Tag Archives: Clark Kent

Recovering Ideals (5)

The fourth story in DC Comics’ The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes by Alex Ross and Paul Dini is Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth. The plot follows the pattern of giving the backstory first. In this case it is the founding of Themyscira by the Amazons on Paradise Island followed by the creation of Diana from clay by her mother, Hippolyta, the Amazon queen who has been empowered by the goddess, Aphrodite. Continuing the pattern, the story moves on to the recurring theme of the series.

As is probably evident by now, the recurring theme in this collection is the difficulty that superheroes have in dealing with the attitudes of the people they are trying to serve. This goes beyond getting human beings to behave. It is impossible to over-ride free will and force people to receive the right help in the right way. Our species can be funny that way.


Although there are plenty of instances where Wonder Woman can do her normal superhero thing, there are others in which her efforts are not well-received.


Take, for instance, this sequence where she prevents a tank from crushing a girl. The recipient of her heroism runs away from her in fear.

Artist: Alex Ross (Credit: DC Comics)

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As another example, a Muslim crowd takes offense at her appearance and looks upon her activity as meddling by a cultural outsider. Instead of a hero’s welcome, she is greeted by a hail of thrown rocks.

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Humbled and frustrated by these incidents, she (as Diana Prince) confers with Superman (as Clark Kent). I think their appearance here in their “secret identities” is effective because it reinforces the advice he gives her. Having been humbled himself in the first story, he mentions that it would be more effective to work beside people rather than above them. In other words, identification helps bridge the gap in perception between ordinary individuals and those who are extraordinary.

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There are some interesting portrayals of Wonder Woman trying to become more involved with humanity by working in war zones as an explosives remover and (as in the illustration below) a nurse.


The following sequence in which she prevents the use of women as a human shield is perhaps one of the better known from this story.






I really liked the approach of inserting this character into real world situations (of which I have shown only a few). I also liked the idea of a nearly perfect character of mythological origin concealing her supernatural ability in an effort to communicate more effectively with people.

Next week: the final story of this excellent graphic novel.

Recovering Ideals (2)

Immature idealism, while not without value, has some problems. Perhaps greatest of these is that it is self-aggrandizing. The immature often turn their ideals back toward a pride in themselves. As an example, helping others can be done with the aim of seeing oneself as one who helps others rather than out of a genuine concern for others. Many who claim to love the masses do not love the individuals of whom the masses are composed.


Consider the following quote from The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis:

“She’s the sort of woman who lives for others – you can tell the others by their hunted expression.”

It’s not until we get to know individuals and connect names with faces that we can experience a more genuine compassion. Superman: Peace on Earth, the first story from The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes (DC Comics) by Alex Ross and Paul Dini,  begins in this way when Superman rescues a starving girl and delivers her to a shelter where she can receive food.


This leads him, as Clark Kent, to do some personal research into the problem of world hunger and its causes. Based on his recent experience, he is particularly moved by photographs of starving individuals, particularly children, and, as Superman, he becomes motivated to seek world-wide cooperation in gathering food and solving the problem.


Initially, his efforts are gratifying.


One panel that impressed me shows him descending past Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor), the huge Art Deco statue of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro, with a large container of food held above his head.


A second problem with immature idealism is impatience. This often stems from pride and the related desire for the singular, heroic act which, in turn, feeds that pride. Within the one day that Superman set aside for his task, he realizes that it will not be enough. The problem he is attempting to solve is simply too great.


Even he can’t be everywhere at once, day after day. He discovers the host of complications which frustrate efforts at charity in the real world: fear and suspicion among intended recipients, bottlenecks imposed by corrupt governments (some of which use starvation as a tool for controlling their populaces), and the unwillingness of those who are capable of lending assistance. It had been his hope that the world would follow his example, but much of the food goes to waste.


A powerful being can control humanity about as effectively as a human can control ants. They just don’t follow orders very well. Should one leave the ants to work out their own issues or choose to crush them? This hints at the difficulty absolute power might face in persuading people to receive help and to stop harming and exploiting each other. This reminds me of when I was in track practice at my high school and saw a friend of mine being jumped. This had happened to me one year earlier, and I had ended up with my jawbone being kicked into three pieces (prior to having it wired shut by an oral surgeon). A teammate and I rushed to break it up, and we were joined by a star player from our state-ranked basketball team. The three of us had a devil of a time getting the attackers to stay off of their intended victim. We simply didn’t have enough hands, and they kept going around us. To use our fists would have been to become what we were fighting. A passing motorist even tried to help us, and we eventually succeeded. My teammate and I were not small, but I remember feeling inadequate despite our superior size and strength (one of the young thugs only came up to my shoulder). I wonder what God must think whenever we act out. I’m glad he doesn’t just crush us.


Solving human problems requires the coordinated and persistent effort of other human beings: human beings with ideals, the courage and commitment to act in accordance with them, and patience for the long haul. Even at that, we can only help and influence those we can, and some still might not respond. Using this as a major component of a superhero story is a challenging approach because it puts responsibility right back on us, including those of us who believe in, and pray to, God.

Ancient To Modern: The Strong Man (3)

These next three characters have their origins in science fiction rather than mythology. One thing they all have in common is inhuman strength.


An alien refugee from the destroyed planet Krypton, Kal-El does really well in earth’s atmosphere and under earth’s sun. His secret identity in which he masquerades as an earthling is that of Clark Kent. He is so familiar that I need not list all of his powers. Instead of discussing the evolution of this character from DC Comics, I’ll cut straight to these images by Alex Ross, my favorite artist in the superhero genre.



There is no more iconic character in the history of comics.

The Hulk

I appreciate this character from Marvel Comics because he is a metaphor for what lurks in all of us. As the result of a gamma ray explosion, there is a link between his physical and emotional states.

Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics
Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics

Most notably, stress and rage transform slight, mild Robert Bruce Banner into a huge, green monster. The more upset he gets, the stronger he gets.

Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics
Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics

Have you ever taken a good look at yourself when you’re mad? Probably not, because you probably can’t. You feel like you’re in control when you’re not, and you typically regret your actions later. This gets back to my view of the Hulk as a metaphor for the human condition. We all consider ourselves to be better people than we are. I wonder how often the difference between us and those we think of as evil can be attributed to whether or not opportunity, trauma, and a host of other circumstances has pushed us to extremes that unleash the beast. Weigh in if you wish, I deliberately just dropped a bomb. If you agree with me, you may metaphorically add your signature to the illustration below.

Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics
Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics

Oh, and I really like the way he is portrayed by Mark Ruffalo in the Disney Marvel Universe.

Credit: Disney Marvel
Credit: Disney Marvel

The Thing

Benjamin Jacob Grimm was transformed into the Thing when an inadequately-shield vessel was bombarded with cosmic radiation during a space flight.  Other members of his crew became the rest of the Fantastic Four in the same incident.

Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics
Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics

Unlike Banner, his condition doesn’t depend on his emotions.

Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics
Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics

That’s enough said. Here is one more piece of eye candy from Alex Ross since he’s making this post look so good. His visuals transform any story, and that’s his superpower.

Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics
Credit: Alex Ross and Marvel Comics

I’ll call it here. The strong man has been a cultural icon throughout history in various parts of the globe. Perhaps this is because of our desire to be able to protect ourselves, to take matters into our own hands. I think often of this in relation to Christianity and its doctrine which stresses the need for internal control from the hand of a higher source. In that light, I wonder if the trend of making female superheroes stronger and angrier might not be hiding other approaches which have escaped consideration because of all the cultural noise. After all, I don’t think rage and swagger look good on anybody.