Reading the law made strange: cultural legal studies, theology and speculative fiction
In the 2013 re-boot of the Superman film franchise, Man of Steel, the Kryptonian General Zod threatens the destruction of Earth if humanity does not turn KalEl (Clark Kent/Superman) over to him.2 With a 24-hour time limit imposed, Kal-El weighs up whether or not he should acquiesce to Zod’s request. Before making this momentous decision – not only whether to turn himself over to Zod, but also to reveal to the world that he is an alien who has been living among them for 33 years – Kal-El visits a church seeking guidance from the priest who is mopping the floors of the empty church building. The interaction between the priest and Kal-El makes little reference to God, Christianity and religion, except to suggest that, in Kal-El’s hesitancy to trust the people of Earth with his secret, a ‘leap of faith’ is sometimes required first with trust coming later. The dichotomy of this scene, a ‘man’ of incredible power seeking the advice of a priest who appears somewhat unsure of himself, is amplified, however, by the background images and setting – in particular the stained-glass windows of this little country church. Behind Kal-El, when he is asking for advice, the viewer sees a window depicting Christ praying in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to the crucifixion. The resonances of this scene draw out in exceptional detail elements that have been within the superhero mythos since its origins: that of seeing Superman as a Christological or messianic figure with his coming to earth, sent by his ‘heavenly’ father (Jor-El), as embodying both divinity in terms of superstrength, X-Ray vision and the ability to fly with his very human appearances,
emotional struggles and desire to fit in.3 Man of Steel heightens these references with this scene of contemplation and reflection representing Christ’s fervent prayers before giving himself up to be crucified. When Kal-El presents himself to the US Army in the following scene he does so lifted up in the air with arms stretched wide, reflecting an image of Christ crucified. As such, Man of Steel situates itself within the Christian tradition and presents the archetypal superhero as a Christological-saviour come to save humanity.4 In doing so, it raises a theological question about trust and faith – not so much about whether humanity should believe in, trust or have faith in God, but rather whether humanity can be trusted. What will humanity do with their saviour – receive and welcome or condemn and crucify?