Biblical Scholars and Comic Book Geeks have a similar skill set. I realised this when I began the biblical studies portion of my theological degree. I have never forgotten this, though I have struggled to explain it. Then I started reading a book about Batman and it all came into focus. This is a big one. Get ready.
The Great Bat Crusade
The Caped Crusade by Glen Weldon covers the many years of Batman in comics, movies, television and gaming. Weldon is the cue for my realisation of how my academic and geek worlds unite. For this we need to revisit the history of Batman on television. The groovy 1966 Batman played by Adam West.
West either ruined Batman or mildly poked fun at the source material. For the fans who had grown up reading Batman, West in his grey and blue tights, was heresy writ large. As Weldon writes (so many times) the majority of fans consider Batman to be a “Badass!”. In their minds Batman is not a civic-minded law abiding bat-dad. No. Batman is a violent, brooding, nightmare fuelled justice machine.
By 1966 the comic fans were already organising the many years of comics into a canon. Weldon uses the term “Talmudic” to describe the acts of these fervent fans. These were faithful readers seeking a consistent timeline to a serialised character that started in 1939. It is an act that began in bedrooms, fanzines, and, lives large on the internet.
The Biblical comparisons to comics when you consider the compilation of Christian Canon and the Scholarship that continues to this day are not that far removed. In most cases the similarities are incredibly uncanny.
Biblical Scholarship in the Christian setting is a lot of goyim (non-jews) analysing the written output of Jewish writers. Comic fandom is a lot of goyim reading and writing about the characters written and drawn by American Jews.
This is true for Batman. Kane’s original name was Robert Kahn born of Eastern European Jewish immigrants like so many comic book creators. Superman (Siegel and Shuster), Captain America (Jack Kirby), The Fantastic Four, The Hulk (Jack Kirby and Stan Lee) and so many more. And that is just the historical similarity.
Reboots and Canon
Christianity is oft described as the worlds biggest book club. Christian biblical history is one of assembling and critique. Throughout Christian history there are those books that are questioned. Revelation is still questioned by many. Jewish texts like the Maccabees and Judith are ok for Catholics but not protestants. Then there are texts such as The Shepherd of Hermas which has been part of biblical canon only to be removed.
Comic canon shifts to the whims of commercial and editorial influences. DC comics (Batman and Superman’s publisher) has since the 1980’s rebooted their entire universe many times. These reboots or Crises were initially meant to bring order to a company that owned characters that originated from multiple publishers.
DC wanted to create a single universe. It did not last. The last few reboots were set to streamline the content, much in the way the protestant canon removed Jewish apocryphal texts. Merely cosmetic alteration or something else? I do often wonder.
Retcon and Documentary Hypothesis
Those who have studied biblical texts should know about the documentary hypothesis. J, P, E and D are the titles given to sources which have been charted through the Jewish text. Each letter describes a group who edited the text.
Sometimes they are subtle changes others are not. It can be spotted when one looks at the translated words used for G-d. Elohim, Adonai and Yhwh. It is a huge part of the scholarship as it charts the development of the text that has become the Jewish scriptures.
For comics and especially Batman redaction is regular. As Glen Weldon poses the changes for Batman follow a familiar path. Badass Loner, Genius Detective and Bat-Dad. Robin is killed. Robin comes back. Batman joins the Justice League. Batman goes off on his own. Rinse and repeat.
The similar connections between comic and bible are more than just a realisation that literary scholarship is a huge part of Christianity. Because we need to see the contextual connections that this gives us. Connections that are derided by both geekdom and christianity.
You see it in the faces of people when you try to explain these parallels. Both comic book geek and devout christian will not want to see their texts muddied by the possibility that there could be connections between them. Which stymies the possibility of dialogue.
A certain dialogue has begun from those who read and write comics. A dialogue that is my favourite, and only, podcast. Apocrypals. Where two non-believers read through the bible and try not to be jerks about it. It is the perfect union where the fan and the faith collide. It could not fit me any better than it does.
Apocrypals and Teenage Peter
Benito Cerino and Chris Simms read through Christian and Jewish texts. Both write comics and are uber fans. In Glen Weldon’s Caped Crusade Chris is thanked for being the Batmanologist that he is. Benito writes at Grunge.com and is a Santa Fan. No, really, he is a huge fan of Santa Claus. Benito and Chris bring their love of story and their differing viewpoints with Benito’s Literature and Latin studies and Chris’ curiosity and playfulness.
Listening to this podcast has brought for me a new love for those texts not in biblical canon. Also a new view of the characters in canon. In covering the gospels their view of Peter as a teenager just makes so much sense. Peter’s impetuous nature in the Gospels and the way in which he runs from crisis to success and crisis befits a younger man. Seriously just think about it.
Israel means he who wrestles with God. To truly engage with the text be it comics or scripture you must wrestle with it. To accept it without question is just as much of a problem as denying it. To begin a dialogue with others requires being able to accept that which is shared over that which divides us.
As people who believe we must rise to the challenge. Because like Jacob, we wrestle not just with man and a text but also with God. If we really believe that we have a message that is relevant. That brings change in ourselves and the world then we have to find ways to begin the dialogue. I have found this connection, where do you find yours?
The Caped Crusade: Batman and the rise of nerd culture. Written by Glen Weldon
Apocrypals posts new episode fortnightly. Next Release Monday June 1st 2020.
@Apocrypals on twitter
Bentio Cereno can be found on tumblr and if you want to twitter
Chris Simms can be found online Chris’s Invincible Superblog
Phillip Hall has been too long in Melbourne to see AFL in the same light as those back in Fremantle. East Fremantle born and bred, he would love to see the Dockers back in the eight. But would settle for just beating West Coast twice a year.