Friday, July 30, 2010

To be a God (draft #1)

After reading Prince of Power and re-reading Civil War I've had the idea of Godhood on my mind. After all, in both the DC and Marvel Universes there are a plethora of Gods and God-like figures.

Let's count.

In the DCU there are the New Gods (Orion, Darkseid, Highfather, Mr. Miracle, Big Barda, Desaad, et al), The Spectre (God's spirit of vengeance), the Source, as well as the usual Greco-Roman Gods, and Rama-Kushna (some spirit who deadman believes is God)

In the Marvel Universe there are Heroes like Thor and Hercules who both have their own running titles, as well as entire Pantheons of Greco-Roman, Norse, and Egyptian gods who regularly interact with mortals. Asgard is currently located in the Midwest, taking donations from local groups while they rebuild after the events of Siege. The line between man and god is blurred somewhat when they're taking in pie mix and spam from the locals.

The question that I have is where faith falls into the mix in these universes. What's it like to be a Methodist when you're doing a charity drive for Odin? Can you be a young-earth creationist when Vandal Savage is 50,000 years old? Can you be an Atheist and stand next to the Spectre?
There are angels and devils, as well as heaven and hell. Victor von Doom spent a while in hell, before following Thor's hammer back to our dimension. In Green Arrow: Quiver Oliver Queen and Barry Allen were seen in heaven, alongside Martain Luther King Jr, Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi, and who I'm pretty sure is Chris Farley.

In short, there is a lot of proof for at least some spark of the divine. There is a great spiritual influence in-universe, regardless of the actuality of said divine spark. One of my favorite pages on this topic takes place during Infinite Crisis, in which the heroes of the world attend a mass. While Blue Devil ( a good catholic) prays as his skin boils, Mr. Terrific and Ragman sit outside and discuss religion. Ragman is Jewish, while Mr. Terrific is a hardcore atheist.

Even after all he's seen, Mr. Terrific still sciences away most everything, but when gods come from doomed planets as babies or emerge from gamma radiation, it only makes things make less sense. Gods walk among these people. They weave among the skyscrapers to rescue us mere mortals from the mythical opponents they face. They are nothing less than divine from our eyes.

Kingdom Come, by Alex Ross, explores this idea in depth. Playing heavily on the book of Revelation and Superman as a Christ figure, it does an incredible job of placing the human perspective on the superhuman. The story centers around Norman Mckay, a minister without faith in the future, and the Spectre, who has been called down to cast judgment on the events that take place.

The story is full of religious overtones, and laden with quotes from Revelations. The story centers around a conflict between ideals, that of the older generation of of superheroes versus the young. The new heroes lack the morals and restraint of the their predecessors, and threaten to sen the world into turmoil. They are lead (no coincidence here) by a hero named Magog. Magog is violent and cruel, as opposed the messianic Superman,

Superman is a definite Christ figure in this story. The line "second coming of Superman" shows up if you missed it. Superman is a God at this point. He is nigh-invulnerable, and has lost most of his "humanity" after the death of Lois. He is no longer the man of steel, but an avenging angel of a bygone era. He returns from his self-imposed exile to fix the world. That's what he does. In an issue of Superman/Batman, Bats makes the observation that, "It is a remarkable dichotomy. In many ways, Clark is the most human of us all. Then... he shoots fire from the skies, and it is difficult not to think of him as a god. And how fortunate we all are that it does not occur to him."

I mean, people here tell Supes that, "We saw you as gods", and they are. Superheroes, in-universe, are tangible gods of a modern age. They all fall into the "American monomyth" , which is similar to the hero's journey except with more capes.

Danny Fingeroth explores the modern mythology of the superhero in his book Superman on the Couch. People have been telling stories like this for eons, be it Odysseus or Gilgamesh, Hercules or Elijah, these stories have lasted since we first developed culture.

"After all, there have been heroic myths for as long as there has been human communication and story telling. From the Bible stories of Samson and Moses, even the origins and eventual fate of Jesus have many of the trappings of heroic fiction... Yet there are no schoolyard arguments over who's stronger- Gilgamesh or Moses? No internet flame wars over whether Shiva could kick Delilah's rear. Maybe it would be sacrilegious to do so." (Fingeroth, 37)

Perhaps since our heroes belong to us we can claim them and discuss them as we please. Perhaps in ancient times Greeks debated about whether Hercules could beat up Perseus (he totally could). Though all part of the collective monomyth, these specific heroes belong to us, and so we can do what we want with them. I'm sure people called rule 34 on Achilles (not like they had to, knowing Greek myths). I'm sure someone told teamup stories where Theseus and Jason fought a cyclops. We take the central myths and add on to them with our own stories to make them culturally relevant. Consider all the times superheroes have been revamped to make them more modern. Wonder Woman just reached her 600th issue, and with that came a reboot, re-imagining, and a new costume design. There are different versions, different universes, and incarnations.

We have the privilege to re-imagine our gods and heroes specifically for our era, to make them fit into what we want. The stories have barely changed since Gilgamesh. We love to tell tales of Gods on earth and their place in relation to us mortals. I think it would be different if these titans actually walked among us. Part of the majesty of humanity is imagination. Even though we draw from the Jungian story archetype with pretty much every tale we tell, the societal spins we place to make them applicable to our world show true. Superman reflects the tale of a god among mortals, but also the struggle of a Jewish immigrant fitting in in America. Spiderman might draw from the hero's journey, but it entwines the modern context of adolescence and responsibility.

Anyway, as this has been something pieced together at work and late at night, it's disjointed and probably does not make a lot of sense. The point is that every era has it's own heroes. We have ours in superheroes. The represent a great deal of the ideals we as a culture hold dear. In some senses they are like Gods. Perhaps Jesus was simply an orphan child from a doomed planet, or Moses was a Sorcerer Supreme. Hercules might have been real, and could totally whip up on Gilgamesh. All these stories have to come from somewhere, and given as we've been essentially telling the same one since the dawn of man there has to be some grain of truth. Maybe it's late and I'm trying to convince myself that Elijah was actually a Green Lantern and Samson had been bitten by a radioactive spider.

Religion is something that is skirted around in comics. There are deeply religious superheroes, as well as those who could care less. But regardless, there is a religious influence in the Universe, yet people still seem to have faith in a higher power. There are still Christians and Jews, Moslems and Hindus. Green Arrow's son is a zen Buddhist. Despite all evidence one way or the other, despite all the proof of a deity or deities, people have faith.

I think that's an important fact. Everyone has faith, whether in God or Superman, the masses believe in something above them, and despite his efforts Superman is not a man. He is Kryptonian, hiding amongst us earthlings. The citizens of Metropolis see him as a cult god who they can see and praise, a tangible force who can aid them. We place him on the pedestal to worship.

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