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Holy Gospels, Batman!

Recently my family gave me the 2018 DC Comics animated film, Batman Ninja. This takes the familiar Batman heroes and villains and transports them into an anime-style Japanese Batman story directed by Junpei Mizusaki. This is not the first time DC have done something like this with the Batman: Gotham Knight collection of short anime-style stories produced back in 2008.

I’m not going to talk on the Batman Ninja film, but leave the trailer for it below because I wanted to talk about using Batman: Gotham Knights in theology class.

 

When I was an undergraduate theology student taking the introductory New Testament courses, the question came up why four gospels, and then, why are they different? The standard ways of answering to this were (a) witnesses to a car crash or (b) newspaper accounts of the car crash. In the first scenario, the police interview people who witness the accident and take their statements, which are all told from different individual points of view. In the second, different news media outlets report on the same event, but each puts their own editorial spin on it to achieve a particular purpose.

Those are helpful ways into thinking about the nature and purpose of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but perhaps something more tangible for students might be helpful. Something which captures what Philip Cunningham puts like this:

Dramatizing the death of Jesus, whether on stage or screen, is a daunting task. The primary sources of information, the four Gospels in the New Testament, are not simply reporters’ notes from eyewitnesses. They are nar­ratives composed so that readers “may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). To achieve this goal, the Gospel writ­ers—the evangelists—filled their accounts with a wealth of symbols, sophis­ticated literary devices, quotations or allusions to the Scriptures of ancient Israel, and, Christians believe, divinely inspired insights. In narrating the life and death of Jesus, the evangelists were wonderfully creative in conveying their conviction that the Crucified One had been raised to Lordship. (p.49)

Cunningham, Philip. “Much Will Be Required of the Person Entrusted with Much: Assembling a Passion Drama from the Four Gospels.” In On the Passion of the Christ: Exploring the Issues Raised by the Controversial Movie, edited by Paula Fredriksen, 49-64. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

BatmanGKI’ve experimented with using the Batman: Gotham Knight short film “Have I Got a Story for You” (written by Josh Olson and animated by Studio 4°C) as a way into to thinking about the different gospels in theology courses. (Full video of this short film can be found here)

In the story, four teenagers encounter Batman at different points in a running battle with a criminal. Each then tells the others of their encounter, with their own personal embellishments and style. The story is told backwards, and then finally in the present moment, with the first teen to tell his story then part of the story at the end – providing a nice inclusio (another feature to talk about). So overall, multiple authors and editors telling one and many stories that capture something of the life and ‘ministry’ of Batman.

I’ve found the video dimension to this kind of analogy can be helpful to think about the four gospels, as does having a story which students might be drawn into or react to in ways that then help them articulate their own thoughts in class.

Of course, YMMV. What other approaches have people taken to doing this?

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