Who Needs a Superhero? (H. Michael Brewer, 2004)

H. Michael Brewer's Who Needs a Superhero?: Finding Virtue, Vice, and What's Holy in the Comics is not exactly what you'd expect. It's a study in contrasts. It attempts to attack deep spiritual issues, but in a light-hearted way. It's a simple read, but with hidden depths. It attacks age-old questions, but is current and relevant enough to reference the recent Dark Knight Strikes Again. It's written for those who are of the Christian faith, yet might be accessible to those outside that.

First of all, this book is not a Christian apologetic. It begins from a point of faith, using DC and Marvel superheroes to draw parallels with aspects of Christian life - it's not attempting to prove anything; nor are these parallels are intended to be an objective outsider's look. As such, it may not suit all readers. However, even to those outside the Christian faith, it might be an interesting look from the inside.

Brewer starts with the obvious parallels: Superman as Christ figure; the Hulk embodying the age-old theme of man's dual nature - man wrestling with his own inhumanity, or in more Christian terms, man wrestling with sin. But it goes beyond these more obvious parallels: What do the Fantastic Four have to say about family and community? What do Batman and Iron Man have to say about salvation? It even attempts to answer some of the more interesting questions in comics (from a Christian perspective), like, if Superman is so powerful, why doesn't he save the world?

Also, this short, 200-page book doesn't pretend to be an academic text, but a launching pad for discussion about Christian values. Not the Christian values seen on TV and embraced by the religious right, like humanism, war, intolerence, and legalistic morality; but real Christian values, like love, truth, justice, service, family, and community.

Although it's not intended to be an intellectual treatise, it does deal with interesting philosophical issues, like the nature of God, and how do we reconcile a benevolent God with human suffering. It even ends with a personality test based on the Marvel and DC superheroes. Of course, this book being as light as it is, these things are dealt with at a very high level, in a very simplified way.

But, the intent here is not to plumb the mysterious depths and provide answers to all the questions, but merely to stimulate thought.

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