Batman, Superheroes, & God: Our Longing to Be Healed (Part 2)
There’s something very spiritual about superheroes, as we began to explore in part 1 of this two-part post. I wrote these about five years ago now but never published them; it was just after The Dark Knight Rises was released and the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado occurred, tragedy which sadly reminds us of our need to be healed. In part two, my geekiness really comes out, but in such a way that I hope speaks to this longing that I think we’ve all felt in one way or another.
Most of us by now have seen or at least heard about The Avengers, Joss Whedon’s massive special effects extravaganza from earlier this summer. Moviegoers everywhere were delighted to see Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, and the rest of the team fight valiantly to protect us from an evil alien force, using their superhuman powers in the service of justice. With films like The Avengers that feature such fantastic heroes, though, I always feel a twinge of dissatisfaction when I leave the theater. Let me explain.
Most of the iconic superheroes of comic book lore draw their powers from their otherworldly origin or an accident or incident that yields fantastic results. Indeed, the pantheon of modern superheroes is comprised mostly of non-humans (e.g., Superman) or, like Spider-Man or the Hulk, humans that have experienced an extraordinary transformation that is as unique and unlikely as the powers they bestowed.
Whatever the origin of our heroes’ powers, comic book readers and moviegoers alike concur that the superheroes and the wrongs they right are firmly ensconced in the realm of fantasy. Therein lies the problem: While we long for the world to be set to rights and explore these desires through superhero films, to the extent that superheroes’ powers are out of reach, so too is the justice—the shalom—we long to see in our world and in ourselves. Our superhuman heroes beat the bad guys onscreen, but off-screen evil and injustice endure, and our power to mitigate it is by comparison painfully finite. The faith that we project onto them, and by extension onto the authorities and powers of this world, will always be unrewarded.
Although he is not the only exception, Batman is arguably the most well-known superhero who has no extraordinary powers. While he has an arsenal of tools, toys, weapons, vehicles, and other neat Bat-thingies at his disposal, he is irrevocably human. That Batman is really just a guy in a bat costume means that, as we project our hope for justice and express it through him, the ostensible justice he brings about is accessible in a way that the Avengers’ heroic accomplishments never were. Even here, however, Batman ultimately frustrates our hope for healing also; not only do we endow him with superhuman abilities that he could not possibly possess, as a foray into the comics will immediately attest, Forbes magazine recently estimated that becoming Batman would cost as much as $700 million. So much for healing being within our grasp.
Yet where Batman and all of the other superheroes or gods of this world fail, Jesus succeeds. Jesus’ otherworldly origin, so to speak—his divinity—makes shalom possible, and his humanity makes healing accessible. In and through Jesus, the fantastic became and is becoming reality. A man from Galilee healed the sick, and today through him we still find restoration. He accepted with love the loveless, and today through him we experience love when we cannot accept ourselves. His death and resurrection foreshadow the new creation and life to come, and today we “know in part” that new life in relationship with him. Though we still groan for the promised healing to be fully realized, because of Jesus, we have faith that it will be. And sometimes, as Batman himself muses at the end of The Dark Knight, people deserve to have their faith rewarded.