Theology and the DC Universe

By Gabriel McKee

Last week saw the official release of the book Theology and the DC Universe, which I co-edited with Roshan Abraham (American University), from Lexington Books. The volume is part of Lexington’s “Theology, Religion, and Pop Culture” series, which provides a broad range of academic approaches to the intersection of religion with all areas of popular culture. This volume is a sort of companion to two already-published entries in the series: one of its inaugural titles, Theology and the Marvel Universe (2019), edited by Gregory Stevenson (Rochester University, also a contributor to the present volume); and last year’s Theology and Batman, edited by Rev. Canon C. K. Robertson (General Theological Seminary) and Matthew J. Brake (the editor of the series, and also a contributor to our volume). 

The cover of Animal Man #5, showing an oversized hand painting a superhero in a cruciform pose. Animal Man, one of the less well-known DC characters discussed in Theology and the DC Universe. (image: Superhero stories have proven a rich ground for the exploration of theological, religious, philosophical, and ethical questions, and the characters created for National Comics Publications–colloquially known as “DC Comics”–have proven particularly illuminating. For this volume, we cast a broad net, both in terms of the popular source material and the religious traditions covered. In addition to chapters on well-known characters like Superman and Wonder Woman, we also dug deeper into DC’s history for contributions on characters like Animal Man, Green Arrow, and the Doom Patrol. We also sought to look beyond Christian theology alone, encompassing all manner of “god-talk” from ancient Greek and Mesopotamian religion through new religious movements of the last century. 

Though many of the chapters concern modern religious and theological thinkers like Walter Wink, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Patrick S. Cheng, several of the contributions mine territory related to ISAW’s mission. In particular, former ISAW visiting assistant professor Gina Konstantopoulos contributes an essay exploring the role of Mesopotamian religion, and in particular the god Nergal, in the horror series Hellblazer. Matthew J. Dillon examines the use of heterodox texts like The Apocryphon of John in the Justice League of America stories authored by Grant Morrison, while Darian J. Shump’s chapter mines the television series Constantine for elements of Augustinian thought. And my own contribution draws on the utopian comic series Legion of Super-Heroes to explore a similar sort of utopianism visible in the synoptic Gospels. 

In addition to editing Theology and the DC Universe, I also contributed an essay to Theology and Star Trek, edited by Shaun C. Brown (Johnson University/Hope International University) and Amanda MacInnis Hackney (curator of the Women and Theology Research Database). My chapter focuses on a variety of malfunctioning robots, androids, and machines from across Star Trek’s history, drawing on ideas of primordial perfection–and imperfection–from early Christian authors like Augustine and Origen as well as demiurgic texts like The Hypostasis of the Archons

These books have been in the works since before the pandemic, and so I’m thrilled to finally be able to share both of them with the world!