Super-god or Super-human?

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#1 Edited by RideASpaceCowboy (832 posts) - - Show Bio

Super-god or Super-human?

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Superman and Batman have both been mainstays of American popular culture for over seventy years now, but in that time great differences have emerged, not only in their characteristics, but even in the manner in which they are characterized.

Batman has a number of well defined attributes; he is a billionaire with exclusive weapons technology, an expert in all styles of armed and unarmed combat, the world’s greatest detective, and a student of the world’s great yogis and sages. Different writers emphasize these attributes in various degrees, but contrasting characteristics are never introduced. Grant Morrison’s more cerebral Caped Crusader remains an affluent ninja vigilante, while Frank Miller’s psychopathic and sadistic Dark Knight retains his forensic expertise and spiritual training.

Not so with Superman. In the hands of different writers vastly different and even competing characterizations are put forth. The basic elements of the Superman mythos (the orphaned alien, the duel identity, etc.) may be identical across a number of stories, but their depiction of the central protagonist is often contradictory.

In the characterization of Superman there exist a number of dichotomous attributes. These go beyond the question of whether the Clark or Superman persona is the true identity, though the answer to such a question will inevitably be dependent on which side a writer accepts and which he rejects in regards to said dichotomies. Two will be explored briefly in this and another post.

The first, and arguably the most important, dichotomy is in regards to Superman’s divinity or humanity, which I refer to as Super-God vs. Super-Human. To be clear, I am not contending that he is written literally and explicitly as a god or messiah, with "god" corresponding to a certain back-story or power-level, but rather that the function he serves in the story is thematically similar to God or a god. The Super-god viewpoint can take on several manifestations. Of these, the least contentious is the depiction of Superman as fulfilling the role of a pagan deity, with the Justice League as an Olympian pantheon of sorts. In such a view the great stories of comics and cinema serve the same imaginative role in American culture as the myths of gods and heroes did in pagan mythologies, sans the religious reverence.

Grant Morrison, in taking this viewpoint to its logical conclusion, identifies Superman as a “Sun-god from Smallville” and in his magnum opus All-Star Superman makes this literally the case: after completing twelve heroic labors, one of which being the implied creation of the “real” universe of we the readers, Superman transfigures into pure light, ascends to the heavens, and makes his dwelling in the Sun until his promised return. He is in this way Ra, Apollo, and, most obviously, Christ (but more on that in a minute).

While the pagan view is applicable for most superheroes (though more so for DC’s characters than Marvel’s), the monotheistic viewpoint is more unique to Superman. This was the understanding articulated by Bill Jemas in an early issue of Marville, in which he stated something to the effect that all good Superman stories answer the question of how a loving God could exist alongside and interact with human beings.

The third and most prolific variation of the Superman as god/God theme is the Christological view. This is an oddity, to be sure, given the character's Jewish creators, but it remains a prominent and recurring theme nevertheless. To my knowledge 1978’s Superman: The Movie was the first instance in which the Christ motif was consciously implemented, with 2005’s Superman Returns reaffirming the connection. While countless more examples can be given, one needs look no further than the promotional poster for the first season of Smallville in which Clark is hung upon a scarecrow's stake in an image intended to evoke the Crucifixion.

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However, not all Superman tales which reference the Christ story come down on the side of Superman’s divinity. Superman’s chastisement of worshipers following his death and subsequent resurrection made it clear that the editorial staff at the time had no interest in drawing parallels to Christ’s own rising from the grave. Furthermore, Mark Waid's Kingdom Come about the “Second Coming of Superman” deliberately utilized Christian apocalyptic literature and imagery, even going so far as to make a Protestant minister its point of view character, in order to later underscore Superman’s rejection of such status and reaffirmation of his humanity.

The classic example favoring the Super-Human position is Alan Moore's timeless "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" in which a happily de-powered Superman, now using the alias Jordan Elliot (in honor of Jor-El) speaks critically of his former identity, saying the Superman didn't think the world could get along without him.

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The most typical indicator of a writer's position in the debate is whether Superman is portrayed with absolute moral certainty or as flawed and conflicted. Christopher Reeves' portrayal is of a man never in doubt of the rightness of his actions. Grant Morrison goes further. In his Superman such moral certainty makes victory always certain as well. This comes from Morrison's near-religious veneration of Superman, calling him the greatest idea humanity has ever had, in that he is a perfect individual who can overcome all evil- just as Christ. This is most clearly seen in Morrison's Final Crisis, in which Superman is able defeat evil-incarnate with a single word and restore all of existence by the light that is in him. Even actions said to be metaphysically impossible are accomplished simply on the basis that he's Superman.

Waid's Superman, in contrast, finds that every decision he made throughout the majority of Kingdom Come was wrong. Likewise Brian Azzarello, in the recent classic For Tomorrow, is portrayed as lost and alienated in the absence of Lois from his life. While Waid's Superman walked on water, only later to be revealed as sacrilege, Azzarello's specifically refuses to do so in the presence of a priest in a conscious rejection of the Christ connection.

One final point deserves mentioning. By all expectations the duel identity ought to be more utilized by proponents of the Super-God position, particularly in reference to the doctrine of Christ being one Person but having two Natures (being fully God and fully Man), but this seems not yet to be the case. There is a painting by Alex Ross (himself the son of a minister) of Clark Kent ripping apart his shirt to reveal the "S" insignia underneath which almost forces the viewer to contemplate the Transfiguration, but otherwise no stories come to mind in which the character is "fully Clark and fully Superman." One is always a mask for the other.

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#2 Posted by SandMan_ (4581 posts) - - Show Bio

Superman is a super-alien
 
He's not a god, and can be kill and beaten.

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#3 Posted by colonyofcells (2038 posts) - - Show Bio

I see Clark and Superman as the same person but Clark is more basic since Clark was raised as Clark by humans and Superman came later. In dc, both Superman and wonder woman are god like and they do beat up new gods like Darkseid and Orion.

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#4 Posted by Gambit1024 (10217 posts) - - Show Bio

@SandMan_ said:

Superman is a super-alien He's not a god, and can be kill and beaten.

Yep.

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#5 Posted by GunGunW (1020 posts) - - Show Bio

He's a god if you think god means Thor, Hercules, etc.

If you think Judeo-Christian terms... then no, not even close.

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#6 Posted by Eternal19 (2178 posts) - - Show Bio

I never really saw superman as a god and i dont like when writers portray him as one(even though i loved All-star superman) I always saw supes as a normal guy with superpowers who wants to make a positive change in the world. I hate when people think supes has a god complex when he is actually one of the most down-to-earth characters in comics

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#7 Posted by jobbernos (1522 posts) - - Show Bio

@GunGunW said:

He's a god if you think god means Thor, Hercules, etc.

If you think Judeo-Christian terms... then no, not even close.

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#8 Posted by sammystorm75 (222 posts) - - Show Bio

Well hes sort of a god but people count him as a demi god but he still has weaknesses.

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#9 Posted by colonyofcells (2038 posts) - - Show Bio

In comics, I would assume even Superman is strong enough to beat up Lucifer, the boss of Zauriel, and even Jesus.

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#10 Posted by lvenger (31194 posts) - - Show Bio

@SandMan_ said:

Superman is a super-alien He's not a god, and can be kill and beaten.

@GunGunW said:

He's a god if you think god means Thor, Hercules, etc.

If you think Judeo-Christian terms... then no, not even close.

This. He represents the best of humanity, not any specific religion or deity.

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#11 Edited by RideASpaceCowboy (832 posts) - - Show Bio

A point of clarification: this thread isn't really asking for your particular preference as to how Superman ought to be depicted, and is certainly not asking the question of whether he's a literal god or human within the comics themselves.

Rather, it is offering a brief and concise historical summery of the various statements of religious nature which the character of Superman has been used by various writers to make. Some writers have drawn clear comparisons to Greco-Roman heroes and deities in order to put forth the notion that comic book superheroes serve a similar mythological function in American society. Others have made clear and deliberate allusions to Christ (in a possible affirmation of Jesus as an ultimate superhero) while others have done so in order to then subvert the trope and offer humanist conclusions instead.

I was hoping contributions to this thread would cite further examples of the various ways the Super-god or Super-human paradigm has been utilized, such as the Silver Age tale "The Sword of Superman" in which a voice almost certainly meant to be that of God calls Superman His "son" saying to him, "You have done well, my son. You have earned your name. Your future is yours to make. Your greatness among living things is assured," in a scene strongly reminiscent of Christ's baptism in the Jordan River.

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#12 Posted by colonyofcells (2038 posts) - - Show Bio

Clark Kent is certainly poor like Jesus who worked as a carpenter.

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#13 Posted by Epicbeast3000 (1012 posts) - - Show Bio

High level super human, he is not a god and can be killed or beaten to death.

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#14 Edited by RideASpaceCowboy (832 posts) - - Show Bio

Please read the entire post before responding. It is clear from most of the replies that those who posted them have only read the title of the thread. Once you read it you'll realize that your comments aren't speaking to the actual content of my post.

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#15 Edited by RideASpaceCowboy (832 posts) - - Show Bio

I recently began hosting a network of podcasts for Ratio Christi at Rutgers University, entitled (fittingly) Ratio At Rutgers. All of the various shows focus on Philosophy and Natural Theology, with one particular podcast, Christ and Culture, specifically exploring Christology in works of popular culture. The inaugural episode, dedicated to the Superman franchise, is based heavily off this blog post. Enjoy!

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#16 Edited by HeavenlyDarkDragon (2175 posts) - - Show Bio

To me Clark Kent is Superman's greatest weakness, even more so than kriptonite. The way he thinks and acts reflect very much so in Superman. His ideology makes him weak, chains him down, he's not the superhero he should be.

To me Superman should always see himself has Kal-El first, Superman second, and Clark last. He is and always will be a kriptonian. His powers will always make him the most humane but not human character in DC. Nobody represents better the golden future that mankind has ahead of itself, if only they look up to the big blue guy with the red cape, and try to see the world has he sees it.

There is no super-human vs super-god duel. Not with Superman. He's neither human nor is he a god. He has godlike powers but that's about it.

And we see our own human weakness when writers write about Superman. Each one shows him has they see him, but almost no one gets it right. The only writer that I believe came close to understanding Superman was Michael Turner. His stories always showed the best and worst in Superman, but through eyes that almost seemed like they were from Superman himself.

In the New 52 one thing that actually bothers me is the fact that all Superman closest friends call him Clark. Even when he's in somekind of difficult situation, they usually shout "CLARK!" and to me that's totally wrong. Clark is the mask, the illusion, the weakness. Kal-El is the person, reality, the power/heritage. And Superman... well, Superman is what he decided to allow people to call him, but the name itself holds almost no meaning to him, its just the light of day that people can compreend, because looking at what Superman really is, looking at Kal-El would be like looking at the sun itself. It would blind them, and destroy them, because people always fail to compreend what's beyond them. And Kal-El is a being beyond human compreension due to the simple fact that his heritage places him in place far beyond that of humans. Not a god but not human has well.

And speaking of god or gods. The whole religion stuff is unwelcome in comics when we talk about Superman. He's already a very complex character, adding religion to the mix, doesn't help, it just creates conflict were there should be none.

Superman in many ways surpasses the gods themselves if we look at it with non-biased eyes. He's there. The people that love him are the one's that know that even doe he can't be everywhere and save everyone, he's always doing his best. He helps and asks nothing in return. Can we say the same about any god?! No! And of course there are those that lose faith in him, that accuse him, and even come to hate him, but those represent the part of humanity that always waits for someone to help them, that just because Superman has powers beyond their comprehension, that he has to be able to fix everything and save everyone. The human aspect that is always waiting for some higher power to come in and save them. Those are the people that in the middle of an earthquake or seeing a tsunami instead of fighting for their lives, they get down on their knees and pray for a miracle. And when the miracle doesn't come, instead of blaming themselves they have to blame someone else. Religion is a tricky thing. People tend to lose themselves in it, forget that they have the power to change things, to make a difference.

Superman is in a way the personification of aphoteosis. He's a mortal being that was blessed with more complex physiology than that of a human being. That physiology grants him incredible powers, but those powers don't make him a god. No! He's just a mortal being walking the path of the divine, not just because of his powers but most importantly how he walks his path in life. He always strives to make himself and the world around him a better place. Were freedom, justice and consciousness aren't simply words.

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#17 Posted by Night4345 (8450 posts) - - Show Bio

Pre-Crisis Superman was a Super-God mostly when Elliot S! Maggin wrote him.

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#18 Edited by Jimishim12 (1554 posts) - - Show Bio

Alien, God, Superhuman. He is all, Aliens like Clark have beaten real gods in a sense they are all even in wielding semi omnipotent potential and powers. Aliens and Gods are one in the same(they are all created from the source), but are used in different contexts. Magic and Science is one in the same, but are used in different concepts.

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#19 Posted by Valdemocnij (953 posts) - - Show Bio

Super-crap... (Batman is character without any superpower which make Superman to knell)

If will i going to theorized in this thread i will agree...

@sandman_ said:

Superman is a super-alien

He's not a god, and can be kill and beaten.

And if u will go - OOO man he save us, he have a powers, he is our savior he is god... no he isn't, he is just a savior... Its paradox but is truth :)

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#20 Posted by redwingx (1342 posts) - - Show Bio

I never really saw superman as a god and i dont like when writers portray him as one(even though i loved All-star superman) I always saw supes as a normal guy with superpowers who wants to make a positive change in the world. I hate when people think supes has a god complex when he is actually one of the most down-to-earth characters in comics

Well said.

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#21 Posted by PapiNacho (3396 posts) - - Show Bio

Human, always human. I would like an arc were he actually starts doing something wrong before he realizes the implications of his actions.

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#23 Posted by Gizmorino (6306 posts) - - Show Bio

Some writers were trying to but maybe unintentionally, and the second coming of supes was well, am just happy no christian/extreme christian has questioned the fact that aquaman/namor or other water guy splits oceans and stands on water.

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#24 Posted by ancient_god (6567 posts) - - Show Bio

Fast someone post the image of God Superman

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#26 Posted by Klaus (1850 posts) - - Show Bio

Here is the thing though. Jesus was a prophet and a man who received gifts and abilities from God. He wasnt divine himself in any way.

Similarly, Superman is also a "prophet" in terms of giving humans a message, and a man. He still gets his abilities from a god (Apollo) who controls the Sun and has gifted other Kryptonians as well.

So you see, even if you compare Superman and Jesus, they are both still essentially mortal and not divine themselves. They both rely on a god and God for their powers. But still hold no divinity themselves.

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#28 Posted by Karazyn (888 posts) - - Show Bio

superman being viewed as the messiah in anything is pretty much the same as the transformers fighting in front of american flags......

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#29 Posted by LP (683 posts) - - Show Bio

just logging in to say this article is exactly why Superman is STILL the greatest superhero.

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#30 Edited by darknightspideyfanboy (2621 posts) - - Show Bio

Wow what interesting read this was

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#31 Posted by Jogga (884 posts) - - Show Bio

Superman believes in humanity so much that it's(ironically) inhuman.

He's also the most moral, and he outright stands unwaveringly for it.

Although some creative minds don't exactly agree with it, it's true.

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#32 Posted by Benk111 (2681 posts) - - Show Bio

The superman that was created in 1938 wasn't God like or even as powerful as most superheroes with powers

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#33 Posted by addikhabbo (264 posts) - - Show Bio

In comics, I would assume even Superman is strong enough to beat up Lucifer, the boss of Zauriel, and even Jesus.

Yeah...

HELLNO.

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#34 Edited by SanoHibiki (2585 posts) - - Show Bio

He is alien with powers that rival demigods and who’s been raised by good human parents.

Never really liked how some authors, writers and readers try to give him religious aspects.

Mostly I ok with interpretation that Clark is “just like every common good and well-meaning guy, just with superpowers”, but also please do not discard his sci-fi aspect – he is also Kal-EL, one of the last survivors of very advanced alien civilization. Finding balance between human upbringing (moral values) and alien origin (powers and possibilities FAR outclassing most of what humans can do) – that’s the one of most intimidating tasks that stands in front of every Superman’s writer. Not many of them can balance those two sides of his character :P

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#35 Posted by modernww2fare (4816 posts) - - Show Bio

@sanohibiki: I believe this is done well here:

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#36 Posted by RealityWarper (12333 posts) - - Show Bio

A good guy with good values with superpowers.

The World is lucky.

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#38 Posted by sabracadabra (1194 posts) - - Show Bio

Superman is pretty much a god in all but name, at least as far as his powers and abilities go.

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#39 Posted by Valdemocnij (953 posts) - - Show Bio

Already explained - Super alien !!!

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#43 Posted by medulaoblaganda (1877 posts) - - Show Bio

@colonyofcells: please be careful of what you write. why would you say superman will beat Jesus? enough of blasphemy

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#44 Posted by A1l_S2a3m4E5N (2159 posts) - - Show Bio

@colonyofcells:

I dont even know what to say to you.

you're saying superman would take the one who created the entire universe and all things in existense? <_<!!!

SERIOUSLY?

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#45 Posted by fsiekscma (183 posts) - - Show Bio

I think that Grant Morrison like to write him as benevolent Super Sun God.

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#48 Posted by StarOfElyon (36 posts) - - Show Bio

Okay, it wasn't long after I began seriously studying the bible that I realized "EL" denotes a deity. ELohim, EL Elyon, EL shaddai, and so on are all names affiliated with God or gods. So we have Jewish people name a character Kal El, quite literally calling him a god or god-like being. There's never been any doubt about the way Superman was meant to be portrayed after that.

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#49 Edited by StarOfElyon (36 posts) - - Show Bio

@klaus: Actually the bible makes it pretty clear that Jesus is a deity. I disagree with many christians who believe that he is God almighty in the flesh and I hold to the belief that he is only the son of God. Jesus says in a number of places that he came down from heaven, meaning that he didn't simply come into existence at his birth on Earth, and that he pre-existed creation. Some people don't accept his divinity but it's spelled out pretty clearly in the biblical and extra-biblical texts that I've read.

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#50 Edited by Klaus (1850 posts) - - Show Bio

@starofelyon: Not really. The Old testament states various times that God is one. The New testament only states Jesus was the son of God (debatable}. And the Final testament clearly states that there is only one God, and that Jesus was only a prophet and messenger of God. And no matter what your personal beliefs are, on CV we go by consistency and proof. Which means that of the three Abrahamic religions, two say Jesus wasn't God or Gods son, so we should go by that.

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