The Intersection of Faith and Popular Culture, Part Three

In my last post, I pointed out the parallel between the motto that comic book hero Spider-Man lives his life by ("with great power must come great responsibility") and the words of Jesus ("From everyone who has been given much, much will be required"). I also pointed out some astonishing parallels between the fictional story of Superman, Last Son of Krypton and the real story of Jesus, the Son of God. In this post, I want to further explore the ways in which comic book characters can (intentionally or otherwise) point us towards some spiritual truths. To do so, I'm going to discuss the greatest comic book hero you've probably never heard of: The Spirit.

The Spirit made his entrance on June 2, 1940 as a 7-page insert in Sunday newspapers, which continued through 1952. He was the creation of Will Eisner, who used his training as a commercial artist to bring a new dimension of artwork to the Sunday funnies. Many of the illustration techniques that are standard in the comic book industry today originated from the pen of Will Eisner.

From the beginning, The Spirit was a bit different. For one thing, he didn't really have a costume like Batman or Superman, only an overcoat, gloves, and a small domino mask. The astonishing thing was that he died in the first 3 pages of his first story! The Spirit was police criminologist Denny Colt, who set out to capture a notorious criminal named Dr. Cobra (I know, I know ... but it was a simpler time). Tracking the villain to his hideout, Colt fails to wait for his friend Police Commissioner Dolan or any other back-up, and tries to take out Cobra on his own. In the course of a shoot-out, a bullet shatters a beaker full of chemicals, drenching Colt in a noxious green substance. When the police arrive, there is no Dr. Cobra -- just the body of Denny Colt, who is soon interred in a family tomb at the city cemetery.

Days later, as Commissioner Dolan works late in his office, he is startled as a shadowy figure enters through his window. His visitor stays in the shadows as he tells Dolan that he will bring Dr. Cobra to justice by the morning. When asked his name, the stranger identifies himself as "The Spirit." Thinking he recognizes the voice, Dolan successfully tails The Spirit, who turns out to be Denny Colt! The explanation? The chemical bath he took at Dr. Cobra's hideout sent him into a deep coma which the medical examiner mistook for death. Not wanting Cobra warned of his return, he wants to continue keeping his identity secret. Making good on his promise, The Spirit apprehends Dr. Cobra and turns him over to the police. As the story draws to a conclusion, Commissioner Dolan asks The Spirit if he will now reveal his identity and perhaps take his story to the newspaper. And, in the words of H. Michael Brewer, author of Who Needs A Superhero?:

"No, the Spirit confides. He's now free of the law's constraints since in the eyes of the law Denny Colt is dead. The masked man will let his former identity lie -he'll leave Denny Colt dead and begin a new life as the Spirit. He'll devote himself to catching the criminals who escape through legal loopholes. Freed from the letter of the law, the Spirit can now fulfill the intention of the law."

Maybe by this point you're asking yourself why I'm writing about a comic book character who stopped being published 55 years ago? If you've read the last couple of posts you probably already know the answer. The origin of The Spirit is a great example of a story that lends itself to discussing themes of faith, God, and spirituality. In particular, I think that this is a story in which the hero represents an Everyman for anyone who places their faith in Y'shua (Jesus). Denny Colt is baptized (in a chemical bath), dies to his former life, and becomes a new person. How like this is to a new Christian being baptized and in doing so symbolically dying to their old life and entering into a new one.

"Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:4 NASB)

The freedom that Denny Colt experiences in operating as The Spirit is like a metaphor for the freedom experienced by those who follow Christ. Any debts that Denny Colt had were cancelled by his death. What of those who place their faith in Jesus? Consider the words of the apostle Paul:

"Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God." (Romans 7:4 NASB)

All of us have a debt that's made up of sin, and it's a debt we can't pay. God offers us a way to identify with the death of Christ, and in doing so, have our own debt cancelled. As Jesus died and rose again, those who trust in Him symbolically die and are born anew spiritually. As Denny Colt took on a new identity, followers of Jesus do as well: we become new creations, who seek to live not for ourselves, but for God.

Thoughts, anyone?


Steven said...

Yet as this new person in Messiah... I think we find ourselves facing the same fate as Peter Parker's Spiderman character. We ourselves face our own challenges in action. In some ways I liken it to being a recovering alcoholic because at that point you can't have just a sip and walk away. It seems we need to stay away from our sins or we fall pray to them.

It's funny really... Many superheroes work to change the world: something _we_ cannot control, only influence. Yet our beliefs and in becoming a new creation in Messiah allow us the opportunity to change something we can control: ourselves. That's always the hardest part, isn't it.

Whether it's smoking or eating, we are very good at allowing ourselves to be driven by our desires / foibles. How much more so when it comes to matters of faith. When do _we_ make our stand to do the right thing?

I for one love to see the parallels in stories such as these. It encourages me to know that not only will the bad guy always reveal his plot if he thinks he has you, but more importantly that our G-d is a Mighty G-d who is not to be put in a box. He lived and died for us, and we need to die to ourselves in order to better understand his sacrifice. Not just for ourselves, but to express our love for our G-d.

Bryan said...

One thought I have had about superheroes and our Spiritual walk with Messiah is that a superhero usually gets his power based upon something other than their own merits or strength. Usually it is an accident, but basically it is not because they have earned this power. They then choose to use this power for good. I think that is a good picture of grace. By grace we have been given a great power, an ability to walk in righteousness, and to do good to bring glory and honor to our Creator and Messiah.

Many superheroes also have a weakness, like Kryptonite that drains the power they have. So also can the world (sin) drain us of the power we have and we then fail to be able to use that power again until we escape from the grasp of sin through prayer and repentance.

Interesting how things can look when you see them through Spiritual eyes. G-d certainly speaks in very unique ways to those who put their faith and trust in Him.