Why Do We Love Superheroes?
We’re all captivated by superhero movies. We love seeing the Bat-Signal displayed in the sky as Batman speeds off to clean up crime in Gotham City. We are drawn in when Spider-Man’s spidey sense alerts him to danger, and he swings into action to stop a criminal (by the way, we are equal-opportunity DC and Marvel Comics fans around here). In the same way, we are on the edge of our seats as Iron Man risks his life to save millions of innocent people from immanent destruction.
What is it about superheroes that makes us love them so much? Film enthusiast Megan McKay explains, “It is the way they handle the entire scope of life as a human and still end up making the altruistic choices for which they are known.”1 In other words, the two aspects of the superhero that attract us are their humanity and their self-sacrifice. Tony Stark (AKA Iron Man) is an excellent example. Stark is an intelligent businessman with a quick wit, but one who needs to learn to put others before himself. His superpowers came after getting captured in Afghanistan and almost dying. It is then that he installed the arc reactor and built the first Iron Man suit to escape from his captors. We see ourselves in Tony Stark and strive to be like him, especially as he learns to be selfless instead of selfish. He was an ordinary man who overcame extraordinary circumstances, all for the good of others.
Iron Man’s most altruistic moment came at the end of The Avengers when Nick Fury called him into action. (Spoiler alert!) A nuclear missile was moments away from destroying New York City. Iron Man’s energy was quickly depleting, but he gripped the missile and said, “I know just where to put it.” His AI computer responded, “Stark, you know that’s a one-way trip.” With no regard for himself, he redirected the missile into the portal to the enemy realm and blew up the enemy’s spaceship. Having diverted the missile and exhausted his energy, Iron Man collapsed and accepted his own imminent demise. He sacrificed himself knowing that this would be the end of Iron Man. Had it not been for the other Avengers, he would have died.
Superheroes sacrifice themselves and display their superhuman powers, but human heroes do so without having any superpowers at all. Take for instance Loukas Karrer, the mayor of the Greek island of Zakynthos. He never wore a super suit, but he risked everything for the sake of others. According to the Holocaust museum Yad Vashem, Nazi forces landed on Zakynthos in September 1943 and ordered Karrer to hand over a list of all the Jewish people on the island. He had 24 hours to submit the list or he would pay with his own life. After conferring with the local bishop, the mayor burned the list of the islands’ Jewish residents and warned the Jewish community to flee to the mountains for safety. When the 24-hour period ended, the Nazis demanded the list, and Karrer and the bishop handed over a list of only two names – their own. Karrer narrowly escaped with his life, and it was because of his actions that the 275 Jewish people of Zakynthos also escaped to safety. Loukas Karrer is now recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, a title which basically means superhero.2
Superheroes and human heroes show great bravery and self-sacrifice in the face of evil. They give of themselves to the point of death. For some reason, our hearts are drawn to people who sacrifice themselves for the good of others. This seems to be something baked into the human soul, and we believe this universal experience is due to the way God made us. God fashioned our hearts like this because he wanted us to be instinctively drawn to his Son Jesus, who gave up his life for us.
Jesus did not do a crime deserving death. The Roman governor of his era, Pontius Pilate, admitted as much when he stated at Jesus’ trial, “this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). But if he was innocent, why was he killed? Jesus answered this question when he said, “I lay down my life… No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:17–18). Why did he do this?
Jesus gave his life on our behalf. He stepped in and carried our sins upon his shoulders, taking the death that we deserve. In the narrative of our lives, we strive to be the superhero, but in reality, we need to be rescued. God is perfect, which means that he cannot be in the presence of people who sin like us. We have all done wrong things, some small, some big (Ecclesiastes 7:20). But, like Iron Man did for New York City, Jesus willingly took our place so that we would not have to suffer the consequences of our sins. We deserve the consequences of our actions, but Jesus took the penalty for sin—death—onto himself so we can be declared forgiven before God.
It is for reasons like these that we believe Jesus is the ultimate superhero. In fact, the greatest superhero who ever lived is a Jewish man. He is our valiant rescuer who sacrificed himself on our behalf and defeated death by rising from the dead on the third day.
There is a reason why untold millions have been captivated by this Jewish superhero, long before Marvel and DC Comics gave us stories to cheer for. We cheer for them because God made us to cheer for him.
- Megan McKay, “Why We Love Superhero Films: The Humanity Behind the Mask,” The Artifice, December 25, 2014, https://the-artifice.com/why-we-love-superhero-films/.
- “The Righteous Among the Nations Database: Karrer Loukas,” Yad Vashem: The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, May 22, 2020, https://righteous.yadvashem.org/?searchType=righteous_only&itemId=4042977.