The Ultimate Action Figure

As recent visitors to our home will attest, our five-year-old is exceedingly proud of the menacing, nearly-lifesize Spider-Man clinging to the wall of his bedroom, ready to pounce upon any evildoers who dare to enter. During and around this past Spring Break, our family took some much-needed vacation time, using most of that time for painting and redecorating those rooms we felt needed it most. Our young son’s room got a complete makeover, top to bottom, and is now a haven for Marvel comic superheroes (Spider-Man being the only the biggest and most immediately obvious).

But I have to admit, the youngest family member isn’t the only one with an affinity for superheroes. A few weeks ago, my wife and I “played hooky” from our normal work routines so that we could celebrate our wedding anniversary; our “big date” to commemorate eight years of matrimony included a romantic dinner at a local restaurant with particular sentimental meaning, but the first event for date night was a much-anticipated matinee viewing of The Avengers.

Yeah, we made absolutely no pretense about it; having seen Iron Man (1 and 2), The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America over the last few years, we both wanted to see the epic movie that finally brought them all together…and we selfishly wanted to watch it without the innumerable distractions (and mid-film potty breaks) that often accompany movie time with the kids. We didn’t want to miss a single second of The Hulk gleefully smashing alien invaders.

Those folks at Marvel and DC Comics are both talented and shrewd; they have done a great job of tapping into a soul longing that stirs in the heart of just about everyone willing to be honest enough to admit it – namely, that we all love superheroes. Box-office figures are just one measurable indicator that all of us long for the curtains to part and the avenger of evil to finally emerge. There are so many things in life that are simply beyond our ability to control, yes, even at the dawn of the 21st century. The very best we have to offer in terms of technology and intelligence simply will not spare us from the wrath of God being revealed in nature (Romans 1:18-25), political upheavals and the inner chambers of our own hearts.

Who will save us from our enemies? Indeed, more importantly, who will save us from ourselves?

Over the years I have purchased enough books from that it feels like I get a promotional e-mail from them about every four hours. I typically open these up, scan briefly for titles I am interested in for myself or for others, and then (more often than not) hit the delete button. I do not enjoy spending time “shopping” or browsing, so these folks literally have about two-three seconds to gain my interest. Just a few weeks ago, they finally offered a deep discount on something I had my eye on for months: The Action Bible: God’s Redemptive Story, edited by Doug Mauss and illustrated by Sergio Cariello – a guy who has illustrated for both Marvel and DC Comics. With over 200 narratives in chronological order, the book has won the ECPA Medallion of Excellence award. I could not have been more psyched.

My scheming here could not be more obvious, right? As the father of a young son, I very much hope and pray to leverage his interest in Iron Man, Batman, Wolverine, Captain America and so on to point him beyond fiction to the flesh-and-blood, historical and singular superhero of all human history. While we have long been content to spend our days reading about “those other guys,” the plan now is to also spend each night recounting at least one of the historical narratives that will point the desires of his heart to their proper super-target, Jesus Christ.

While I haven’t read much of this book yet, I have already thumbed through the narratives and illustrations. Familiar with much of the Old Testament, I was concerned to see how Mauss and Cariello handled the more graphic, R-rated material that tends to crop up in books like Judges, 1st and 2nd Samuel, and so forth. I needn’t have been concerned. Focus on the Family has done a good job of noting those areas where the text and illustrations get a bit dicey, and they are few indeed. Although the book has been recommended for kids ages 9 through 12, I have thus far found nothing that my soon-to-be-six child has not already encountered somewhere else, typically in a much less redemptive context.

While most people don’t necessarily buy a ticket for The Avengers looking for deep theological insights, there is something to the enduring quality of superhero stories that plucks the strings of every human heart; we are all, even if subconsciously, tuned in to the cosmic battle of good vs. evil. For instance, while Captain America may be something of a throwback to the other members of The Avengers team – spouting patriotic speeches that make the more modern Tony Stark cringe – Cap can still be relied upon to always do the right thing, and for that, we love him. There’s something very comforting in the idea of a superhero who can be counted upon like that. Maybe his speeches are a bit corny, but an unrelenting commitment to goodness does come in handy when the chips are down.

As my son ages and grows (by God’s grace) in wisdom and discernment, he will undoubtedly notice that the world is not a very friendly place. There really are evils all around, without and within. And with the American ethos leaning strongly toward strength and independence, I want him, at an early age, also to recognize that all of this evil is far bigger than himself. That he cannot hope to handle it all on his own. I want him to grow up knowing and understanding that he himself needs a superhero of an all-together different kind, to know the only One who truly does have an unrelenting commitment to goodness.

In a distant-future post, perhaps, I’ll hope to offer a more-fully-informed review of The Action Bible, after having read through all of it with my young son. And it is my great anticipation that he and I will continue to share an ongoing interest in the exploits of Marvel and DC Comics superheroes, rejoicing at Iron Man’s ability to subdue evildoers with flashing energy bursts, high-tech armaments and all that sort of fantastic nonsense. Simultaneously, by “becoming all things to all people,” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) and speaking in the language and cultural forms of the day (Acts 17:16-34), the greatest gift I can hope to offer my son is a rightly-directed sense of awe and worship, and to drive the message of Jesus – the only true superhero – deeper into his heart.

And mine.

A Partial Listing of the Superhero Attributes of Jesus

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