BOOKS & CULTURE CORNER
Don't Mess with My Genre
A fan of comic books wants to clean house.
By Edirin Ibru posted 06/11/07
These days it seems everyone is stumbling across some sort of philosophical or spiritual truth buried deep within pop culture, a discovery which I have no problem with at all. In fact I'm glad. People are actually thinking about what they watch, read, and listen to, and may even be benefiting from these pastimes. You've seen the titles at the bookstore: Finding Religion in the Scream Trilogy, Family Guy and the Meaning of Life, Even More Matrix and Philosophy: The 5TH Edition …
All right, I'll admit I made those up, and not every book which claims deep philosophical insight into a popular medium is worthless. But when the subject being butchered is one I happen to hold dear to my heart, I simply have to speak up.
It should come as no surprise that comics have figured in the "philosophy of … " frenzy of recent years. But unlike sports and movies, for example—which have generated whole libraries of explication—comic books have a unique vulnerability. While sports may have roots in children's play, they are watched by millions of adults and are praised for bringing out the best in the human spirit. Movies have been recognized as artistically credible from the beginning, even if skeptics have argued otherwise. Comic books simply do not have the same sort of foundations to rest on. Anyone writing about comics becomes an ambassador for a genre dragged down by the stigma of its own past, and if he does his job poorly, the whole genre suffers.
Consider Who Needs a Superhero? by H. Michael Brewer, a benevolent attempt to make a case for comic books as credible works of art. Alas, in his quest to elevate the medium, Brewer staggers around searching for connections between comics and the Christian faith. At best, these stand as serviceable youth-group sermons; at worst, they will make theologically learned readers cringe. Superman is compared to Christ; Bruce Banner (aka the Incredible Hulk) is said to recapitulate humanity's internal battle with sin; the nature of the Green Arrow suggests parallels to an all-seeing, active God. Brewer's heart is in the right place, but his execution is lacking.