Tag Archives: New 52

Take Me to Church: Easter, Identity Politics, & Damien Wayne

What does Easter Sunday, Batman vs. Robin, and the Civil Rights Movement all have in common? Well to start with all three were integral parts of my weekend. I guess because I religiously identify with Christianity Easter weekend would inevitably be linked in with whatever I did last weekend. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that the new DCAU film Batman vs. Robin was officially uploaded to one of my favorite anime websites. I took the opportunity to view it on Friday night (highly recommended). As for the Civil Rights Movement, much of my life the last several weeks has been devoted to better understanding the Civil Rights Movement since my trip across the Mississippi Delta and to Tennessee. As I have tried to analyze all three with respect to each other, admittedly a daunting task, I have come to a realization. Batman vs. Robin, The Civil Rights Movement, and Easter Sunday are all connected by the theme of identity politics.

I will preface this section by divulging one bias and one disclaimer about the animated film Batman vs. Robin. This section may contain spoilers, and the film has quickly made its ranks into one of my top favorite DCAU films. For starters as I reflect on the film it should be more aptly titled Damian Wayne vs the voices in his head. For those who do not know Batman vs. Robin is the follow up to Damian’s film debut in Son of Batman. Damian Wayne is the newest addition to the list of Robins, which has included Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake. The 10 year old batmanprotégé has a complicated past to say the least. He was raised by his biological grandfather Ras al Ghul to be the next head of the League of Assassins. He is also the current ward of his biological father Bruce Wayne who is…well Bruce Wayne. Batman has worked incessantly to reverse the psychological influence of Ras al Ghul. Damian constantly hears the voice of Batman telling him “justice not vengeance.” However, this mantra becomes complicated when he meets the mysterious Talon. Talon seems to strongly resemble batman with the exception that he does the one thing that Batman does not…KILL.

Talon’s influence creates yet another voice in the head of the young Wayne heir. Throughout the entire film both Damian and Bruce Wayne must answer challenging questions. For example, are biological similarities enough to create a father and son? However, the biggest questions that Damian faces are questions of his identity. His relationship with Bruce Wayne is complicated by the fact that he must keep it a secret that he is Bruce’s biological son. Tired of the restrictions placed on him by Batman he becomes the protégé of Talon. Even then he does not find a resolution to his crisis because he does not fully agree with Talon’s methods. Simultaneously, Damian wrestles with his training from his grandfather Ras al Ghul. Thus although Damian Wayne takes on the identity of Robin he does not truly know who lies behind the mask. Unfortunately, for Damian by the end of the film he still has no answer, rather he is even more resolved about finding himself and discovering his true identity.

Damian Wayne’s quest for identity, however, is not a new phenomenon. In fact, I contend that the Civil Rights Movement can be better understood if we examine it as a quest for identity, or rather the reclamation of an identity that was forcefully taken away from a group through variously reinforced methods of hegemony and oppression. In fact, even the name Civil Rights Movement can be problematic in helping to fully articulate what exactly the movement stood for and what it was up against. Charles Payne takes up this argument in Debating the Long Civil Rights Movement. He argues what has been termed “civil rights” came to be a summary term for the struggle of the African Americans after World War II that culminated with the Black Power Movement of the late 60’s and 70’s. Payne maintains that after seminal civil rights legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 certain parts of society (namely white America) could not understand why so many blacks were still angry about their collective status. Many stated the mantra “you have your civil rights, so what’s the problem?” Here in lies the problem.

The notion of civil rights undermined the larger struggle that many African American were fighting for. The real struggle for African Americans was to reclaim a place and identity for themselves in a society that had tried everything to prevent this. Forging a pathway to claim natural rights to a shared humanity was the true essence of the movement. Ascertaining public accommodations through protests and courts rulings served as only as the tip of the iceberg. To do this by achieving civil rights could only be a starting point. Economic participation and self-assertion were the bigger aims of the movement. Protection from homelessness, equal chances at economic opportunity, adequate medical coverage, and food for starving minds, bodies and souls, have always been at the core of the movement. The language of “civil rights” is inadequate in that that the work of activists such as Fannie Lou Hamer, Septima Clark, Ella Baker, and Annie Divine was about helping blacks obtain their “civil rights,” which they did not have. However, these women strongly believe that the movement struggle was about expanding American democratic sensibilities to a much larger audience. It is in this expansion that many were able to find their voice and identity. Native Americans, Chicanos, women, prisoners and various other groups were able proudly assert their identity and fight for human dignity and respect in all aspects of their lives. Thus the movement can be understood also as a quest to reclaim identity in the midst of forces that vehemently opposed this struggle.

Reflecting on the history of the Civil Rights movement leads to a further analysis of our everyday context. In this case it forces an analysis of what it means to celebrate the Easter holiday and all of its festivities. I am not one tousually to embrace any holiday, but I do like tracking the emotions and feelings of those who choose to do so. As I scrolled through Facebook pages I noticed that many of my friends made reference to Easter or pointed out a particular message from an Easter service. As I was in church on Sunday I could not help but notice how much fuller the service was compared to other Sundays. I realized this trend was not particular to the church I chose to attend, but rather was indicative of what happens to many churches on Easter Sunday. I could not help but wonder why so many people concern themselves with paying special attention to what happens on Easter Sunday? I believe that the answer is that Easter has become a symbol which many Christians can feel the most free to exert their Christian identity. The triumph of the Crucified God over the forces of evil speaks hope to believers all over the globe. Is there any other narrative more central to typical conceptions of the Christian faith?

Just as Damian Wayne and movement leaders found out, discovering one’s identity is no easy task. In a religious context, Christians depend on Christ for our identity. In a world where what it means to be Christian changes from denomination to denomination and even from congregation to congregation, how does one find their Christian identity amidst Christianities? In Batman Vs Robin, I noted above that Damien Wayne felt connected with Batman (the drive for justice) and Talon/Ra’s Al Ghul (the drive for revenge). Damien is committed to the League of Assassins as a community just as much as he has committed himself to the BatFamily although they have what seems to be conflicting values. Who is Damien held accountable to? Whose voice does Damien listen to? For Christians, we strive to listen to Christ, yet do we listen to Christ who healed the sick and lived in solidarity with poor? Or do we prefer to sing of a Triumphalist Christianity? It is critical to question the dominant Resurrection narrative that is a staple of Easter sermons and the entire Easter weekend festivities. What must also be emphasized are other qualities that allow one to identify as Christian, namely the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ identity does not solely lie within the realm of a Resurrected savior but also as a socio-political revolutionary. He was someone who took up the divine call to be committed to justice and equality. Easter weekend should be a time to embrace these aspects of Jesus’ narrative as well. How different would an Easter service look when the message from the pulpit to the pews embraces a divine call for social and economic justice for all? Situating Christian identity is far more complex and nuanced than what can be written in this piece. However, this conversation can be started by expanding narratives from which Christian identity is approached particularly during those rituals and festivities that many Christians find most filling such as the Lenten/ Easter season.

Photo Description: From Amazon.com, Batman & Robin Volume 1: Batman Reborn, photo has Batman and Robin on the cover in front of a red and green car. Damian Wayne is Robin.

New Year’s Review of New 52: Geoff John’s Aquaman!

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This past summer, Political Jesus got SOAKED with a wave of posts ( so many puns!) relating Aquman New 52 and environmental justice! I mainly did topics relating to black American slave perceptions of nature and the physical environment and its suprising, if even a bit elusive, connection to Arthur Curry’s (Aquaman!) own experience as the King of Atlantis.

Aquaman

Aquaman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After having gone through the first 3 volumes (Vol. #0,#1, and #2) I would like to say that all-in-all, I ADORED the comics. I am very much happy with this attempt at blowing new life into a superhero that rarely gets taken seriously to begin with! From the updated cosmetic art-style to the deep , profound story-line and development of Aquaman’s back-story, I became enamored from the first pages of Vol #0!

 Vol # 0: As mentioned, Aquaman was given an edgy storyline with depth. We’re introduced to the fact that the often-mocked superhero, harbors a deep sadness for his father as he’s looking through the pages old photo albums with his red-headed aqua-vixen girlfriend, Mera. It is revealed that his father, who was once keeper of the lighthouse , was swept away by creatures , never to return again. What’s more? Arthur is supposed to inherit the thrown of Atlantis- the epicenter, the political capital of this strange, cold, dark, underworld! While I may have used this fact as an axiom for how black American slaves felt in during slave-holding America, these plot details , even this early in the series, provide a fascinating juxtaposition of a king who has come to reign over a region ( the oceanic depths) that doesn’t receive him. His rejection by the citizens of Atlantis and the ocean at large (the aquatic creatures) is evident through Curry’s father’s death at the hands of the ocean and one of the opening scenes where our hero is swimming through the ocean and narrowly misses an angry shark swipe, hungry for blood! Excellent, excellent plot set-up in Vol. #0!

Custom Aquaman minifig

Custom Aquaman minifig (Photo credit: Roo Reynolds)

Vol. # 1: More lovey-dovey between Aquman and his femme fatale – but one thing I can say ( and perhaps I’m speaking too soon…) is that there is no excrutiating display of affection between the two. I’m not one for sappy love stories so if that’s youas well then Vo. #1 shouldn’t make you wanna vomit or anything. Without giving away too much of the developing plot, the most memorable scene in Vol. #1 was Aquman at a seafood restaurant!  A wiseguy cracks a joke about Aquaman ordering fish, although he “talks” to fish… there are also a few stabs at his relative mediocrity to other D.C. universe heroes (#hatersgonnahate!)…  being a sucker for breaking the fourth wall, I found this amusing! Vol. #1’s pace was a bit slower than  #0  yet still ended on a cliff-hanger, not forgetting the main plot!

 http://images2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20120327153336/aquaman/images/8/83/The_Trench.jpg

Vol. #2: Definitely the most high-throttle point in the plot of the three I’ve read!  Vol. #1 was definitely the calm before the storm! The foreshadowed , anthropogenic gremlins of the deep “rise to the surface” of the plot! (ha!) Excellent action shots featuring the combative prowess of Mera and Aquaman as they try and fend of the creatures of the trench that were proving too powerful for law enforcement. Little does Curry know…these creatures are coming for their king… Staying true to the first two issues, Vol. #2 also ends on quite the cliff hanger!

So far, I would give Aquaman New 52 a stunning 4.5/5 stars!!  It features moments of exhilirating action, a captivating storyline rendering Aquaman respect in the D.C. universe and fascinating implications for the environment, politics, and even religion. Perhaps I’ll read the next 3 and do yet another review!

Also, if we learned anything this Summer from this update for Aquaman….

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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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