The Insufficient Gods of Mister Miracle

The current Mister Miracle series by Tom King and Mitch Gerads is, to my mind, the best superhero series published by the big two right now. And I’m a little surprised by that, because it kind of sounds like the “grim ‘n gritty” nonsense that usually hate in comics. In this story, DC big bad Darkseid finally gets the fabled Anti-Life Equation and uses it against Mister Miracle, just as our hero has been drafted by his half-brother Orion into final battle against the forces of Apokolops. But all of that high-concept action occurs in the background of the series, which instead focuses on Mister Miracle’s descent into depression.

Again, that sounds like a clumsy “Hey! Adults! Comics are serious!’ story. But instead of cheap Identity Crisis grit, King and Gerads fully humanize their characters, and pair the big ideas of Kirby’s vision with big theological and philosophical ideas.

This combination hits every one of my sweet spots, so I had to write about it for Think Christian. My article takes a page from theologian Paul Tillich’s definition of faith to interpret the series:

Mister Miracle is, in many ways, a story about faith—how belief drives one’s life. Like most superhero characters, Mister Miracle and the New Gods are defined by fighting, as many of their stories involve good guys from the planet New Genesis battling Darkseid, the fascist ruler of the planet Apokolips. These fantastic elements inform the plot of the new Mister Miracle series, but King and Gerads relegate them to the background, devoting as much page time to Mister Miracle and his superhero wife, Big Barda, watching television or hanging out in Los Angeles, where he has assumed the alter ego of an acrobatic escape artist. This mix of ordinary and outrageous does not diminish the latter, but rather sublimates super-heroic combat into the characters’ worldviews. They cannot conceive of themselves outside of struggle with their enemy. Conflict is their faith and their life.

Read the whole thing here, and be sure to read the series as we get excited about the upcoming Ava DuVernay directed New Gods movie!

The Theology of Superman

For a long time now, I’ve wanted to do more writing about theological themes in comic books (which are, really, my first love). I finally got to do so in this piece for Living Lutheran.

All Star Superman by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, and Jamie Grant acts very much as a gospel message, telling the good news of Superman. As I explain in this piece, in trying to imagine Superman as a modern age mythical god, it inevitably points us to the God revealed through Christ.

When the heroes of the new Justice League movie opening this week gather against invading alien conquerors, they must go into battle without their most powerful member. Superman, who inaugurated the interconnected DC Extended Universe with Man of Steel (2013), died saving the world in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). But it’s not risky to predict that he’ll resurrect soon; just look at the prior movies’ scenes of worshipers surrounding Superman or our hero contemplating sacrifice in front of a stained-glass image of Jesus.

Christ allusions are hardly unique to these recent cinematic portrayals of the character. But most tend to focus on Superman’s power, as if God was best manifested in feats of physical strength. While God’s power is unquestionably important, even the most awesome depictions in the prophecies of Jeremiah and Isaiah reveal God’s strength to be matched by his goodness.

Read the rest at Living Lutheran here!


Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: Transformative Forms of Love (Renewed Mind Movie Talk)

Because I’m the sole writer, editor, and programmer (and, to be honest, viewer) of Renewed Mind Movie Talk, I’ve only done movies I like. Sure, I’ve skipped over some stranger flicks I enjoy in favor of something more popular, and thus more likely to gain viewers, but I haven’t spent time on a movie I didn’t like.

Until I did Beauty and the Beast 2017.

While I appreciated the way the story gave Belle more agency and undercut the “Stockholm Syndrome” problems in the 1991 version, I found it poorly paced, poorly acted, poorly staged, and (most distressingly) full of ugly CG.

After my first viewing, I would have happily ignored the movie from here on out, were it not for my brother urging me to use it on RMMT (in part, it must be said, to annoy his wife).

To my surprise, once I looked closely at the movie’s worldview, I found quite a bit to like. As I discuss in the episode, Beauty and the Beast 2017 imagines a number of different forms of love and their effects on people. More specifically, we see a move away from romantic love to more of an unconditional love. This treatment not only reminded me of Plato’s Phaedrus, but also St. Augustine’s Christian take on the idea of loving God’s image in other people.

So within this ugly and abrasive movie, I found something quite beautiful and compelling. Which kind of reminds me of a movie I saw once…

RELAUNCH! Sort of… Renewed Mind Movie Talk

I’ve been doing Renewed Mind Movie Talk for a while now, but I have to admit that I’m not entirely thrilled with the results.

I started this series with two goals: 1) to give Christians better tools for engaging with stories than the usual “moral/immoral” binary and 2) to foster empathy among evangelical Christians by exposing them, through fiction, to new ideas and perspectives.

To catch a wide audience, I tried to keep episodes under 15 minutes long, but I think that’s harmed my goals. Too many of the episodes come off like nifty little “One to Grow On” shorts, giving little attention to anything beyond the movie’s plot.

So, to better meet my goals, I’ve restructured a bit. I’m letting the episodes go longer, in hopes of adding depth to the film analysis and to heighten the conversation between the movie and scripture. Also, I’ll be releasing them on a biweekly basis, to give myself more time for research and script-writing.

I’ve picked for my relaunch subject Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, an important film for me because it was the first time I became aware of “the culture wars.”

I was 10 when the movie came out, and I can remember the furor surrounding it. Publications like Focus on the Family, as well as people in my church and family, talked about how blasphemous it was, how it was another attack by Hollywood on Christian values. As a dutiful child, I followed their lead and stayed away from it.

As a slightly less dutiful teenager/young adult, I finally watched the movie. Obviously, I could see where the movie strayed from Christian orthodoxy, but I could also see that it wasn’t trying to attack Christianity at all. Rather, it was taking its ideas seriously. It was trying to imagine the relationship between a perfect God and a humanity that falls so short of that ideal. It was trying to take seriously the idea that a real live human being could be both God and man, could have all the desires that we have and still choose to sacrifice himself in a brutal fashion.

Sure, it got some things “wrong,” but it brought up so many compelling questions, that it should not be ignored. And it should never be attacked.

So I’m relaunching my series with this movie. I hope I can help people better understand what the movie is trying to do, to not only see where they disagree with the movie, but to actually hear the questions it asks and know where to go for a response, if not an answer.

I hope you’ll check it out. And if you know someone who likes movies, and wouldn’t mind staring at my ugly face for a bit, maybe you’ll share it with them, too.