Superman Through the Ages



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Superman: The American Way
The following is a transcript of an email discussion regarding Superman: The American Way.  Most of this discussion originally took place on the kal-l mailing list in the Spring of 2002, and some of it took place in private emails.  This page presents a combination of the postings from kal-l combined with the private emails, in an attempt to present most of the pertinent information.  It seems that we may not be working from a complete archive of the emails, as there are quotes from and references to messages that are not included on this page.

This discussion began as a follow-up to a comment by the web site administrator as to why he made this story available on the web, and to the author's initial response.  You may want to read those comments first and then come back here.



Date: Wed, 17 Apr 2002 14:22:45 -0400
From: Nightwing 
Great Rao wrote
I updated "Superman: The American Way" with the latest 6 cantos, in order to bring it up to date.  I've also posted my own fascinating thoughts about the story at http://ws.fortress.net.nu/americanway/comments.php :-)

Though I gather you wrote the above with tongue in cheek, your thoughts really are fascinating, as is the poem.  As you say, there has always been a messianic sub-text to the Superman mythos, but it's always worked best when handled with subtlety.  I remember being particularly uncomfortable with the 1977 "Superman Spectacular," wherein a whole race is discovered who worship Superman as a god.

For my part, I always saw the parallels between Superman and the Bible (or Torah) as, if not coincidental, then at least unconscious.  With all due respect to Jerry and Joe, who certainly seemed a literate pair of teens, I really doubt they set out to intentionally mirror the great religious writings of humanity, much less to create a new "Bible" for secular audiences.  On the other hand, as two Jewish kids in the 30's, they couldn't help but be sensitive to the trials of Jews in Europe (and, to our great shame, here at home), so what could be more logical for them to create than an all-powerful "savior" who not only lived out their fantasies of winning the girl and beating the bullies, but also represented the highest ideals of the Judeo-Christian dogma, with the added appeal of muscle to back it up? And what better way to poke the Aryans in the eye than to steal their ideal of a "superman" in the bargain? ("You're right, Adolph, there is a Superman.  And he's coming to kick your butt!")

As Joseph Campbell and others have pointed out, there is a short list of themes that recur again and again in heroic literature, including but not limited to the Bible.  Themes like the hero being born on a mountaintop (ie: outerspace), but cast out and separated from his true parents (usually royalty but in Kal-El's case, a member of the Science Council) to be adopted by humble folk (Moses actually reversed this one, but the basket on the river is an obvious parallel to the rocket in space).  And so on.  I have always believed that Jerry and Joe didn't so much create a hero myth "by the numbers" as tap into something cosmic and wonderful, as if they were "mainlining" humanity's collective unconscious, and that is why their work resonates so powerfully.  I think the same was true of child prodigy Mozart, not to mention four lads from Liverpool -- some people just have the gift of grasping things we all understand on some instinctual level and presenting them to us in pleasing, comprehensible ways that just feel right.  The point being, Superman shares a lot in common with some religions, but I've never for a moment believed that was intentional, at least not until Mario Puzo twigged to it and threw in corny lines like, "The son becomes the father and the father the son" and "I am sending you...my only son..."

Not being Jewish, I hope I'm not offending anyone with this next remark, but I think Superman could be taken as a vision of what the Jews wanted in a "savior." Not a meek and mild teacher saying "turn the other cheek," but a super-powerful warrior who could smite the oppressors with one blow, someone who would tell them, "good job keeping the faith all these years, now don't sweat it, I'm here to set everything right."

As for Superman's own faith, it would make sense that he'd be Christian, growing up in rural Kansas and all, but the comics don't really play this up.  In fact, his spiritual side seems more in tune with his alien heritage: as we know, he called on Rao often.  I think it's unfortunate that "Rao" was also the name of Krypton's sun, because it can lead to the (seemingly logical) assumption that Kryptonians were sun-worshippers.  That would be totally inconsistent with portrayals of Krypton as a scientifically advanced culture, and in fact there's no passages I know of that came right out and said that Rao the sun equalled Rao the god.  But it's easy enough to infer it.

In the late 70s there was a truly remarkable story in the back pages of a "Superman Family" comic, wherein Clark shared with someone the Kryptonian legend of a great prophet who preached peace and love, and for his troubles was executed by the powers-that-be, but not before his message took root in the minds of Kryptonians, who soon remade their world as a place of equality and justice, one where science was revered not for its own sake, but as a means to improving the lot of mankind.  The parallels to Christ were obvious (almost uncomfortably so, at the time), and I remember the prophet was a spokesman for Rao, though I don't remember how or if the "sun" angle was explained away.  Anyway, it was a great way for DC to have its cake and eat it, too; making Kal-El a "Christian" without the "Christ." While I generally don't like mixing the Bible with superheros, I confess I really liked the idea that Superman is such a great guy in part because of his religion, and that as a believer he is acting out his faith here on Earth, "spreading the word" as it were to a world full of souls who need to hear it.  Love your fellow man...work for the good of all...be tolerant of those who are different from you...I don't care how you want to package the message, or what name you attach to it, the message itself is the ultimate truth, one that will survive across time and space.

We all know that the Pre-Crisis Krypton was portrayed as an idyllic world, a sort of standard for Earth to aspire to.  I rather like the notion that this is not simply because Krypton was scientifically superior, but because it was a world that heard the great messages of religion, and embraced them, rather than using them as an excuse for centuries of war, crusades, persecution and intolerance.

Which is a typically long-winded way of saying I don't think Clark really ever faced the choice he's being pressured to make in the poem.  Rao and the Christian god are, to me, the same being, one who just happens to have many messengers on many worlds.




Date: Wed, 17 Apr 2002 15:09:37 -0400
From: Great Rao
At 02:22 PM 4/17/02 -0400, Nightwing wrote:
As for Superman's own faith, it would make sense that he'd be Christian, growing up in rural Kansas and all, but the comics don't really play this up.

They don't, but they have begun to refer to it.  I think Jeph Loeb's "All Seasons" gave some direct reference to it, but as I always do, I have to point out that Elliot Maggin wanted to use the idea first but DC wouldn't let him :-)

On the other hand, giving Clark a distinct religion - and even a distinct denomination - might not be a good idea.  It sort of removes his "everyman" quality.  And it is certainly something that has not traditionaly been part of the story.

I think it's unfortunate that "Rao" was also the name of Krypton's sun, because it can lead to the (seemingly logical) assumption that Kryptonians were sun-worshippers.  That would be totally inconsistent with portrayals of Krypton as a scientifically advanced culture, and in fact there's no passages I know of that came right out and said that Rao the sun equalled Rao the god.  But it's easy enough to infer it.

I actually kind of like the same-name thing.  And what's wrong having Krypton's source of light (and thus life, since plants are at the bottom of the food chain and warmth is needed for survival) representing the Source of Light and Life? :-)

I read somewhere (maybe the "World of Krypton" miniseries) that Kryptonians used to be sun worshippers, but as they evolved into Monotheists, they kept the same name for their god (Rao).  ie, "Rao the sun" became "Rao, who kindled the sun."

Which is a typically long-winded way of saying I don't think Clark really ever faced the choice he's being pressured to make in the poem.  Rao and the Christian god are, to me, the same being, one who just happens to have many messengers on many worlds.

That's basically the point I was trying to make but, as usual, you were much clearer about it. Thanks :-)




From: Michael E. Mautner
To: Great Rao
Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2002 03:38:33 +0000
This exchange is wonderful.  Thank you so much for sharing it.  I don't think I have made Clark a "Christian" in the sense in which most midwesterners of the 1930s would have made use of that term, nor in the sense in which the niche-marketers of our day have done.  The relationships among and between religion, science (faith and reason), and military and political history, as they play themselves out in the poem are fairly complex -- just as they are in real life -- and not intended to be polemical.  I think all that stuff later about the Krytonian Civil War, the exile of the priests of Rao, the division between Jor-El and Zor-El on that point, and the transmutation of Rao from god (in the pagan sense of the term: see Yehezkiel Kaufmann's The Religion of Israel, translated by Moshe Greenberg, published by Schocken Books) into a demonic force on earth demonstrates the multiple layers of meaning that inhere in the way we conceptualize the divine.  As to the intent of Siegel and Shuster -- I refer you to the fanzine story Siegel wrote before they did the first strip called The Reign of the Superman.  It ends with a Deus Ex Machina in which the Just and Righteous God of the Universe (not the exact phrase: I'm working from memory here, but it had the ring of the worship of Reform Judaism, whose center in America has always been in Ohio) touches the Superman and kills him before he can murder some man whom, I think, he has tied to a chair.  It confirmed a lot of instincts I had about the material when I read that "pre-Superman superman" story and I think, Nightwing, that you have voiced much of what I thought about the subtexts in the Siegel and Shuster material.  I put some of that in my senior thesis in U.S History at Cal.




Date: Wed, 17 Apr 2002 15:44:01 -0400
From: Nightwing
Great Rao wrote:
On the other hand, giving Clark a distinct religion - and even a distinct denomination - might not be a good idea.  It sort of removes his "everyman" quality.  And it is certainly something that has not traditionaly been part of the story.

I agree it'd be a dumb move this late in the game, especially in an age where East and West are essentially at war.  With everyone in 2002 tip-toeing around words like "Christian," "Muslim" and "Jew," why give up one of the few characters who might appeal to all, and thus be a point of connection? Superman has enough baggage to carry around, being a symbol of America.  Why saddle him with being a symbol of Christianity, too?

Nightwing wrote:
I think it's unfortunate that "Rao" was also the name of Krypton's sun, because it can lead to the (seemingly logical) assumption that Kryptonians were sun-worshippers.  That would be totally inconsistent with portrayals of Krypton as a scientifically advanced culture, and in fact there's no passages I know of that came right out and said that Rao the sun equalled Rao the god.  But it's easy enough to infer it.

To which Great Rao responded:
I actually kind of like the same-name thing.  And what's wrong having Krypton's source of light (and thus life, since plants are at the bottom of the food chain and warmth is needed for survival) representing the Source of Light and Life? :-)

I read somewhere (maybe the "World of Krypton" miniseries) that Kryptonians used to be sun worshippers, but as they evolved into Monotheists, they kept the same name for their god (Rao).  ie, "Rao the sun" became "Rao, who kindled the sun."

I suppose that's okay.  You might say then that Kryptonians look to the sun as a symbol of God's power and presence.  Sort of a big, blazing reminder of the being who made life possible in the first place.

In that light (ahem :-)), it's interesting to note that Jor-El wears a symbol of the sun on his tunic.  Does that imply that he's deeply religious? Of course, if you believe the Superman/Christ connection is intentional, then it'd make sense to associate the Sun (god) with Jor-El, right? Plus, Jor-El always looked exactly like Superman, only with a headband.  Is this really because Wayne Boring could only draw one face, or because Superman was made "in his image"? :-)

Anyway, the sun-worshippers-to-monotheists bit is perfectly plausible.  Heck, it happened on Earth! The "halo" associated with Christ and the saints was a carryover from pre-Christian depictions of sun god Apollo.  For that matter, the December date assigned to Christ's birth (despite Biblical evidence to the contrary) was lifted from a Druidic tradition, and many popular hymns were written to the tune of popular drinking songs! A lot of the things we associate with Christian tradition is actually carried over, mutated or modified from the days of polytheism and paganism.  Why? Because it was easier for people to embrace the new religion if they could integrate it into traditions and social customs they already felt comfortable with.  It's possible the same happened on Krypton.

That said, the "Rao" thing still feels odd.  You would think monotheists would be uncomfortable pointing to an object in the sky and saying, "there's God!" At the same time, you would think a race of scientists would dislike the deification of a perfectly normal (if wonderful) astronomical phenomenon that is obviously just a flaming ball of gas that's not even possessed of sentience, much less benevolence or generosity.

Or maybe "Great Rao" isn't even a religious utterance.  After all, Supes also says, "Great Krypton," and that's just out of fondness, not worship.  Don't forget other comic book characters were forever saying things like "Great Suns!" , "Great Stars" and even "Great Galaxies!".  Maybe the DC heros are just particularly fond of astronomy. :-)


Nightwing wrote:
Which is a typically long-winded way of saying I don't think Clark really ever faced the choice he's being pressured to make in the poem.  Rao and the Christian god are, to me, the same being, one who just happens to have many messengers on many worlds.

Great Rao wrote:
That's basically the point I was trying to make but, as usual, you were much clearer about it.


And it only took me 2500 words to do it. :-)




From: Great Rao
Subject: Re: religious digressions
At 03:44 PM 4/17/02 -0400, Nightwing wrote:
I agree it'd be a dumb move this late in the game, especially in an age where East and West are essentially at war.  With everyone in 2002 tip-toeing around words like "Christian," "Muslim" and "Jew," why give up one of the few characters who might appeal to all, and thus be a point of connection? Superman has enough baggage to carry around, being a symbol of America.  Why saddle him with being a symbol of Christianity, too?

An excellent point, and this is precisely one of my reservations about presenting "The American Way." But I do enjoy the story a lot and I also put it on its own website to try keep it separate a bit.  I do like the Muslim idea of referring to Christians, Muslims, and Jews as all being "people of the Book." I wonder if that would include Mormons? :-)

For that matter, the December date assigned to Christ's birth (despite Biblical evidence to the contrary) was lifted from a Druidic tradition

You may want to look up the Persian god Mithras.  His birthdate was celebrated on December 25th (most likely because it coincided with the winter solstice), he had a divine birth, was a precocious youth, had 12 followers, ascended to Heaven, etc.  And he served as a mediator between mankind and the Sun god, with whom he had his last feast.

He flourished around 400 BC and spread out from Persia all over the Mediterranean area.  He remained extremely popular throughout the first century (especially in Rome) when, inexplicibly, his popularity quickly faded and Christianity completely took over.

That said, the "Rao" thing still feels odd.  You would think monotheists would be uncomfortable pointing to an object in the sky and saying, "there's God!" At the same time, you would think a race of scientists would dislike the deification of a perfectly normal (if wonderful) astronomical phenomenon that is obviously just a flaming ball of gas that's not even possessed of sentience, much less benevolence or generosity.

Here's an idea: try looking at it from a symbolic point of view.  We know that Superman loses his powers under a red sun - and if Rao is both the original red sun and God, it sort of serves as a reminder that Superman can never be as powerful as God.  God is the one thing that makes him a humble human.  Maybe this is a way to keep him from getting too big for his britches? Or to keep him a human being, distinct from God, much as Mithras was separate from God, or Jesus was separate from God (until the Roman Emperor Constantine decreed that Jesus was God, but that's another story for another time...)




From: Michael E. Mautner
To: Great Rao
Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2002 03:56:51 +0000
This is great stuff.  I take especial interest in this comment:

Great Rao wrote:
try looking at it from a symbolic point of view.  We know that Superman loses his powers under a red sun - and if Rao is both the original red sun and God, it sort of serves as a reminder that Superman can never be as powerful as God.  God is the one thing that makes him a humble human.  Maybe this is a way to keep him from getting too big for his britches? Or to keep him a human being, distinct from God, much as Mithras was separate from God, or Jesus was separate from God (until the Roman Emperor Constantine decreed that Jesus was God, but that's another story for another time...)

The humility point is very important.  You might both want to read, though, the C.S. Lewis essay "Myth Became Fact" which makes some important points on these subjects. 




Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2002 12:45:26 -0400
From: Nightwing 
Subject: Re: more mythology stuff
Michael E. Mautner wrote:
What I've done with him is similar to what the 1990s cartoon did with Brainiac -- made the other survivor "fall" from Kryptonian "grace"; i.e., the Super-Computer was not a malevolent force until torn from its natural environment.  This is similar to the way ancient pagans viewed each others' "gods" as strictly local in power and authority -- the neighboring tribe's gods were your demons, in your territory, but you had to do them obeisance as gods when you went to theirs.  This is quite distinct from the Hebrew conception of the divine and its Christian variant (or climax, depending upon one's point of view).  More later.

I'd say what happened to Rao was worse than being "torn from its natural environment." In fact its natural environment no longer exists, and you could argue that Rao therefore died with it.  If it's true that every god rules his own turf, then when the turf is gone, the god is no longer a god, right? It's like the (admittedly awful) Star Trek episode, "Who Mourns For Adonis?"; When mankind moved beyond belief in the Olympian pantheon, the Roman gods were sent packing, wandering the Universe with chips on their shoulders because there was no one left to believe in them.  They were "gods" as in supermen, but no longer gods as in divine beings.  Maybe that's what's at work here, though it's hard to imagine how mustering up one living believer is going to help Rao's situation much.

Anyway, I guess this puts the work more in tune with post-Crisis continuity, since it's another example of Krypton being a malevolent/subversive force in Kal-El's life, a p.o.v diametrically opposed to the virtual Krypton worship prior to 1986.




Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2002 16:45:26 -0400
From: Great Rao
Subject: Re: more mythology stuff
At 12:45 PM 4/19/02 -0400, Nightwing wrote:
I'd say what happened to Rao was worse than being "torn from its natural environment." In fact its natural environment no longer exists, and you could argue that Rao therefore died with it.  If it's true that every god rules his own turf, then when the turf is gone, the god is no longer a god, right? It's like the (admittedly awful) Star Trek episode, "Who Mourns For Adonis?"; When mankind moved beyond belief in the Olympian pantheon, the Roman gods were sent packing, wandering the Universe with chips on their shoulders because there was no one left to believe in them.  They were "gods" as in supermen, but no longer gods as in divine beings.

A fun episode, but I don't entirely agree with it.  True, in the 1960s there weren't many people who worshiped the ancient Roman Gods and Goddesses (at least not directly, and certainly fewer than there are now), but there were a lot of people who knew about them, through literature, etc.  So I don't think they really went packing.  Just evolved a bit...

Maybe that's what's at work here, though it's hard to imagine how mustering up one living believer is going to help Rao's situation much.

It's kind of odd.  We know that Rao seems to have some believers - we've seen Kara with a Hight Priest of Rao, so we know that there are a few other Kryptonians left.  But I get the impression that the priest is complaining that Rao is gone.  I guess he's on Earth, going after Superman...?

Anyway, I guess this puts the work more in tune with post-Crisis continuity, since it's another example of Krypton being a malevolent/subversive force in Kal-El's life, a p.o.v diametrically opposed to the virtual Krypton worship prior to 1986.

The poem seems to be an odd amalgamation of pre-Crisis continuities with post-Crisis sensibilities.  But the Rao thing is a particular thorn in my side since one of the things that I like very much about the pre-1986 continuity is the "virtual Krypton worship" that you refer to.  Superman's love and respect for his home planet and its culture (and the fact that its a culture worthy of his love and respect) seems to me to be a vital part of the character.




From: Michael E. Mautner
To: Great Rao
Date: Tue, 23 Apr 2002 04:58:59 +0000
Much of this conversation is a bit premature.  Wait and see what Rao does -- what he must do -- now that Kal-El has rejected him.  Also, wait and see what becomes of the denizens of Argos, especially Kara Zor-El, and learn more about the history of Krypton's latter days as I've re-worked it here.  Then decide what influences are positive and which are malevolent.  It's not exactly a linear narrative, but neither was Kryptonian history as it unfolded in the pre-Byrne Silver Age -- which brings me to another important point: Remember, when we talk about the "pre-Crisis Superman", we're not talking about a single layer of developement.  What fans tend to mean by that phrase vis-a-vis Krypton is the Krypton created in the late 50s and early 60s, the revival period that followed the cancellation of the George Reeves series and saw the brief return of Jerry Siegel, and the arrival of former Captain Marvel writer Otto Binder, who Science-Fictionized the Superman universe as never before.  It's from that period that we get Argo City, the Bottle City of Kandor, the Phantom Zone, and so much of the details about Kryton -- so much so that the editors by the late 70s took two miniseries ("World of Krypton" and "Krypton Chronicles") to redact and retell the bulk of the material.  This was great stuff and neither I nor the Superman editors and writers who took over from John Byrne in the late 80s could ignore it.  I tried when I started to "save Krypton for later" because its true colors came later in the character's evolution and I wanted to tap into the deepest layer (the "bottom strata," if you will) of the canon: the first ten years worth of Superman stories, before he even became aware that he was an alien.  I found, though, that I simply couldn't separate them, not even in the Smallville setting.  As so many who have worked this material before have said, "these characters start writing themselves."




From: David Skoglund
To: kal-l
Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2002 20:46:42 +0000
Has "Reign of the Superman" ever been reprinted somewhere? Can it be found on the web perhaps?



From: Great Rao
To: kal-l
Date: Date: Fri, 19 Apr 2002 17:03:36 -0400
I was pretty surprised about that too. I'd love to read it, but I have no idea how to get a copy of it.



From: Michael E. Mautner
To: Great Rao
Date: Tue, 23 Apr 2002 05:17:58 +0000
"The Reign of the Superman" was reprinted in Nemo #2, August 1983, published by Fantagraphic Books.  I got my copy, if I recall, through Bud Plant.  The specific line I tried to paraphrase above was: "In this moment of dread and terror the reporter [named FORREST ACKERMAN, who is then bound by steel cables to a chair as the Superman torments him] sent up a silent prayer to the Creator of the threatened world.  He beseeched the Omnipotent One to blot out this blaspheming devil [the Superman: capitalization of divine titles is Siegel's]." The prayer is immediately answered by a vision that reveals to the Superman the error of his meglomaniacal ways.  It should be noted that this climax is much like the end of Phillip Wylie's novel, The Gladiator, published in 1930, three years before Siegel, under the pen name Herbert S. Fine, wrote this fan story.  In The Gladiator, though, it is Hugo Danner himself, the hero/anti-hero, who utters the prayer that saves him from himself.  I'd hate to reveal the response to the prayer though: the book's a great read.  My copy is a 1976 edition from Manor Books.




From: Michael E. Mautner
To: Great Rao
Date: Tue, 23 Apr 2002 05:24:23 +0000
"Myth Became Fact" is essay #5 in God In The Dock, a collection of Lewis essays.  Lewis' vision of the relationship between Christ and his pagan prefigurations is an important component of my vision of the "Kryptonian paganism" I've presented in the poem.  It is not per se a malevolent force -- see Clark's first soliloqouy at the end of Book I: he is torn between his competing legacies on multiple levels, the religio-spiritual being only the most colorful.  Lewis' novel Till We Have Faces is another example of what I'm talking about here.  More later.


From: Michael E. Mautner
To: Great Rao
Date: Sat, 27 Apr 2002 06:49:04 +0000
Michael E. Mautner wrote:
I don't think I have made Clark a "Christian" in the sense in which most midwesterners of the 1930s would have made use of that term, nor in the sense in which the niche-marketers of our day have done.


Great Rao wrote:
Do you believe that you've made him a Christian at all? Or am I mistaken? I've stated as fact that you have, but perhaps my assumption is incorrect.  You do show him going to church, you refer to communion, and if my memory serves (it's been a while since I've read your poem, and only the first half at that) but I seem to recall that you have him meeting and kneeling to Jesus Christ Himself (albeit in Apollo's chariot...)

Clark goes to Church with his mother because she does.  Eben has stopped.  Clark doesn't like it, as he told the apparent ghost of Jor-El at the end of book one, he "kneels to those nearest" and even his superficial acknowledgement of his mother's faith offends Rao, as he says mocking Clark in Rao's dog-form as Krypto (that's the reference to communion)"; but obviously it still has an effect on him.  His mother reads him Tennyson's Idylls of the King, as we'll see in a couple of cantos from now (we're at #18 on the site as I write this), and that effects him too.  When Clark has his visionary experience later in the poem -- one that resolves several sets of tensions within himself, not the least of which is the localist sense of small-town communal loyalty the initially prevents him from divulging to the FBI agent what he knows -- it is a vision of Christ ordaining Superboy/man to his.  This leads Clark to his internal triumph over death (the crushing of the skull when he awakens from the vision) and its immediate consequences; but notice what happens, or more importantly what does not happen, subsequent to that point in the narrative.  [You might save this exchange for posting on the comments page later this year, when you've put up the cantos in the 40s that I'm about to refer to.] Clark may be a Christian in the sense of to whom he has knelt, but he does not become a "churchman" as a result of the experience.  And who in that situation would not kneel? Still, he makes no outwardly visible profession of faith or loyalty; indeed, when the church reopens because the Luthers have repaired it in the process of turning Smallville into a company-town in their oil enterprise, there's no indication that Clark attends services at that time, nor do his internal reflections then focus on questions of faith-identity: he's more concerned about his work (and the ethical issues involved therein) and in what future he may have with Lana.  Still there is something within him moving him forward (see the very last canto) and it is a "faith", but I don't think it is entirely unambiguous what that faith is.  This is not unusual in this area: people still argue today whether Lincoln was a "Christian" and if so in what sense.

Also, on the issue of the kind of paganism I've portrayed in creating the Raoist religion -- there was a correspondent who self-identified as a pagan, and one who mentioned the Old Trek episode "Who Mourns for Adonis" -- we saw a more recent, and more subtle (and hence realistic) Trek take on the issue in how Deep Space Nine dealt with the religion of the Bajorans and how it related to the wormhole and the Federation-folk's scientific interpretation of it all.  The writers preserved the ambiguity re:whose view of the whormhole aliens, the scientists' or that of Bajoran faithful like Kira, was "correct" right through the final episode.  It was very well done and respectful of the seriousness of the question.  I hope I've tried to do likewise, and I think you'll see this as you read the Kara Zor-El cantos through canto 62: the Kryptonian religion is neither evil nor false for being pagan, not is it a purely malevolent force within the narrative of the poem -- it just is for Clark on earth.  I'll have to pick up this thread again in talking about your posted comments on how DC handled the religion issue, up to the scarecrow scene in the Smallville premiere.  Rao, by the way, appears to have been a 70s phenom: there's no entry for him in M.Fleisher's Superman Encyclopedia, which is pretty exhaustive up to about 1968; but, do you remember the wedding scene of the Earth-II Lois and Superman in his mountain fortress? Very thinly disguised crypto- (no pun intended) Christian, if I recall correctly. 




From: Michael E. Mautner
To: Great Rao
Date: Sun, 12 May 2002 04:35:03 +0000
Nightwing wrote:
I think it's unfortunate that "Rao" was also the name of Krypton's sun, because it can lead to the (seemingly logical) assumption that Kryptonians were sun- worshippers.  That would be totally inconsistent with portrayals of Krypton as a scientifically advanced culture, and in fact there's no passages I know of that came right out and said that Rao the sun equalled Rao the god.  But it's easy enough to infer it.

This proceeds from a false assumption (I think I just subreferenced Spock in Wrath of Khan!): there is not necessarily any inconsistency between being a "sun worshipper" and being an advanced scientific culture, nor between science and any kind of religious belief.  The Greeks invented science, remember, and they looked into the entrails of slaughtered animals for omens of the future -- of course, they were as divided as any culture since has beem over these issues.  For a magnificent take on a possible Byzantine/Orthodox Christian perspective, check out one of Harry Turtledove's first books: Agent of Byzantium, where the main character, in encountering "barbaric, superstitious Western Christians" reflects on this question and his own culture's "more balanced view" of faith vs. reason.  As you'll see as the poem progresses, this question is at the heart of the Krypton I've synthesized out of the many expressions of Krypton in the Superman canon.  My thinking was probably triggered by the story in the early 80s miniseries "Krypton Chronicles" of how the scientists assumed the leadership of Krypton: they agreed to "let Rao decide" via lightning striking a rod, then cheated by doing something-or-other to "their" (the scientist's) rod to attract the lightning to it.  Talk about realpolitik! Of course Superman's dad would be a dissident of some kind in the midst of a crowd like that!




From: Great Rao
I see now that I've certainly over-simplified things in my labeling of Clark.  Going back and reading my online comment, I am struck with the urge to re-write it, but I think it best to leave it there as is.  Hopefully someone else will come along and disagree, or I can post your comments when the time comes.

Rao, by the way, appears to have been a 70s phenom: there's no entry for him in M.Fleisher's Superman Encyclopedia, which is pretty exhaustive up to about 1968;

True, but when did Superman start saying "Great Rao!"?

but, do you remember the wedding scene of the Earth-II Lois and Superman in his mountain fortress? Very thinly disguised crypto- (no pun intended) Christian, if I recall correctly.

I assume you're talking about the scene at http://www.fortress.net.nu/History/wedding.php ?

The Rao reference is explainable, since the story was written in the late 1970s - but the thin disguise must be too thick for me to see through it :-)




From: Michael E. Mautner
To: Great Rao
Subject: Re: comments on the story
Date: Sun, 12 May 2002 04:04:30 +0000
That's the scene alright -- and you're right, there's nothing particularly Christian about it.  It did, however, seem so to me when it was published (which was when I was studying for my bar-mitzvah: I guess anything that wasn't Jewish seemed "Christian" to me back then, or at least to suggest the general culture and its trappings) and I haven't seen it since, that I recall.  Interesting.  Also, there's the short story "I Now Pronounce You Superman anbd Wife" in the Martin Harry Greenberg collection from the early 1990s -- I think an Episcopal minister blesses the marriage there.  If I ever write Part II: The Great Metropolis, all of this discussion will prove to have been very useful in working through some of these ambiguities.  I probably should be less reticent about people calling my version of Clark Kent a Christian: I think it's the contemporary niche marketing label that I'm trying to avoid, certainly not the substantive appellation.  I like your comparison with Arthurian Romance though, and you're right, that's a great parallel with Clark vis-a-vis his encounter with the things divine.  Where can I find the 16th century work you mentioned in one of your previous emails, by the way -- I hadn't ever heard of it. Finally -- I think there is a figure in Indian history called Rao: I can't recall if it's religious, mythic, or what? Time for a net search!




Date: Mon, 13 May 2002 14:47:15 -0400
To: Michael E. Mautner
From: Great Rao
At 04:04 AM 5/12/02 +0000, Michael E. Mautner wrote:
I like your comparison with Arthurian Romance though, and you're right, that's a great parallel with Clark vis-a-vis his encounter with the things divine.  Where can I find the 16th century work you mentioned, by the way -- I hadn't ever heard of it.

Prince Arthur was written in the late 1600s by Richard Blackmore.  He basically hung out in a pub/inn and wrote it while surrounded by the hub-bub of the day.  He wanted to christianize the legend of King Arthur - his story is a direct sequel to Milton's Paradise Lost, and opens with Lucifer having just lost his war with Heaven.  Lucifer then rounds up all the old gods (Thor, etc) and convinces them to align with him - he then takes his gang and decides to go after the the young man who is destined to become the ultimate hero of the day - Arthur.  Much like the later Superman/Superboy pattern, Blackmoore shoehorns in Arthur having been a "Prince" (while the original incarnations of Arthur had no real royal upbringing), just as the concept of Superboy was shoe-horned into the original Superman story.  So to me, the name "Prince Arthur" is a direct parallel to "Superboy: The Adventures of Superman When He Was a Boy"

Prince Arthur was published in 1695 - the first, last, and only edition. It is not currently in print, and hasn't been in over 300 years.  I stumbled across a copy in a bookstore a few years back.  I was amazed by the title, opened it at random and read the most beautiful piece of poetry I had ever read in my life.  After I bought it, I started to read the preface by the author - and discovered it to be a rant against the clueless writers of the day.  He proceeded to reveal the true purpose of poetry, and I find his advice to still be relevent for today (except now for comics, movies, tv and novels)

Fortunately, within the last year or so, the long-unavailable epic has since appeared online.  It's probably worth printing out and reading if you get a chance.  A printout isn't as much fun to read as a first edition, but it's a lot more affordable and a lot safer :-) I know that there are also copies available in some of the Rare Books sections of a few libraries.

Part one of the online copy is at http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/blakpa1.htm and part two at http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/blakpa2.htm


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