Culture: Comic-Book Heroes in a Christian Worldview
by Timothy Paul Jones
“Comics are the new Bible,” film critic Anne Billson recently declared, “and devotees never tire of seeing their idols save the world.” Her elevation of comic books to canonical status in the culture is surely overstated, but I think she may be close to the truth in suggesting that part of the current appeal of comics is their openness to the supernatural.
In an increasingly secularized culture, comic books splash unabashed glimpses of supernatural sacrifice and world-saving wonder across silver screens and wood-pulp panels. Superman and Thor descend from the heavens with superhuman strength, while heroes such as Captain America and Iron Man gain their powers through advances in science and technology that stand far beyond humanity’s current capacities. This week, millions will watch Doctor Strange gain his superpowers under the spiritual superintendence of the Ancient One, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe will gain one more blockbuster film beneath its belt. What’s more, the lives of these superheroes are threaded within a multiplicity of multi-layered metanarratives that weave together conflicts from dozens of storylines and that typically turn out to be as vast as the cosmos itself.
Throughout the past century, comic books and their cinematic counterparts have produced a stream of supernatural metanarratives with heroes that are continually called upon to save the world—and, right now, people are buying these tales by the millions. Last year, an estimated 98 million comic books were purchased in North America alone. Despite being weighted with the freight of less-than-stellar reviews, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice still enjoyed the fourth-largest worldwide cinematic opening of all time, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe films have attracted nearly eight billion dollars of revenue so far with no signs of slowing down.
Remnants and Residue of a More Coherent Worldview
But how should Christians engage with comic books and superhero films?
For many Christians, the temptation seems to be to engage in what I would identify as a “thin reading” of these cultural artifacts, hunting for surface-level connections between the Bible and our favorite superhero tales. Pastors who become caught up in such thin readings may construct entire sermon series out of the latest films or feel compelled to drop references to movies into their messages—all to achieve a perceived sense of relevance by linking Scripture to culture…
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