Transcending pulpy paper and kiddie-comics, these global cultural icons have invaded nearly every entertainment medium since the 30s, from radio programs to billion dollar films. As a younger man, I resonated with Batman and the underlying angst of the character. I never really “got” Superman until I was nearly 30. After I became a Christian, I took another look “up in the sky” at all the symbolism under the Man of Steel’s cape, and developed a profound appreciation for the hero. I became less fascinated by Batman until the most recent offering by director Christopher Nolan starring Christian Bale, Batman Begins. Subtle yet profound narrative adjustments to the mythos once again made him something the reflects mankind’s greater need for a savior.
With The Dark Knight coming out this summer, a likely followup to Superman Returns, and a full-blown live-action Justice League movie coming, I think it’s important to contemplate these icons. I had the privilege to speak about this history and symbolism of Superman prior to a viewing of the 1978 Richard Donner film and just prior to the release of Superman Returns; I also got to examine the cultural evolution of the Batman following a showing of Batman Begins. Superman’s origin by Jewish writers and the messianic underpinnings are intriguing when fleshed out, including his relationship with the archetypes of Lex Luther and Lois Lane. Batman’s motivations have been adjusted more frequently, moving from vigilante to detective to borderline psychotic and now – in the 21st century – coming full circle. Has Superman become irrelevant? Is Batman altruistic or satisfying his own inner needs? Understanding our likes and dislikes of these heroes, and even how we have sought to mold them throughout generations, gives us an interesting reflection. It might not be that we don’t like one or both of these characters; it might be that we have some issues with ourselves, and a resistance to the felt need of a savior in our own lives.
SUPERMAN – In June 1938, Action Comics #1 came out, featuring a man in a red and blue costume lifting a car over his head. This was Superman, the very first comic character to have powers far beyond a human being. Rocketed from another planet, this alien grew up on a Kansas farm with foster parents and then moved to the big city to be a journalist. Living a life as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter, he flies into action as Superman whenever danger rears it’s ugly head. Deputized by the city, he stands as a beacon of truth, justice, and the American way. Trouble-magnet Lois Lane finds him attractive and loves to be saved by her hero, whereas the equally human Lex Luthor loathes this virtually omnipotent Savior and seeks to destroy him.
SUPERMAN review (of the character, not the latest film)
BATMAN – Detective Comics #27 hit the stands in In May, 1939. In it we saw the first appearance of Batman. The character and stories evolved and adapted in each decade. In later years when superhero comics were not so popular, Batman survived by focusing on his detective abilities, making his comic stories more of a mystery series than a superhero book. Torn from his parents as a boy by a thief’s twitchy trigger-finger, billionaire Bruce Wayne grew up obsessed with honing mind and body to perfection to combat such crime; he patrols Gotham City in the darkness as Batman, working outside the law to enact true justice and using terror to prey on the superstitious minds of his foes. As Bruce Wayne, he projects the image of a jet-setting playboy to cover his nocturnal activity.
BATMAN review (examining the character, focusing on Batman Begins)