Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Superman on the moon

So recently someone asked me about the picture at the top of the blog. She had read this before meeting me, and the first thing she commented on was that there's a tiny picture of Superman at the top of this. There's a reason for that.

It's a picture from All Star Superman issue 6. Superman sees his dog Krypto for the first time in a while, and they're playing fetch and racing around in space to celebrate. They stop by the moon for a second, and we get this image.

Now, my degree is in folklore, and my specialization is mythology. I spend a lot of time considering the meaning of gods and what they do. I'm writing this book because the term myth is thrown around a lot when people talk and write about Superman, and I thought it would be a good idea to figure out exactly what people mean by that.

My graudate advisor was Greg Schrempp, who's written a lot about science and myth, greek philosophy, and maori cosmology. In his forthcoming book Scientists and Centaurs, he writes a passage about the first descriptions that astronauts gave of the earth as seen from space. he describes it as possessing virtually all the characteristics of a myth. It got me to thinking that maybe being a god is all about perspective.

Gods know things that people don't. When they tell us, we call it revelation and it's a very, very sacred thing. When people develop their own ways to find these things out, such as reading tea leaves to predict the future, we call it divination. We get little glimpses of the divine. One of the things that separate humanity from divinity is knowledge, which is why Adam and Eve eating the fruit of knowledge of good and evil was a crime--god didn't want humanity to be divine.

Knowledge is gained in lots of ways, but one of the most effective ways is through experience. We learn by doing things and by going places. Gods are able to go anywhere and do anything. They can stand at the archimedean point and see the cosmos from the outside. They have a perspective we lack. That is, until the astronauts went into space and saw the earth. They had a perspective that until that moment was only theoretical. They had more than a glimpse of the divine.

Superman, of course, can get this perspective whenever he wants. All Star Superman, which will have the above picture on its collected version this fall, is a central story to one of my chapters on myth. It's a story that distills the mythical qualities of Superman into twelve issues. And it's really, really good.

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