Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Death, Comics, and the Easter Promise

Going back over my old Firestorm comics these past couple of weeks, I've had occasion to be reminded of the old idea that "death is never final in comics." I've already mentioned how Martin Stein was believed dead at one point, but turned up alive only about a year later. Even deaths that were considered permanent and/or explicit get reversed in comic books all the time (the latest example, that of the Barry Allen version of the Flash, is especially noteworthy, since his was considered to be the one death that "stuck" for the longest time. He's been gone for more than 20 years!).

I've had other reasons to be thinking of death this week. Of course, there's the obvious reason: this week is what some Christians call "Holy Week." That is to say, this is the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, where we remember Jesus' capture, trial, execution on the cross, and his resurrection three days later. On top of that, we also found out that my wife's uncle passed away this past week (she wasn't especially close to him, but prayers are definitely welcome on behalf of her father and grandfather).

Death is reversed so easily in comic books that it's become something pretty trivial. In the real world, death is final. It bothers me a bit that comics have come to treat death so casually. If the resurrection of Jesus Christ means anything at all, it does so precisely because death is such a supreme end. Jesus' resurrection therefore breaks the rule. It changes everything.

There are arguments, of course, as to whether or not the world-changing nature of Jesus' resurrection means that death is no longer the final word for anybody (not just those who profess faith in Christ). If this were so, it would serve as a possible "way out" for the way comics treat death today (clearly post-resurrection of Christ). Besides not being convinced by such arguments of universalism, I would argue that life after death is still only possible because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ himself. Any message of life after death apart from that action of Jesus is missing something vital.

No, I don't argue that comics should suddenly toss in explicitly Christian messages anytime they want to bring a character back from the dead. In fact, I want to give them credit whenever they do use Christian imagery, whether written from a believing perspective or not. God can and does use all kinds of ways of reminding people of what Jesus has done. But I do think it's worth remembering that Jesus did something unprecedented in his victory over death. If death has lost its sting, we know who to thank for that.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

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