alien nativity scene in S1, Kal-El "is wrapped in swaddling clothes in a space-age manger
which, with its sunburst arrangement of crystals surrounding it, very much
resembles the way Christ is often portrayed in pictures and statues."24
He is then launched into space on his voyage of rebirth inside the heart
of a crystalline rocket that looked like a Christmas nativity star. This
interstellar vehicle was variously described as "a blend of crib and
Magi star,"25 "an unearthly manger,"26
or a "little star-of-Bethlehem spaceship."27
Millions of miles later, the starship finally streaked through Earth's
atmosphere with an unnatural arc. It initially entered in a West-to-East
direction and then abruptly changed course to an East-to-West direction
before crash-landing in a rural field and allowing baby Kal-El to emerge.
Similarly, Jesus's earthly birth was announced by "his star in the
east" (Matt. 2:2) that acted unnaturally "where the young child was"
(Matt. 2:9). The Star of Bethlehem as a signpost of baby Jesus's
location is forever linked together in Christian folklore. The star motif
was also filmicly prefigured with "the most interesting and justifiably
famous title sequence in the recent history of film: a series of
crystalline streaks coalesce into the words comprising the titles."28
Both Jesus and Superman were blazing examples of moral and spiritual light
upon a darkened planet, and both became popular "stars" in their day.
8.0 The Mystical Age
 Thirty years of
age is when Jesus started his messianic mission (Luke 3:23) having
"increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man"
(Luke 2:52). Clark Kent walked into the Fortress of Solitude as a
physically fit but troubled eighteen-year-old teenager. Twelve years
later, at age thirty, Superman flew out with "a clear idea of his
messianic mission to battle evil and save Earth from its own
foolishness."29 Superman's age was not specifically
mentioned in S1, in fact, it was
deliberately avoided to protect his identity. One had to calculate it
(18+12=30), but in the various screen tests attached to the special
edition of S1, Superman clearly stated that he was thirty-years-old, thus
leaving no numerical doubt of his Christic nature.
9.0 Shared Life Biographies
 Both Superman
and Jesus had earthly family ties, both had heavenly origins, both heroes
were raised incognito on Earth, both were of "royal" blood, both
righted wrongs, both acted as saviours, both displayed incredible powers,
and both performed miracles. In fact, when Superman rescued Lois and the
crashing helicopter, an anonymous TV commentator called it a "miraculous
saving." These two terms resonated with the concept of the
"miraculous," a Christic quality with Jesus being considered a miracle
worker, and "saving," a Christian right of passage-cum-state of grace.
protagonists had normal lives and day jobs in addition to their miraculous
deeds-cum-missions. Superman was a rural high school student-cum-shy,
bespectacled reporter for the Daily
Planet, while Jesus was a rural boy-cum-carpenter (Mat. 13:55; Mark
6:3), then wandering Rabbi-preacher. Just as Clark Kent rubbed shoulders
with his journalist peers who reported upon the activities of Superman,
Jesus kept company with Mathew and John, the Gospel writers who reported
upon the activities of the Messiah. Both alter-egos had fully developed
personalities and private lives, indeed, Clark Kent was Superman's
alter-ego, not the other way around, just as the Christ was the primary
personality living a Jesus life.
 Just as major
details about Jesus's earthly life prior to his adult mission are
missing in the Bible, major details about Superman's earthly life prior
to his adult mission are missing in the films. When such details are
briefly glimpsed, it demonstrated wondrous abilities. For example, young
Jesus lectured to the doctors in the Jerusalem Temple and astonished them
(Luke 2:42-51), whereas baby Clark lifted up a truck and astonished
Johnanthan (Glenn Ford) and Martha Kent (Phyllis Thaxter). Likewise, the
teenage Clark could kick a football an incredible distance, and outrun
both a train and a school friend's car. Indeed, Pa Kent gently
counselled Clark for "showing off" claiming that: "You are here for
a reason," just like Jesus was sent to Earth for a sacred reason. Both
protagonists, despite difficulties, doubts and anxieties eventually
accepted, and fulfilled, their respective earthly missions.
10.0 Divine Calling
eighteen-year-old Clark Kent is "tormented by a mysterious inner call
from the north... [and] he tells his mother he must be about his
father's business."30 As Superman explained to Lois
in S2, the Kryptonian green
crystal "called to me." So, he left his idyllic idealic rural home for an Arctic wilderness, just like
Jesus did when "the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness" (Mark
11.0 Divine Guidance and Training
 Jesus had angels
ministering to him (Matt. 4:11; Mark 1:13), which also resonated with
Jesus's claim that: "I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent
me" (John 8:16). Likewise, during his Kryptonian training in the
Fortress of Solitude, Superman was ministered to by his Father Jor-El
(along with Lara (Susannah York), and the bald, male Krypton Elder (John
Hollis) in S2 - the product of
an unresolved contractual dispute with Marlo Brando). The holographic Jor-El
was a "bard among the bergs"31 that some interpreted
as "Jor-El's spirit"32 or just "the enduring
spirit."33 The spectacularly illuminated ghostly
apparition of Jor-El resonated with the account of Jesus's communication
with the ghosts of Elias and Moses (Matt. 17:2-3; Mark 9:2-4), and with
God coming to Moses like "a thick cloud" (Exod. 19:9). Some critics
even labelled Kal-El's training as "a twelve-year spiritual
These divine training sessions also resonated with Jesus' claim of the
many things "my Father hath taught me" (John 8:28). Jor-El's cosmic
discourse resulted in further pseudo-biblical rhetoric in which he
"spells out the messianic mission."35 In fact, he is
"quite explicit in its use of Johannine language about the relationship
between Father and Son."36 Namely: "They only need
the light to show them the way. For this reason, and this reason only, I
have sent you, my only son."37 Thus paraphrasing John
3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten
Son." Jor-El claimed that Superman was "the light to show them
[humanity] the way." This resonated with the description of Jesus as
"the light of the world" (John 8:12) who came to show humanity the way
from sin and suffering (Luke 4:18).
12.0 Divine Mission
 Superman came
from the planet Krypton, which in Greek means "hidden, secret,"38
just like the mythic location of Heaven. It also "sounds like "Tikkum
olam" a Hebrew concept of restoring [correcting] the world's
wrongs."39 This theme was reinforced by Jor-El in the
Arctic Fortress of Solitude when he told Kal-El that his destiny and duty
was to help right the wrongs of a troubled Earth. Similarly, Jesus was an
off-world visitor of unspecified location who came to Earth to right
cosmic wrongs with a God-inspired message of love. He left the planet with
an expectation of a Second Coming, and a religio-political agenda that
advocated God above Rome using the coin of love. Within S2,
this Messianic "return" expectation was partially fulfilled near the
end of the film when Superman apologised to the US President for being
away so long. Thus implying "that Jesus has never been indifferent to
our sorrows but that urgent reasons of his own have kept him away."40
 Superman is the
invincible crusader devoted to "truth, justice, and the American way."
Not for his own self-glorification, but acting like Jesus who claimed:
"I seek not mine own glory" (John 8:50). Indeed, Superman was the
guardian of Earth, its tireless servant who resisted many temptations and
was therefore loved and adored by the people because of it. This resonated
with the Apostle Paul's claim of Christ's humility who "took upon
him the form of a servant" (Phil. 2:7), and generated millions of
followers worldwide as a consequence of his self-imposed servitude.
13.0 An Inverted Baptism
experienced an inverted baptism in S2.
He willingly entered the Fortress's crystal chamber and was
decommissioned via "a mystical baptism of light that saps his
superpowers."41 This event is antithetical to the
experience of Jesus Christ who was baptised in water by John the Baptist
and the Holy Spirit, thus earning divine approval from God for his mission
14.0 Evil Tempting Good
 Like the biblical Satan did to Jesus (Matt. 4:8-9), Luthor in S1
tempted Superman with an indirect offer of a worldly kingdom. This was
refused, just as Jesus refused the Devil's offer (Matt. 4:10). It also
mirrored Jor-El's refusal when General Zod offered him greatness (second
only to Zod), if he joined their rebel band prior to his imminent
banishment into the Phantom Zone. In S2,
Luthor attempted another partnership with Superman in the Fortress of
Solitude during, and after, the defeat of the evil triumvirate, but again
without success. Christopher Reeve claimed: "What makes Superman a hero
is not that he has power, but that he has the wisdom and the maturity to
use that power wisely. From an acting point of view, that's how I
approach the part."42 Jesus acted in a similar
15.0 The Truthful Preacher
 Jesus preached
to both the good and the bad. Likewise, Superman preached to both the good
and the bad. For example, he used theological concepts when he said to
police officer Mooney (George Harris II), while handing over his cat
burglar prisoner (David Baxt): "They say confession is good for the
soul." Superman was also amenable to being questioned, as demonstrated
by his sit-down interview with Lois Lane where he was able to skilfully
deflect tricky personal questions, such as revealing his age. He also
engaged in his own wickedly coy game of answering Lois's double entendre
questions. Likewise, Jesus was able to deflect tricky questions (Matt.
22:16-22). Indeed, Superman claimed to Lois that he never lied, which was
reinforced by Lex Luthor in S2
when he said that Superman "always told the truth." This resonated
strongly with Jesus's claim: "I tell you the truth" (John 8:45).
16.0 The Non-Author
 Perry White
(Jackie Cooper) considered Clark Kent to be the fastest typist he had seen
in forty years in the journalism business, and claimed that Clark had a
"snappy, punchy prose style." Yet, we never see any actual
professional writing from reporter Clark, let alone Superman. This
resonated with the fact that Jesus never left behind any writings directly
authored by him (as opposed to many reports about him, and the sayings
attributable to him).
7.0 The Miracle Man
 Superman saved
Lois Lane by flying very fast above the Earth's atmosphere and reversing
the planet's axial spin. Consequently, Lois's crushing death was
corrected when "time is turned back and Lois resurrected."43
Superman had demonstrated control over the physical world just like Jesus
who could calm wild winds (Matt. 8:26; 14:32), quell sea tempests (Matt.
8:23-27), and walk on water (Matt. 14:25, 28-31). Symbolically speaking,
Superman had to go beyond Earth to the heavens to achieve his most
miraculous effect. When he resurrected Lois, he acted like Jesus who
brought back from the dead, the ruler's daughter (Matt. 9:23-35), the
only son of the widowed mother (Luke 7:11-15), and Lazarus (John
11:41-44). Less spectacularly but still significant, Superman could not be
held up by crowds, as evidenced prior to his drilling entry through the
main street into Luthor's underground lair. Likewise, Jesus could pass
through crowds easily (Luke 4:29-30).
 As to the truth
of his powers, the fundamental question was posed by a TV reporter at
Superman's first public appearance in S1:
"Your guess is good as anybody's.
or false? Miracle or fraud?
The answer is up to you. Man or
myth" [my emphasis]. The same questions are asked about Jesus Christ,
but if the answer can be taken from the first word order pattern, then
there can be only one conclusion, he was a True Miracle Man.
18.0 Divine Death, Destruction and Symbolism
Christians today usually wear crosses around their necks, a stylised
symbol of the Roman instrument of Jesus's slow and agonising death.
Likewise, Superman was slowly being put to death by Lex Luthor when he
exposed him to lethal green Kryptonite. A chain with an attached piece of
it was placed around his neck as both the cause and sign of Superman's
slow, agonising death. Following Jesus's crucifixion, he was placed in a
burial tomb/sepulchre (John 19:41-42). Superman's intended resting-place
was a water-filled cavernous swimming pool-cum-tomb which Luthor pushed
Superman into. Why this watery death? Presumably because water baptism is
also a symbol of Christ's death and burial (Rom. 6:4).
 At Jesus's
death, earthquakes occurred (Matt. 27:54). While Superman is slowly dying
and near death, Lex Luthor left him to monitor the two nuclear missiles he
had launched to create devastating earthquakes in California and New
Jersey. Just as Jesus experienced a resurrection from his grave site (John
20), Superman was resurrected from his grave site. Consequently,
"Superman emerges from the water and, in another symbolic rebirth,
regains his powers and saves New Jersey from Luthor's missile."44
The missile that Superman could not stop in time hit the San Andreas fault
causing massive destruction, and the subsequent death of Lois Lane when
her car is sucked into the fault-line crevice caused by the detonation
According to Matthew 27:52-53, these Jesus-related earthquakes caused
graves to be opened, and miraculously, many bodies of the saints that
slept arose and went into the holy city and appeared unto many. Likewise,
the dead Lois Lane trapped in her earthquake-caused car-tomb is
subsequently saved by Superman's time reversal trick, and so she returns
to all her friends in the wilderness and eventually back to work in
Metropolis. At one point, Superman had dived into the molten magma to
repair the earthquake missile damage. It was an act that resonated with
the "Apostle's Creed [which] states Jesus descended into Hades
following the cross."45
19.0 The Despised Jesus
 After Superman
escaped from the unholy triumvirate and disappeared in S2,
the people quickly became angry and disillusioned about his fleeing
absence. Some claiming he had "chickened out" and was therefore a "phoney."
Jesus experienced similar crowd disapproval over his life, work, death and
yet-to-be-realised Second Coming (Acts 1:11). The faithful quickly
dissolved away from both Jesus and Superman at these times of adversity
and failed saviour expectations.
20.0 The Ascended Jesus, the Risen Christ, the Flying Superman
 The triumphantly
ascended Jesus left his earthly disciples "gazing up into heaven"
(Acts 1:11). He was to benevolently watch over us all, assured in the
knowledge that his mission as the undisputed "Savior of the world"
(John 4:42) was a success. Similarly, in S1,
Superman triumphantly left his earthly "disciples" and second earthly
family, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure), gazing at him as he flew
upwards to glory among the stars. He benevolently watched over the planet
Earth assured in the knowledge that the world (particularly America) was
safe now that its greatest guardian was on the job again. He did the same
thing at the end of S2.
 Just as Superman
was left suspended in the air with an unsure expectation of things to come
at films end, the audience is similarly left in suspense about what is to
come. However, hints of his assured second cinematic coming were given in
the rolling credits advertising S2's
existence. This was just like the Apostles who were unsure about what was
to happen after Jesus's ascension, but with a certain promise of
Jesus's Second Coming (Acts 1:11). Indeed, some critics saw the infant
Kal-El's departure from Krypton as a proto-ascension that mystically
bookend the divine narrative: "As his parents gaze solemnly on, he is
raised up, like a priest elevating the host of the consecration or like
Christ himself being raised to the heavens in the ascension...like the
Christian savior, he will work for truth, justice, and, in this case, the
"American way"."46 Nor do these sacred-secular
parallels stop here, for there are also many Jesus-Superman personalistic
traits worthy of explication.
Personalistic Christic Traits of Superman
 The filmmakers
were also able to build into the Superman character a number of
prescriptive and proscriptive behaviours indicative of the biblical Jesus
Christ. For example:
 Jesus was a
humble rabbi, "meek and lowly" (Matt. 11:29). In S1,
Perry White complained that Clark Kent had "bags of humility" (and
implied this was a fault). In fact, Christopher Reeve deliberately
portrayed his character as a gentle soul: "The Superman I wanted to play
- the only one I could play
- was a low-key one. Very warm, very friendly, very accessible and not
at all impressed with himself."47 Indeed, the
cat-rescue scene in S1 was
deliberately "designed to demonstrate Superman's humility and
 Jesus could be
gentle, and had once commanded: "But I say unto you, That ye resist not
evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the
other also" (Matt. 5:39). This behavioural prescription was dramatically
enacted (albeit reversed) when Clark Kent and Lois Lane were being robbed
in the Metropolis side alley. Clark was exceptionally mild-mannered and
very accommodating to the robber's evil demands. He prominently
displayed his left cheek to the robber many times, and then he vigorously
turned and prominently displayed the other cheek straight after capturing
the accidentally fired bullet. Some critics considered that his behaviour
bordered "on the imbecilic."49 However, this
Christic personalistic trait was to be repeatedly confirmed elsewhere. For
example, in S2, General Zod
referred to Superman as an "imbecile," Ursa called him a
"sentimental idiot," Lois Lane counselling Clark to be "more
aggressive" (as did Perry White in S1),
and even Clark self-depreciatingly argued that he was "supposed to be
the shy one."
 For other
critics, these behaviours confirmed that Superman was "unabashedly
Christian down to the incarnational form of "mild-mannered reporter,
Clark Kent"."50 Therefore, when Clark demonstrated
restraint, and faster-than-a-speeding-bullet catching behaviour against
the armed robber, he had imitated miraculous caution. Superman could have
used his super-powers against the robber at any time, just like Jesus who
claimed: "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he
shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matt.
26:53). However, both Jesus and Superman had different agendas than
demonstrating their fantastic brute power.
Christopher Reeve deliberately accentuated the friendship trait: "When
Lois Lane asks, 'Who are you?' Superman simply responds, 'A
friend.' I felt that was the key to the part: I tried to downplay being
a hero and emphasize being a friend."51 It was a
dramaturgical decision that enhanced the Christomorphic resonance of
Superman, especially as it recalled all those Christian hymns that
proclaimed: "We have a friend in Jesus." It also provided a
behavioural link with his father Jor-El who sincerely used the endearment
"friend" to address one of his unsupportive fellow Kryptonian council
members. The Jor-El usage of "friend" here also resonated with the
legal nicety of calling one's opponent a friend.
 Not only was
Superman an idealised Christian friend, but Christopher Reeve
deliberately played him with a goodness streak: "I want Superman to be
somebody that, you know, you can invite home for dinner...someone you can
introduce your parents to."52 Indeed, we "see in
Superman the perfect, upright, nice guy, no pretensions bogging him down,
no sir, it's off to fight the bad guys and that's it."53
In fact, he is repeatedly "shown as a man that honours his parents,
treats his coworkers with respect, is sexually chaste as far as romance is
concerned, and genuinely cares about the welfare and safety of others...it
is refreshing to spend time in a world where sin has consequences,
evildoers are punished, good is rewarded, and traditional moral values are
seen as good and honorable."54 Clark Kent also
reflected this goodness trait with Lois Lane in S2
claiming: "Isn't he a nice guy," especially when he acted as her
 An unidentified
woman observer at Niagara Falls in S2
similarly said of Superman after he rescued the fallen boy: "What a nice
man." Indeed, Superman symbolised goodness and acted as a benevolent big
brother throughout both films. Even Miss Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine)
indirectly confirmed it by saying: "Why can't I ever get it on with
the good guys?" Clark's goodness is also indicated when he sent his
silver-haired mother half of his regular pay when he started work at the Daily
Planet. Not surprisingly, Superman was variously tagged as: (a) an
"overgrown boy scout" by Lex Luthor, and Otis (Ned Beatty) in S2; (b) "Peter Pan" by Lois relaying Clark's assessment of
Superman; (c) the "blue boy" and "Mr. Wonderful" by Luthor; (d)
"Mr. Wonderful" by Lois after her Niagara Falls swim in S2;
and (e) a "super man" by Lois Lane. This latter event was the catalyst
for irrevocably labelling him as the eponymous "Superman."
5.0 A Caring and Upright Man
 Lois Lane told
Jimmy Olsen that: "Superman cares for everybody Jimmy," just like
Jesus. Although both Miss Teschmacher and Lois were sexually available to
Superman, he did not capitalise upon it. Indeed, Superman saw himself as a
practical force for social good. After delivering Luthor and Otis to
prison, he told the warden (Roy Stevens) that they were both on the
"same team," thus fulfilling Jor-El's original desire for his son to
"serve collective humanity." Just like Jesus did in his saviour,
redeemer and cosmic law-enforcer roles, and who also claimed: "Blessed
are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God'
(Matt. 5:9). In S2, both General
Zod and Ursa are amazed that Superman actually "cares for humanity"
and speculated that it was some sort of pet relationship.
6.0 An Outsider
 Both Superman
and Jesus were outsiders. They were both in
the world but not of the world.
Superman was totally an extraterrestrial (albeit Earth socialised), while
Jesus could be seen as a human-alien hybrid, the fusion of an Earth woman,
the Virgin Mary and "the Holy Ghost" (Matt. 1:18,20), presumably a
non-human entity. Like "Clark, Jesus does not 'fit' well into the
human world; he is alien,"55 and who once firmly
claimed: "I am from above...I am not of this world" (John 8:23).
Superman's outsider status was filmicly indicated in numerous ways.
 For example: (a)
on Krypton, Jor-El said of Kal-El: "He will look like them" and Lara
quickly retorted: "He won't be one of them;" (b) when Pa Kent said
to Ma Kent that baby Kal-El's family was "not around here;" (c) when
his football player rival (Brad Flock) called the adolescent Clark an
"oddball;" (d) when Jor-El said of Kal-El at their first holographic
meeting in the Fortress of Solitude: "Even though you have been raised
as a human being, you are not one of them;" (e) when Clark is asked by
Lois: "Any more like you?" and he truthfully responded: "Not really,
no;" and (f) after Superman had saved Lois and the crashing helicopter,
Lex Luthor emphatically claimed: "He's not from this world!"
Christians make similar claims about Jesus Christ.
7.0 A Dual Identity
 Both Superman
and Jesus had double identities, and both kept vital secrets from the
world for years. As gentle Jesus was the powerful messianic Christ, so
mild-mannered Clark Kent was the quasi-omnipotent Man of Steel. As Clark
was the mask of the Man of Steel, Jesus was the mask of God. Clark needed
to protect his true identity as Superman, just like Jesus who tasked his
disciples not to reveal his true identity as the Christ (Mark 8:30). Why?
Because Superman's crime-fighting ability would be severely impaired if
his secret identity was known and loved ones threatened (e.g., the still
surviving Ma Kent and Daily Planet
coworkers). Conversely, according "to scholars, a similar "messianic
secret" lies at the heart of the Gospel of Mark."56
One imagines Jesus's earthly mission being in peril from both Romans and
Jews before he was ready to reveal himself to a hostile world.
8.0 Divine Testiness: The Darker Side of Light
 Gentle Jesus
could turn into a holy vandal and violently drive out money-changers from
God's house (John 2:15). He also used holy invectives like: "O
generation of vipers" (Matt. 3:7; 12:34; Luke 3:7), "ye serpents, ye
generation of vipers" (Matt. 23:33), and "hypocrites!" (Matt.
23:13,14,15,23,25,27,29). Similarly, Clark Kent could turn into Superman
and battle all manner of evil with as much brutish force as needed. For
example, he disrespectfully grabbed the greedy Lex Luthor and violently
threw him around his subterranean lair. He also called him a "warped
brain," a "sick twisted dreamer," and a "diseased maniac." This
invective trend continued in S2 when
Superman called the treacherous Luthor a "poisonous snake" and a
Superman's Kryptonian revivification in S2,
Clark deliberately picked a fight with the bullying trucker Rocky (Pepper
Martin) in Don's Diner by calling him "garbage," and then
subsequently kicked "the kryptonite out of him."57 However,
after Clark's pugilistic satisfaction, he promptly paid for the damages
which was certainly more Christian of him that the scriptural Jesus
demonstrated towards the ancient Temple managers. Ironically, in a
previous scene, the nasty Rocky was referred to as "Mr. Wonderful" by
the diner waitress (Pamela Mandell). Similarly, Lex Luthor called Superman
"Mr. Wonderful" as did Lois Lane in S2.
This complex verbal-visual association implied little difference between a
brutal human and a Kryptonian powerhouse intent on payback.
The Value of Holy
Subtexts and Cinematic Theology
 Seeing biblical
resonances in secular films may seem a theological heresy, but it is a
legitimate activity. As Paul Leggett argued:
have seen the Superman image as a substitute, pop image messiah. Yet the
value of Superman is that he is a messianic symbol, as valid for our time as Charlemagne or Sir
Galahad were in the medieval period. The symbol doesn't substitute as an
alternate reality, but points to a greater reality, albeit one it never
Although Prof. Harold Brown expressed disquiet about using popular films
in the classroom, he was not adverse to their moral development
application: "Superman should encourage us to try to exhibit not unreal
virtues, but real ones. We may be greeted with derision - but inevitably
also with imitation." 59 Indeed, as Prof. Margaret
Miles argued: "Contemporary movies can be seen as part of a long
tradition in which images have been used to produce emotion, to strengthen
attachment, and to encourage imitation."60 So, we
should be capitalising upon this reality in our religious work. In fact:
parting words were to go into all the world (Matthew 28:19). That means
not only India and China, but also New York and Los Angeles. God is
calling "pop culture missionaries," as well as people committed to
praying for those working in arts and entertainment. The only requirement
is love for Christ and a willingness to be real and honest with unchurched
 The SF Superman
cannot be viewed in quite the same light ever again. No wonder he was
considered "a sexy, humanized, and Americanized Jesus."62
Superman was the secularisation of the Judeo-Christian mythos with
American nationalism replacing Judaic ethnocentrism. Tapping into this
monomyth substructure is a big part of the secret of the films enduring
success. As committed Christian writer Barbara Nicolosi put it:
"everybody who works here [Hollywood] knows that the real power in
movies is the subtext."63 Indeed, there are many
hidden religious figurations within popular films,64 and
many more still wait to be discovered, but this is inevitable for as Revd.
Robert Ellis argued: "we shall sometimes stumble across the gospel
traveling incognito in some celebrated box office hit. Such a joyful
discovery is reason enough to take seriously this powerful and popular
medium."65 One can only agree with him.
1. Daniels, 1998, p. 11.
Cohen, 1980, p. 31.
3. Pringle, 1987, p. 441.
is the default film when discussing narrative episodes if not identified. S2
will be mentioned specifically as appropriate. The various TV, video,
special edition, and DVD versions of S1
and S2 vary considerably and
will not be discussed herein.
5. Daniels, 1998, p. 140.
6. Petrou, 1978, p. 51.
7. Plume, 2001, p. 2.
8. Harrington & Kavitsky, 2000, p. 7.
9. Bruce, 2001, p. 1.
10. Scott, 1987, p. 143.
11. All scriptural quotes refer to the Authorised King James Version of
12. Bruce, 2001, p. 2.
13. Short, 1983, p. 42.
14. Petrou, 1978, p. 105.
15. Medved & Medved, 1980, p. 96.
16. Pardi, 1988, p. 421.
17. Malone, 1989, p. 4.
18. Owen, Grist & Dowling, 1992, p. 9.
19.Matthews, 1990, p. 25.
20. Bruce, 2001, p. 3.
21 Spears, 1982, p. 168.
22. Brower, 1979, p. 23.
23. Brower, 1979, p. 23.
24. Anderson, 1983, p. 25.
25. Malone, 1988, p. 62.
26. Short, 1983, p. 40.
27 Kozloff, 1981, p. 79.
28. Anderson, 1985, p. 201.
29. Menville, Reginald & Burgess, 1985, p. 56.
30. Menville, Reginald & Burgess, 1985, p. 56.
31. Blake, 1979, p. 15.
32. Bookbinder, 1982, p. 233.
33. Petrou, 1978, p. 72.
34. Bookbinder, 1982, p. 233.
35. MacDonald, 1991, p. 122.
36. Malone, 1997, p. 80.
37. Short, 1983, p. 41.
38. Danker, 2000, p. 570.
39. Bruce, 2001, p. 1.
40. Kozloff, 1981, p. 81.
41. Nash & Ross, 1987, p. 3222.
42. Petrou, 1978, p. 83.
43. Combs, 1979, p. 34.
44. Lederman, 1979, p. 243.
45. Bruce, 2001, p. 6.
46. Anderson, 1983, p. 25.
47. Hunter, 1987, p. 147.
48. Petrou, 1978, p. 121.
49. Craven, 1979, p. 32.
50. Leggett, 1980, p. 33.
51. Reeve, 1998, p. 197.
52. Petrou, 1978, p. 85.
53. Anderson, 1985, p. 200.
54. Heyn, 2001, p. 2.
55. Aichele, 1997, p. 96.
56. Cohen, 1980, p. 32.
57. Step, 1983, npn.
58. Leggett, 1980, p. 33.
59. Brown, 1979, p. 27.
60. Miles, 2001, p. 70.
61. Nasfell, 2000, p. 35.
62. Kozloff, 1981, p. 82.
63. Nicolosi, 2001, p. 73.
64. Kozlovic, 2000, 2001a, 2001b.
65. Ellis, 2001, p. 308.
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