Not very many people know this, but the plot of the original Action Comics story of Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, was eerily similar to the nonfiction “story” of the life of Jesus Christ. When you compare the story of Superman with the life of Jesus, you can see the similarities.
Last week, I wrote about how good fiction writers develop stories by incorporating five milestones into the plot of every story. Here are the five milestones and where they can be found in the stories of Superman and Jesus:
Milestone 1: The Introduction – Introduces the main characters and provides important background information about them. It also sets the scene for the rest of the story, including which one of the characters is going to end up being the hero.
Superman – The introduction revealed to us that Superman was born on the planet of Krypton and was sent to Earth by his parents when he was a baby. He was raised as Clark Kent by a childless couple in Kansas. It was later revealed that he had special powers that nobody else on Earth had.
Jesus – The introduction of Jesus began when the Angel Gabriel appeared to the humble Virgin Mary and announced that she was chosen to be the mother of God. After she agreed to become the mother of God, Mary and her husband Joseph traveled to Bethlehem, where her Divine Son was born in a barn that was populated by animals and angels. There is nothing in the story about the years that Mary’s son was growing up, other than the time when he was 12 years old and was lost by his parents for three days. He was found in the Temple in Jerusalem, discussing God’s laws with the elders. It was later revealed that he had special powers that nobody else on Earth had.
Milestone 2: The Inciting Incident – An event that changes the hero’s life to such an extent that nothing is ever going to be the same for the hero.
Superman – In the original Superman story, the inciting incident occurred when Superman saved Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson from an attack on their city by experimental military helicopters. Superman’s heroic act forced Him into the public light. After that, nothing was ever the same for him.
Jesus – For Jesus, the inciting incident occurred when His Blessed Mother signaled to Him that He needed to perform a miracle and create some wine so that the hosts of the wedding reception at Cana would not be embarrassed and humiliated. Jesus replied to his mother that He was not yet ready to begin his public life. She ignored His comment and turned to the servants and told them, “Do whatever He tells you.” Jesus then proceeded to turn water into wine, which forced Him into the public light. After that, nothing was ever the same for Him.
Milestone 3: The Perilous Event – An event that occurs that causes the hero to end up in such a perilous situation that you wonder whether the hero is going to survive.
Superman – The perilous event occurred when Lex Luther exposed Superman to Kryptonite, the only substance that could kill him. At that point, one had to wonder if and how Superman was going to make it.
Jesus – The perilous event occurred when Jesus was arrested by the Temple guards of the Sanhedrin in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was later brought before Pontius Pilate who had no intention of going along with the chief priests’ plan to execute Him. In order to teach Jesus a lesson, Pilot ordered the men who had arrested Him to tie Him to a pillar and brutally whip Him. After they whipped Jesus, the men pounded a crown of sharp thorns into His head and mocked Him as a “King.”
Milestone 4: The Light at the End of the Tunnel – Just when it seems as though things can’t get worse for the hero, they do get worse. It’s hard to imagine a way out for the hero, but there is a glimmer of hope that everything may turn out to be alright after all.
Superman – Just when it seemed as though things couldn’t get worse, Luther launched missiles that were targeted on different areas of the United States. When Luther’s girlfriend learned that one of the missiles was headed toward the city where her mother lived, she snuck away from Luther and returned to where Superman was dying. At that moment, there was a glimmer of hope that she would save Superman and he would be able to stop Luther’s missiles from killing her mother and others.
Jesus – Just when it seemed as though things couldn’t get worse for Jesus, Pilot gave in and allowed Him to be put to death. Jesus was forced to carry His own cross and then suffered a horrible death by crucifixion. When He died, there was an instantaneous earthquake, the temple veil ripped in two, and a centurion who was standing at the foot of the cross said, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” His followers were confused and horrified, and a sense of hopelessness, despair, and fear began to consume them. Two days later, one of His followers reported that Jesus had risen from the dead. Was the report too good to be true?
Milestone 5: The Awesome Climax – No matter how good the story has been, it will completely fall apart unless there is an awesome climax at the end. After reading the climax, you have to think, “Wow, I can’t believe that just happened.”
Superman – Luther’s girlfriend saved Superman from death. Superman then went on to save Jimmy, Lois, and countless others from death. He was also able to stop the destruction that Luther had planned for humanity.
Jesus – The report of the resurrection of Jesus turned out to be true and over the next 40 days, He established a church that will live forever. He then ascended into Heaven where He was crowned as the King of Heaven and Earth. Although He left His mother behind to assist with His new church, she was later assumed into Heaven — body and soul — where she was crowned as the Queen of Heaven and Earth.
Wow, can you believe that really happened?
Those of us who do believe that it happened and follow God’s plan for our lives have been promised by God Himself that we will someday be allowed to enter into His Kingdom for all eternity.
As I wrote in last week’s article, the five milestones of a good fiction book fit within the framework of what Joseph Campbell, an American mythological researcher, called “the hero’s journey.” All the great fiction writers whose books were later turned into successful movies have been masters at incorporating the five milestones within their stories.
The true hero’s journey occurred with the annunciation, birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the reuniting of Jesus with His mother in Heaven. That journey is the greatest true story that has ever been told and is summarized by the 20 mysteries of the rosary.
It is my belief that God instilled deep within every heart and soul the desire to be a part of the true hero’s journey. That’s why every human being loves a story that includes the formula for the hero’s journey. And that’s why good fiction writers will always be able to capture the hearts and minds of their readers when they use the same formula that was devised by God when He allowed His Son to come to Earth to save mankind.
If you look deeply into the life of any saint, you will find the five milestones of the hero’s journey. If I had the time and space, I could lay out for you the introduction, the inciting incident, the perilous event, the light at the end of the tunnel, and the awesome climax that took place during and after the lives of each of the saints, including St. John Paul, II, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Maximillian Kolbe.
The only way you and I can live the true hero’s journey that God planned for us is to always remain in the state of grace and to live our lives as devout Catholics who have a burning desire to develop a greater love for God, while serving Him by performing the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.
May the Risen Lord give you the grace to live the hero’s journey that Almighty God planned for you when you were conceived in your mother’s womb.