Faith in comics

Published 16 April 2013  |  

Superheroes are back in fashion these days, especially in cinema, and as far as I'm concerned, that's good news.

I have been something of a lifelong fan of comics. As a child, I used to enjoy watching Batman and Spiderman cartoons and eventually started reading comic books, "graphic novels" as they are called sometimes.

My favourite superheroes have always been Batman and Spiderman, and, growing up, I would never forget to buy their monthly editions.

Now a grown man, I continue to read the comics. Perhaps I am just too lazy to read proper novels - well, pictures are certainly to be appreciated and some illustrators are astonishing. But that is not the main reason why I read comics.

The main reason is this: take off the mask of every superhero and there is just an ordinary guy.

Take Spiderman, for example. Peter Parker is an average guy but an average guy who makes a huge difference in people's lives. The heroics he performs in the lives of others though doesn't mean that he himself is untouched by tragedy. He went through many tough situations in his life. He lost his uncle who was like a father to him and guilt over his own culpability weighs heavily on his heart. He lost his job several times. He lost his girlfriend. All situations I'm sure we can relate to in our own ways.

Yet there is suffering even as his hero alter ego, Spiderman. Many New Yorkers turn their back on him, despite how often they have been saved by him. The Saviour parallels we Christians can draw are obvious.

And of course, in spite of all these things, he always keeps his head up. Isn't this what life is all about?

Identifying with him is just easy for me. I would say it is the same thing as when you listen to the song or watch the movie or read the comic or book that makes you feel better and gives you some kind of courage.

There is speculation that Peter Parker's own religious persuasion would be Protestant. That is of course debatable and we never actually see him go to church.

For me as a Christian, that's not necessary for me to enjoy or admire his character. But I like the fact that he does not compromise. You will never see him take revenge against his tyrannical boss who is a source of grief in both sides of his life. As Spiderman, he could, but he chooses not to.

More generally, I think the enduring interest of people in superheroes points to the need many of us feel to be protected by someone or something bigger and stronger than us. The Avengers or Batman contain many references to the weakness and littleness of humanity.

I have been blown away by Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy and I especially like how he has dealt with the question of faith, particularly in the last film, The Dark Knight Rises. Batman placed his faith in Catwoman. He was convinced that she was worth more than being a burglar. He believed she could act for the good of other people, without personal interest. There is of course the faith people have in Batman even when he was labelled a murderer. Faith did not disappoint those who believed in him and in the end the truth prevailed.

The superhero trend also underlines the consciousness of a higher being, a world above and beyond us, even if many in our ever secular society are reluctant to admit this. It is striking to see how, in The Avengers film, ordinary humans are helpless in the face of danger. Ordinary humans need a bunch of enhanced guys, being more than humans, to save them.

The Avengers sees the epic struggle with Loki, who wants to be the ultimate god and enslave everyone else under him. Unlike Peter Parker, whose faith affiliation is vague, Captain America is portrayed on paper and on the screen as a Christian and it is refreshing to see positive references to this in a major blockbuster.

One of my favourite lines is his comment to Black Widow: "There`s only one God ma'am and I'm pretty sure he doesn't dress like that!"

Christians and non-Christians alike will continue to flock to the cinema to see their comic book heroes and while the films may not always make converts to the Christian faith, it is always my hope that people will come away more open to the existence of God and start seeing him less as the bad guy and more as the good guy.

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