I. First, the Marvel Universe fits the Worldview (or Zeitgeist if you prefer) of those around us.
David A. Zimmerman wrote “Comic Book Character” that looks at character and morality from comic books. In chapter 7, he compares the DC Universe and the
Marvel Universe. The DC Universe, particularly its classic version as seen in the Justice League, follows the mindset of pre-World War II. Part of this comes from the fact that DC (Detective Comics) has its roots from between World War I and II, and is modeled best with Superman. Marvel, although having roots in between-the-wars Timely Comics, was transformed by Stan Lee et al in the 1960s and was well-grounded in the culture of that time. Spiderman is, perhaps, the best example of this time. While Superman was an alien of almost unlimited power and moral integrity, Spiderman was very a very human youth dealing inexpertly with limited powers and challenging ethical settings.
In 2003, well after I stopped collecting comics, DC and Marvel joined forces with a cross-over between Justice League and the Avengers. They had a four issue team-up. The two worlds meet up. In it, we see the differences more starkly. The Justice League seeks to make their world better, while the Avengers seek to keep their world from falling apart (as Zimmerman noted).
THIS IS A KEY POINT… because it says much about how each view power. With the Justice League… power is used to control and achieve the vision of those with the power. With the Avengers, power exists in the chaos and frailties of humans. This control is to be kept in the hands of “normal humans” with intervention only occurring (from the superheroes) when power is used by evildoers to attack this freedom. This is most clearly seen in the X-men where the X-men seek to dialogue and persuade human leadership through words rather than through force or sedition. Magneto and friends wish to utilize their power with control and are seen in the Marvel Universe as Evil.
Pre-WWII, there seemed to be a belief that our leaders were good and trustworthy, and that “we” are in the right and “they” are in the wrong. Collecting Old Time Radio programs as I do, it is interesting the gradual transition that took place after World War II. Some possible reasons? Here are a few suggestions:
- The Western Powers were killing each other (even more ruthlessly than in WW I). The first two Fascist Powers were Italy (home of Roman Catholicism) and Germany (the Birthplace of Protestantism). It was hard to say for sure that Christians (or anyone else) was reliably right or reliably wrong. Was “Christendom” making the world better. Were our leaders really wise?
- The atomic (or better said, nuclear) bomb was the product of “wise leaders” and “intelligent scientists.” Technology doesn’t necessarily save lives… it can also destroy the world. We may not live in a hostile world with benevolent science making things safe for us. We MAY live in a benevolent world with hostile science (controlled by people ill-prepared to use it wisely) seeking to destroy us.
- Improved communication, media, and travel allowed for bridging of national and cultural boundaries like never before. Bigoted opinions about “them” were challenged because they could be seen and heard and visited easily. Leaders could now be accessed and viewed up close, showing their considerable failings.
Today we live in a world that questions authority… frankly, because we know that human authorities are untrustworthy and unreliable, The move in many churches to teach unquestioning submission to authority is probably a bad idea and culturally anachronistic. It is counter-cultural… not that that is bad necessarily. However, it is unworthy since only divine authority is worthy of unquestioning submission. Additionally, in the Bible, human authority is both submitted to and challenged. Power and authority are best when they are not in the hands of the same people.
The Justice League felt that the Avengers really had not been doing their job seeing the poor job they have done in making things good in their world. The Avengers were disturbed by the Justice League’s cavalier use of power to control, and their willingness to embrace the adoration (idolatry) of those they oversaw.
“In the eyes of the Justice League, the Avengers have let their world go to seek, they may be powerful, but they are not heroes. The best world is one where everyone is safe and secure, prosperous and at peace. The world of the Avengers cannot boast of such accomplishments, therefore the Avengers have failed in their mission.
In contrast, the Avengers determine that the heroes of the Justice League have abused their powers to shape their world in their own image, a world in which everyone is beautiful and no one hurts. The best world is one where human beings of whatever nature are allowed to be themselves and conrol their own destiny, within the boundaries of the individual. The world of the Avengers is allowed to remain diffuse, decentralized, in order to hold up that high value. The world of the Justice League has forsaken the individual in favor of an integrated system that is maintained essentially by its heroes. These heroes may be powerful, but they are not just.” (Comic Book Character, Ch. 7)
The government in the DC Universe loves the Justice League (and vice versa). In the Marvel Universe, the government uses superheroes but the relationship is much more tense. Superheroes in the Marvel Universe are as likely to be ridiculed as lauded… as likely to be misunderstood as supported. Spiderman was a folkhero at times and viewed as a vigilante or a criminal at other times.
We live in a time of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). We are pretty sure our leaders don’t fully know what they are doing, and that what they are doing is often done in part with selfish motives. Power is morally ambiguous and in the hands of the few is likely to cause more bad than good for the many. Science, technology, intelligence, and “special powers” are unlikely to make the world a better place… but in the hands of imperfect people trying their best (in their own limited ways) to do what is right, perhaps the world won’t fall apart.
In the Marvel Universe we know that heaven will not be created on earth through human (or even superhuman) powers. In Christianity we know this… or are supposed to know this. Only God can bring heaven to earth. We can’t save the sinking ship… we can do little more than man the lifeboats and rescue the drowning.
This is the Marvel Universe and the world we live in. We live in (right or wrong) an individualized world. If missionaries were superheroes (and we are not) we would be like the Avengers… full of problems, uncertainties, and on living on the edge of error and misstep. But, with good teamwork, humility, and guidance from “the truth” we have hopes to do some good in this world. We are likely to be admired occasionally, and thought of as odd misfits or troublemakers the rest of the time.
- Doing Missions in the Marvel Universe. Part I (munsonmissions.org)