We seem to be in a superhero-crazed world these days. I live with my 20-something, DC universe-loyal son, who keeps me apprised of all new superhero news. Although I am sure I fail, I try my best to seem as excited as he is. Why this obsession with superheroes?
It is no secret that we live in a terrifying world. Evil seems to be overcoming good at an alarming rate. The world is looking for someone to rescue us from ourselves and the destruction we seem to be bringing on ourselves. Even as Christians who have read the end of the Book, it is encouraging to read or watch a story where good wins and evil is destroyed, even if just for now. We long for God to take the brokenness of life and set things right.
J.R.R. Tolkien believed stories were powerful ways to understand how the world works. “Myths, far from being lies, [are] the best way of conveying truths which would otherwise be inexpressible. 'We have come from God [continued Tolkien], and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of true light, the eternal truth that is with God.'”
What splintered fragment of true light can be found in the modern day myth of the superhero? Let’s take a look at what we can learn from the three most famous DC superheroes.
Although Superman’s creator was Jewish and denies any correlation between his creation and Jesus, the similarities are remarkable. He is sent here by his father, at least partly, to protect mankind. He descends from the heavens, is raised by a human family, and begins to show that he is otherworldly in power. He not only always does the right thing, he uses his power to stop evil and enact justice. He even can bring someone back to life again (even if it’s only by going back in time)!
In the latest movie (spoiler alert), taken from one of DC’s most popular story-lines, Superman even dies and will come back to life again. Like the early disciples, His death inspires the other superheroes to unite and combat evil together, forming an alliance of empowered beings. The echoes of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) missionaries sent in the power of Pentecost (Acts 2) are unmistakable.
Superman is generally flawless in his judgement (except maybe where Lois is concerned). His motives are pure as he exemplifies all that is good. Above all, Superman has always symbolized hope. As long as he’s around, there is hope for justice and protection regardless of the circumstances.
Batman is different from every superhero in the DC world in that he's just a human--he doesn’t have super powers. When asked what his super ability is, in the new Justice League trailer he simply states, “I’m rich.” He is also trained in almost every martial art, has the coolest gadgets, and refuses to purposefully kill. However, his motives are constantly questioned as his character is deeply complex and dark. Some see him as unfeeling, with relationship issues.
Batman lives in the dark, but he desperately wants to extinguish darkness in his heart and in the world around him. He struggles with his most human and base self, and usually comes out the victor. Most of the emotions he shows are on the dark side. His goal is to strike fear in the hearts of evildoers, knowing that they could be struck down from the shadows at any moment.
Studying Batman’s life, one can easily see the struggle he has with his dark motives of isolation, revenge and hatred. Galatians 5:17 reminds of our duality: "For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Each of us are both Godly image bearers and broken sinners. Our own struggle with duality, even our confusion of revenge and justice, has made Batman one of the most popular and relatable superheros in recent years.
In some ways, Wonder Woman is the antithesis of Batman. Raised in a close community of strong women, Diana Prince has an optimism and innocence about the world dominated by men. She still believes that Love conquers all. Like Jesus, she allows herself to be moved to compassion. She does not understand how society could allow one to take advantage of another. Even when the “big picture” people tell you that rescuing the one is not worth the risk, Wonder Woman is moved by compassion to save everyone she can. Jesus described Wonder Woman's generous and empathetic heart:
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost’" (Luke 15:4-6).
Humanity is looking for truth. We can’t help it. God put the desire for truth, justice, and beauty deep in us so that we will seek Him. Although films usually don’t contain a complete gospel by any stretch, their stories can echo the themes and longings God wove into creation. We can connect the dots and help draw viewers closer to the Author of Truth. Jesus chose to speak in parables because stories are powerful. We understand story, and through story we understand ourselves and one another better. Who is your favorite superhero, and what biblical truth can you learn from them?
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster