Monday, August 25, 2008

God, My Hero

I love comic books. I started reading them when I was a kid, and I never stopped. My favorite comic book heroes are Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, and The Shadow. I tell you this lest you think me anti-comic book when I bemoan a new poll ranking the top superheroes of the American comic reading public.

Five things trouble me about this poll. First, I was not asked to participate. Second, Spiderman was ranked number one. Third, neither of my heroes made the top ten. Fourth, the fact that Batman tied for sixth place with Catwoman. And, fifth, God and Jesus rank below Batman and Catwoman.

This is scandalous. Clearly the Dark Knight trumps Catwoman in brains, brawn, bucks, and literary depth. If people can’t see the superiority of Batman over Catwoman, I have to question their wisdom altogether. Which brings me to the ranking of God and Jesus.

Whatever your thoughts about Batman, neither he nor Catwoman can resurrect the dead. And as dark as the Dark Knight is, even he pales next to the Jesus of Revelation who wallows in the blood of his enemies in a manner that would make Vlad the Impaler flinch. But are God and Jesus really superheroes?

Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, is now a superhero with a very successful comic franchise and Marvel movie in the works. And Jesus and God have both had hit movies in the last few years. But how many people go to the Temple of Thor or worship the God of Thunder any more? Maybe getting your own comic is what happens to Gods when they’re put out to pasture. Is this what is happening to God and Jesus now that they are listed as superheroes?

And it is not just superhero fans who feel that God is somewhat lacking. Two television shows that actually featured God or Jesus (Joan of Arcadia which featured God in various guises, and NBC’s Book of Daniel that featured Jesus as a Rogerian psychologist, “Well, what do you think ought to be done to save your soul?”) were both short-lived. And the current Saving Grace features Earl, a totally powerless angel who can't even help Grace, who is clearly anorexic and an alcoholic, stop drinking and get herself to a nutritionist. God and Jesus are powerless in these shows. Forget Catwoman, they couldn't even take on a Teletubbie.

Compare these shows to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Ghost Whisperer, two long lasting shows of the supernatural that never mention God or Jesus. Of course these shows have a sexual subtext that God and Jesus lack, so maybe we might have to forgo the Virgin Birth for something a little more Zeus-like.

What can we God-lovers do to raise the status of our hero? I think we need to hire better writers and artists to tell his story. A Frank Miller version of Job or an Alan Moore take on Esther could be promising. Or how about a Stephen King version of the Gospel According to John? We could call it The Last Godslinger. With the right artists and colorists, Jesus might give at Catwoman a run for her money. Spiderman, however, is probably beyond even God’s reach.


rbarenblat said...

I'd love to read Frank Miller's "Job" -- wow, what a notion!

I'm a big fan of JT Waldman's Megillat Esther. Of course, it doesn't help with making God more accessible, since God is the hidden character in this particular scroll...

AaronHerschel said...

Isn't this a repost? I remember reading this on your blog some months ago.

Regardless, you may be right that comics--not to mention literature--pick up our Gods when we no longer need them in their divine capacity. Or maybe it's what happens when there's no longer an institution built around them. It's like their copyright has expired and independent artists can finally remake and remythologize them.

One of the problems with having something like a Bible or Torah is that the canonization of the text instantly fixes the stories of the gods, makes them permanent and immutable. It's unfortunate, because mythology is a living thing. Imagine what would happen to Spiderman, say, or Batman, if they were allowed only a single story, a single representation. Marvel and DC would go bust overnight. The characters would fade and be forgotten.

In the Jewish context, midrash may act as a corrective--keeping the storytelling tradition, and thus Ha Shem, alive and vital. But where are the new midrash? Marvel, and now DC, have both recently launched new lines (Ultimate and All Star, respectively) which are updating the origin stories and early years of their major characters. Perhaps we ought to do the same.

Rabbi Rami said...

I have read Waldman's Megillat Esther, and it was fabulous. As for this being a re-post, it may well be that I spoke of this once before.

Midrash is an attempt to reinvent the stories, but maybe it is time to do so more boldly, to update the stories and bring them in line with contemporary science and sensibility. And to do so in a graphic novel format.

Any takers?