Since I was eight years old, the Green Lantern has been my favorite comic book hero. Test-pilot Hal Jordan was a normal Joe, picked to be the Green Lantern of sector 2814 (space surrounding our solar system). He wasn’t super-powered, but was given a ring that could create anything the bearer imagined — the stronger the will, the more powerful the construct. Cool. Jordan was selected due to his courage, loyalty, perseverance, and confidence. The story of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern has been a fifty-year epic of one man battling his inner strengths and weaknesses, demons and angels to be a champion and hero. From time to time, evil rears its ugly head, takes control, but is ultimately defeated in the light of good and virtue. Throughout the series, biblical and theological themes recur.
Take Blackest Night, the most recent epic in the series. In addition to Green Lanterns, turns out there are yellow (fear), red (rage), orange (avarice), blue (hope), violet (love) and indigo (compassion) lanterns as well. The combined lantern light emerges from a pure white light, but a terrible force — Black Lanterns — have emerged representing death and destruction. An apocalyptic battle of light versus darkness ensues, pitting the heroes of every galaxy against the risen dead bearing black rings.
I was talking to a couple of fellow comics geeks about the series, and talked about the religious symbolism saturating the whole thing. One of my friends said, “You’re projecting! There’s nothing religious about “Blackest Night”!” Not much. The planet that generates the Black Lanterns is 666, the powers of hope, love, and compassion are critical to any kind of salvation (I Corinthians, anyone?), and a host of deceased DC comic characters of the past decade are resurrected by the conclusion of the series. There is a definite spiritual side to all the science of the saga.
I would love to do a series of discussion guides on modern comics/graphic novels. They are rife with religion and philosophy, physics and metaphysics, delving into the deep questions of good and evil, life and death, light and darkness, meaning and purpose. They offer a lovely jumping off point to talk about timeless topics of human existence. Are they realistic? No, not in the least. Good does not always triumph over evil. The set-up of Blackest Night is bogus — the Black Lanterns should have eradicated all trace of goodness. They were set up as too powerful, and it required contrived solutions to beat them ensuring a fundamental “good always wins” solution. But even this contrivance calls into question the basic human spirit — the beliefs that keep us getting up in the morning. It would be very simple to lay down as victims and give up, but that isn’t what we do. We fight. We strive. We prevail.
The best comics (those that do not make the heroes as morally ambiguous — if not evil — as the villains) hold forth a vision for the best that people can be. This they share with religion and myth. There is great promise in a message that calls us to courage, perseverance, mercy, kindness, compassion, justice, and love. I guess that’s why so many people are Christian — deep down inside we would all like to be heroes, but we all need help to be the very best people we can be.
Categories: Personal Reflection, U.S. Culture
I absolutely love the fact that Christians read comix. I grew up in a family where graphic novels were viewed as sinful and evil. My mom made it clear that anything comix related would be burned and that I would be grounded for reading them. It didn’t stop me. What it did was make me sure that I would never be a Christian and go to church. I got over that, but admit that I still feel guilty when I read comic books. THANK YOU for letting me know that even ministers read comix and think they’re okay. Do you pastor a church? I would definitely visit.
As a geek and Methodist minister, I found it refreshing and hopeful to find others with similar views on comics and the modern myths within our culture.
There are more of us out there than anyone might imagine. I got an email yesterday from a Seattle pastor who confesses: “My lectionary group actually knocks off early each Wednesday to go to Zanadu comics then we go out to lunch to talk about the latest developments in our favorite titles. When we were just a lectionary group we struggled to have 3 people show up each week. When we realized we all read comics we ballooned to about eleven each week. Religion couldn’t cause us to bond; Wolverine, Invincible and Buffy the Vampire Slayer could.” I have gotten more positive response to my comic/graphic novels posts than almost anything else. May the fellowship increase!
Sounds like a young people’s Christian character formation course emphasizing the struggle toward spiritual perfection (greater jihad?) through current graphic novels, the Bible, and discussion relating to the personal situations of the participants. Is this a gateway to new small groups?
Yes, but only the comic book nerds will show up. They need saving, too. But let’s not over-estimate the broad appeal of paper and ink comics. (Just to be clear, I think Dan’s idea is great. But I’m a nerd.)
I think Dan’s latent Pelgianism is clear from the end of this post. 🙂
Years ago I offered a “Christ In Culture” series for youth, looking at Christian images in Star Wars, Superman, Disney films, and comic books. I planned for a dozen (male teenagers) and was amazed to have over fifty people show up — mostly in their 30s and 40s, male and female alike. I think there are a lot of closet-comic fans out there.
I thought I was fairly anti-Pelagian with my “but we all need help…” comment. It doesn’t much work by will alone, without a dose of God’s Spirit to make it work.
You’re almost in Madison. Check out UW (the closest I’ve got to an alma mater).
Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) is a unique examination, study and research library of the School of Education. Their online graphic novel resource is http://www.education.wisc.edu/ccbc/books/graphicnovels.asp
School of Library and Information Studies has a CEU course “School of Library and Information Studies”
Robin Valenza, Assoc Prof English
I bet there’s room for a visiting lecturer.
Campbell in Comics?
Oh, yeah! There are books on Joseph Campbell and a wide variety of popular comics. While some may see comics as modern myth-making, I see the classic myths reproduced and re-presented constantly. Sandman, Thor, Fables, Preacher — these and many more raise age-old questions and come up with mostly age-old answers, but they are fun anyway. I think Campbell would have a field day with the “darkening” of comic heroes over the past forty years — as well as the average age of comic readers rising from 8.5 to just under 21.