Thursday, March 18, 2010

Men and Superman

About the same time that I was having my positive epiphany last week, I had the fortune to have another -perhaps slightly apocryphal but no less valid one.

I caught a rumour on the wind that implied that JMS (Joe Straczynski of Babylon 5 fame... bust most of you knew that already and if you didn't where have you been?), was signing on with DC Comics to write for Superman and wonder Woman.

I've been deeply impressed with JMS' storytelling abilities... initially (or so I thought) through Babylon 5, but also from an early age as it seems he had a big hand in an old cartoon I loved as a kid (Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors).

Lately he's been turning his attention to comic book writing. As you will know through my blogging on the topic... I greatly appreciated the direction he was taking Spider-Man through story lines like "The Other", and I connected with them on a spiritual level. I was greatly upset when Joe Quesada decided to essentially remould Spider-Man in his own image.... and especially in the manner in which it was done. Notably Straczynski had his name left off the issue that rang in those changes.

He then moved onto Thor (I've only just got the first two graphic novels... yes I don't buy comics, I have to at least pretend I'm mature and get them in graphic novel format), it seems apparent to me that he is using Thor's mythos to explore similar themes - rebirth and claiming your real heritage... and it has me hooked.

Anyway back to that rumour; upon checking it out, I stumbled across an article entitled No Limits, written by JMS himself. I've provided a link to the main article but for the purposes of this article, I'll repost some of it here:

One of my very earliest memories as a child is of watching one of the Superman cartoons created by Max Fleischer. In particular, a scene where Superman puts his cape around Lois Lane to protect her from an incoming tide of molten metal. I imprinted on that image like a baby duck, and a lot of what I laughingly call my personality was formed in that moment (which is why a cel-recreation of that image is one of the first things you see upon entering my home, before you get to the row of wall after wall covered with artwork by Alex Ross, Curt Swan and others, as well as just about every bit of Superman memorabilia ever produced).
As a kid growing up in the mean streets of New Jersey, Superman was an icon for me. It was a tough life: we moved about 21 times in my first 17 years, we didn’t have much money, and every day was a struggle. When I told grown-ups that I was going to be a writer someday, nobody listened, nobody thought I had a chance, because as far as teachers were concerned, kids like me who came from nowhere and nothing were dead-enders, destined to end up working at the gas station at best or in jail at worst. Writers were supposed to be Ivory Tower guys with leather patches on the elbows of their smoking jackets, who went to the right schools and came from the right families. I lived in the world of No, a place populated by bullies and street fights and tenements, with no possibility of escape.
But Superman…see, Superman could do anything. If there was some place he didn’t want to be, he could just fly away. And he couldn’t be hurt, which to a kid who got beat up pretty regularly in fights and elsewhere was a pretty attractive idea. Superman taught me the morals and ethics I draw up on to this day: to play fair, not to lie, and to be willing to put yourself between harm and those you care about.
If Superman could do anything, then maybe I had a chance. Maybe I could become a writer. Maybe I could even learn to fly. That symbol, the S, became a badge for me, and growing up I always made sure I had it somewhere on me, like a shaman’s charm. That may sound silly, and from a grown-up perspective it probably is silly, but as Henry Kissinger once said, it has the added benefit of being true. And it helped me get through the hard times, which is why I continue that practice to this day…right now it’s on a key-chain in my pocket.
For me, and I suspect for a lot of people, that symbol stands for the belief in our own potentiality, in what we think we can do, and try, and aspire to. I was watching the news recently, and they were showing Palestinian protests, followed by a story on the night life scene in LA, and later on, a live report from London about something or other…and in the background of each of those stories there was somebody wearing a Superman t-shirt or cap. It’s universal.
And there’s a reason for that, a secret no one knows, but I’ll tell you, because of how long I’ve known you, and our longstanding friendship.
And the secret is this:
The Superman symbol is Kryptonian for No Limits.
And whether or not you speak Kryptonian (or Kryptonese), you know that…you know that deep inside, where even the cynicism of the world cannot reach.
I’ve told this story before in other places, so at risk of being redundant…back a few years ago, I was at the Chicago Comic Con when a guy in his 20s grabbed a bunch of expensive stuff off a table in the dealer’s room and made a run for it. The owner ran after him down the aisle, yelling “stop him!” As he came in my direction, everybody parted like the Red Sea.
I brought him down like a gazelle, and we held him untnil the police showed up.
Afterward, one of the con organizers said to me, “Why’d you do that? He’s a big guy, you could’ve gotten hurt.”
And I pointed to where I’d been standing when it happened: right in front of a ten-foot-tall cut-out of Superman. “How could I stand in front of that, in front of him,” I said, “and do nothing?”
On a personal level, JMS pretty much sums up verbatim who I think Superman is and what he as an archetype represents. I also resonated with the words. You see... I haven't had a rough background... but for my own reasons, I too have lived in the world of No. And the description of others as coming from Ivory Towers? Again, that's been where I've been dwelling for the past couple of months in terms of the attitudes I have held towards my peers. They are in their Ivory Towers, and I have been just trying to keep it together in the hope that I can build something myself someday (but God forbid  it should ever take the form of an Ivory Tower).

Do you know something? I once received a dog tag with a Superman symbol on it... and I used to wear it round my neck until a couple of months ago.... but upon reading that article, and upon having that profound experience last week... that tag now adorns my neck once more.

Faith manages... and hope survives... against all odds.

I want to finish by turning my attention to something JMS said about Superman that I think is very relevant for Christians. Many of us wear badges or articles that identify us with our faith... but how many of us live up to those ideals while holding those badges up?

JMS recounts how he took down a petty thief and when asked why he took such a risk, his answer was simple:

“How could I stand in front of that, in front of him,” I said, “and do nothing?”

Shouldn't that be OUR action and OUR response when we are acting as Christ's ambassadors? No I'm not saying we should all go out and physically confront shoplifters  (although... that said...). I'm saying that if we are going to go around with our WWJD bracelets on our wrists, our ICTHUS fish in our cars and crucifixes around our necks... we had better start living up to the ideals that those articles identify us with!

How can WE stand in front of HIM,  in front of JESUS and do nothing?

Scripture is pretty clear that we need to live fruitful lives that demonstrate love to our neighbours and even our enemies. Scripture tells us that the measure we use will be used on us... and that whatever we do to the least of our brethren... we do it to Jesus himself.

Isn't this a wake up call? And if it isn't... shouldn't it be?

Let's live up to what we have already attained... in order that others may have a shot at grasping it for themselves.

Peace and blessings to you all

N

2 comments:

  1. i too often have regrets of times that i just stood there and let something happen. even as i am more aware of my role as a citizen of heaven--i still fear.

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  2. Hey Nick, thanks for sharing your life and passion for both Superman and Jesus (the real superhero) :)

    I don't know if JMS is responsible, but while in college, I was deeply into the cloning series of Spiderman (Ben Riley, Scarlet Spider, etc.). I was disappointed how and that they ended that...then the alien-looking Spiderman came out and the series' have never been the same to me.

    Anyway, I'd like to invite you to check out my new site. It's called "Dear Pastor Andy" (http://dearpastorandy.blogspot.com/) and is Christian Apologetics based with a Q&A format. I really think you'll like it.

    And keep writing, brother!

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