Batman, Jesus, and the Returning Theme of Superhero Sagas

August 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

After seeing the latest in the Batman series, Dark Knight Returns, I noticed what seems to be a pattern in human storytelling that is particularly prevalent in superhero movies. In varying degrees, you can find this pattern in Superman Returns, Spider-Man 2, The Incredibles (yes, The Incredibles), Thor, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Watchmen, Green Lantern, The Avengers, and perhaps others. The pattern is this: Hero departs, evil threatens, hero returns.

The heroes in these films are usually subjected to some kind of public scorn and rejection, forcing them to leave the scene. In the absence of the hero, the presence of evil grows until there is the need for the hero again. Society realizes they need rescue and hope for the hero’s return to save the day.

Maybe it’s obvious by now that I’m drawing a parallel from the hero’s rejection, departure, and eventual reappearance to that of Jesus Christ. He was despised and rejected of men. He died and was raised, and now resides at the right hand of God the Father. The part of the narrative yet to unfold, His imminent return, is a future promise in which believers place their hope. Some stories written by theologians depict this in a more intentional and obvious way, such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, anticipating the return of Aslan.

But among those writers who aren’t trying to tell the story of Christ, I think the returning savior theme still shows up in a lot of cinematic presentations because it’s a story written on our hearts that just spills out when we imagine greatness. Romans 1 says we’re all familiar with the story. Whether we are a fan of Jesus or not, I believe we all have some kind of longing for a super-someone to show up in the midst of the evil that’s taken over planet earth. Our imaginations are a hint of hope, not realizing that the Hero we are expecting is the same One we’ve rejected.

The outcast hero’s return to the fight is not the only piece of the Biblical story that comes out in our own. The yearning we all seem to have to read and write happy endings to our stories actually doesn’t exist in our real world experience. Disney-like “happily ever after”s are found in real life and in books and movies only when we choose to conveniently end the story after some joyful or resolute event, and then all seems right with the world. But in reality, happiness is temporary; misfortune strikes again within weeks, days or moments of the final credits rolling. Then sometimes there’s a sequel. But why do we imagine happy endings that don’t really exist in this world? Maybe because the story of God’s redemption, the only story that truly ends in never-ending happiness, is written on our hearts as well as Scripture.

We say a lot about our Creator when we create. Even summer blockbusters can offer a lot in the way of transcendent clues of what the original Author wants to tell us about Himself, salvation and hope, and the rest of the story.

“Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring at the sky? Jesus has gone away to heaven, and some day, just as He went, He will return!” (Acts 1:11)

[See my more recent post, Lance, Thor and Ideal Heroism, and also J.W. Wartick’s blog, Always Have a Reason. He writes some very insightful reflections on heroes of the big screen.]

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