Last time, I made a more general case for Christ-like qualities of Superman and his ultimate choice to voluntarily submit to mankind. I also restricted myself to Man of Steel in the first part of this series. Now, we shall venture into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I posted this on Good Friday not only for its obvious appropriateness, but also to honor the fact that the film was released on Good Friday as well. This is no mistake.
It is a commonly missed point that the title of Batman v Superman is not as on-the-nose or campy as it might first appear. The letter “v” is used instead of the commonly used moniker for fights “vs”. This is significant because “v” by itself is commonly used to denote court battles, rather than physical ones. As a matter of fact, the first name in the name of the trial is often the name of the person who is bringing the charge or grievance against the second name in the name of the trial. The goal of a court trial is to find Justice in a dispute. Therefore, even the Dawn of Justice part of the title isn’t necessarily an on-the-nose reference to the film serving as a prequel to Justice League. It is clear the filmmakers wanted us to view this film as a sort of trial, and the Biblical symbolism displayed in Man of Steel is not scaled back, but rather amplified and expanded upon by this entry in the DCEU. Therefore, this article will be an exploration of that trial through the same faith-based prisms that are provided throughout the film. Undoubtedly not everything I will go on the say here is 100% intended by the filmmakers, but a certain level of it is, and where I extrapolate, they have made room to do so. There are three trials in Batman v Superman, this exploration will showcase all three and how the pertain to Superman as a character as well as his Christ-like qualities.
Trial One: Truth. Prosecution: Lex Luthor
In Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, Jessie Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor steps up to the prosecutorial plate and questions the very truth of Superman and the myths around him. Lex equates Superman with God and, while Superman has some Christ-like qualities, he is NOT perfect or God. Luthor’s frustration with God is heaped onto Superman and he calls into question Superman’s morality and his potency.
First evidence by the prosecution here is Superman’s involvement in Africa. Yet, since this was a frame-job and Superman actually didn’t do anything harmful to the situation, we have to dismiss this evidence against him. Next, Lex uses the Capitol bombing to prove Superman is not omnipotent. To this end, this prosecutor learned Superman’s weaknesses and limitations and exploited it. This is certainly a mark against Superman being all-powerful, but this is never a claim taken up by the defendant and so this evidence is setting out to prove Lex’s claims and not Superman’s. Finally, Lex put Superman in an impossible situation where he must kill Batman or let his mother die. Instead, Superman reconciles with Batman and his mother is saved. Superman had his doubts, but ultimately pulled it off. A defensive cross-examination reveals that when Doomsday, a real abomination with fists (like Lex’s father), comes to hurt Lex, Superman is both willing and able to stop him.
Superman is guilty in the sense that Lex tries him. Lex did indeed prove that Superman is not all good or all powerful, but he never claimed to be. In this regard, Superman differs from the Christ analogy but he is also similar in regards to Christ in the way Superman DOES strive and claim to be: a symbol of hope that strives to be altruistic and overall good for the world. To this end, Superman lays down his life for humanity- Lex included.
Trial Two: Justice. Prosecution: Batman
This second trial is the most prominent trial of the film and it is also the only trial in which Superman has the opportunity to actively cross-examine his opponent and face his accuser on somewhat equal grounds. Batman ultimately tries Superman on the grounds that Superman is unjust, or will be in the future. In this case, our defendant has precisely the same view of the prosecutor. Bruce Wayne, however, is no prosecutor. Instead, he is as was postulated by Lex’s anonymous tips to Superman. Judge, Jury, and Executioner. Batman’s limited personal experience with Superman allows him just enough distance to hastily reach a guilty verdict and do what Batman does best: take the law into his own hands.
Is Superman just though? The African woman blackmailed by Lex poses the question of how Superman decides who lives and who dies. It’s a poignant question and one not easily answered. How does and indeed how CAN he? Superman is NOT God and cannot be in all places at all times. When there is a crisis however, Superman does whatever he can to alleviate the situation. From what we’ve seen in the DCEU thus far, most of Superman’s exploits have been largely non-controversial: towing a ship stuck in ice, saving people from a burning building, rescuing flood victims, saving astronauts from a doomed launch. When he intervened in the desert and when he fought Zod, however, he was intervening in and participating in American governmental affairs. The later in particular caused much damage and mayhem for Metropolis and for that Batman has rendered a guilty verdict. However, Superman is a largely heroic and reasonably unprejudiced, positive actor on the world stage. When Batman has him at the tip of a spear, seeing that Superman in a state of near death only cares for others, Batman sees this.
Trial Three: The American Way. Prosecutor: The Mob
While Jesus was never tested on how he fit the American way (duh), he was tried by an indignant and insatiable mob. Superman in the DCEU has to face the vitriol and scrutiny of the media and the age of mass information. Social media has given us the gift of swift judgement and the ability to accelerate the mob mentality. Mobs are no new thing, even if they have taken newer and more creative forms. Their purpose, however, is the same: to bring swift judgment and the denial of due process, privacy, and assumed innocence. Every act a public figure commits is subject to the bloodthirsty demands of the mob. Jesus faced the mob of Jerusalem and Superman faced the mob of the American media circus.
In many ways, America is the new Rome: the Eagle over the rest of the world and the Earth’s center of political power and religious skepticism. Superman identifies himself as an American at the end of Man of Steel and, until Batman v Superman, had enjoyed the support of and the privilege of working alongside the US Military. Like with Jesus though, his soaring popularity was met with an ever greater level of skepticism and scrutiny. Jesus was accused of casting out demons with the aid of demons- acknowledging the good deed, but denying the good intent. Superman faces much the same problem with the mob in the DCEU. Both the case of Jesus and Superman should give us pause in the idea of joining in with the mob and lighting our torch whenever we see something controversial. In America, we have a Constitutional Republic with a Judicial System set up with the goal of avoiding the fickle and unforgiving mob mentality. Cases with high publicity still seem to be incapable of protecting the accused from mobs, however, and while the torches are a less common feature of the modern mob- the ruining of lives is all the more potent. Superman, none-the-less, submits himself to this American process at the Capitol and even though this literally backfires on him, it is clear his intent was to honor the American tradition.
Unfortunately for Superman, mobs never render innocent verdicts until the defendant is dead.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” -Isaiah 53:5 NIV
In one of the most poignant passages of the Bible, Jesus is suspended from his cross, hanging between two thieves. The first mocks him and says that if Jesus truly is the Son of God then He should climb on down and save them. The other is keenly aware of his own guilt and is shaken by the innocent Jesus’ undeserved punishment. The theif who confesses is redeemed. In many ways, this dynamic is reflected through Dawn of Justice three main characters. Lex is the mocker of God, Superman is Christ-like in his selflessness, and Batman is the criminal redeemed by the spilling of innocent blood. Superman, like Jesus, lays down his life for this world- the same world that utterly rejected him. The same world that misrepresented him at every turn. This sacrifice is potent and the Christ-like imagery is on full display. In addition to him being lowered from the pile of rubble in his cape like Jesus lowered from the cross in His burial shroud, Superman is pierced.
The mob sings is a different and mournful tune now. Superman is dead and in typical American fashion, we can’t appreciate the good his life brought until his death. Jesus accomplished much more in death than Superman, but the parallels are there. Many of these same detractors would come to understand their errors, Batman especially. Indeed Batman mirrors Saul of Tarsus who was converted to Christianity by an encounter with Jesus on the road to persecuting Christians. Batman is likewise redeemed and echoes the sentiment of that Isaiah passage in relation to this redemption: “Men are still good. We fight. We kill. We betray one another. But we can rebuild. We can do better. We will. We have to.” Our iniquities are laid bare, but by the wounds of a savior, we are healed. The trial is over. The execution is carried out, but Justice is indeed dawning.
These stories have an even greater ending, however: