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That Old Superman-As-Messiah Question

By Terry Mattingly Modified: July 3, 2013 at 4:02 pm •  Published: July 3, 2013
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Without a doubt, it is one of the most famous incantations in all of American pop culture.

"Look, up in the sky!"

"It's a bird!"

"It's a plane!"

The last line in this chant is, of course: "It's Superman!"

However, whenever new material is added to the Superman canon -- such as the movie "Man of Steel," which grossed $113 million its first weekend -- some scribes and fanboys will immediately start arguing about two other symbolic identities that are often pinned on their favorite superhero.

Visit most online Superman forums and "someone is going to say, 'It's Jesus!' and someone else will immediately respond, 'It's Moses!' and then back and forth it'll go, 'Jesus,' 'Moses,' 'Jesus,' 'Moses,' on and on," said the Rev. Gary D. Robinson, of North Side Christian Church in Xenia, Ohio.

The 58-year-old Robinson admits he is a passionate participant in these kinds of debates, both as author of the book "Superman on Earth: Reflections of a Fan" and as the owner of an inch-plus scar on his left arm created by an attempt -- at age 6 -- to fly like Superman through a glass window.

Like many theologically wired Superman fans, he can quote the key facts, chapter and verse. The pastor thinks the parallels are fun, but shouldn't be taken too seriously.

"I see the Superman myth as a shadow thrown by the Light itself," he said, referring to biblical accounts of the life of Jesus. "In its own way, it's a crude substitute. ... But there is no question that there is some kind of allegory in there."

First of all, the future Superman was born on the doomed planet Krypton into the "House of El" and, in Hebrew, "El" -- from a root word meaning "strength and might" -- is one name for God. Then his father gave him the name Kal-El, or in Superman lore, "Son of El" -- a kind of science-fiction salute to names such as Dani-el or Samu-el.

Then, his real parents saved their baby from oppressors by casting him into time and space, hoping he would be a source of hope and protection for others. They used a rocket, not a wicker basket, but it's hard to miss the links to Moses. It also helps to know that writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster -- both sons of Jewish refugees from Europe -- created Superman in the tense 1930s, inspired in part by anti-Semitism at home and abroad.

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