About Optimistic Chad

Chad really really hopes things are going to turn out ok. He loves his wife - with the passion of 1000 exploding suns, and is a diligent, but surely mediocre father to his brilliant and subversive children. He likes Chinese food.

Revelation Series (Chapter 1, verse 1)

To be thorough, you can go back and read the earlier post on context, so you will be caught up. You can find it here.

Chapters 1-3 should be read as a unit, and the introduction here is deeply evocative of the way the Hebrew Bible prophets were introduced in their own books, particularly how they were read as part of the religious liturgical readings. It appears Revelation was meant to function in a similar way to the prophetic books, as far as it was meant to be read aloud to Christian communities, who borrowed much in the way of religious practice from Judaism, much of which was because they were often the same communities.

1:1 – “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,”

What is being revealed is the behind-the-scenes narrative of the present world, to encourage the saints. This was given to Jesus by God, who is the central figure of the Book. The purpose of this revelation is to show his servants (presumably Christian faithful) what will soon happen. This verse sounds like it is a callback to Daniel (the first of many), particular 2:28, where it talks about God revealing what will happen at the end of days to Nebuchadnezzar. The end in this case, is soon (v.1) and near (v.3). In Revelation, the end refers not to the end of time itself, but rather to the end of the age, a common Hebrew expression meaning “the end of the current age.” In particular, the start of the age to come, in which God will be made king once more. This is, in effect, happening all around the Anatolian (ancient Asia Minor) believers as Christianity expands from Israel outward in the Roman empire.

Jesus, in turn, delivers this message to John by an angel. At no point should we get too caught up in the strange beings of Revelation and assume they are shedding some sort of cosmic light on what this or that angel is really like. Angels in Revelation function only as means to an end in Rev. In fact, the world angel in Greek is “angelou” (any Maya fans out there?), which means “messenger.” It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for messenger is mal’akh, which is also translated “Angel” in the Hebrew Bible. All of this to say is that there is no need to think supernaturally whenever the Bible says “angel.” Quite possibly, all that is meant is that there is someone who is being a messenger, usually from God, telling people what God wants them to hear. That isn’t to say that these aren’t supernatural beings, but we shouldn’t automatically assume winged creatures of light, harps, and cherubic faces when we see this word. Furthermore, that image of angels exists nowhere in scripture. This could very well read, “he made it known by sending his MESSENGER to his servant John,” and it would be a better translation.

 

Optimistic Chad

Chad really really hopes things are going to turn out ok. He loves his wife - with the passion of 1000 exploding suns, and is a diligent, but surely mediocre father to his brilliant and subversive children. He likes Chinese food.

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Revelation Series (catchy titles are for smart people): Context Matters

I began teaching the book of Revelation for the adult Bible Study class at church this past Sunday. As I promised a few I would, I am going to do my best to blog my thoughts on the book as we study it, so it will not be exhaustive, nor will it follow any sort of meta-arc as far as theme. I am just doing research and reflection as befits a classroom as a pastor, not as befits writing a book as a scholar. Enough blithering. Into the study:

Revelation is a misunderstood book. And while I am not claiming I can get it all right, there are some definite ways to get it wrong. The first is to assume that the book is in any way trying to be literal. Another is assuming that everything in Revelation is meant to be predictions about the future. These do damage to the text itself and try to make the book mean things it was never intended to mean, thus “adding to” the words of this book, ironically, the thing that Revelation suggests that we shouldn’t do in ch. 22.

Authorship:
Revelation was written by John. We know this because of verses 1 and 4 in the first chapter. What scholars aren’t so clear about is which John. John was a very popular name among early Christians, and the New Testament itself mentions 4 possible Johns. John the Baptist obviously doesn’t fit the bill, being killed before Jesus was, but what about John the Apostle, John the Elder, or John Mark? It is unlikely that it was John the Apostle, given the date of writing, the lack of specific references to the life or sayings of Christ, and seemingly distinguishing himself from the Apostles in ch. 21. John, the author of the gospel of John and 1,2,3 John, often called the elder, is also not particularly likely as a candidate for authorship either due to theological, stylistic, and linguistic differences between Revelation and those books. Was it John Mark who traveled with Paul and Barnabas and is said to have learned from Peter and wrote the gospel of Mark? No real way of telling. At least one scholar has mentioned a few places of theological and stylistic synergy between Mark and Revelation, but at the moment, we really can only be safe saying that it was a John who was respected and known enough in Roman Asia that simply saying John was enough.

Date of Writing:
While some very conservative interpreters try to place the writing of Revelation closer to 69 AD, in order to connect lots of dots to Caesar Nero, this simply doesn’t hold up. There would have been no open hostility between Jews and Christians like Revelation suggests, and there would have been no persecution of Christians by Rome at that time either (at least not in Roman Asia). Further, textual evidence suggests that the church in Smyrna had been persevering “a long time.” Since the church wasn’t even started by Paul until the 60’s, it seems an early date is unlikely. Further, the reign of Domitian makes more sense given his demands that he be worshiped as “Lord and God.” Second and third century authors corroborate this date (which would be in the 90’s AD) such as Irenaeus, Clement, and Origen.

Audience:
Of course, Revelation itself points out that it is written to “the seven churches that are in Asia.” During that time, “Asia” was what we know as the far west section of modern day Turkey, above Syria and, if you were traveling from Israel, you would pass through “Asia,” then into Greece, before arriving at Rome proper. These areas, getting further away from Rome, would not have seen the emperor often. If and when he did “come” (Latin: Adventus. Let that cook your noodle a bit), it was a huge deal. And of course, the further away from Rome one got, the more intense Emperor worship became. John’s audience would be putting up with an ever-sharpening split between Christians and Jews following the destruction of the temple in 70, and on its heels, Christianity no longer enjoyed the protection from Rome that Judaism gave it. Judaism was sort of grandfathered in as an “ancient” religion, and so was exempt from certain Roman religious/political practice. If Christians were not considered Jews, then they were subject to the same religious/political laws as everyone else. Roman Asia also had a number of interesting religious practices, which we will deal with in the course, but in particular, Roman deities and local gods merged back and forth many times and much of the religion of those parts were syncretistic and amalgamous, often being different from that practiced in other parts of the empire.

All that said, John is very clear that “anyone who has an ear” should “listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” In those days, literacy was not high, and these letters would be read aloud to its recipients. As such, John makes it clear that this letter is not just for those churches, but anyone who can hear it and resonate with it. Even us, though our contexts are much different.

Genre:
If you get nothing else out of this, pay attention here. Revelation means “something that has been revealed.” Not something that is going to end everything or tell the future. Revelation is the translation from the Latin/Greek apocalypsis/apokalyptein which is why Revelation is also known as The Apocalypse. Apocalypse (not the movie or the X-men Villain) simply means something revealed. So what is it that Revelation is revealing? Not the future. At least not in the way we think of it. Remember that scene in The Wizard of OZ where Toto pulls back the curtain on the Wizard and he is shown for what he really is? That is what is happening in revelation. Revelation belongs to a genre of literature called “apocalyptic.”

Apocalyptic literature springs up in ancient writings usually when a people group is oppressed or marginalized to the point where they have lost hope. Apocalyptic literature aims to restore this hope by presenting their current struggle in cosmic terms, and where the “real” happenings are revealed, allowing the readers to see behind the curtain at the master plan and how it all turns out good in the end. Apocalyptic writings are usually very dualistic in that there are clear good people and clear bad people, with supernatural powers behind each one. Apocalyptic also usually ends with (and often vague) vision of what the future holds.

Other ancient apocalyptic writings include the book of Enoch, the Sibylline Oracles, the Apocalypse of Baruch, the Fourth Book of Ezra, and the Apocalypse of Peter. That isn’t to say that John’s Revelation is somehow derivative or copied them in some way, but it is to say that John set out to write an apocalyptic that he felt was true to the Gospel, but apocalyptic it is nonetheless.

Images:
Finally, a note about the imagery and interpretation in Revelation. I give you an example to consider. Imagine I told you of a movie I was making, where the plot could be summarized thus:

Luke Skywalker and his companion Sarah Jane get into a real mess when they step out of their time machine into the land of Middle Earth. Once there, they must save the Empire from Luke’s father Sauron with nothing but a screwdriver made of light and a few miniature friends. 

Now, fans of pop culture may notice references to Doctor Who, Star Wars, and The Lord of The Rings franchises, but one could certainly not argue that my new, original story is a continuation of any of them. However, I chose, for whatever reason, to use the images, languages, and tropes that a certain group was familiar with in order to give them an immediate connection to the material. The same is true of Revelation. Whatever John is trying to say, he is saying it with the language and images that were hyper-familiar to his audience. He uses Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah, Rome, apocryphal, and Jewish mythological language and images to tell his story. This does not mean he is approving or continuing those stories, though. For example, there are many who claim that by adding up what we learn from Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, the Gospels, Paul’s letters, and Revelation, we can construct a timeline for the end of the world. Nonsense. They were using the same language and images, but not telling the same story. Knowledge of those other stories will give us invaluable insight into what John is saying, but it won’t be because John is trying to illuminate, correct, or continue earlier stories. He has his own truth to share.

Next time we will get into the text itself.

 

Exelsior!

Optimistic Chad

Chad really really hopes things are going to turn out ok. He loves his wife - with the passion of 1000 exploding suns, and is a diligent, but surely mediocre father to his brilliant and subversive children. He likes Chinese food.

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A New Christmas Song (towards being honest)

This song is:

1) An attempt to respectfully add to our repoitoire of Christmas songs, while trying to be as truly historical as the other songs before it.

2) Making an attempt to reflect not only what Christmas is really about in our belief system, but also what we truly want from our All-Father.

Link to youtube video: here

Optimistic Chad

Chad really really hopes things are going to turn out ok. He loves his wife - with the passion of 1000 exploding suns, and is a diligent, but surely mediocre father to his brilliant and subversive children. He likes Chinese food.

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A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Conclusion

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Conclusion

Posted on November 19, 2013 by 

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern. Check out part 2: Captain America.Check out part 3: Wolverine. Check out part 4: Power Girl. Check out part 5: Aquaman. Check out part 6: Luke Cage. Check out part 7: Iron Man. Check out part 8: Spider-Man. Check out part 9: Wonder Woman. Check out part 10: John Constantine.Check out part 11: The Incredible Hulk. Check out part 12: Batman. Check out part 13: Static. Check out part 14: Black Canary. Check out part 15: Superman. Check out part 16: Thor. Check out part 17: the Phantom Stranger. Check out part 18: Green Arrow. Check out part 19: the Flash. Check out part 20: Animal Man.

What were the final scores?

In order from least points to most, the scores were:

Iron Man: 1.0666666  points
Phantom Stranger: 3 points
John Constantine: 4 points
Hulk (Mr. Fixit): 4 points
Captain America: 4 points (1 bonus point)
Green Lantern: 4 points (1 bonus point)
Aquaman: 4.5 points
Luke Cage: 4.5 points
Black Canary: 4.5 points
Thor: 5 points
Wolverine: 5 points
Hulk (Smart Hulk): 5 points
Green Arrow: 5 points
Wonder Woman: 5.5 points
Batman: 5.5 points (1 bonus point)
Power Girl: 6 points
Static: 6.5 points
Spider-Man: 7 points
Hulk (Savage Hulk): 7 points
Animal Man: 7 points
Superman: 7 points (1 bonus point)
The Flash: 7.33 1/3 points (1 bonus point)

Before I comment, I want to make a critique of my methods. 

Justice League

Justice League (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, my categories were too binary. There is a large difference, for example, between the worldview of Animal Man and the worldview of Luke Cage, but the binary “yes or no” did not leave much room for exploring that. In fact, I admit I fudged the numbers a bit by using decimals when that binary became too restrictive. If I were to revisit this series again, I would use a scale of some sort, not a yes/no.

Second, this list is nowhere near as diverse as I would have liked. While I did speak about race and gender to some degree, there remains a lack of diversity on my list. Given unlimited time and energy for this project, I should have included Cyborg, Steel, Storm, Black Panther, Falcon, Batgirl/Oracle, Supergirl, Katana, Black Lightning, Vibe, Stargirl, and others as representatives of minorites. But instead, I chose the representatives that I already had some affection for, and contrasted them with the more standard heroes of the Avengers and Justice League.

The "Heroic Age" roster of the Aveng...

The “Heroic Age” roster of the Avengers. Cover art for Avengers vol. 4, #12.1, by Bryan Hitch. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Third, there are doubtless many other heroes that I could have reviewed that would have scored much higher than those represented here, and certainly there are heroes that are not represented that are fan-favorites of people very near and dear to me. To you folk, I apologize. I simply ran out of steam for the job, and people were already threatening to boycott Political Jesus if I continued, lol. So perhaps one day, I will give Blue Beetle, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Gambit, Nightwing, and Boris the Beat their due, but it won’t be today.

Conclusion:

Having said all that, I believe that I am in no shape to give a whole-hearted devotion to a super-hero the way I have done for Green Lantern in the past. In dissecting these heroes over the last few months, I have gained an appreciation for them beyond how they fit into my categories. Phantom Stranger and Constantine rated very low, but why do I enjoy reading them so much? Thor rated fairly high, but I have little desire to read his book monthly just because he did well on my list.

Still, there were a few heroes that really outshone the competition and made me appreciate who they are. Spider-Man and Superman are heroes that have always been in my periphery. I tend not to like more mainstream heroes. But I simply cannot deny that they represent the best of who we want to be. I am now committed to diving into their stories a bit more over the coming year. I was surprised Hulk rated so high, but Hulk has always been a favorite of mine, especially in his Savage (childlike) persona.

Variant incentive cover for The Flash vol. 3, ...

Variant incentive cover for The Flash vol. 3, #1 (April 2010). Art by Tony Harris. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The true front-runner (no pun intended) however, is the Flash. He surprised me. I have been reading a lot of these heroes in preparation for this blog, but I was really struck by the Flash in a way that the others didn’t strike me. In particular, his boundless hope and his humanization of even his enemies, and unwillingness to settle for anything other than the best outcome was truly inspiring. And I don’t mind saying that this is coming at a great time for Flash fans, who have a TV show on the horizon, a great comic to follow, a whole slew of t-shirts to wear, and a new advocate on Political Jesus. The new Flash fan – ME!

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Optimistic Chad

Chad really really hopes things are going to turn out ok. He loves his wife - with the passion of 1000 exploding suns, and is a diligent, but surely mediocre father to his brilliant and subversive children. He likes Chinese food.

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A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 20, Animal Man

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 20, Animal Man

Posted on November 19, 2013 by 

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern. Check out part 2: Captain America.Check out part 3: Wolverine. Check out part 4: Power Girl. Check out part 5: Aquaman. Check out part 6: Luke Cage. Check out part 7: Iron Man. Check out part 8: Spider-Man. Check out part 9: Wonder Woman. Check out part 10: John Constantine.Check out part 11: The Incredible Hulk. Check out part 12: Batman. Check out part 13: Static. Check out part 14: Black Canary. Check out part 15: Superman. Check out part 16: Thor. Check out part 17: the Phantom Stranger. Check out part 18: Green Arrow. Check out part 19: the Flash.

Animal Man (comic book)

Animal Man (comic book) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Animal Man is not likely a superhero that many recognize. Up until recently, he has been somewhat obscure, even among comic fans themselves. Having said that, he has a very well selling book at the moment, and has made a few surprise appearances on the DC Shorts segments of the DC Nation block of cartoons on Cartoon Network.

Who is Animal Man?

Buddy Baker is unique among many heroes in that he has a family. Not just a long time girlfriend or wife, but a wife he is faithful to, along with 2 children. He has a day job, has other interests outside of superheroing, and has written a book. He comes to all of this with the ability to tap into the metaphysical web of life surrounding the Earth and borrow powers from any animal that is close to him.

Is this character heroic? Yeah. It gets him into trouble, and often puts his family at risk, which is problematic, but he does the right thing when it counts.  (1 point)

Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? Leaning towards against. He is a resolute environmentalist, vegetarian, and pacifist, and often participates in social action against the powers. So, there really isn’t’ any wiggle room here. (1 point)

Does this character kill? No. He believes in the intrinsic value of ALL life, even down to the smallest of creatures, which he has felt the life force of, and thus feels kinship with. He is like a superhero version of St. Francis. (1 point)

Does this character have a spirituality? Ish. Not traditional though. He treats his environmentalism as a sort of religion, and his book is chock full of religious, spiritual, and philosophical dialogue about the nature of things, the universe, our role, family, etc… So while we likely won’t see Buddy in church any time soon, he gets a point.
(1 point)

Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? For the most part, yes. I really depends on the writer. When you get a metaphysical sort on the book, it can be great, if sort of preachy. When you get a rather non-introspective person in the job, Animal Man seems boring and episodic. Currently, the run has been great, but it hasn’t always been so. (.5 points)

Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? Not really. The big exception is Buddy’s family. The interaction with them is great, but they are small in number. Animal Man doesn’t seem to branch out and interact with others as much as he could.  (.5 points)

Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? No.  (0 bonus points)

Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? In very broad terms, yes. His philosophy hits on some important points that I believe in like the value of all life. While I approach hypocrisy with my love of carnivorism, Buddy literally won’t hurt a fly. We need heroes like that to spur us onto greatness. Buddy also puts his money where his mouth is and is an activist and writer for the causes he cares about. He is also a great example of a loving husband and dedicated father.  (1 Point)

Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? Animal powers can get boring after a while. The source of Buddy’s powers has been undergoing a large change in its status quo, and so “the Red,” the newer name for the web of life around our planet, has been interesting to explore, especially in contrast to “the Green” (plants) and the “the Grey” (decay). I hope that savvy writers are able to draw on that rather than become intimidated by it.  (1 point)

 

Verdict: 7 out of 8 points

Tune in next time for a wrap up discussion on my new favorite superhero…

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Optimistic Chad

Chad really really hopes things are going to turn out ok. He loves his wife - with the passion of 1000 exploding suns, and is a diligent, but surely mediocre father to his brilliant and subversive children. He likes Chinese food.

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A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 19, the Flash

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 19, the Flash

Posted on November 19, 2013 by 

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern. Check out part 2: Captain America.Check out part 3: Wolverine. Check out part 4: Power Girl. Check out part 5: Aquaman. Check out part 6: Luke Cage. Check out part 7: Iron Man. Check out part 8: Spider-Man. Check out part 9: Wonder Woman. Check out part 10: John Constantine.Check out part 11: The Incredible Hulk. Check out part 12: Batman. Check out part 13: Static. Check out part 14: Black Canary. Check out part 15: Superman. Check out part 16: Thor. Check out part 17: the Phantom Stranger. Check out part 18: Green Arrow.

Flash (Barry Allen)

Flash (Barry Allen) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Flash is no stranger to comics fans, and has been a staple of the medium long before his re-introduction signaled the dawn of the Silver Age of Comics in 1962. With a catchy name, a simple costume, and ability to run at super speeds, this “fastest man alive” has been capturing the imaginations of fans for a long time now. The Flash even had a short-lived TV show in the 80’s and is now poised to have another TV show coming up, already in the works for the CW.

Who is the Flash?

The Flash has had many incarnations, but the most popular and most well known is Barry Allen. Barry is a police forensic investigator. He works in a crime lab. One day, he was working on a case when lightning crashed into his lab, knocking over hyper-charged chemicals onto him. Ever after, he has had the power to run nearly as fast as he wants to and has devoted his life to doing good.

Is this character heroic? Resolutely. Barry always does the right thing. He is yet another example of the superhero who has all of the power to save others, but simply can’t seem to salvage his own social life or prevent disaster in his own sphere. Yet he never stops and always searches for ways to help those who can’t help themselves.  (1 point)

Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? Well, I am really struggling to find what I want to say here. In one sense, since he works for the police department, he literally “represents” the powers. Yet, he is constantly subversive to those in power at his precinct. He also has shown that in those cased where the powers turn “evil,” he resists them with all his might. Yet, it can’t be denied that he has an overly optimistic view of the world, and that can lead him, right or wrong, to give the benefit of the doubt to others, even the powers. I’ll throw Flash a bone, but I can’t give a full point. (.33 1/3 points)

Does this character kill? No. In fact, he goes out his way NOT to. He is another one of those heroes that simply refuses to accept that killing someone is the only possible way to achieve a good. The Flash, probably more than any other hero, is committed to applying creativity to every problem and is always successful, or at least is willing to accept the consequences of not killing. And there have been consequences. (1 point)

Does this character have a spirituality? Flash really came into his own during that era where religion wasn’t talked about so much. So, he really hasn’t gotten into his own religious preferences much. While he is a consummate scientist, this does not automatically indicate that he is a strict materialist or agnostic. In fact, the evidence is scarce, but does indicate that Barry is, or was at least raised in, a Christian home, and holds at least a cultural grasp on those values. He has been seen in various incarnations getting married in Christian churches and throughout the years has never disparaged religion of any type. But, there is something else to consider. Flash’s powers have their source in what is called the Speed Force. The Speed Force has acted in the Flash’s comics as a sort of higher power/afterlife/universal truth for the Flash to philosophize against, and so surprisingly, the Flash’s comics are filled with a lot of spiritual questions and dialogue, but in the context of this supernatural phenomenon particular to the Flash. So yeah, I think that qualifies.
(1 point)

Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? Absolutely. One of the Flash’s greatest strengths is that his stories are often easy for writers to pen. That is not to say that lazy writers can’t tell bad stories about Flash. Trust me, they can. But it is to say that his powerset, his relationship with his city and its people, and his rogues gallery are all top notch. (1 point)

Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? Yes. The Flash has always had a number of others that have shared the spotlight with him. his oft-sidekick Kid Flash is as much the hero of the book as Flash has been, his on/off romance with Iris West allows her to be her own woman as well as a love interest (point of note: Flash is currently dating Patty Spivot, a well-formed character who he works with). His rogues gallery, once again, is among the best in comics, probably only behind Batman and Spiderman, and they are all FULLY fleshed out characters in their own right, thanks to brilliant writers over the years. It isn’t just the writers, though. Flash’s penchant for hope and optimism allow these characters room to grow, as we will see below.  (1 point)

Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? Yep. Just ask Sheldon Cooper.  (1 bonus points)

Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? Yes. Yes. This is the thing I like most about Flash. I cannot think of another hero that goes so far out of their way not only to  stop villains, not only to not kill them, but also to make every effort to try to redeem them. The Flash is always trying to humanize his rogues gallery, trying to see things from their perspective. He not only tries to help stop them from their crimes, but also tries to help them become better people. He knows them on a personal level. While Spider-Man might be funny as he beats down his foes, Flash is sympathetic, and has even been shown to visit his villains in jail, even reforming them on occasion to become good guys (Pied Piper). This is true gospel stuff, folks. The Flash cares about all things, and hopes for all good things.  (1 Point)

Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? The Flash’s powers make his stories amazing with potential. He can run so fast that he breaks the speed of light, making time-travel stories possible, if not always common. He often plays with physics and (Flash fact:) we often learn something about the world when he uses his powers in a specific way. Like I said above, even mediocre writers should be able to mine good stories out of his powers.  (1 point)

 

Verdict: 7.33 1/3 out of 8 points

Tune in next time for a discussion of Animal Man…

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Optimistic Chad

Chad really really hopes things are going to turn out ok. He loves his wife - with the passion of 1000 exploding suns, and is a diligent, but surely mediocre father to his brilliant and subversive children. He likes Chinese food.

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A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 18, Green Arrow

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 18, Green Arrow

Posted on November 18, 2013 by 

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern. Check out part 2: Captain America.Check out part 3: Wolverine. Check out part 4: Power Girl. Check out part 5: Aquaman. Check out part 6: Luke Cage. Check out part 7: Iron Man. Check out part 8: Spider-Man. Check out part 9: Wonder Woman. Check out part 10: John Constantine.Check out part 11: The Incredible Hulk. Check out part 12: Batman. Check out part 13: Static. Check out part 14: Black Canary. Check out part 15: Superman. Check out part 16: Thor. Check out part 17: the Phantom Stranger.

Green Arrow

Green Arrow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Green Arrow has entered into what can only be described as his Golden Age. Ironic since he has been around since the 40’s. Green Arrow has been on a steady incline in popularity since the Justice League Unlimited cartoon in the 2000’s. He was featured heavily in Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon, and had a very influential run in the later seasons of Smallville. Now, he has his own TV show, and his comic is selling much better than it has in ages.

Who is the Green Arrow?

Oliver Queen is the rich heir to the Queen Corporate empire. He was a selfish playboy in every sense of the word until his luxury yacht was shipwrecked on a remote island. There, he came face to face with a criminal syndicate, and only survived by becoming extraordinarily deadly with a bow and arrow. After many years on the island, Ollie returned to his home city, determined to use his new skills and new outlook on life to better the lives of the downtrodden. Taking the name Green Arrow, as a nod to Robin Hood, he seeks to save those who can’t save themselves.

Is this character heroic? Yeah. he doesn’t have any powers, nor is he the most intelligent hero around, but he has lots of money and a willingness to put himself in harms way in order to do the right thing. He also gets beat up more than any other single hero out there. (1 point)

Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? In most of his incarnations, he fights against the powers, to a fault. In fact, there have been numerous times that he has given up all of his great wealth in order to show solidarity with the poor he sought to save. In his previous incarnation, his story seems to be progressing that way, but hasn’t been realized yet. Still, he is all about shunning his corporate duties to save the oppressed, so we will give him a pass here.  (1 point)

Does this character kill? Yeah. He has. Or does. Or will. But maybe not. Ollie’s relationship with killing is complicated. He doesn’t want to, but his power set is fairly specific, and it seems you can only shoot so many pointy things at people before someone dies. In the comics, he tries to mitigate that in various ways, like trick arrows, etc., but he has killed enough, and has been shown to go against his own “no killing” policy enough that I just can’t give him a point here.  (0 points)

Does this character have a spirituality? Well… not in the traditional sense, no. So no points. BUT, he is the most consistently evangelical superhero ever. He has been shown to be (in most of his incarnations) ultra-leftist/marxist/socialist in so far as he supports redistribution of wealth, fairness for everyone, a disdain for corporate and national interference in nearly any aspect of freedom or life, and he makes sure he can bring others along with him into this view. His current incarnation, as noted above, hasn’t yet been brought to this extreme, but careful readers will see the groundwork being laid.
(0 points)

Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? Yes. Especially lately. As the comics world and the TV world merge, Green Arrow is becoming interesting again. He had fallen into the trap of becoming just a loudmouth hero that critiques everyone else. While that IS important, he really was losing his own narrative arc. Now, in the comics, he has a relatively clean slate and his story and growth arc are just beginning. And it is good. (1 point)

Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? Getting there. Diggle (from the show) has just been introduced into the comics, as has Moira Queen, his mother. Both of these are welcome additions. However, in the past, Ollie has had a lot of great supporting characters, too. Black Canary, Speedy/Arsenal/Red Arrow, and even Green Lantern have all been featured alongside Ollie, and he makes them shine just as brightly as he does.  (1 point)

Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? Not really. (0 bonus points)

Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? Yes, actually. While I don’t self-describe as a leftist, Marxist, or Communist, I can certainly understand what makes him want to. His understanding of corporate/national oppression and his desire to fight against it on behalf of racial/class-based minorities is awesome. He is the only superhero that seems to think and talk about real world issues in a relevant way that doesn’t seem like platitudes, but rather a call to action.    (1 Point)

Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? Meh. He is a “poor” man’s Batman. He was created as such. A rich dude who used gadgets to fight crime with no powers. He was even introduced with an Arrow-car, an Arrow-cave, and a boy sidekick. His powers (trick arrows or not) are not what make him interesting. It is the reason he fights that is interesting. (0 points)

 

Verdict: 5 out of 8 points

Tune in next time for a discussion of the Flash…

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Optimistic Chad

Chad really really hopes things are going to turn out ok. He loves his wife - with the passion of 1000 exploding suns, and is a diligent, but surely mediocre father to his brilliant and subversive children. He likes Chinese food.

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A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 17, The Phantom Stranger

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 17, The Phantom Stranger

Posted on November 18, 2013 by 

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern. Check out part 2: Captain America.Check out part 3: Wolverine. Check out part 4: Power Girl. Check out part 5: Aquaman. Check out part 6: Luke Cage. Check out part 7: Iron Man. Check out part 8: Spider-Man. Check out part 9: Wonder Woman. Check out part 10: John Constantine.Check out part 11: The Incredible Hulk. Check out part 12: Batman. Check out part 13: Static. Check out part 14: Black Canary. Check out part 15: Superman. Check out part 16: Thor.

The Stranger in a typically cryptic pose. Art ...

The Stranger in a typically cryptic pose. Art by Neal Adams. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Phantom Stranger is one of the more obscure heroes on the list so far. He has been around for a number of years at DC, but he has rarely had his own comic. For the last few years, however, he has enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence, and I don’t mind saying, it is one of my favorite books each month, and is quite off-beat when compared with typical superhero fare.

Who is the Phantom Stranger?

Well, that is a great question. For a number of years, there were various speculations given for the true identity of the Stranger. Was he a fallen angel? Was he a random man who questioned God and died, but was given a chance at redemption? Was he a time-lost traveler? Perhaps a variation of the “Wandering Jew” myth? In his latest incarnation, it has been revealed that the Stranger is none other than Judas Iscariot, judged by a cosmic group as being one of the worst sinners of all history, and given a chance at redemption.

Is this character heroic? No. At least not by nature. Often, the stranger is forced to take actions that go against his morality, but he does them anyway in order to “work off” his cosmic debt. However, in the cases where he abides by his conscience, he is punished, but always helped along by God (in the form of a dog. its funny). So he is learning to tread carefully between right and wrong, suffering and security, and heroism versus self-interest. There is a growth arc happening, but he is not hero. Not yet. (0 points)

Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? Both.He represents dueling powers (the cosmic tribunal and God himself), while at the same time always judging himself up against Jesus who he betrayed, and was the ultimate “against the powers” guy. There is no clear answer about where he will end up yet though, and so far he is caught doing the wrong things for the wrong people. (0 points)

Does this character kill? Yeah. And not to save people either. I mean he is no cold blooded killer, but I guess once you are responsible for killing Jesus, other deaths don’t mean so much? Anyway, he doesn’t like it, but if it means getting something out of it, he’ll put you down. Not just your body, but your soul, too.  (0 points)

Does this character have a spirituality? This is the brilliance of this character. His book is all spirituality from beginning to end. Dealing with postmodern struggles between God and gods, what we perceive and what is real, metaphoric and yet true visions of heaven, hell, and reality. The Stranger is dealing with his relationship with God, judgement, grace, redemption and evil. It is great stuff.
(1 point)

Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? Yes. Very interesting. While there are angels and demons (which I find banal on some level), they are often just as metaphorical as they are actual. This book skirts the line between the two in a way that allows a less literal understanding while maintaining a visually engaging representation of the powers. And while there are plenty of stories to be told with the Stranger as he seeks redemption in our time, he has walked the earth since the time of Christ, and therefore all of those years would make for interesting grist for the storytelling mill as well. (1 point)

Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? No. Not really. So far, his tale is his and his alone. It looked for a while there that this wasn’t going to be the case, but even his family was shown to exist only to further the Stranger’s characterization.  (0 points)

Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? Not even one. (0 bonus points)

Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? Leaning towards no. While I appreciate his narrative arc, he has a long way to go before he arrives at anything resembling a morality or outlook on the world I can get behind. Which I do find odd, because he walked with Jesus for three years and has had 2000 years to think about that…   (0 Points)

Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? Yeah. I guess so. I mean I have no idea what his powers are. They have never been explained or defined. He seemingly has the power to do whatever the story needs him to do. That freedom can be very exciting when telling a story, but cal also be a very draining deus ex machina if the writer isn’t careful. (1 point)

Real quick note: This character didn’t start off as Hebrew or even spiritual in any way, but has evolved as writers have gotten hold of him over the years. Perhaps that is why I am a little more forgiving than usual that Judas Iscariot is being portrayed as a white guy. There are of course, lots of little nit-picky things about this book that drive me crazy as a professional religious person, but the book goes places other books don’t even dare to try, so I am perhaps a little biased in my liking of this book. Still, I suppose that didn’t help his score any…

Verdict: 3 out of 8 points

Tune in next time for a discussion of Green Arrow…

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Optimistic Chad

Chad really really hopes things are going to turn out ok. He loves his wife - with the passion of 1000 exploding suns, and is a diligent, but surely mediocre father to his brilliant and subversive children. He likes Chinese food.

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A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 16, Thor

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 16, Thor

Posted on November 18, 2013 by 

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern. Check out part 2: Captain America.Check out part 3: Wolverine. Check out part 4: Power Girl. Check out part 5: Aquaman. Check out part 6: Luke Cage. Check out part 7: Iron Man. Check out part 8: Spider-Man. Check out part 9: Wonder Woman. Check out part 10: John Constantine.Check out part 11: The Incredible Hulk. Check out part 12: Batman. Check out part 13: Static. Check out part 14: Black Canary. Check out part 15: Superman.

Thor iPad wallpaper

Thor iPad wallpaper (Photo credit: xploitme)

Thor was one of my favorite comics to read growing up. There was also a really cheesy cartoon featuring Thor that I really loved. I think most of it was because I was also really into mythology, and I am pretty sure that reading Thor comics helped me to pass freshmen English. Nevertheless, Thor has been around since the 60’s and regardless of the radical liberties taken by the comic over and against mythology, Thor continues to be popular, especially now that his movies are doing so well…

Who is Thor?

Thor is the Norse mythological god of thunder. He interacts both with the Norse pantheon of gods and monsters in Asgard, as well as with mortal here on Midgard (Earth). He is incredibly strong (almost as strong as the Hulk), and along with his mighty hammer Mjolnir, he can pretty much beat down anything in creation. Unfortunately, his brother is the god of trickiness and causes him no end of trouble.

Is this character heroic? Yeah. He has his non-heroic moments, especially when he slips back into the barbaian way, but the amount of times he has put his inheritance and privilage on the line for those who his family considers beneath him makes him heroic enough for a yes. (1 point)

Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? Totally represents the powers. Just because he represents a set of powers that is different than American norm, doesn’t mean that his group of gods is any better. In point of fact, they aren’t.  (0 points)

Does this character kill? Yep. He does. Just as any frost giant. I can give him some slack since he grew up with a sword in his hand, but he IS a god, and should be able to seek more creative ways around problems given all of his vaunted power.  (0 points)

Does this character have a spirituality? He is a god, after all… So yeah. He is drowning in it. However, his spirituality is sortof pale considering that his pantheon of gods acts more selfish and petty than many humans. Also, Thor isn’t ever seen dealing with the ramifications of being worshiped. It would be nice to see that explored from a god’s perspective.
(1 point)

Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? Yes, but they should be careful. Given the plethora of Norse myths to draw from, there should never be any point at which a writer becomes lazy enough to repeat things. Especially since the real world also gives us plenty to explore from Thor’s perspective. So it is incredibly frustrating that we have seen the battle of Ragnarok (the end times war) no less than 4 times already in Thor comics. Odin has died no less than 3 times. Sif and Jane Foster are jealous of each other how often? It just seems like Thor writers get as lazy as Superman writers when they pen his book. Having said that, it is not the fault of the character or his concept… (1 point)

Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? Verily. Thor has the most robust supporting cast I can think of in comics. An entire pantheon of gods and other characters are involved in Thor’s monthly adventures. He hs family, love interests, authority figures, enemies, and all of them are nearly as well defined as he is. From Odin and Loki, to Sif and Baldur, to Heimdall and Freya, to the warriors three and Jane Foster. Thor has this category hammered down.  (1 point)

Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? not many (0 bonus points)

Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? Not really. Thor has a view of the world that I simply can’t have. He is immortal and often speaks down to others, perhaps not in a mean spirited way, but certainly a condescending one. He loves war and battle, revels in showing off his strength, and “wenching” is a thing for him. Not really my style. Fun to read about, not fun to emulate.   (0 Points)

Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? Thor can manipulate lightning, he can fly, lift cars, create dimensional portals… You might think that the same critique that Superman receives also applies to Thor, but not quite. Thor comes from a place where there are many characters who are as powerful as him, at least in their own way. Not only that, but Thor’s realm is a magical one, in which the rules bend quite easily and good writers should never have any problem finding a way to challenge even Thor’s mighty power. (1 point)

Verdict: 5 out of 8 points

Tune in next time for a discussion of the Phantom Stranger…

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Optimistic Chad

Chad really really hopes things are going to turn out ok. He loves his wife - with the passion of 1000 exploding suns, and is a diligent, but surely mediocre father to his brilliant and subversive children. He likes Chinese food.

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A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 15, Superman

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 15, Superman

Posted on November 18, 2013 by 

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern. Check out part 2: Captain America.Check out part 3: Wolverine. Check out part 4: Power Girl. Check out part 5: Aquaman. Check out part 6: Luke Cage. Check out part 7: Iron Man. Check out part 8: Spider-Man. Check out part 9: Wonder Woman. Check out part 10: John Constantine.Check out part 11: The Incredible Hulk. Check out part 12: Batman. Check out part 13: Static. Check out part 14: Black Canary.

A shaken Clark Kent, unconcerned about his sec...

A shaken Clark Kent, unconcerned about his secret,assists Lateesha Johnson; she was attacked by gang members. Art by Dan Jurgens. From Superman v.2 #121 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Superman is Superman. You may be reading the wrong blog if the name doesn’t ring a bell.

Who is Superman?

Superman literally started the super-hero genre. He was the first, and continues to arguably be the most powerful and/or important one out there. He was born on an alien world, rocketed to Earth upon that world’s destruction, and was raised by mid-western parents to be a paragon of truth, justice, and the American way. He was a founding member of the Justice League and has had more movies, games, TV shows, cartoons, toys, and other things than you can shake a stick at.

Is this character heroic? Truly. Although his powers make him a bit oblivious to most forms of real danger, he still puts everything he has into saving others, many times at the cost of his personal life. Even in those rare instances where he is out-powered or de-powered for some reason, he still refused to back down when others need him. (1 point)

Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? Hmmm. You  heard that whole “truth, justice, and the American way” thing, right? He has been a teensy bit of a tool of the American powers at certain times. At other times, however, he has made a point to say he is a world citizen, not just an american one. Being the “other” rarely stops Superman from being beloved, however, as for some reason, only Lex Luthor seems to get xenophobic around him. There might be a little white, male, protestant privilege on display here… Still, he is getting better… (.5 points)

Does this character kill? For the most part, no. It is a point of pride with him. He truly makes every effort to not kill anyone for any reason, taking his great power as a point of departure for finding more creative and less lethal ways of dealing with problems. However, there have been a few times when seemingly impossible situations have forced him into making a decision he didn’t want to make and he ended up killing someone more powerful than himself. Having said that, depending on the era, he has also shown that he has a fierce commitment NOT to kill enemies, even when faced with impossible situations. In general terms, Superman NEVER kills, unless a writer with some agenda gets a hold of him (or a certain movie director…)  (1 point)

Does this character have a spirituality? Yes actually. Matter of fact, he is a bit conflicted in this regard. He has a definate protestant, likely Methodist, upbringing, which comes up surprisingly often in the books over the years. He has even prayed on occasion, read the Bible at funerals, attends church, etc… However, upon learning more about his Kryptonian heritage, he has also seemingly embraced certain aspects of Kryptonian religion (sun worship, or Rao worship). To what extent these exist simultaneously in his heart and mind, who can say? But it certainly would make for an interesting exploration.
(1 point)

Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? Thankfully, this has been fixed to some degree lately. For most of his publication history, Superman has not been terribly interesting. He is simply a known quantity with no growth arc possible (leading some writers to introduce killing enemies into his repertoire, as above). Recently though, the comics have striven to make him more of the other, make him younger, more reckless, and while maintaining his values, make him unpredictable and less “boy scoutish.” This has led to much more interesting stories, and Superman has been enjoyable to read for the first time in ages. (1 point)

Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? Yes. In fact, Superman has one of the best supporting casts around. While it is true that the characters in his cast were originally used JUST as a foil for how great Superman is (Lois Lane practically invented the damsel in distress trope), it is also the case that the long publication history of these characters have also led them to have very long and dramatic story arcs themselves. Lois Lane, now far from the always-damsel-in-distress, is one of the leading reporters in the world, the very epitome of a feminist, empowered, successful woman. Currently, Superman is dating Wonder Woman, every bit his equal. He shares one book with Batman, who is arguably more popular than him. Jimmy Olsen even has a character development.  (1 point)

Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? Too many to count. (1 bonus point)

Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? Yes. In broad terms. I am not sold on the whole “American way” thing, for a number of reasons. However, Superman doesn’t only represent America. He, ideally, represents the best humanity can be, even though he transcends them on a certain level. Sounds like my Jesus a bit. He is self-sacrificial, and wants to help, never hurt.  (1 Point)

Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? Here’s the rub. Superman is just too damn powerful. He is the strongest, most invulnerable, and has been shown to give the Flash a run for his money in the speed department. He can shoot heat vision from his eyes, cold from his lungs, and hear Lois screaming from the other side of the universe. He has super-smarts, x-ray vision, and a super dog. Quite simply, if writers don’e use one of the three tropes that he is weak to (kryptonite, magic, mind control), we simply don’t believe he is ever in danger. This is what causes lazy writers to use killing or introducing a bajillion other kyrptonians into the world in order to make things “interesting.” I’m not saying Superman CAN’T be interesting, I am saying that it is hard. Too hard for most writers. I’m being generous with the half point here. (.5 points)

Verdict: 7 out of 8 points

Tune in next time for a discussion of Thor…

 
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Optimistic Chad

Chad really really hopes things are going to turn out ok. He loves his wife - with the passion of 1000 exploding suns, and is a diligent, but surely mediocre father to his brilliant and subversive children. He likes Chinese food.

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