Roy Schwartz is the author of Superman Circumcised?: The Complete Jewish History of the World’s Greatest Hero. Here is a taste of his piece at Literary Hub, “How Superman Became a Christ-Like Figure in American Culture“:
With the onset of WWII the patriotic Superman quickly became an infallible American icon, and in the patriarchal, sanitized, comics-censuring 1950s he grew to resemble Christ in his saintly perfection. Though he hasn’t been that way since at least the mid-1970s, it’s a public image he still contends with.
But where Superman really first became a Christ figure is 1978’s Superman: The Movie, starring Christopher Reeve. His father Jor-El (Marlon Brando) is a white-haired man dressed in luminous white, reminiscent of God in Medieval and Renaissance art. In dialog evocative of New Testament passages, he tells his child, “The son becomes the father, and the father, the son” and “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.”
It marks a fundamental shift in Superman’s mythology, from a baby sent to Earth by desperate parents so he can be saved to a son sent to Earth by a benevolent father to become its savior. It recast the Last Son of Krypton as a reimagined Son of God, which became a central theme in later films and shows—though not the comics, which have largely stayed true to the original narrative.
The movie is otherwise suffused with Christian allusions, like Kal-El’s spacecraft resembling a Star of Bethlehem/Christmas tree topper and Superman saving mankind from its own sin in the form of Lex Luthor’s greed, to the point that director Richard Donner received death threats over the sacrilege.
Read the entire piece here.
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