While Batman is theoretically on its 3rd cinematic rebooting at the moment (not counting the movie adaptation of the 1960s TV show as well as various animated iterations), Superman has been more of a problematic case. Despite a couple of popular films in the late 70s/early 80s (and one weird one in 1983 that at least I liked), Superman has pretty much always been considered a “second ran” to the Caped Crusader…a dorky musclebound Boy Scout who was considered “too nice.”
But was there any better character to resurrect in the wake of the promised post-2012 “New Age?”A maskless hero…in The Year Of The Mask.
And so we had The Man Of Steel—starring a brand new Superman, Henry Cavill. While the movie was not set to be released until Summer 2013, it had been the “talk” of pop-culture circles since the trailer was dropped mid-December of 2012. In a world that seemed obsessed with masks and clown-white, it was a very striking contrast indeed.
Was there any more capable entity to deliver us from all the bad men in and out of their masks—deliver us from the anarchists, the angry misfits, the budding young Twitter-era terrorists? Was there anybody better than to put the status quo back to where it was before?
But was this “our” Man of Steel? Or was this one—consciously or unconsciously—crafted to match the particular specifications of the New Aeon? (read my post “Looper And The Dawning Of The New Aeon” to get familiar with a bunch of concepts I’m going to discuss here, including the “Kid Messiah” trope in movies)
Or was he bringing us just another sword?
Whatever the intention of this latest incarnation of the superhero, one thing—upon viewing the trailer, at least—was certain.
This Superman was Space-Jesus.
Now, the connection between Superman and Jesus/”Son of God” has been around for quite some time, so that’s old news. New news: just how jaw-droppingly blatant the symbolism was in this movie.
Here’s the first shot in the trailer, with choir-like music in the background:
Classic crucifixion pose, down to the rags he wears; only the orientation of the body is different. Hanging in “space” like that, he reminded me of the Dali painting:
This is a Cosmic Christ crucified in time-space, rather than with nails; the cross representing the axis-point upon which Spirit is tied to this material plane of existence. Young Clark Kent comments on this feeling of oppression by burdensome ties to the Physical when he narrates: “The world’s too big, Mom.”
Then we see another classic “Jesus” shot of Superman, complete with beard:
Here we have the story of the son of God, a “super” man: Kal El, “El” meaning the word “deity” in a whole host of languages including Hebrew, Arabic, and Phoenician. In the Canaanite religion, “El” means “supreme god.”
Superman’s pose, submerged in the water, also brings to mind another “Alien Messiah” from pop-culture: Valentine Michael Smith from Robert Heinlein’s classic science-fiction novel Stranger in A Strange Land:
Smith was technically human but was raised on Mars, and, like Clark Kent, also had “super powers.” He initially was chased by the authorities as a menace, but eventually would become something of a “New Messiah” who would bring about a new era. Stranger was written in 1961, heralding the deep changes in society during the 1960s. Smith is the herald of the New Aeon, the Age of Aquarius, literally a “water god.”
The trailer now focuses on the travails of young Clark, exhibiting classic cinematic “Kid Messiah” traits such as struggling to control his powers and apparently some sort of psychic/ESP ability:
He complains about the world being “too big,” but his mother Martha advises him to “make it small.” This advice is narrated over shots of a bunch of pencils and words being written. The Word = Superman = Christ. Christ is “The Word.” He will make the “too big” world small by bringing people together across the globe, by being the Alien Messiah that transcends world borders.
As we switch to a scene of water —a school bus falling in a river—we again are reminded of Valentine Michael Smith, the “water god” ushering the Age of Aquarius:
In a controversial scene, Clark’s adoptive father, played by Kevin Costner (no stranger to playing Messiah/Jesus types in movies), advises the boy to hide his powers—even if it means letting innocents die. His perceived callousness would make sense in the context that he is trying to protect the boy, who, like a young Jesus, would be persecuted if “found out.” But the reluctance to protect the “innocents” also demonstrates an “old Aeon” old-school God (compare to the character of “Old Joe” in Looper).
In the shots that follow, we see the familiar red flowing Superman cape—but it is filmed in such a way (from behind and from an extreme long shot) that it looks similar to the robes of Jesus:
Superman’s trek through the snowy peaks—his “vision quest” to figure out “what sort of man” he will be—parallels the “lost years” of Jesus, which some theorize took place in areas like Tibet:
His meditation—and subsequent enlightenment —sends him on literally a cosmic journey:
It also should be noted that by this point in the trailer, Superman displays “powers” that are very rooted in “Kid Messiah” lore—far more like telekinesis (which, in theory, could be scientifically measured) than vague wondrous abilities. Compare the concentric rings of energy emanating from Superman’s fist in this shot to a similar one in Looper:
What follows next in the trailer is the standard “destruction of cities” imagery that by now we are quite used to in movies; the unique part here is that it is contrasted with the destruction of Superman’s homeworld Krypton (are we just as arrogant as the Kryptonians that the world as we know it will always be the same? Did we “heed the warnings of God”—Superman/Kal El/Son of God’s dad?).
In any case, these scenes further link Man of Steel to a Biblical, Apocalyptic narrative, where the “second coming” of Jesus has to step in.
Earth is being attacked by an evil, outside, “Satanic” force: General Zod and his minions. Zod has the classic, pointy “Evil Goatee,” almost striking an Anton LaVay pose:
It is up to Superman to return from his Vision Quest, and bring back what he has learned to his community—just like any good hero from a Joseph Campbell template. Zod takes the place of Pontius Pilate and Superman is forced to kneel to him:
Superman also “rocks” the traditional “Jesus in bondage” pose, as he is arrested:
But at this point, it must be asked: is Superman purely a traditional “Jesus” figure here?
He “fell” from the heavenly city of Krypton, away from his father/God.
He is depicted several times towards the end of the Man of Steel trailer on fire or within fire:
Is he Jesus, or the “Fallen One”—Lucifer, who gives light and understanding to the people, liberating them from the slog and ignorance of Old School religion? Prometheus, who literally gave fire and heat to humanity, to help them grow?
Are these the flames of a Cosmic Christ, in flight like the bird Horus, usher of a New Aeon?
And that is why, though placing Superman within the traditional Christ narrative is helpful, it can also be misleading. It is only a template, the same way older Messiah Gods were templates for newer ones:
Superman is that next “god” in line, the usher of the New Aeon. He is a “god” of our times. That is why there has been so much hustle and bustle about his ownership in the courts, that’s why the intense power of his icon transfixes the public. If you own Superman and can control his stories, you are, in a sense, “owning” the narrative of what has become a universal Messianic figure.
The Man of Steel trailers boldly reappropriated these primal religious images. It gave the public the hero—the Savior— they are so desperately looking for at this time.
But the movie also works as the herald of a New Aeon, and this era will transcend the “candy store” version of superheroes and the fire-and-brimstone teachings of the Old School. These are all remnants of our childhood as a species. We can find the Superman— and the power—inside ourselves, in our own DNA that looks so much like the “S” in the Superman logo, the twin serpents of the caduceus:
Of course, it is now 2017 and we know now that this new Man of Steel—both in his own movie and the 2016 sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice—was greeted with a mixed reaction, many claiming he was too violent, too cold, and, frankly, just a little bit of an asshole.
I witnessed one such debate on Facebook a year or so ago, which ran about 40-50 comments and yes I was the fool who started it.
One person was especially passionate about the idea that Superman must be rendered “pure” at all times—meaning, as close as possible to the Truth, Justice, and American Way version as popularized from the 1940s up to the end of the Eighties.
At one point in this debate, he simply stopped responding with counter-arguments and merely quoted lines from previous Superman movies and films, verbatim. And I realized, in this flash of insight, what he was actually doing…which was quoting “Scripture” at me!
And so we go back to the idea of comic books as religion, and Superman as “Space Jesus.”
Ultimately, we as a collective are passionate about characters like Superman because he is a stand-in for the “messiah”-type hero that is supposed to save our butts. And so if Superman seems less than chuffed that he has to help out a species of advanced primates who, sometimes, don’t seem worth saving, we lose our minds and scream “HERESY!”
But let’s face it. Say that—just for the sake of debate, theoretically—there was a super-powered alien amongst us, right now, in human form. And this alien grew up in human society, incognito, as a human—but secretly harboring fantastic powers. And say his or her parents read a lot of Ayn Rand. Or maybe they were simply jerks. Or both (hard to picture, I know). Now do the math. Would you be more likely to get this…
So to tell me that you are completely against this latest Superman because he seems “dickish”—and thus, “off-brand”—doesn’t work for me. To me, the fact that Superman gets up in the morning at all and even tries to do good—instead of becoming Dictator of Earth or hiding in the Fortress of Solitude for the rest of his more-or-less immortal life—is the real miracle here. To demand he do it all the time with a “smile” seems rather disingenuous.