Preaching and Comic Books (the New 52)

Okay, so I am a total comic geek.  I blame Seth Matthews who brought a mountain-sized

The Alpha Flight Octet

stack of Alpha Flight Comics to Ganderbrook Christian Camp (what else did you bring to a camp where ‘walkmans’ and ‘chewing gum’ were banned) and offered them up in the Micmac cabin making the mandatory ‘rest hour’ bearable.    I relished every one.  What a bizarre and tempting octet–Sasquatch the furry jumbo sized muscleman (but with a brain–sorry Hulk), Aurora the molecular accelerating sociopath, Puck the dwarf acrobat!  It didn’t even matter they were Canadian!

My grandmother put fuel to the fire that Seth lit.  She ran a year round garage sale supplied in part by my grandfather’s long established rubbish route.  Every comic that came into their possession was passed along to me.  Today they are tucked away in my children’s closet, each backed with non-acidic cardboard, and placed inside a protective plastic bag like treasured pieces of crime scene evidence.  On special occasions (rainy days for instance) my middle son Manny (who should star in his own comic serial) unpacks a box and stuffs himself silly with the titillating stories of ‘good vs. evil,’ and ‘it’s okay to be different.’

I don’t read comics anymore, but I just might start again.  My inspiration is the New 52 published recently by comic juggernaut Detective Comics–D.C. for short (and yes, I fully realize that the real ‘Juggernaut’ is a Marvel villain).  The New 52 is a relaunch of the top 52 D.C. comic titles with an “update for the modern age.”  In short, the New 52 is packed full of our favorite tights wearing, cape adorning, muscle heads and their ‘ne’re do well’ counterparts who offer gripping social commentary on what it means to be human (albeit, sometimes Kryptonian, or mutant) in the real world (just substitute the south side of Chicago for Gotham City, and parts of the Bronx/Brooklyn for the more seedier boroughs of fictional Metropolis).

But what does it mean for comics to be “updated for the modern age”?  Here are a few examples.  In the new Blackhawks (a covert ops team employed by the United Nations) one of the team members is plagued by a lewd photograph circulating on the internet (I can hear the ‘Wiener-esk’ confession already, ‘The picture was of me and I sent it”).  Superman, who’s represented in the New 52 as a working class hero in jeans, work boots and a t-shirt, fights against corruption in law officials and comments that he’s not sure the police even believe “the law is for both rich and poor” (apparently he saw the recent raw video of pepper spray used on three non-combative Wall Street protesters).  Clark Kent (Superman’s altar ego), a journalist, finds his struggling newspaper (no, not the New York Times) has been bought out by the giant media conglomerate Planet Global Network which has no qualms with illegal wiretapping and unethical journalism practices.  Villains in the New 52 post violent videos of their evil acts on youtube, or run mega-corporations that rape the planet and run rough-shod over human lives.  In addition D.C.’s New 52 is steeped in post 9-11 realities.  Christian Sager, writing for CNN, lists the following plots in the New 52 that are haunted by terrorism and combat violence:

  • Terrorists blow up the Hall of Justice super-hero headquarters.
  •  A plane full of people crashes in “Resurrection Man.”
  • Terrorists in Kazakhstan get ahold of dangerous nanotechnology.
  • More terrorists hijack a chemical waste truck in “Superman.” Batman and Robin stop thieves from stealing irradiated fuel.
  • Dissidents in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Qurac want to execute a super-hero and hire Blackwater stylized mercenaries to do it.
  • Similar soldiers-of-fortune pretend to hunt for terrorists in Istanbul, but slaughter an innocent family and then kill numerous people at an American high school to get a nuclear super weapon.
  • Science terrorists use “monsters of mass destruction” to try to crash a plane into the Washington Monument.

Church camps beware–the New 52 are coming to a mandatory ‘rest-hour’ near you!–and what will be the reaction?  Absolute horror–that’s my best guess.  After all, even church adults don’t talk about such things.  And that’s a problem.  D.C. launched the New 52 in order to be relevant to its readers.  Far be it for our church’s preaching and teaching to reach toward a similar goal.  The New 52 uses fantastic story to parallel the ongoing narrative of the modern world and thus allows its readers to think critically about the planet in which they live.  The irony of the New 52 is that in all their fantasy they promote a certain ‘reality.’  They invite the self-conscious, awkward, church-camp-going, pre-teen to consider what it means to fight for a better world, and to stand up to injustices of all kinds (whether individual or corporate)–even while being hopelessly imperfect themselves.  Effective preaching must use the story of the biblical text to likewise parallel the ongoing narrative of the modern world.  Effective preaching needs to promote imperfect heroes (and heroines) addressing the Pharoahs and Bablyons of our own day in creative and imaginative ways that keep the pages turning, and does not allow a ‘rest-hour’ malaise to settle upon us.  The New 52 reminds us of Karl Barth’s famous and crucial admonition to preachers “Preach with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.”  We might update Barth’s axiom for the modern world–“Preach with the Bible on your Kindle, and Firefox surfing the blogs.” Whatever the case, the church could use a relaunch of its top 66 titles (Genesis through Revelation) with a much needed update for the modern world.  This is the preaching task, and for this preacher it all began in church camp with a wirey, bespectacled kid named Seth Matthews, and and his collection of well worn Alpha Flight comic books.

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