Humanity has long been fascinated with beings, gods or humans, who have extraordinary powers. It is not a stretch to say that superheroes and superhero fiction have existed for as long as stories have been passed down. Greek mythology has a plethora of gods and demi-gods and stories to rival any Marvel or DC character or storyline. Mesopotamia had the legend of Gilgamesh defeating Humbaba. Scandinavia had Beowulf, who slew the monstrous Grendel and Grendel’s mother. Diana protected slaves and the lower class long before Wonder Woman arrived. Superheroes have been around for a long time, and many of the stories have been used to impart some important lessons.
For the purposes of this article, we will limit our definition of superhero fiction to literature that portrays the adventures, personalities, and ethics of (usually) costumed figures known as superheroes. Superheroes or superheroines often possess superhuman powers and battle powerful villains or supervillains to protect the public. Since the debut of Superman in 1938, many stories of superheroes have been published, ranging from brief adventures to years-long sagas. The genre mainly began and is known through American comic books, though it has now expanded to other media, especially movies.
It is not wrong, per se, for a Christian to be knowledgeable of superhero fiction, to follow it, or to enjoy it. There are often positive lessons to be gleaned from superhero fiction. The genre can teach concepts such as right and wrong or good and evil. Batman shows that you don’t have to be born with superpowers to be a hero. Power Rangers teach teamwork. The Hulk can teach the importance of controlling your temper so as not to be out of control when angry. Spider-Man teaches that with great power comes great responsibility. Superman, Iron Man, and other superheroes show us that, while no one is perfect, but you can still make a difference in this world. Of course, there are also superheroes, such as Deadpool, who do not teach positive lessons, but these are better considered antiheroes.
Although there are some positives to the superhero genre, there are also some concerns regarding it. Superhero fiction contains a lot of aggression, fighting, and violence and is sometimes seen as promoting vigilantism. From comic books to the movies, superheroes take action against their evil counterparts, often violently. Children who watch or listen to stories containing violence may enact their superhero fiction play to an extreme and display aggressive tendencies. They can also have difficulty disassociating from superheroes, thinking that they can do some of the things the characters can do. Clearly, when a certain superhero is able to fly or bound across buildings, mimicry can endanger a child. Some of the superheroes and villains have particularly dark or frightening back stories that may be unhealthy for some audiences or inappropriate for certain age groups. One needs to make sure that whatever is watched or read is age- and maturity level-appropriate. Even then, becoming a “fan” of superhero fiction to the point of obsession or to the detriment of one’s spiritual walk is sinful.
Superhero fiction includes a broad spectrum of characters and storylines, as well as many media formats, and Christians need to apply the same biblical principles as they do to any other form of media. As Christians, we need to set our minds on things that are noble, true, right, pure, lovely, and admirable (Philippians 4:8). If a superhero movie or TV show contains violence, sexuality, profanity, or other questionable content, it needs to be approached with godly discretion.
Many people have tried to portray Jesus as the ultimate superhero, but He is not a superhero. Unlike superheroes, Jesus has no faults. He has no Achilles’ heel or kryptonite to weaken Him, no flaw to be exploited. Jesus wears no costume and has no need of special gadgets. Superheroes have enemies who might defeat them. Jesus does not. There is no cosmic war against good and evil such that evil might win. God is in control of all things. While Satan currently rules on earth (2 Corinthians 4:4), he has already been defeated through Jesus’ death and resurrection (John 12:31). Jesus is not a superhero. He is real. He is God in the flesh, who came to the earth to live a perfect life and then lay it down as the perfect sacrifice for mankind’s sin. By doing so, He brought eternal life and freedom from death and sin to all who will put their faith in Him (John 3:16–18). No superhero could do what Jesus did, and no superhero will ever be necessary to save the world. Only God can do that (Psalm 3:8)!