The Allegory of Superman

Art is a subjective medium of communication which can have its messages affected as much by the life and experiences of the viewer as by the intent of the artist. In terms of comics, most of the experiences I have with them have occurred during my early youth, as in between the ages of 4 to 10, and fairly recently with the enrolment of the current university course and a curious fascination with the hybrid of literary and visual mediums. Of my early comic experiences I spent all my energy obsessed with two main figures, unsurprisingly Batman and Superman, the latter of which I outgrew after certain changes in my surroundings and life experiences. I shall put my energies in understanding my obsessive, and than waning love of Superman.

To understand the point I shall be making, I first need to put into context how my relationship with Superman is now understood through hindsight 20-20. I was raised early on in Mexico, specifically in the State of Baja California Sur in the small city of La Paz Mexico. Mexico, at least certain parts of it, have a history of strong communal ties built around the Church, in this case the Catholic Church. Being part of a middle class existence within Canada, I was unsurprisingly enrolled in the only Private school that existed within the city, which turned out to be a Convent run by Nuns; an odd, and still confounding experience. Being at the age I was, between 4 and 6, I was soaking up the dogmatic beliefs like a sponge. This coincided with my first experience of Superman, in which I found a ragged Spanish edition which was part of a series known as “The Death and Return of Superman” story arc. I was obsessed, and undeniably hooked. I had to read the entire story arc, and so I turned to my Dennis the Menace powers to acquire them all.

Now comes the question, where am I going with this? I myself can’t help feel that the parallel between my education at that time and my love of Superman is no coincidence. There does seem to be very strong Jesus and Superman Parallels. Looking quickly at the history of Superman, it is clear that a Jesus parallel was most likely not the intent of the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, both of whom where of Jewish decent. Most theorize that in reality Superman was an allegory, if loosely, on the Old Testament story of Moses. Both Moses and Superman are saved by their parents who fear the destruction of their world and lives. In the case of Moses, the pharaohs edict to kill all the male Jewish children at birth, while in the case of Superman, the destruction of his entire planet. Both are saved by cribs, though of course Superman’s is sent through space to earth, where he is adopted by the Kent family who “[l]ike the pharaoh’s daughter … take a look inside the crib; like the pharaoh’s daughter they are moved to compassion by the baby’s tears; and like the pharaoh’s daughter they decide to keep mum about the incident and bring the infant up as their own. In both cases, the child’s first reported act is one of strength” (Jacobson 168). It is also found that “… Superman’s birth-name, Kal-El, has a Jewish component, El being Hebrew for ‘might, strength, power’ and ultimately for God” (Jacobson 169).

Superman, like others of his ilk, such as Batman and Spiderman to name just a few, has been reinvented and re-envisioned since the character was first created and conveyed in 1938. Numerous movies, and countless issues of comics have delved into the possibilities that is Superman. The issue I was so Obsessed with “The Death and Return of Superman,” Dealt with, as can be divulged by the title, the death, and “resurrection” of the fabled Superhero. At that time, the early 90’s, 5 years after the original publication of the “Death and Return of Superman” series, I would have connected and paralleled the plot-themes to the miraculous story of Jesus, both of which I was experiencing at the same time. The image of a distraught Louis lane would have echoed the image of Mary. At that time, being of that age, the two would have blurred. ” Many simply see the story of a hero sent to Earth by his father to serve mankind as having clear enough New Testament overtones” (The Associated Press). Even the “S” on his crest could be seen to represent “saviour,” not only “Superman.”

 

I remember, when seeing the death march of Superman at the tender age of 6, of being shocked, confounded, and a bit neglected. I was raised on the infallibility of Superman, of his God-like powers and his almost impeccable morals, as I saw them at that time.

 

It does bring up an interesting debate about not only comic books and characters, but of art as a whole. In this case, interpretation versus artistic intent. It would be hard to argue that when Siegel and Shuster created Superman they envisioned the character being reinvented as a Christ like-figure, or of even having strong biblical overtones from either the Old or New testament, but like much of art, and maybe even more so in comics, the stories and characters can grow to have a life of their own. The characters have the potential to shift and change based on the readers and the new writers and artists that take the torch and continue to expound upon the Superman narrative. I myself cannot think of many fictional characters that have been created and recreated as extensively as Superman, especially in the same medium, Comics, yet alone the cross-over the character has experienced in television and film.

Superman has been able to fit in the judeo-Christian literary mould for close to 75 years, and has been able to work within the growing secular society we exist in today as well. Superman has been reinvented by myself as my beliefs and world views change as seamlessly as within the culture we exist in today. If anything, Superman, like all art, has acted as a mirror of society since his inception, and to look at the history of Superman would be to look at the social history of America. Superman has also been an important figure in my life for it helped me to connect with the past by allowing me to interpret old allegoric stories though new and modern narratives, conveying the timelessness of certain themes. The image of Superman’s cape, tattered and ruined upon a stick still stays with me today, reminding me that not even Superman is indestructible, if for a short period of time.

Alexander Janusz

ID: 10065557

References

Jacobson, Howard. “Moses, Leopold Bloom, Superman, All of Them Archetypes of the Flawed Hero, distinguished by Difference, Otherness, Strangeness. Like the Exile, A thing Apart.” Index On Censorship 2 (2006) 165-174. Web.

The Free Library. The Gospel according to Superman. EPA, 2006. Web. 27th Feb. 2013. <a href=”http://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+Gospel+according+to+Superman.-a0151394709″>The Gospel according to Superman.</a>

Associated Press. Some View New Superman as Christ Figure. EPA, 2006. Web. 27th Feb. 2013. <http://www.nbcnews.com/id/13303811/site/todayshow/ns/today-entertainment/t/some-view-new-superman-christ-figure/#.US7XQaXhAzY>

The Comics Code.Co.Uk. The Death and Return of Superman (1992-1993). n.d. Web. 27th. Feb. 2013. <http://thecomicscode.weebly.com/the-death-and-return-of-superman.html>

 

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