Author: Scott Bayles Artist: Wendy Ronga and Hampton Design Group Publisher: Judson Press Genre: non-fiction, superheroes, Christian, devotional Rating: N/A
Ever since he was old enough to read his first comic book, Scott Bayles has dabbled in almost every aspect of superhero culture—films, comics, cosplay, and Cons alike. As a Christian, though, he came to realize that faith and fandom need not be separate; in fact, they cross-over in many aspects. Just as Christ used fantastical stories to relate heavenly truths, so today’s superheroes and their miraculous powers held untapped potential to reach others for Christ.
After founding Cosplayers for Christ, a group dedicated to superhero cosplay and ministry, Bayles (at the encouragement of his local church) chose to write Holy Heroes—a book of devotionals that merges Superman with the Savior, Spider Man with the Samaritan, and Cyborg with spiritual seekers of truth (to name a few).
Positive Elements:Holy Heroes merges spiritual truths with popular superhero icons, discussing such biblical concepts as righteous anger, salvation, seeking truth, overcoming fear, and the power of agape love. Bible verses are frequently cited to make these spiritual connections, and Bayles draws on many personal witnessing experiences through Cosplayers for Christ.
Spiritual Content: Aside from the obvious biblical themes, there are sprinklings of superpowers and magic—things that come with the typical superhero personas. The character Thor—a god in Norse mythology—is discussed. Magic and superpowers are all considered “natural” within the stories’ universes, and not connected to the occult.
Violence: Bayles does not glorify violence, but gives some vivid, real-world examples to prove a biblical point (leaving a child in a cage to die of starvation, a teen beating an elderly person to death without motive, gang violence, gunmen slaughtering kindergarteners, etc.). Some superhero origin stories are discussed, along with any pertinent violent moments that occur (such as Uncle Ben’s murder in Spider Man).
Language/Crude Humor: “Hell” is used once in a quotation from the film Captain America.
Sexual Content: In a devotional about Star Sapphire, it is mentioned that the femme fatales “use seduction and manipulation to win men’s affections.” This point is made to contrast the power of true, biblical love. Green Arrow’s fixation on “women and wild parties” is mentioned to make a point about his future transformation.
It’s not often that Christianity dares to step into the uncharted territory of pop culture, but chances are if you’re here at Geeks Under Grace, you’re someone who makes a lifestyle of doing just that. I think that author Scott Bayles would feel right at home among us. Holy Heroes is as refreshing as a day spent soaring through the sky in Superman’s cape (minus world-wide disaster-aversion, of course).
This isn’t your average title-bait devotional. It doesn’t tempt readers in with promises of Spider Man and Wonder Woman, only to bury the beloved heroes beneath pages of biblical padding. Rather Holy Heroes tactfully merges superpowers with spirituality, giving the heroes’ own stories and complexities as much focus as the biblical truths that they manifest. It’s likely that even those more interested in fandom than faith will find something worth sticking around for. Superman as a Christ-figure? Thor as an allusion to the Prodigal Son? Green Arrow as a re-telling of the story of Joseph? Holy Heroes covers all these and more, and those interested in the use of allusion in their favorite MARVEL and DC narratives will discover new, biblically-inspired ways to appreciate their favorite stories and characters.
Beyond the parallels to biblical characters and narratives, however, Holy Heroes dives into superheroes who personify biblical truths. The persecution and deviant lifestyles of the Mutants bring to mind the way Christians are called to live and treat others in a fallen world. Hawkman’s continuous cancelations and re-bootings, bolstered by his fandom popularity, echoes the importance of faith and commitment to a cause. Perhaps the most interesting examples relate episodes and issues wherein Scripture is quoted by the heroes themselves, such as Star Sapphire’s recitation of 1 Corinthians 13 or Nightcrawler’s paraphrasing of Christ’s words on the cross.
Holy Heroes is best read consecutively, as later chapters often reference previous ones. Dedicating time to a single chapter per day or week will likely yield the best reflective experience. Each chapter provides cross-references to all comics, films, and episodes mentioned, so those wanting to view the cited material to supplement their reading experience can do so. By default, each chapter focuses on a single superhero and is divided into three sections, each addressing a sub-set of a greater concept like love, fear, anger, or salvation.
Whether or not the reader is familiar with the superheroes is irrelevant. Familiarity definitely deepens the experience, but the devotionals are designed to introduce readers to the characters even if they aren’t already familiar. That said, Holy Heroes’ most ideal audience is one thoroughly immersed in all aspects of fandom—cosplay, comics, films, television series, and Con experiences. Bayles includes his cosplay experiences on a chapter-by-chapter basis and rarely references a single medium per superhero, giving each devotional a well-rounded approach.
The strongest devotionals rely almost entirely on a balance of scripture and superhero, though about half of these devotionals use references from outside the genre to clarify points. References to Peanuts comics and historical events alike help paint the picture the author intends to make, but at the expense of breaking the two-way act between Christianity and the fictional character. Despite occasional hammy questions and altar-call conclusions, the book’s intended audience is notably mature, as the author uses a higher level of vocabulary and sometimes addresses darker topics. The few, scattered typos will likely be corrected by the finished printing.
In addition to being spiritually nourishing, Holy Heroes is spiritually encouraging. Each chapter opens with a full-page photo of a Christian cosplayer portraying the character up for discussion; and most chapters open with a personal testimony of a time said cosplayer used their costume for God’s glory—either to witness to a terminal patient, provide water and refreshments to Con attendees, or to bring joy to a lonely or saddened heart. Through this approach, Bayles goes beyond simply finding God in pop culture and makes a bold statement: that our hobbies—our geekiness—are God-given and meant to be used to glorify Him; that God loves geeks.
Fortunately, Christianity and pop culture have begun intersecting online through a handful of non-profit organizations and independent bloggers. But in the world of print, where this cross-over is mostly uncharted territory, Holy Heroes is a rare treat—one that showcases an impressive depth of superhero lore, personal fandom experiences, and biblical truths. This may be the only devotional you’ll ever read where Superman meets Jesus, Black Widow meets Saul of Tarsus, and Green Arrow meets Joseph.
Whether you’re a fan of Marvel, DC, or just looking to learn what all the superhero fuss is all about, Holy Heroes provides unique insight into the beloved genre and iconic characters from a Christian geeks’ perspective. If that’s not worth a hearty “Shazam!” then I don’t know what is.
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