“Let’s do it for Johnny, man!”
Normally, I despise killing in comic books (and not because I’m a Mennonite). I despise them because those who are killed, if they remain remotely marketable, are always resurrected (again, as a Mennonite I’m good with resurrection). It’s such a terrible way to create hype, to make money, and to prove one’s ‘hacking’ ability as a writer. Notice, I said, ‘normally.” Hickman’s run on the Fantastic Four has been stellar. Death was inevitable. It had to happen. It makes sense that it happened. I kind of wish it would have happened to Ben Grimm (I’m sick of “It’s clobbering time!”), but, kudos on a well-written storyline. I just hope that the Disney executives who now own Marvel don’t decide that it’s in their best interest to make another FF film soon (not that the powers-that-be that ran Marvel prior to Disney had any problem with resurrecting a ‘fallen hero’ for the sake of capital). If so, Hickman’s lovely story will be, as with the deaths of Superman, Batman, The Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern (take your pick), Animal Man, Bart Allen, Booster Gold, Captain America, Bucky, Jean Grey, Colossus, Aunt May, Betty Ross, Daredevil, Elektra, Havok, Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Moon Knight ad infinitum ad nauseum, retrospectively cheapened. But hey, at least they will make a whole lot of money off of their readers–who they clearly peg as suckers.
Alas, death, even fictionalized death, always inspires me to theologize. The recent death of Johnny Storm, AKA, The Human Torch, has me thinking about Jesus (if you’re an evangelical, you may want to postpone your excitement). I thought I would do a little comparing and contrasting of the two. Just to see how they stack up against one another. Some superhero juxtaposition, if you will (or, if you won’t).
In one corner is Johnny Storm: explorer, fireball, lover of all women, if he ever read any philosophy it was probably Epicurus. He lasted 50 years in the comic book world before meeting his rather anti-climatic demise (the dude has faced off against the Silver Surfer, Doctor Doom, and a Skrull Invasion . . . is this really how he dies?).
In the other corner is Jesus: a homeless beggar, a Jewish anarchist, deemed enemy of the state, celibate (Brown is wrong), probably would not have been a fan of Epicurus, who has come to give the Jews the hook up and us Gentiles a few crumbs.
Prepare yourself for some serious conceptual leaps–5 to be exact–but that’s what most of theology is (thanks Kierkegaard), so don’t panic.
1) They both have little problem torching people. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Johnny Storm is very reluctant to actually burn his enemies to death, while Jesus says if you even call someone a ‘fool’ (look out Mr. T!) you are ‘liable to the hell of fire’ (MT. 5.22). Granted, it’s true that Jesus doesn’t want you to burn for eternity. He suggests all sorts of ways to avoid it: cut off your hand, cut off your feet, poke out your eyes, just do whatever to avoid the fire that “is never quenched.” (Mk. 9.44)
Winner of round one? Gotta go with Johnny Storm. I’m a little weirded out by the whole ‘eternal lake of fire’ thing. Especially when Jesus makes it so clear that only a few of us will be avoiding it. ‘Narrow is the gate . . . and only a few will find it.’ (Mt. 7:14) That gate seems eerily similar to the door of the Negative Zone, doesn’t it?
2) They were both killed by the ‘hordes’ (masses–okay, that was a huge leap).
I give Jesus the edge in this category. The man stood up to the Roman Empire and prevalent pious religious sensibilities within his own tradition. In regards to Rome, he challenged their morbid metaphysically-materialistic politics that remains so thoroughly entrenched and practiced by wanna-be empires, while slapping the theological poop out of those who confuse the way to God with God. The disaster of all disasters now is the conflation of both of these categories in the United States. The pooch has been screwed.
3) Johnny Storm is a Christian, and Jesus, well, you know…kind of kick-started that whole apocalyptic Jewish movement.
Going to go with Jesus. No Judaism means no Christianity, so Jesus has him there.
4) Jesus, we are told, descended into hell and, apparently, suffered no burns. I’m guessing that the Torch would be okay as well. This is, of course, assuming he is in hell. Given the fact that Johnny was quite the hedonist, I think it is safe to assume that he is probably not partaking in the divine economy.
Gotta go back with the Torch. I can’t get over the fact that he would only burn me for a second or two, and then would only do so to keep me from doing something evil–like conquering the world and forcing Bioware to keep making KOTOR games (that were compatible for the XBOX 360, of course). Again, Jesus, who I am otherwise a fan of, freaks me a out a little bit (to speak modestly) due to the longevity attached to his brand of punishment.
5) Resurrection! Both of them are coming back!! (Give the Torch two to three years–no one stays dead for long in comics, especially when you can get a movie deal out of it. As for Jesus . . . well, what’s a couple thousand years to someone outside of time?) Not only will they both be back, but they will be back with a vengeance. Comic book fans love for their heroes to come back kicking ass, and Jesus, according to Revelation, is coming back to deliver the ultimate beat-down. The warrior king, while quite the practitioner of nonviolence during his first 30 plus years, will command a host of armies that shall draw their swords and “smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron . . . “. (Rev. 19-20) Those who oppose such rule will be throw into the lake of fire where there will be gnashing of teeth and eternal suffering. This is the place where, if Jesus is right, the vast majority of all humans will wind up. That kind of sucks.
So, who wins the tie-breaker? Who is the superest of the two superheroes? Who is most likely to make a genuine return (and even burn a few folks along the way)? Well, just in case this whole Christianity thing is true . . . I gotta go with Jesus. I’m sorry Johnny. Go back and re-read those passages in Revelation if you want to know why. I gotta play this smart, man. Just chalk it up to my fascination with Pascal’s Wager. It’s true. I’m a gambling man. I just hope its enough to keep me out of hell.
About the Author
Tripp York teaches religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, Virginia. He is the author of more than half a dozen books including, Third Way Allegiance, The Purple Crown, and Living on Hope While Living in Babylon. He is the co-editor of the forthcoming three-volume collection called the Peaceable Kingdom Series. An actor and a lighting designer, Tripp also surfs and spends his weekends shoveling elephant and giraffe poop.