Entering through the glass door of the Forbidden Planet comic store in New York City, immediately transports visitors into a world of heroes, villains and, weirdly enough, Bob Ross.
Among the walls filled with stories of hundreds of superheroes, shelves stacked with Batman and Star Wars memorabilia and boxes filled with old-school comics is Manny. Branded on his T-shirt is the Star Wars graphic from the recent movie “The Last Jedi.” Around his neck is a lanyard lined with pins from all of the different comic books he has conquered. His round glasses outline his brown eyes and his face lights up with the mention of any superhero but one, in particular, catches his attention: Superman.
According to Azusa Pacific University theology professor and author of The Gospel According to Superheroes BJ Oropeza, Superman has a very notable connection to the Bible. First of all, Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel, and Joe Schuster were both young Jewish teenagers. Their faith backgrounds can be seen in the parallels found in Superman’s origin story which align with those of Moses. Both were sent away from their homeland for their own safety and raised by other guardians and both ended up becoming great leaders.
Out of all of the comic book characters, Oropeza says that his favorite character is Spider-Man, which was also the favorite of Spider-Man’s co-creator, Stan Lee.
“What [Stan Lee] liked most about Spider-Man is he’s so human,” Oropeza says. “He always screws up and often bad things happen to him. He very much reflects you and I as human beings. That particular aspect resonated with me, too.”
Spider-Man also resonated with Toby Franklin, a junior writing major at Point Loma. He says that this character’s struggle with responsibility and identity struck Franklin and stuck with him.
“Peter Parker was always struggling to pay the bills and he was a teenager, which was unheard of at that point, for superheroes to be young people,” Franklin says. “He’s really relatable and he has human problems which make him feel like he could be any one of us.”
According to Franklin, Stan Lee used his power of writing to engage with relevant social conversations and to take action against the wrongdoings that he saw in society. For example, he created the first Black superhero, Black Panther, and he created the first teenage superhero, Spider-Man.
“[Superheroes] have their problems and they sometimes desire things that are selfish, but they put aside that stuff because they know that they can really help people,” Franklin says. “That’s what I want to be like and that’s something that lines up with scripture: putting your own desires aside and, even if you have power, you have the responsibility to use the resources you have.”
John the Baptist and Stan Lee have a lot in common according to Greg Garrett, author of Holy Superheroes!: Exploring Faith and Spirituality in Comic Books.
“John is a powerful and important figure in his own right. Jesus says of John that no greater person has been born of woman, but he also presages greater creativity to come,” Garrett says. “Similarly, Lee was a great writer and creator who paved the way for even more artful and literary comics.”
Garrett is fascinated with exploring this connection between comic book superheroes and stories found in the Bible.
“Like any popular narrative, superhero stories often help us grapple with the problems of the world and the human identity,” Garrett says. “Being open to the possibility that those stories might enlighten as well as entertain adds a new dimension to our reading or watching of films.”