Tag Archives: superheroes

Clinch by Zachary Bartels

“How many Marilyns do you know who go to our church?” she asked, “because I only know one.”

“This is none of our business, Judith.”

“And that’s her car,” she said, pointing at a battered old Lumina with a Clinch Rock Wrestling bumper sticker. She looked over to Trent. “Marilyn Fisher.”

“Look, we shouldn’t have been eavesdropping in there. Just let my Dad deal with this, okay?”

“But he can’t now. Don’t you see? Confidentiality, the confessional and all that stuff. He can’t go the cop route. He’s stuck. But I’m not.”

At the start of this summer, Zachary Bartels released the half of the script of his podcast of fiction and not-fiction. It was the fiction half called Clinch. The story follows a couple teenagers who start at a Christian summer camp and just about end up there. Trent is the son of the small town’s chief of police who is transitioning to full-time pastor. His long-time friend, Judith, is also very close to his dad, who treats her like the daughter he never had.

Their close relationship is tested in part by the bad guys, because this is a YA thriller, and in part by a book called, Insane Faith: A Guide to Extreme Christianity for the Truly Faithful. It’s a book that urges readers to give 120% of everything for everything.

“Jesus never said no to anyone who asked for his help,” the book teaches. “When we say no to an opportunity to exercise insane faith, we’re refusing to be like Jesus.”

Such a mindset pushes Trent’s dad into full-time ministry, challenges Trent’s perspective of his fairly average life, and inspires Judith to take up a superhero mantle. Because despite the real world setting, big city bullies, teen antics, and cool Goonies-level mystery, Clinch is essentially the story of a girl who sees corruption in her town and works to oppose it. With an ox goad.

I loved it. I listened to the whole podcast series and enjoyed all of the not-fiction parts too. If that’s not quite your thing, you can pick it up as an ebook or paperback.

‘Superheroes Can’t Save You’ by Todd Miles

There is no hint that Batman is anything other than an incredible human being (with seemingly unlimited amounts of cash). Though such qualities and skills are never found in any one real human being (that is what makes him Batman, after all), they are just human qualities and skills. He may be the most remarkable human being in comic lore, but in the final analysis he is just a human being.

And some people feel the same about Jesus.

Todd Miles, professor of theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Ore., spent most of his allowance on comic books for many years back around the time each book cost a quarter. He would browse the drug store rack weekly, reading most issues while in search of the few he would redeem with his not-so-hard-earned dollar. Many years later (after the experiments of a mad scientist would ruin his ambition to become the first man to circumnavigate Mars in a weather balloon), he connected his theological training to his comic lore fascination to make this conclusion: “Every bad idea about Jesus can be illustrated by a superhero,” at least the biggest bad ideas can. He ran with that idea in a Sunday School class, later a youth retreat, and with much encouragement wrote a book on it.

Superheroes Can’t Save You covers seven of the most popular heresies about the person of Christ Jesus, tying each of them to memorable superheroes. The chapter on the Trinity ties to Ant-Man, arguing against the idea that God manifests himself in one of three modes: the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. The chapter on Jesus’s full humanity connects to Superman, explaining how Jesus, as God, did not merely pose as a man (as Kal El did in taking the alias Clark Kent) but became a man completely.

While each chapter is not evenly paced, they do follow a pattern. Miles begins with the comic lore, segues into the heresy, takes a moment to explain who commits the heresy today, describes the biblical truth, and then offers reasons for the importance of these truths. I think in every case, the key problem with the heresy is the undermining of our salvation. The Bible offers a clear logic for salvation, why we need it and how it is accomplished. With humor and careful writing, Miles tells his readers these alternate concepts of Christ don’t work in that logic. Thor can’t save us. Neither can a savior like the Hulk with all of his incredibleness. Only the living Jesus can save us.

I said each chapter is not quite even, because some of them dive into the comic storyline more than others and some swim through history more than others. Miles’s explanation of each heresy in a modern context brings the history forward, so it doesn’t remain as weird ideas from the past. Casual readers can discover liberals commit the Batman heresy and ways we teach about the Trinity easily lead people into the Ant-Man heresy (Oneness Pentecostals teach that heresy explicitly).

In the chapter on the Green Lantern heresy, Miles’s dive into Christ’s humility as Paul puts it in Philippians 2:5-8 had me in tears. Christ Jesus is awesome. He is the only one who can save us. But from who? Luthor? Bane? Magneto or Doctor Doom? No, the real life treat we face is ourselves. We have forged our own destinies, followed our own dreams, and would pour dust upon dust forever if the Lord God, our Creator, refused to intervene.

Is Gotham Worth Saving?

Steven Greydanus talks Dark Knight and other superhero movies.

The dialogue between God and Abraham, in which Abraham pleads for the city, is echoed most directly in Batman Begins. “Like Constantinople or Rome before it,” intones Liam Neeson’s Ducard, later to be revealed as Ra’s al Ghul himself, Gotham “has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving. … Gotham must be destroyed.”

Bruce tries, like Abraham, to negotiate: “Gotham isn’t beyond saving. Give me more time. There are good people here.”

But the battle for the city doesn’t actually end.

Bulletproof Luke Cage in 2016

The Luke Cage stories of 1972 Marvel comics are not what you see in the new Netflix series. The new writers deliver a more mature story than their source material, Sam Knowles says, in many ways.

One clear improvement is apparent to anyone who happens to see cover art from the old comics. Luke was known as a ‘hero for hire.’ He used his abilities as a way to earn a living, which in the real world makes some sense, but what other superhero does this? The mercenaries are usually the bad guys. The good guys are heroes for the sake of justice. Knowles states,

Luke’s identity as a self-proclaimed ‘hero for hire’ sets him up in opposition to white superheroes, whose racial privilege enables the narrative of ‘superhero-ness’ to be about altruism. As a result, others look down on Luke’s attitude–most obviously Dr Noah Burstein [the scientist who gave Luke his power]: “I’ve heard how you’ve helped neighborhood merchants against Syndicate protection men. For a fee / Bit disillusioning from a so-called hero, isn’t it?”

Luke Cage and the Evolution of the Superhero Narrative

The Netflix story explicitly drops this idea early on. In the beginning, Luke doesn’t want to get involved at all. His father figure, ‘Pop’ Hunter, urges him to use his gifts to help others and later suggests he hire himself out, but Luke refuses. Though he struggles with whether his efforts to help amount to kicking the criminal hornets’ nest, he continues to help those he can because it’s the right thing to do. He loves the people of Harlem.  Continue reading Bulletproof Luke Cage in 2016

A Completely New Super-Man

Writer and artist Gene Luen Yang is telling a new Superman story under D.C. Comics Rebirth banner. A Chinese boy from Shanghai, named Kong Kenan, is chosen by the right people to receive abilities equivalent to the Man of Steel. He begins as a bully but plays the hero at the right time to attract someone’s attention and change his life forever.

Blaine Grimes of Christ and Pop Culture thinks it works.

With New Super-Man, Yang sets up a narrative that directly confronts and subverts the traditional American superhero origin story. The dominant arc in comic book narratives—be it books or films—suggests that superheroes typically start from a position of basic goodness (or at least innocence) before they are imbued with fantastic powers or take up the mantle of public defender. . . .

But New Super-Man gives us a space, a not-so-fictional-universe in which damaged, wounded, and prideful outcasts are given both a new identity and a call to push back against the very darkness and injustice out of which they were redeemed.

New Batman Writer Is Ex-CIA

Tom King joined the CIA in response to the 9/11 attack. After several years as an undercover operations officer, he returned home, began to work on writing, produced this superhero novel, and now has landed a job with DC Comics to write Batman.

“Batman gets close to the insanity of Gotham, to the craziness, to what drives that city mad, and not be driven mad himself—or at least most of the time he isn’t,” says King. “That’s most like the mission of the CIA. We get into the heads of our enemies without becoming our enemy. I’ll use that experience to tackle this character.”

Could Skywalker be an Avenger?

Marvel’s creator Stan Lee says the people behind the Marvel cinematic universe want to make successful movies. If that means they think an ultimate fan-fic mashup like Star Wars and Avengers together will make a great movie, well . . .

“I created the Avengers by taking many of our characters and making a team out of them,” Lee tells The Big Issue. “We can have as many characters join the Avengers as we want to for future movies. That might be fun, all of a sudden Luke Skywalker is an Avenger!”

Heh. I mean, if we’re talking  fan fiction here, why not something like this?

And in news that’s not even remotely possible to be related, superhero sit-coms are coming.

Jessica Jones: Don’t Fight Your Demons Alone

I was a big fan of the “Daredevil” series that released last year on Netflix. It was more brutal than I’m used to, but the story ran deep. Tying up the series with Kingpin paraphrasing part of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is the kind of deep water I hope to find in most shows I watch. So when the next installment of this street-level view on the Marvel universe came out with “Jessica Jones,” I hoped to see something similar. But no. (The spoiler flag is on the field.)

Krysten Ritter on the set of 'Jessica Jones'“Jessica Jones” is not the story of a moral crusader. It’s the story of a survivor of emotional and sexual abuse. Granted, she’s a unique survivor of a unique type of abuse. Jessica (portrayed by Kristen Ritter) has super strength, endurance, and the ability to fly—brought on through a chemical exposure a bit like the first step Matt Murdock (Daredevil) took in his origin story. Her abuser is not only a master manipulator, like at least two other characters in the show, but a man who can control people’s minds for several hours at a time.  Continue reading Jessica Jones: Don’t Fight Your Demons Alone

Scientists as Superheroes

Super Science Friends! is a developing animated series from Tinman Creative Studios, which boasts “just the right amount of smart, just the right amount of stupid.” In it, Winston Churchill has assembled a team of scientific greats, Telsa, Curie, Darwin, Einstein, and Freud and a few others to combat scientific evils and well as those who would use them for their own ends. Unfortunately, it’s not for kids. Which is odd.

Crime Fighting, Old and New

“For me, Batman has the most spiritual narratives. I’d venture to say that, in general, D.C. excels Marvel in exploring the hero’s soul, and no soul is darker than Bruce Wayne’s.”

Smoking GuyBrad Fruhauff talks about his appreciation of Batman’s character and storyline, and he’s probably right. Batman wins by sheer force of will, despite the flood of evil he faces.

Turn the page. Author Christopher West says the Chinese were telling the equivalent of police procedurals far before anyone in the West.

A genre known as gong’an began in the Song dynasty (960 to 1279): the term means a magistrate’s desk, and the modern equivalent would be police procedural. Stories would be narrated by wandering storytellers or in puppet shows, and usually told of upright officials exposing corruption and cover-ups. No examples of these stories have survived, however. The oldest gong’an tales come from the next dynasty, the Yuan (1279 to 1368).

Turn another page. For a limited time, BBC Radio 4 is airing a production of an unfinished work by Alfred Hitchcock, The Blind Man. “The world premiere of Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Lehman’s unfinished screenplay, the follow-up to North by Northwest, now completed by Mark Gatiss” stars Hugh Laurie and Kelly Burke.

“Set in 1961, a famous blind jazz pianist, Larry Keating [Laurie], agrees to a radical new medical procedure – an eye transplant. The operation is a success but his new eyes are those of a murdered man, and captured on their retina is the image of his murderer. Larry and his new nurse, Jenny [Burke], begin a quest to track him down – before someone else dies.”

Who Created Batman?

Today is Batman Day. The Bat-Man, as he was once called, is 75 years old today, and DC Comics wants everyone to celebrate. Ignoring rumors that one-year-old prince George is being groomed to take on the Dark Knight’s mantle (don’t call him Robin), Jim Lee talks about the future of the character with Entertainment Weekly. He mentions strong fan-boy love for Batman ’66 on Blu-ray. I guess the cheese is never too far from Gotham City.

Apparently there’s one part of Batman’s history the publishers have never quite settled: who actually created him? Today they are giving out special edition reprints Detective Comics #27 (1939), in which The Bat-Man first appears. The cover of this issue states it was “illustrated by creator Bob Kane and written by Bill Finger.” The official word from DC Entertainment is that Bill Finger was a great guy who helped write many things, but Bob Kane was the first to imagine the hero.

[Steve] Korté, a 20-year DC Comics veteran, explains the sequence of events that lead to the creation and development of Batman. “After Superman debuted in 1938 and became an instant hit, DC editor Vince Sullivan asked Bob Kane to come up with a superhero, which he did with Batman,” he adds. “During that process, he went to a friend, Bill Finger, who gave him some tips on costume adjustments. For example, Bob initially drew bat wings on Batman. Bill suggested a scalloped cape. After Batman became a hit in May, 1939, Bob brought in more people throughout the year.”

Both men are dead now, but Finger’s granddaughter is rally fans to give Bill the credit she believes he deserves.

Don’t Call Thor ‘Miss’

“No, it’s a myth, a myth!” he said.

“Yes?” she replied.

In more exciting comic book news, Marvel wants to make its lineup more gender-balanced, so they are retrofitting old characters. In October, Thor will be a woman.

On Twitter, FlannelJedi observes, “By my count, a woman has wielded the power of Thor 3 times so far- in official & What If? scenarios. Storm, Black Widow & Thora (Earth X).” The NY Daily News spells out Marvel’s other offerings, “In recent months, new titles have focused on veteran heroines Black Widow, She-Hulk, Captain Marvel and Elektra, as well as introducing series around a new Ms. Marvel character, whose secret identity is a Muslim American teenager from Jersey City. Marvel also launched an all-female “X-Men” title last year.

YA Fiction and Superhero Movies

Alan Jacobs is laying out the facts on Twitter right now.

“Noteworthy: the real problem with YA fiction (much of it is bad) is the same as the problem with superhero movies (most of them are bad).”

“If you think there is something *intrinsically* juvenile about stories that concern beings with superhuman powers, then you’re committed to saying that the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, the Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, etc. etc. are juvenile. Which is manifest nonsense.”

“So the problem is not that we have too many superhero movies, but that those movies are unimaginatively conceived and incompetently written.”

“Much dislike of YA fiction & superhero movies is grounded in two things:19c pref. for realism & Modernist pref. for ‘difficult beauty.’ But if you go pre-c19 you can find plenty of aesthetic models that don’t privilege either realism or difficulty. The Modernist preference for difficulty was consolidated by the professiorate: we need difficult texts to justify our jobs.”

“But some of the most beautiful poems I’ve ever read are perfectly clear and call for little or no professional interpretative assistance.”

And Alex Knapp chips in: “Clarity doesn’t mean simplicity and difficulty doesn’t mean complexity. But oh how critics love to assume that this is the case.”

What Our Superheroes Say About Us

Steven Greydanus discusses this summer’s superhero movies.

Perhaps Captain America offers the best depiction of what makes for a good hero: being a good person in the first place. … Like others of his generation, Steve’s character was tempered in the forge of the Great Depression as well as the shadow of world war. Next year’s Avengers movie will throw this Greatest Generation warrior into the mix with the Tony Stark generation. What will that show us about ourselves and the world we live in? I’m almost afraid to find out.