Michael Shannon, in this summer’s upcoming Man of Steel, has his work cut out for him in portraying General Zod, the memorable Superman II villain first played on screen by Terence Stamp (pictured). As a foe of Superman (and one of the few fellow Krypton natives to survive the destruction of that planet), Zod has a lot going for him. He has all the same powers as Superman, he has a flashy sense of style, and he has two equally implacable sidekicks: Non, a hulking mute who seems to have been inspired by Jaws from the James Bond movies, and Ursa, who swipes trophies from those she’s vanquished and rocks a mean pair of leather boots. All three have a grudge against Superman, whose dad imprisoned them in the Phantom Zone, but its Zod who is the undisputed leader.
If Superman is a Christ figure, come to Earth to save humanity, then Zod is an Antichrist, his mirror image, come to Earth to enslave humanity. (Stamp’s sneer contains a galaxy of contempt for the weak species he plans to rule, since it barely offers him any challenge.) Zod also confronts Superman, unwittingly, in two other ways: First, he offers a cautionary warning against the explosion of nuclear warheads in space; you never know what kind of intergalactic criminals will be accidentally freed by the shockwaves. Second, he makes Superman realize that, no matter how much he’d like to give up his powers and live a normal human life with Lois Lane, there will always be threats that force him to keep donning the cape and tights.