One of the key factors behind the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been way it has taken the often two-dimensional characters of the comics and given them a story that explains what has made them who they are and why they do the things they do.
While still staying true to the idea that there is a good and evil, and that being a hero means trying to do the right thing, it has shown that life is messy and things aren’t always black and white.
It's great to see the heroes as real people, trying to make the right choices and work out what is the right thing to do. We can identify with them because we go through the same struggles as we try to navigate life, just with less explosions and aliens (hopefully). But, what I think has been even more important is how it has treated the villains.
With a few exceptions, the bad guys haven’t been evil for the sake of being evil. We are shown their motivations for doing what they do, and without justifying or excusing their actions, or pretending wrong is right, we can at least understand them. And, it reflects real life, because it shows that they believe that what they are doing is the right thing to do. They don’t see themselves as the villain of the story, but the hero.
Different ways to the same end
In our increasingly polarised world, especially around election time, it can be easy to think those who disagree with us are wilfully malevolent, and want to make the world worse for people—or at best, just don't care. But, for the most part, people think that their way is the right way to make the world a better place and that they are the good guys. Everyone wants to think they are the hero of their story, but sometimes we just don’t realise we are the villain.
I’ve noticed this is particularly true of Christians. When we read the Gospels we don’t cheer for the people who Jesus called to account, or who doubted him, or killed him. We like to think that we would have been one of the righteous characters in the story, who heard his message and believed, who tried to live a life like his, who followed in his footsteps even into death. But, sometimes we are seeing ourselves in the wrong reflection, unaware we are not the character in the tale we think we are.
Wrong end of the stick
When we read the story of Jesus going into the synagogue and driving out the tax collectors, we like to image we would have been swing the whip alongside him. But, when we look at how many churches are about making money, it’s hard not to think that we would be the ones behind the tables getting flipped.
Or when we read Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees as whitewashed tombs, all about appearances, and more worried about following the letter of all our rules and regulations than helping those in need, do we realise that prophets like Martin Luther King Jr or William Booth were condemned for breaking the rules by the church establishment? Like Jesus, it was only after their deaths that the way they changed lives was truly honoured.
And, as I write this and read the news, I wonder if we had been in the crowd when the woman was taken in adultery whether we would have picked up a stone, more worried about punishing the sin than showing love to the sinner. Would we have acted like we were righteous, able to stand in judgement of another, hiding our own sins until they were written in the sand for all to see? Or would we have offered forgiveness and the chance of a fresh life, where we could try and be better—the grace that we would want for ourselves? There seems to be a lot of judgement on places like social media, and not much grace.
Changing the Narrative
But, like any good superhero movie or epic tale, in life villains can become heroes before the end. We all want to be the good guys, let’s make sure that we aren’t actually on the wrong side.
David Goodwin is the former Editor of The Salvation Army’s magazine,War Cry. He is also a cricket tragic, and an unapologetic geek.
David Goodwin archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html