As the hype machine shifts into high gear for the upcoming release of "Superman Returns," some are reading deeply into the film whose hero returns from a deathlike absence to play savior to the world.
"It is so on the nose that anyone who has not caught on that Superman is a Christ figure, you think, 'Who else could it be referring to?' " said Steve Skelton, who wrote a book examining parallels between Superman and Christ.
As one of society's most enduring pop-culture icons, Superman has often been observed as more than just a man in tights.
In his early 1930s comic-book incarnation, he was a hero of the New Deal, aiding the destitute and cleaning up America's slums, said Tom De Haven, author of a book about Superman's status as an American icon and a novel about the hero's high-school days.
By the 1950s, fears of postwar urban lawlessness had turned him into a tireless crime fighter, while his early television persona envisioned him as an idealized father figure, De Haven said.
More recently, Quentin Tarantino had the villain of "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" wax philosophical about the Man of Steel: "Clark Kent is how Superman views us ... Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race."
Some have also seen the hero as a gay icon, forced to live a double life with his super-self in the closet. A recent edition of the gay magazine "The Advocate" even asked on its cover, "How gay is Superman?"
But the comparison to Jesus is one that's been made almost since the character's origin in 1938, said Skelton, author of "The Gospel According to the World's Greatest Superhero."
Many simply see the story of a hero sent to Earth by his father to serve mankind as having clear enough New Testament overtones. Others have taken the comparison even further, reading the "El" in Superman's original name "Kal-El" and that of his father "Jor-El" as the Hebrew word for "God," among other theological interpretations.