Essay: Our Superman, who art in…

I’m not sure if it came from me reading The Watchmen for a second time or some amalgamation of thoughts from my World Religions class, but I got thinking about superheros… and religion.

In The Watchmen, the phrase “god-like” is thrown around frequently with one of the text sections of the book going so far as to call the character of Dr. Manhattan God himself. This gave me pause. It is interesting that when greeted with the prospect of a being with unimaginable powers we cower in fear instead of bowing in awe. We are helpless if our saviors stop reaching out their hands and start reacting with their fists.

What is to stop superheros from setting themselves up as gods?

Beings with powers so great that we call them super who, again and again, come to save the normal humans around them, why shouldn’t we call them gods? How different is “Superman, save me!” from “Our Father, who art in heaven…”? Both reach out to beings greater than ourselves to come and save us.

While I was musing on that today, I tried to think about a case in which a being with great powers did not have some tragic or emotionally damaged past. Superman is the last of his people. Spider-man cannot seem to live a normal life as Peter Parker. Bruce Wayne became Batman because of his parent’s tragic death. It is as if we strive to build these great statues of virtue and honor but then sneak back after dark to paint a bit of graffiti on them. We cannot seem to have perfect people among us. Give someone a great power or control over some great things, but give them a weakness. Give them some emotional baggage. Make them human. We seek to destroy, whether with rationalization or weapon, those things that are supernatural.

I think the reason that no superhero has been crowned a god is simple. We wouldn’t stand for it. We would bring out pitchforks. We would march with kryptonite. We would strip the godhood of the hero and give them the title of villain. A villain can be killed. A villain is not a god or hero. And villains are always punished. After all, the superheros are looking out for us.