The trade paperback, Superman: Redemption, brings together three different Superman stories with religious contexts:
- Redemption: Action Comics #848 “If you believe, a man can fly” & Action Comics #849 “In good faith”.
- Angel: Superman #659.
- The Beast from Krypton: Superman #666.
The stories are interesting because the writers use an existing ‘non-religious’ narrative world or character – Superman – to explore something of the notion of religion and religious authority.
In Angel, where the central character in the story is an elderly woman who believes Superman is her personal guardian angel, the writers explore the idea of recovering faith in oneself rather than an external force in order to change the world for good.
Similarly, Redemption explores the idea of a Superman-like character raised in a fundamentalist Christian context, who’s acts in ‘good faith’ religiously, but in doing so empowers someone else to do ‘evil’. In this story, we hear Superman commenting,
“This is about a good if misguided – young man who needs to control his actions…even if those actions are guided by his beliefs…No, I have no problem with religion. I have a problem with abusing one’s power in the name of anything.”
So perhaps here we see the concept of freedom of religion and belief within a Western liberal democracy being expressed in the language of tolerance and pluralism, provided it doesn’t seek to impose itself in the public sphere in a way that is perceived as ‘hurtful’ or ‘abusive’.
The final story, The Beast of Krypton, my least favourite of the three, has Superman influenced by a Kryptonian demon, and then “falling” to Hell. It’s all a ruse, of course – a plan of the Phantom Stranger’s, but it depicts Hell as a necessary place for so long as there are greed, anger and hatred in the darkness of the human heart.
Overall, though, an interesting mix of stories exploring the contours of religious faith through a mainstream, and much beloved, superhero.