Comic Book Gods

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Kelly Candaele at the Huffington Post examines the political (and religious) messages of the latest Spider-Man film. Is Peter Parker a comic book Nietzsche?

“There is a curious religious dynamic at work in Spiderman 3 that reinforces the absence of viable social networks. Spiderman’s struggle with the dark seductions of power is an isolated and individual one. His triumph over internal evil takes place alone in a Cathedral tower, the church bells literally stripping him of the black sin of hubris. If power corrupts, then masculine power (women gather round when Peter Parker wears the black Spiderman suit) corrupts absolutely. This is comic book Nietzsche, Christianity feminizing — through sympathy, guilt and forgiveness — Spiderman’s temporary embrace of the will to power.”

But while Candaele is troubled by some of the thematic elements of the film (which he feels are anti-democratic), he does see some glimmers of hope within the brightly-colored pantheon of super-heroes.

“There is an optimistic gloss that can be applied to the proliferation and popularity of movie superheroes. The phenomena may indicate a subconscious desire to return to a more polytheistic religious culture. Like the ancient Greek and Roman Gods, today’s cinematic superheroes have human foibles and they constantly intervene in the affairs of our world. If human beings are somehow genetically hardwired to look to the sky for salvation, then at least we have an array of exotic choices. And as historian of religion Jonathan Kirsch points out in his recent book about the war between monotheism and polytheism, “The core value of paganism was religious tolerance…” You prefer Superman, I prefer Batman. Someone else warms up to Wolverine. If a rain of new Gods is falling from the sky, at least they aren’t demanding singular and supine obedience.”

Do comic books feed a unspoken desire for a polytheistic world? Do Thor comics in some manner help lead people to Asatru, or Doctor Strange comics inspire real-life ritual magicians? I’m sure anything is possible. Certainly many comic book creators have tapped into the mythic and magical potentials of the format. Perhaps comic books will become the preferred scripture medium for tomorrow’s polytheists.