Doing Missions in the Marvel Universe. Part III

I realize that Part II, I sort of “shot my wad” in that I essentially said that doing missions in today’s culture is like doing missions in the Marvel Universe, since the today’s culture is like the Marvel Universe culture. The loop is kind of closed leaving little room for more than expounding further on the basic idea. So that is what I will do.

2.  The Social Primacy of the Individual.  You might be wondering about why I have an image here of the Justice League (from the DC Universe) when I am talking about the Marvel Universe. But take a look at the image and compare it to the Marvel image on my last post (Part II). You may notice a decided difference. The Justice League is clearly a team, a strong coherent social unit. If you websearch other images of the team, most show a similar quality. In this one, the members have a common focus and appear to have a common determination and will. They are acting as one social unity. In some other images, they stand in a half-circle looking in different directions. But even here, the idea is still of one team. Even though they don’t have a common focus, they clearly have a common purpose, to stand guard in vigilance.

On the other hand, the Marvel Universe image does not show a team… it shows a group of individuals who are, for some reason, required to share the same floor space. Truthfully, it is probably an error of many to compare the Justice League with the Avengers (or maybe the Teen Titans with the West Coast Avengers). The Avengers feel more like the Dirty Dozen in many ways… a conglomeration of heroes brought together by common necessity more than common vision.

This the world we live in today. Few places outside of North Korea (and pockets of zealots of different types) do we find groups of any sort having a higher position than the individual. Many of us (especially in the West, although this is a stereotype) have almost lost the capacity to put into words or thoughts the idea that the will of the family, corporation, church, or any other could take priority of personal freedom, personal fulfillment, or personal pleasure.

I recall an episode of House (I haven’t seen very many). In it, one of the doctor’s was having a difficult time with the worldview of one of his patients. The patient was a member of a Gypsy clan. The patient was brilliant and had an interest in Math and Science, but would not go to higher education because that was not the wishes of the clan. The doctor could not understand why he wouldn’t “live his own dream.” The patient, on the other hand felt sorry for the doctor because he was disconnected from family… giving up so much belongingness for a personal (selfish?) achievements.

So here we are. Do we embrace individualism? I would say NO. On the other hand, do we react against it, creating little Christian societal cults without individuality? NO also. We can’t challenge a culture by simply completely rejecting it. The Bible, in fact, seems to support neither. The Bible says to submit to authority in government and in church. But it also says to reject and condemn ungodly leadership. We are to honor our fathers and mothers but we are to “hate them” choosing God first. We are to be united in Christ, but we are redeemed as individuals. One might argue that the highest social unit on earth is the two member social grouping made up of an individual and God. From that grouping flows secondary responsibilities to self, family, church, government, and society. We live in a world of individuality, so we need to both embrace and challenge it.

3.  The Ambiguous Nature of Hero and Villain. It is tough to be a hero in the Marvel Universe. Spiderman is often misunderstood and mistreated. The X-men suffer from bigotry and attempts to register and control them. Being a hero may not make you loved. It may not even make you liked. You might be reviled, judged a vigilante. Like in The Incredibles, doing good often brings about bad results/destruction. Does a hero have the right to act unilaterally… serving as judge, jury, and executioner?

Heroes are often plagued with uncertainty. Why are they doing this… dressing up and placing their lives at risk for some “noble” cause. Do they live based on a high moral self-accountability, or a personality disorder? Should they use their powers sacrificially? Or is it okay to reap personal benefits?

Heroes are not absolutely sure what is moral/ethical. Does the end justify the means? Does the motive support or negate the goodness of an act? Is it right to act when one does not know for sure the results of one’s actions? In fact, in almost any act, there will be winners and losers… those who benefit who shouldn’t and those who suffer who shouldn’t. Is it better to do nothing? Must one only act in response to evil action, or can one act preemptively knowing that evil is being planned?

What about the anti-hero? This is the person who seeks to fight evil… but does it through wrong means or for wrong motivations? Should they be considered a hero or not? Punisher fights crime as an act of vengeance… he kills rather than seeks to have the justice system take over. Is that acceptable or not? Spawn (from a different comic) utilizes demonic power to fight evil. Does the noble purpose make the utilization of such evil power acceptable?

And what about the villain? Some villains just seem to be evil (self-serving, sociopathic). But some have a strong humanity to them. In some cases it seems appropriate for the heroes and villains to join forces when their is a common (and greater) enemy. Is that acceptable? Some villains actually fight evil… and do this by placing safety above personal freedom. These controlling villains… are they really doing evil… or violating a cultural norm?

Missions is like this… there is a lot of ambiguity in our actions, purposes, and motivations. If it “advances the kingdom” are all actions justified? Or do we have a higher set of standards (in action, intent, motivation, short-term goal, and long-term goal) that must be considered to see if we are on the side of the hero or the villain?
Decided to stop here. Found a great Blog on God and comics. Will reblog it.

Doing Missions in the Marvel Universe, Part II

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

Various characters of the Marvel Universe. Pro...
Various characters of the Marvel Universe. Promotional Art for the Civil War event by Steve McNiven. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

I used to be a comic book collector. I still have hundreds of comics stuffed away back in the US. I tended to collect mostly Marvel Comics, although far from exclusively. Part of this was that I found it easier to relate to many of the characters, such as Peter Parker, or many of the X-men with their uncertainties and angst. Superman was too “Nietzchean” and wasn’t even human anyway.

Nightcrawler (aka Kurt Wagner). Marvel Comics Group

Marvel Comics (unlike Archie or the more overtly Christian comics) does not have a lot of Christianity (as a well-defined Christian faith).  Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner) is the only character that I can recall who was a Christian. Cleverly, he had the appearance of a demon, and was the offspring of a demon and a mutant villainess. In Nightcrawler we see the ambiguity in Marvel of one who appears evil and yet was good (even sacrificing himself for his team). Of course, the ambiguity doesn’t end there. There are antiheroes, people who do good with evil means or evil motives (very teleological). We have heroes who are uncertain what is the right thing to do. We have villains who have redeemable qualities, even moments of heroism. We have people who defy destiny (like Nightcrawler… or to draw from a different Universe, Hellboy).

To me, the world we live in is in many ways like the Marvel Universe (although people in the know might see the world as more like the NEC Universe).

So in the next few posts I would like to look at some of the correlations between our world and the Marvel Universe, and correlations between our mission and the mission of many of the heroes in comicdom.

Hopefully, it will make sense…