When I first spotted the Guardian's story on efforts in the US to use the release of the new film Man of Steel to draw comparisons between Superman and Jesus Christ, I assumed it was just another example of pop culture bandwagon jumping by America's evangelicals. Nothing new there, so I quickly tweeted the link along with a flippant remark on how it must be the film's plot holes that appeal to Christian preachers.
But then I actually went and read the story (yes, I should really do these things the other way around), and discovered that the situation is actually a lot more interesting. Rather than being a simple case of churches using a new film to make their message seem culturally relevant, what we're actually talking about is the studio behind Man of Steel, Warner Bros, using the fairly obvious parallels between the film's protagonist and the Christian Messiah to try and fill the pews in America's multiplexes.
As the Guardian point out, studios have long been aware of the potential of America's Christians as a movie-going demographic, but this kind of marketing feels like a new development, at least for a film that is not an explicitly Christian production. To coincide with the film's release, Warner Bros have launched a shiny, official "Ministry Resource Site" packed with materials pastors can use to sell the Christian message to the public, particularly children. There's even the offer of a "Free Pastor Screening", which is presumably intended to get preachers clued up on the exploits of Kal-El before they attempt to make the Jesus link in their sermons.
It will certainly be interesting to see if these kinds of resources take off, and if so which films the studios try to sell to the Christian demographic in the future. Presumably they won't be trying it with forthcoming zombie blockbuster World War Z – "What happens when the dead rise?" – but if Superman's getting the Messiah treatment then we can likely expect it for other superhero franchises.
Having seen Man of Steel myself at the weekend, I actually can't help thinking that Churches would be selling Jesus short by pitching him as a Biblical Clark Kent. Sure, they both had "extraordinary powers" and confusing fatherhood issues but, whether you believe in him or not, you'd have to agree that Jesus had a lot more charisma and complexity than Superman, at least as he's portrayed by Henry Cavill in Man of Steel. If a preacher wants to sell me Russell Crowe as God and Kevin Costner as Joseph, I'm buying. But Cavill's Superman as Jesus? They'll have to do better than that if they want to convert me.