Christians in Pop Culture: Comic Books

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Over the years, being a Christian has became less and less of an okay thing. This is a total truth in Pop Culture. Whether this is due to society only seeing the negative aspects of hypocritical Christians or whether the world at large would rather not involve a benevolent God into their lives; having to traverse this life, when in certain walks of life you are laughed at for your beliefs, makes it extremely cumbersome. As a Christian, I try to bite my tongue when my friends do not share my personal religious beliefs but I have had some ask me how I can watch Doctor Who which in no way supportive of organized religion or even The Big Bang Theory TV show whose lead character, Sheldon, pokes fun at his religious mother. So am I a hypocrite for watching Doctor Who on Saturday night and getting up on Sunday morning to attend church? What about my love for astrology and interest in science? What about my favorite novel; or better yet what do my comic books say about religion? Can my Christian faith exist in a comic book world? 

In the 2012 movie The Avengers, Captain America is advised to ‘sit the fight out’ because, since Black Widow considers Thor and Loki to ‘practically be Gods’. Captain America’s response of “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that,” caused a smile to creep upon my face. Now the atheist movie viewer may have heard this and blew it off as Cap’ averting the confidence in his own abilities but the Christian in me heard something completely different. Cap stood in the face of the Asgardian ‘Gods’ and realized that they were fallible and not anything like the God in which he believed. He knows what Thor himself admitted that the Asgardians aren’t gods. In a pre-Korvac storyline, the Avengers venture into a church and Thor himself feels uneasy because he admits that Christians don’t think much of Thor. It is pointed out by his conversation with Wanda (aka The Scarlet Witch) that even Odin does not consider himself to be a the ‘Supreme Divinity’. Thor again admits to his not being a supreme being in a current issue of the Thor comic, where he is confronted by a small child who calls him a liar. The little child calls him a liar because he is claiming to be a God and that he was taught that there was only one God. Thor tells the child that he is a higher being, but there is a higher being than he and his kind. Thor and the Asgardians are an extremely advanced alien race whose technology made them appear to be all powerful creatures to the humans that they visited long ago. They whether fact or fiction, did have a hand in shaping our culture. So, I think that when Marvel or the Marvel Cinematic Universe refers to these Asgardians or any other celestial creatures as ‘god’ they are simply referring to the fact that they are ‘the thing of legend’ like the beautiful Black Widow says in the 2012 Avengers movie. In contrast with the ecclesiastical Judeo-Christian God whom we refer to as “God”, these other ‘gods’ do not hold absolute power nor are they all knowing. Am I saying that Thor worships Jesus…not by any means. What I am saying is that Thor, much like Captain America acknowledges that THE God exists. 

I started to talk about Captain America but switched to a ‘god’. So am I trying to insinuate that Captain America is a Christian? Maybe he is…maybe he is Chris_Evans_-_Captain_America_2_press_conference.jpgnot. I think that we need to remember that while Cap’ was frozen in time, using bad language sadly became a norm. But I don’t know is what is inside the once frozen heart of America’s greatest Soldier. I do however know what lies within the heart of the mutant whose blue appearance, cloven feet, prehensile tail, pointed ears and an overall demonic appearance: Kurt Wagner. Kurt Wagner, commonly known as the Nightcrawler, came to us in all his blue glory in the 1975 Giant-Size X-Men #1 and hasn’t stopped transporting himself into the Marvel Universe’s story lines since. In my early years as a comic reader and cartoon watcher, I was enthralled by the X-Men. In the early 1990s, the X-Men: The Animated Series was quite simply amazing but an episode in 1995 (Episode 44 titled “Nightcrawler” to be exact) brought the little Christian in me to tears. I, being raised in the church, was not used to seeing any Christians on main stream television. (Other than one of my other favorite shows that I grew up watching: ‘Walker Texas Ranger’. Gotta love Chuck Norris.) On this specific episode of X-Men; Rogue, Wolverine and Gambit go on a vacation and as always, find something eery going on when they get there. They hear tell of a demon haunting the local church, whom we find out to be the friendly yet demonic looking Nightcrawler. Wolverine wants to rip the townspeople apart for their wanting to hurt Nightcrawler based on his appearance but Nightcrawler demonstrates his strong faith in God by forgiving the people that judged him and even helped Wolverine deal with some of his internal demons. Nightcrawler’s confession of faith in this episode as well as episode 68 where Nightcrawler is revealed to be Mystique’s abandoned son. In the event that people want to scrutinize Nightcrawler and say that after becoming a Catholic priest he had many human like struggles with his faith, we cannot deny that just this inclusion of God is impressive to a Christian and a powerful testimony to God. 

In Pop Culture and in the comic universe, there are countless instances where Christians are viewed as back-woodsy and less intelligent humans who distort the word of God for their own motives. So the few times in which a Christian or just a person having faith is shown in a positive light will always be a good thing in my eyes despite many comic characters (such as Ghost Rider, Spawn, The Redeemer, the Anti-Spawn, etc) showing Christianity and the battle between Good and Evil in other lights. Whether the characters who were given power by God, the Devil or have had interaction with God; the mention of religion in comic book universes is not foreign. The historical figure out Jesus actually appeared in comic books many times and Marvel even produced many Biblical stories.

So can a Christian be a fan of the different aspects of Pop Culture and even find a paragon within the comic book universe? The answer is unequivocally yes. While Philippians 4:13 is synonymously linked with finding strength, Superman also is quoted as saying that “(y)ou’re much stronger than you think you are. Trust me.” So some of the most powerful writing on the planet can be found in your Holy Bible but could be also be found within has been found within the 20+ folded pages of drawings and words. 

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Jesus of Nazareth Comic cover accredited to Marvel Comics, marvel.wikia.com/wiki/jesus_of_Nazaerth_(Earth-616)

An Old Rugged Cross by and accredited to Chris English, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56580686

Chris Evans – Captain America 2 Press Conference photo by and accredited to Elen Nivrae – http://www.flickr.com/photos/nivrae/13222040093/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31731283

 

Nacho Libre and the real Priestly Luchador

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In the summer of 2006, the world was introduced to a half-Mexican priest who secretly wrestled as a masked luchador to raise money for the orphans at his monastery. The sports comedy starred the always funny Jack Black in a movie written by Mike White, Jerusha Hess and Jared Hess (yeah…Napoleon Dynamite). My family and I fell in love with the simple, family friendly comedy; but recently I unexpectedly found out that the movie is loosely based on a true story.

320px-Jack_Black_(25747103295)Nacho Libre, though loosely based on the life of real-life Catholic priest in Hildago, Mexico, centers around a priest who works as the monastery’s cook but dreams of being a luchador. The priest, Ignacio, loves the orphans that he works with but the orphanage does not respect him nor do they give him money for the quality ingredients needed for good food. This causes his food to become more and more inedible (much to the literal and metaphorical distaste of the head priest). One night while collecting the free leftover chips from a restaurant in town, he was jumped by a street vagrant named Steven. He and Steven eventually joined forces once Nacho had reached his breaking point the next day when the already terrible meal was without the only redeeming factor…the chips. Even though he is losing almost every match, Ignacio is enjoying the fruits of being a semi-pro 640px-Jackblackandtomhowardluchador. To keep his identity secret (because the monastery thinks that wrestling is a sin), Ignacio adopts the name “Nacho” and Steven becomes “Esqueleto” (Skeleton in Spanish). The reason that wrestling is a sin? Because they are wrestling for vanity. When Nacho finally realizes that the Lord will bless him if he wrestles for the children…he becomes a professional luchador and even beats the greatest wrestler to ever live.

The man who inspired Nacho Libre, Sergio Gutierrez Benitez, got his inspiration after watching two Mexican wrestling movies in which the protagonists of the stories are poor priests who support the children of their orphanages by becoming lucha libre wrestlers. Sergio went to Rome and Spain to train as a priest and even taught in many Roman Catholic universities when he got back to Mexico. After a time, he became a priest in the Diocese of Texcoco and founded an Orphanage; just like the movies that had influenced him to become not only a priest but a luchador wrestlers. He founded “La Casa de los Cachorros de Fray Tormenta” and he became the masked luchador Fray Tormenta. He hid his face, much like Nacho Libre, because he was afraid that no one would take him serious in the wrestling ring if they knew he was a priest (and vice versa).

180_FrayTormenta-01Fray Tormenta retired from the wrestling business in 2011 after a 23 year professional wrestling career. He still works passionately with the orphans as a priest. The soft spoken Fray Tormenta has lived an epic life but humbly still preaches in a simple old church in Mexico. The larger than life character has influenced movie writers to create amazing characters; as well as comic book, cartoon and video game creators. The Mexican padre might not be exactly as Nacho Libre portrayed him to be but this loyal luchador did what he had to to provide for the orphans. Which just happened to allow him to intertwine the two things that he was truly passionate about: wrestling and his orphanage. He managed to bring his beloved religion into the sport that he loved and even managed to bring some of his sport into the church. Fray Tormenta still dons his lucha libre mask while carrying out his priestly duties. Seriously, did you think I meant that he would throw an unrelenting church member into his the figure four leglock called “the Confessional” if they weren’t listening to his sermon? I do know that I would never fall asleep in his church. 🙂

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Featured Image: Luchador masks image by and accredited to StellarD – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56891280
Nacho Libre movie poster by and accredited to Paramount Pictures, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3953967
Jack Black red carpet photo by and accredited to Eva Rinaldi from Sydney Australia – Jack Black, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47516745
Jack Black and Tom Howard training for Nacho Libre image by and accredited to Tom Howard, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8302967
Fray Tormenta black and white image by and accredited to alchetron.com, Fair use, http://www.traditioninaction.org/revolutionphotos/Images%20(101-200)/180_FrayTormenta-01.jpg
Fray Tormenta Priest and Luchador by and accredited to Vice Sports, sports-images.vice.com/images/2015/01/08/addict-priest-luchador-the-incredible-semi-true-life-of-fray-tormenta-body-image-1420677603.jpg