AKMA (AKMA’s Random Thoughts – Convergence) points to a couple of articles in SBL Forum that begin to take the genre of comics as serious fodder for theological engagement. As he points out though, the engagement is fairly cursory and doesn’t really begin to scratch questions about why religious motifs and symbols appear in comic books (and in the case of these articles, superhero comics only). See:
- Society of Biblical Literature: Comics and the Bible: Reinterpretation and Mythic Understanding – Greg Garrett
- Society of Biblical Literature: Do Superheroes Read Scripture? Finding the Bible in Comic Books – G. Andrew Tooze.
For example, Tooze’s article refers to Kevin Smith’s Daredevil story, Guardian Devil, as an example of the use of Catholic symbology and apocalyptic texts. But that’s as far as it tends to go. What would make a really good article, I think, would be to examine how Christian (and other) eschatologies form part of the common universes that comic book stories inhabit. Matt Murdock’s (Daredevil) Catholic background forms a continuing theme through his stories and that in itself might be worthy of investigation of how different writers and artists have portrayed it. Moreover, DC Comics’ universe (which filters over into Vertigo as well) tends to function with a much more explicit religious background, while Marvel tends not to (at least in my reading of both publishers). Why is this, and how does it shape how religion is portrayed by these two major publishers?
This is all in my mind at the moment as I’ve just reread Waid and Ross’ excellent Kingdom Come, where themes of judgement, redemption, justice, power, tragedy, human and superhuman nature are told through eyes of the Spectre and a pastor, set in an explicitly apocalyptic framework.
Articles like the above ones tend to focus upon the spandex-clad superhero sub-genre of comics. What would also be interesting would be to look at the breadth of the genre and how it engages with religion. For example, how do we think theologically about the creative act of sub-creation present in building these graphical worlds? (See Greenflame: Dylan Horrocks on comics, games and world-building).
And what about the spirituality in things like Will Eisner’s A Contract with God, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, J. Michael Stracinzki’s Midnight Nation, and Douglas Rushkoff’s Testament. Now, I’m not necessarily agreeing with the portrayal of the spiritual in these comics, but theological engagement with such rich sources should go beyond just pointing out that religion and its symbols appear in comic books and graphic novels.
More thoughts on some of these things in the comics category – Greenflame (Comics).