For superheroes, having a well-fitting motto is as important as having well-fitting tights. The Hulk has: “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry,” He-Man has: “I have the power,” and of course there’s Groot’s incredibly poignant, even poetic: “I am Groot.” (That one gets me every time). But the most oft-quoted superhero catchphrase has to be the one about great power coming with great responsibility, wise words imparted to our favorite red and blue teen by his foster parent. You know who I’m talking about. It’s the Amazing Super-Man.
Modern comic book fans will forever associate “with great power comes great responsibility” as the hard-learned lesson that turns Peter Parker into Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15. But another up-and-coming superhero had that maxim drummed into his ears a full fourteen years before Spidey. In Superman Comes To Earth, the first-ever live-action superhero film released on January 5th, 1948, Pa Kent (Edward Cassidy) tells his adoptive son Kal-El (Kirk Alyn, talk about name synergy): "Because of these great powers—your speed and strength, your x-ray vision and super-sensitive hearing—you have a great responsibility."
It makes a lot of sense. No shade to Spidey, but if any superhero should get the “great power” speech, it’s the dude who can bench-press islands and fly around the earth so fast he can turn back time. Does this mean that Spider-Man should hand his motto mantle back to him? Not at all. See, Superman also borrowed the phrase from another superhero, perhaps the greatest of them all, Jesus H. Christ.
In the Parable of the Faithful Servant, JC tells his trusty sidekicks that “from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked,” -- a bit rough, but we can’t expect the word of God to be as punchy as the word of Stan Lee. Over the centuries, many variations on the bible verse were adopted by not just comic book legends but real-life ones as well, such as Franklin “The Incredible New Deal” Roosevelt, Winston “Bulldog-Man” Churchill, and Noam “The Grammar” Chomsky. And its modern “great responsibility” phrasing can be traced back to 1793, right when Capitaine Jacobin did his infamous heel-turn by transforming into Le Terreur during the French Revolution: Aftermath story arc.
And with Jesus having recently fallen into the public domain, anyone is free to use the motto to their heart’s content. Supes and Spidey have so much in common already (they’re both orphans, they’re both wholesome, Peter’s mom’s name is probably Martha as well …); surely they could share a catchphrase as well? I can’t think of any reason why today’s Superman couldn’t also be the embodiment of “with great power comes great responsibility”...
Oh. Right. Nevermind.
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Top Image: Warner Bros., Columbia Pictures