In a review of the latest Superman retread, Dana Stevens compares superhero blockbusters to medieval religious art:
Both rely on rigidly fixed iconographies drawn from a narrow range of canonical subject matter. The individual creator may vary the style, but the terms of the representation are governed by a larger divine or quasi-divine cosmic order: hence the endless variations on the Annunciation, the descent from the cross, the first appearance of the cape and tights, the final fistfight atop a skyscraper. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel doesn’t aim to turn that cosmic order inside out; this is the work of a man of faith, a director whose whole career has been predicated on his love for the comic and graphic-novel form. But Snyder (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch) provides an elegantly illuminated retelling of the origin story of that most saintly of superheroes, Superman.
Elsewhere, from a more humanist perspective, a team of psychiatrists concludes after examining Superman’s childhood that he is “more human than superhuman”:
According to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a person must first meet basic needs, like food and shelter, before focusing on such higher-level needs as relationships and career development. So, Superman’s near-limitless powers may actually free him up to focus on being super. An even higher-level need is self-actualization, or reaching one’s full potential. Superman’s self-proclaimed never-ending battle for Truth, Justice, and the ever-changing “American Way” seems to sum up his pursuit of self-actualization. The rub: the pursuit is never-ending. There are always more of Lex Luthor’s plots to foil, more invasions from Apokolips to stave off.
This experience isn’t unique to Superman; we are all works in progress. Whether Superman, at least, illustrates that despite the numerous challenges along the way, a path towards realizing one’s full potential exists. Indeed, as a character Superman transcends his own self-actualization by inspiring us – his fans – to achieve our own self-actualization and be the best people we can be.