WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Superman #41
Leave it to his son to ask the question comic fans never could: does Superman believe in God? It's the question that the latest arc of the Man of Steel title comic is all building towards, diving headlong into issues most comic fans would think were off-limits. The questions of religious freedom when Superman encounters an alien race that doesn't WANT to be saved by anybody. A civilization that is doomed to repeat Krypton's fate... but sees the act as one of devotion, not obliteration.
Aptly titled "Suicide Planet," the story from writer James Robinson and artist Ed Benes was clearly one that had been simmering for some time. From the opening pages of Superman #40, the regular adventures of Superman took a slow turn into introspection, legacy, and commemorating the dead. And if the revelation that Superman's powers are vulnerable to prayer didn't tip readers off, the question of faith is spoken plainly in the final pages of Superman #41.
True to his character, even the point-blank question "do you believe in God?" isn't too big a hurdle for Superman to overcome. And his words - predictably wise words - are, as usual, ones for each fan to consider and reflect in their own life. At least, that's the case being made by having Superman say it.
The story picks up after a particularly traumatic family 'reunion' for Superman, having traveled through time to see Krypton destroyed. And when it didn't blow up (such is the risk of time travel), even saw the wife and child Superman might have had, should Krypton have continued. Back at home, Superman brings his son Jonathan to the Fortress of Solitude to honor the anniversary of Krypton's destruction. Before long, talk of Rao, the Kryptonian God sets the story in motion.
But as the planet of religious zealots wishing to die for their God is destroyed, the events force Jonathan to take a big step forward into adulthood. The Kryptonians believed in a God, and so did the lost planet's people. So... does Superman believe in God?
It's a deceptively nuanced moment for both father and son, courtesy of the entire creative team. Just prior to Jonathan popping the question, he admits feeling guilty after the alien planet and race were obliterated in an instant. Not guilty for not having saved them - that was their choice to make - but for seeing such destruction on a cosmic scale and not feeling sadness... but a moment of wonder at the sheer beauty of it. Surprisingly, Superman admits that it's a contradiction he, too, faces from time to time. To see the beauty, without intentionally meaning to, in even the dark or terrible.
Based on the story's structure, that informs Superman's idea of faith: that after everything he's seen on Earth and across the universe, it's hard not to believe there is something behind it all. But as people here on Earth, or the alien devotees now scattered to the stars too often forget... that something isn't everything. Or, it shouldn't be, in Superman's mind. You have to hand it to the big blue Boy Scout for delivering an answer that is both informed by faith, but promoting peace and harmony that the practice of faith in our own world often makes more challenging, not less.
But then, he is Superman after all.
Superman #41 is available now.