Who is your favorite superhero? What qualities and traits of your champion cause your jaw to drop and your spirit to simultaneously stand in wonder and in fear?
I have asked several groups of varying ages this same question. The Lone Ranger and Buck Rogers were favorites of one group. The clear as day morality issues and the ability to easily detect the good and bad guy made for great stories in which one knew whom to cheer and whom to boo. A younger crowd I asked brought up Hawkeye and The Flash. Hawkeye was an interesting response, because he's not as "super" as some heroes are. His special training in archery with very specific arrows and his wit were attractive in a similar way to Batman's powers, but without the extreme wealth and limitless resources.
Both groups inevitably brought up Superman, the almost all-powerful. Personally, Superman has been coupled with Wolverine as a personal favorite. Superman stands for all things that are good: he is incredibly hard to deter and near impossible to beat. His muscles and sheer will seem to match the mythos of the American Spirit, and I think we like to see ourselves ironically in this "alien" from Krypton.
He's a prophet whose existence warns us that our planet might not last forever. He challenges us to be righteous and his weakness to kryptonite shows how he is often willing to suffer to save others. For religious folks, there are allusions to Christ-likeness in his fictional character: he has a secret identity; in one series Superman dies to save Metropolis from the monster Doomsday (and returns to life); and he was raised in common circumstances, though destined for greatness.
Of course the allusions don't do the ministry of Jesus justice if we reverse-interpret Christ and make a superhero out of him. In fact, I've read about how terrible a superhero Jesus would be. He never throws bad guys into space, he doesn't kill zombies (though he does bring the dead back to life), he's not a millionaire with a philanthropic corporation, and he doesn't seem to have any radioactive labs where he can splice powers into his body.
And when he does something with his powers (healing the sick, walking on water or feeding multitudes), it points not to the act itself, but to something bigger: the kingdom of God breaking into our world.
While Jesus does great things, he's actually trying to communicate something deeper. Superman's greater reality is on the surface -- we can fix things if we try hard enough and work together. The kingdom of God is more about the fact that when we're honest, we can't fix everything and we need God's grace, spirit and strength to accomplish some of the biggest problems.
No matter how many evil monsters Superman shoots into the sun, there will always be another monster. Monsters keep on coming, and even Superman gets tired. On the other hand, Christ's victory over evil by his willing self-sacrifice on the cross, the death of the one God, and the power shown in his subsequent resurrection all point to not the greatness within us, but the power of God himself -- the superhero in which all other superheroes depend on for life and hope in the best and brightest future of all.
Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at danielgriswold.wordpress.com.