An early problem faced by the creators of Superman, only a few years after his first appearance in Action Comics #1 in 1938, was his impotence in the real world. Here was a character with incredible super-human powers – not quite as phenomenal as they would later become – who could defeat gangsters, wife-beaters, bullies and evil dictators with a flick of his little finger, but who, when a real life bully emerged on the world stage, couldn’t do anything. Stories could have been written about how he single-handedly defeated the Nazis and restored world peace but none of this would have been reflected in the real world. It’s true that today with its alternate realities and constant rebooting that Superman could be made to defeat modern-day fascism; but that would be on some other fictional Earth, not the real one. In the real world, Superman would remain impotent, having little effect beyond raising awareness and morale, which is what he did – or, more accurately, what his creators had him do – during World War II. There wasn’t anything else he or they could do.
By now, coronavirus should really have disappeared from the face of the Earth. Last Sunday was National Day of Prayer in the US. Independent of Donald Trump’s ‘initiative’ in calling for a day of grovelling in front of the Almighty, many other Christians have also been begging God to protect their church community from covid-19 (the godless can fend for themselves). Still others have commanded the virus, in the name of Jesus, to leave them and the USA alone (the rest of the world be damned.)
The effect of all this pleading and commanding has been that the coronavirus has continued to spread, heedless of borders and indifferent to the religious beliefs of its victims. Either God doesn’t give, as we say in this neck of the woods, a rat’s arse about who contracts covid-19, nor who dies from it, not even his born-again Chosen Ones. Everybody’s gotta die sometime, right? The important thing is that they’re right with the Lord before they do.
Or – God’s just like Superman. We can imagine him doing all sorts of incredible things, like healing disease, curing illness and saving the world, but in reality, none of them ever happen. He’s not going to protect people from coronavirus in precisely the same way he failed to protect them from 9/11, AIDs, the Holocaust, Spanish Flu, The Great Plague, Black Death and Leprosy. It’s not that he doesn’t care, it’s that he’s not there. He’s no more real than Superman and is every bit as impotent as the Man of Steel.
I’m a big fan of Superman – I’ve been reading the comics he appears in for 57 years now – and I’m fully aware he’s not real; he was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster 82 years ago and has been embellished by every writer and artist who’s worked on him ever since – much like God. If only those who plead with the Almighty, and worse, tell the rest of us what he thinks of us, would recognise that he is fictional too. He exists only in a fantasy realm, outside of which he has no super-powers, no influence, no ability to save us from coronavirus or anything else.
Remember the sequence in the Simpsons episode where Homer is, as usual, in lots of trouble; he looks to the sky and pleads, ‘I’m not normally a praying man, but if you’re up there, please save me… Superman.’ That’s exactly what Christians are doing right now, and the result will be the same as it was for Homer and for everyone else who’s ever called on Superman God to save them.