I feel like you might get sick of just hearing my voice on this blog (I know I do), so I decided to try something a little different this week. I emailed a friend and asked if he would be interested in trading thoughts and questions on a subject that interests both of us: namely the overlap between matters of faith and superheroes (and we have a lot of thoughts on both, so that could become a series to itself).
T.J. Cofield is a graduate of Furman University and Princeton Theological Seminary. He presently serves as the Director of Adult Faith Formation of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Greenville, SC (though, fun story, he's not actually Catholic). T.J. and I have been friends for over ten years now and have had countless conversations about the Bible and superheroes, including one in which we decided upon a roster for the Justice League of the Bible. That was the jumping off point for this conversation. I'll post Part 1 today and Part 2 will go up sometime next week.
Chris: Five years ago, we were working at the same camp and I made an offhanded comment while teaching Bible study that Moses was one of THE heroes of the Bible; that if there was a Justice League of the Bible, he would be like the Batman of the group.
Later that day at lunch, you, me, and Zach Adams sat down in a mall food court to hash out just who in the Bible lines up with each member of the classic Justice League lineup (this was before the New 52 subbed out Martian Manhunter for Cyborg). After a lot of discussion we decided on this roster:
Superman → Jesus
Batman → Moses
Wonder Woman → Mary, Mother of Jesus
The Flash → Paul
Green Lantern → Abraham
Martian Manhunter → David
Aquaman → Noah
Before we get to anything more in depth, what do you think of that list five years later? Do you stand by our choices? And who do you think would be Cyborg?
T.J.: First of all, I can't believe it's been 5 years since that conversation. Time makes fools of us all, boys and girls. However, looking over our list makes me want to re-do almost all of it. No kidding! 5 years has allowed me a little more knowledge of both the Biblical figures and also the DC characters as well, so I'd like to take a crack at making my Biblical Justice League 2.0 (or, if you like, you can call it the New 52 Biblical Justice League):
Superman - MOSES
If nothing else, I want to give Superman's creators what they originally wanted - a superhero stand-in for Moses. However, the similarities are all there. Both are children when they are sent far away from a suffering world. Both are raised by people that aren't their natural parents. Both are sent somewhere to be the deliverer of a group of people. Both wield - albeit through different means - untold amounts of power. And they're both natural leaders (whether or not either one of them will verbally admit it).
Batman - PAUL
Whenever it comes to the Justice League, there's always this lingering question of whether or not Batman belongs in a group with an all-powerful guy, an all-powerful woman, a guy who is faster than everything, and a guy with a ring that can do anything he can imagine. Batman always proves that he not only belongs but is a crucial member, mostly because of his unequaled value as a detective and a strategist. Similarly, Paul often had to defend his own apostleship in the early Church days, and he more often than not proved his mettle, not only because of his keen mind & ability as a missionary, but because of his determination, another trait he shares with the Dark Knight Detective.
Wonder Woman - MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
Mary stays as Wonder Woman. Because Mary is awesome. The Church is supposed to be like Mary, bringing Jesus Christ into the rest of the world. I'll stop before I get going.
The Flash - PHILIP
I had a tough time with the Flash, and I love me some Barry Allen. So I decided to break it down like this: who is someone who displays Barry's youthful exuberance, friendliness & speed in the Bible? The best I could come up with was Phillip. Granted, we don't have volumes of information on St. Philip, but what we do have is this: anytime we see Philip, he is excited about sharing his experience with Jesus with someone (with Nathanael in John 2 & with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8), he makes fast (ha!) friends with the Ethiopian eunuch despite the fact that he's never met him (and the fact that eunuchs, especially foreign ones, were considered freaks in those days), and that right after Philip baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch, the eunuch saw him no more, but the Spirit carried him to Azotus and then to Caesarea. Sounds like the Spirit was acting a lot like the Speed Force to me!
Green Lantern - PETER
He's brash, arrogant, and he runs his mouth more than he should. His failures are spectacular, but his triumphs are as well, and despite how many times he messes up, he is still charged with a power from the highest authority to unleash anything he can imagine on the Earth or in the heavens. Works as a short synopsis for either Hal Jordan or Simon Peter. And like Hal Jordan guarding Sector 2814, others throughout history have also worn a ring and taken Simon Peter's position.
Cyborg - JOSEPH (SON OF JACOB)
I'll admit that of all the current Justice League members, I know the least about Cyborg. What I do know is from his short origin in Geoff Johns' Justice League run that started in the New 52; essentially, Vic Stone is nearly killed, is rebuilt as Cyborg, and uses his keen mind and his rebuilt self to save people. The closest equivalent I can find is Joseph from Genesis - who is nearly killed (by his own brothers even!), rebuilt (albeit more slowly and less robotically), and uses his keen mind and his rebuilt self to save people, not only the Egyptians but, eventually, even his own brothers.
Chris: Kudos on basically restructuring the whole lineup. You’re dead-on concerning Siegel and Schuster modeling Superman after Moses. I read an interview with a former artist on Action Comics in which he said that he designed the rocket that brought Superman from Krypton to resemble the basket baby Moses rode down the Nile. Frankly the Moses parallels fit better than the Jesus parallels that have dominated the last two Superman movies.
Glancing through, I don’t see much with which I can argue. Philip is an interesting choice for the Flash. The only other figure that I considered was Elijah. Like Flash, Elijah is prominent figure but not one of the Big 2 in the OT. He went off in a blazing chariot of fire. Plus the Elijah-Elisha relationship has a definite Flash-Kid Flash mentoring parallel to it. Joseph is a good selection for Cyborg. In addition to what you mentioned, Cyborg and Joseph are basically kids thrust into a world of responsibility.
When we originally had this conversation, we made a half-hearted attempt at figuring out Bible counterparts for the X-Men and Avengers, but we didn’t really get that far. Part of that is because I’m a DC guy. But I also get a sense that there seems to be a fundamental difference between DC and Marvel characters. The way a blogger (it might have been Chris Sims) once described it was that DC characters are more of these mythic figures. The Flash is The Fastest Man Alive. Batman is The World’s Greatest Detective. You can see this in Grant Morrison’s 90s JLA run in which he depicted the team as modern versions of the Greek gods. Marvel characters seem to be a bit more human. An Iron Man or a Spider-Man is more flawed, more vulnerable.
You are a lot more familiar with the Marvel Universe than I am. Obviously the contrast is not that stark, but do these differences between Marvel and DC track with you? And, if so, do you think that colored our attempts to line up biblical characters with Marvel heroes? Because if that is the case, I think that says something about how we (at least casually) view the men and women of the Bible.
T.J.: I've always gone back and forth on whether or not I'm more of a Marvel or a DC guy. My favorite comic character has been, is, and will always be Batman, but these days, I subscribe to way more Marvel titles than DC. However, given how ridiculous the online message board wars are between Marvel & DC fanboys, I'm content with leaving the question unanswered. I love them both. They're both great entertainment. I'm allowed to choose both sides haha.
Being fairly well-read in both Marvel & DC, I have always argued that the difference between their respective characters is that DC characters are superheroes who happen to have identities as regular people, and that Marvel characters are regular people who happen to have identities as superheroes. It's not a perfect analogy since - amazingly - not every DC or Marvel character fits such a label! This is called good, diversified writing. However, in my humble opinion, it works more often than it doesn't.
In the last several years of my life, I've become a lot more familiar with the communion of saints whose lives came after the biblical period - Patrick, Francis, Ignatius, Teresa of Avila, and the like. You may say to yourself, "Eh, whatever, that's a Catholic thing." WRONG. Their stories have been preserved & repeated to instruct us how we can live a life devoted to Jesus Christ, but that's another soapbox for another day. The point is, I've come to find that Marvel characters may find more of a parallel among the lives of the saints than they do in the pages of the bible. (This may not be an accident, either. In X-Men mythos, Professor X's full name is Charles Francis Xavier; St. Francis Xavier is one of the three founding members of the Jesuit order.)
Either way, I also understand that my viewpoint is based on a misconception that's somewhat similar to my view on the difference between Marvel & DC characters. I said that I viewed DC characters as superheroes that happened to have identities as regular people; that said, it's unfair to say that being Clark Kent is an unnecessary burden to Superman. Being Clark means being Ma & Pa Kent's boy, and that's pretty hard to beat. Being their son also informs what it means to be Superman. There's a similar flaw in demanding that the people in the bible be these nearly mythical, unblemished characters whereas allowing saints such as Francis to have their flaws. Francis had his wild years as a young guy, sure, but he also sparked reform in a Church that was becoming too rich for its own good. On the flip side, King David was "a man after God's own heart," sure, but that didn't stop him from having a loyal soldier killed in battle to cover up the king's affair with his wife. Just as all superheroes - DC & Marvel - are a blend of person & superhero, all of God's people in history - biblical and post-biblical alike - are a blend of sinner & saint.
So basically, I'm admitting my view on DC & Marvel has a fundamental flaw in it. I don't care, it's still helpful haha.
You can read Part 2 here