Psychology of All-Star Superman

Superman and Lex Luthor both face impending deaths. Superman has contracted some sort of Kryptonian cancer via sun radiation, and Lex has been sentenced the death penalty by electric chair. In spite of their core differences, both of these guys deal with their mortality very similarly.

Stages of Death & Dying

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote of the five stages of grief in her book “Death and Dying.” The stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – not necessarily in that order, and people spend different about of time in each stage.

Superman, however, doesn’t seem to show the progression through these stages. After hearing his diagnosis, he slips straight to the acceptance stage. Perhaps as a Kryptonian, Superman defies principles of human psychology.

Lex appears to show acceptance of his death sentence, but this acceptance turns out to be fake once he executes (ha) his escape plan. Later, however, when he thinks for a moment that Superman may beat him, and he may actually die, Lex does show anger: “If I die, you die first!” At the end of the movie, Lex is again facing the death penalty, but this time, his acceptance seems sincere: “I’ve already accepted my eminent execution.”

Honestly, Lex does not seem to grieve over the possible loss of his own life very much. He does go through all the stages of grief when confronted with the loss of his new Superman-like powers, powers which probably were of more importance to him than his life.

  • Denial: Superman takes away his powers, and Lex counters that he has more of the power-giving serum
  • Bargaining: Superman steals this vial, and Lex shouts for him to give it back
  • Anger: “If it wasn’t for you, I could have saved the world!”
  • Depression: Lex falls to his knees and gives a look of despair
  • Acceptance: Lex realizes he could have saved the world at any time

As far as this short animation shows, Lois Lane only goes through the stage of denial in response to Superman’s death. She pronounces pretty confidently, “he’s not dead,” and vows to wait for him. Of course, this is a superhero storyline, and we all know that either Superman isn’t actually dead, or, if he is, he’s definitely coming back. So does Lois’ faith in Superman’s return count as denial if his return is inevitable?

Stages of Development

Superman’s and Lex’s actions can also be analyzed through the lens Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory of lifespan development. Erikson thought that life is broken up into a series of eight stages, each involving some sort of social or identity crisis that people must resolve, influencing their psychological development.

The last stage is called integrity versus despair. Here, Erikson thought that people at the end of their lives look back on their choices and actions. People either feel like their lives meant something, and no regrets, or they despair over their waste lives.

Before his death, Superman is authentic with Lois, gives her a perfect day, saves the last of his people, hopes to see kin take his place, finishes new inventions. He is ready to die without any regrets.

Similarly, Lex is accepting of his death, as long as he can kill Superman before his death, thus having no regrets or unfinished business.

Created By
Heather Ness


Created with images by miro polca - "Sunlit forest in monochrome"

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