It was a couple of months ago when I wrote a less than exhaustive list of the books that have influenced me in my life up until then. The list included, for the most part, conventional books, but there were a couple less than conventional entries that I considered adding to it. In this post, I am going to take a look at one of those less conventional influences.
Comic book adaptations have now been the rage for long enough that people are actively wondering how much longer people can realistically maintain an interest in them. Their predecessors in their brightly colored paper form have had an interesting influence on me, and my Christian walk as well.
You could argue, and I’m sure some people do, about whether Superman or Batman is the true flagship character of DC Comics. To me, there is another character that sticks out in my mind as a worthy representative of the brand, that character is Dick Grayson.
Both Batman and Superman have evolved and changed over the decades that their books have been in print, but Dick Grayson has gotten to do something that neither of those characters has every really gotten an opportunity to do. He grew up.
In that simple act, something that we all naturally do, Dick Grayson is allowed to represent the history and mythology of an entire fictional universe. In a genre that populates itself with giant cataclysmic events that often fail to significantly change the status quo very much or for very long, an orphan boy was adopted by Bruce Wayne, allowed to become his impossibly young sidekick, grow into a young man who was a respected leader among other young heroes in the Teen Titans, and then become a grown man who seeks to make a mark on the world for himself, crawling out from under the shadow of his mentor as Nightwing.
How was this transformative for me?
I didn’t grow up reading comics. I watched those cartoons from the 90’s, with DC holding up way better than Marvel by the way, but I was never really immersed in that world in any meaningful way.
The lesson that picking up a stack of Nightwing comics taught me was that history and context are vitally important. In order to fully appreciate what is happening in a comic book that was released around the year 2000, you would need to be well versed on the detailed biography of a character that has been around for sixty years.
In that way, superhero comic books prepared me for reading the Scriptures. My childhood and early adult life was also fairly bereft of exposure to the things of God, so the first time that I opened the Bible I had the familiar feeling of being dropped into a world that I had little knowledge of. If you have a reference Bible handy, open it to any page and you will be confronted with dozens of contextual references that are meant to help you to flesh out your understanding of the given passage.
Reading the Bible without intimate knowledge of the historical, cultural and thematic context of the writing is like trying to read Grant Morrison’s run on Batman without Wikipedia pulled up on your phone, your understanding will be flat at best and in places you will find it to be downright incomprehensible. Seriously, look up Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.
One of those common boasts that we allow ourselves when we write resumes is to point to our “attention to detail”. What I really mean when I use that phrase, is that I have an obsessive fascination with minutiae, which is a personality defect that has served me well, both in getting to know sidekicks and ultimately our savior.