The question of whether a humanist philosophy is compatible with a world in which superheroes exist might be a fun one to explore. Can people save themselves, or do they need superheroes/authorities/gods to save them? This seems to be a theme that bubbles up every so often (and gets answered in different ways) in the comics and movies.

I found it interesting, for instance, to see The Dark Knight play with the idea that Batman may not need to micromanage justice from “on high”: at one point Harvey Dent and Gotham law enforcement manage to arrest and convict the majority of the Mob; the people on board the civilian and prisoner ferries decide not to blow each other up, and require no rescuing.

The Superman movies seem to send mixed messages. Jor-El’s recorded message to his son has strong humanist strains: he says of humans, “They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be,” and extols “their capacity for good.” But he, and the movies, also see a deficiency: “They only lack the light to show the way,” and therefore need a savior: “my only son.” It was interesting to see Superman Returns turn this around, and show Superman himself being saved by mere mortals from drowning (with, I believe, the humanist part of Jor-El’s speech playing as a voice-over?), before the movie reverts to form — naturally — with Supes recovering and saving the world from Luthor’s Kryptonite-laden real estate.

I don’t follow the Wonder Woman comics faithfully, but in the few recent issues I’ve browsed in the library she seems to be her island nation’s ambassador to the United Nations, trying to fulfill her ideals of justice and harmony by working through the legal and diplomatic mechanisms of the human world (with the occasional ass-kicking, of course). And I’m sure much more can be said about the relationship between humans and superheroes — between human and superhuman justice — in such works as The Dark Knight Returns, X-Men, The Watchmen…

(h/t The Mississippifarian, via Pharyngula)


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