*sigh* Being mildly A.D.D. and very Irish has its disadvantages, to be sure.
Question 1: Which heroes in comics are the most Christ-like, regardless of their religious beliefs?
Frank Miller, in his heydey of the 80's with The Dark Knight Returns and Daredevil: Born Again, said that Daredevil was the most Christian superhero conceived. He's a defender of the poor as a blind trial lawyer and a fighter of evil as a superhero. I think Miller gave us a beautiful rendition of Matt Murdock, explaining his strong faith (and the very weakness of his flesh - Matt goes through girlfriends like a Southerner goes through paper napkins at a barbeque), explaining that his mother was a nun and his father a prize-fighter who'd rather die than quit.
Stan Lee didn't have all that in mind when he created the character; it was Frank Miller who pulled it all together. Miller also gave some Christ-like qualities to Batman, having him fight all the forces in the world, die and come back to life again. These ideal men and their failures make compelling reading, very adult reading in some cases, and yet they are such Biblical archetypes, I cannot help but recommend them. They are Samsons undone by their Delilahs. Miller LOVES that stuff and it shows. (p.s. Frank Miller - like Anne Rice - will become a Believer I think before he dies. He's in love with all the right stuff.)
But recently I've been looking around and I am surprised to see that we have a few candidates for "Most Christian Superhero with or without Religion", and my top picks are:
1) Spider-Man: his pride killed his uncle. Every day he lives to save lives, fight evil and typically care for the woman he loves. He has no other resources (until recently). He prays honestly and sincerely. We agree with about every moral choice Peter has ever made. (Here he thanks God for Mary Jane - a very touching scene.)
BTW, in fighting the arch-sorcerer Kulan Gath along with the X-men, Spider-man was left physically unchanged after the sorcerer transformed the entire world into the Babylonian Age. This was so the wizard could make an example of him, paying him back for a previous defeat -and he did this by crucifying Spidey on an X-shaped cross in Uncanny X-Men 190-191.
So I am not the only one who has noticed this Christ-likeness in our favorite wall-crawler.
2) Superman: the Moses and Samson and messianic overtones are clear. But what makes Kal-El special - and sadly, everyone wants to take this from him - is his high moral code and desire to help. Folks, keep in mind that an alien with laser beam eyes and supersonic flight, superstrength in the x1000's of tons range, and X-Ray vision had BETTER keep a close watch on his morals and heart. He decides to really take over and 'straighten everything out' and Earth loses in 4.3 seconds.
No, I mean it. In the movies, we see him turn back time. You don't EVER want to make the "god made man" ruthless. I've played in RPGs with such people. Scary doesn't begin to cover it.
Where was I? Oh yeah, Most Christian...
3) Green Lantern: the oath ALONE is worth the price of admission into his mythos. It is the coolest boldest little verse you can ever spout as you tap into power only limited by your will:
In Brightest Day,
In Blackest Night,
No evil shall escape my sight,
Let all who worship evil's might,
Beware my power, GREEN LANTERN'S LIGHT!
We are supposed to be shining lights. I consider the GL Corps an example of the Body of Christ in action: a bunch of weirdos united in one cause. ;)
4) Daredevil: as I said above, but that was then. I think later writers lost some of Miller's beautiful dichotomy and pushed in more darkness than was necessary. Its a fine line to walk, and I have NOT read a lot recently, so I don't know. I liked Daredevil: Born Again and what Miller gave us in Matt's history and faith.
5) Captain America: he really could be much higher on this list, but I want to avoid confusing patriotism, nationalism and Christianity. In World War II, whether you had much faith or not, you went to church on Sunday, and expected everything to be basically shut down. Steve Rogers grew up with American theism and his personal example of doing the right thing against ANY tyrant - at home or abroad - sings with the view that all men must answer to God.
Cap's 'religion' is the Constitution of the United States. His nobility is tied to a view of freedom for men under God.
He doesn't worship America, and has a God-fearing attitude toward truth and his fellow man.
I'm sure there are others I am overlooking. ROM Spaceknight comes to mind, fighting "demons" (i.e. Dire Wraiths) who are disguised as humans. Barry Allen, the Flash, dying to save the universe in Crisis on Infinite Earths, was another.
The test is the motivation behind the character, not just the religious views. Christ has always wanted our hearts, not our heads simply because that's where we go wrong the worst. Our motives - what moves us - pushes us in the direction of truth and light or self and darkness.
Frankly, its a bit easier for me to come up with villains than heroes. "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" The Preacher Does! :D
Question 2: How do you feel about the way the netherworld, magic, or mythological pantheons--have been presented in comics?
Back in 70's, most of it was tame enough. We thrilled to Shakespearian dialogue as Thor met Odin and Sif and Balder the Brave. We knew that if we wanted to read horror-heroes - Ghost Rider, Werewolf by Night, etc. - we would be getting some demonology and occultism. I steered away from them for that reason. I was raised in a conservative but imaginative home (my mother painted and wrote some poetry), and we knew that the Adversary of Mankind was to be avoided and a respectful distance was to be placed around such areas.
The real problem I have these days is what I overheard at a "How to Make Comics" seminar at a public library. It was kindergarten-level info but nicely handled by some real pros in the business. We were having a discussion about Mary Jane being taken from Peter by Mephisto (Marvel's 'Devil') in the "One Day More" storyline and a young guy said "Well he's the Devil! He can do that! He's All-Powerful!"
Now, I looked at this guy and did NOT want to rip his head off with my faith in God and my empowerment by Christ. I did NOT want to preach up the room - which I would have in the jail or in any setting where the invitation to speak on faith was apparent. And this was, after all, Marvel Comic's representation of the Devil, not a recognized faith or religion.
I said "Uh.... no, man. God is all-powerful. The Devil is just a fallen angel. Yeah, he's powerful, but he ain't God. He doesn't create or anything. He just perverts."
Now that is about as low-key as you can handle that subject. What bothered me was not that the kid had no 'religious training', no Biblical knowledge, no understanding of Medieval literature based on the Christian faith - no, what bothered me is that his ONLY view of the metaphysical was being given to him by some artist and writer through Marvel Comics.
You may know that EVERYONE in the comics industry decries Dr. Wertham's book "The Seduction of the Innocent" as anti-comic, anti-freedom of speech propaganda?
Only one problem: I think he had a good point. Children cannot edit or judge what is good or right, what is normative or not, until they are given tools age, experience and wisdom. Those often come from books given to them by their elders.
Kids who grow up in alcoholic families think its normal for dads to slap their wives and destroy the house. Kids who grow up spouting hate-filled epithets at each other think that's just the way the world is.
Kids who grow up with no understanding of the Bible have no idea who Satan is - and it gets introduced to them the first time by guys who are just trying to make a buck with an entertaining story.
These kids are growing up on Ramen noodles and mayo and think they got Pasta Linguini with Alfredo sauce.
I want kids to be well-taught in the basic truths of God's Word before they pick up a mass-marketed story that defines evil beings as 'all-powerful.' The youth's immortal soul and the training of their heart is far more important to me than it is to the editors at Marvel or DC, I would imagine.
Frankly, I am often horrified at what happens when most writers go into that area. Their unbelief and accusations of God reveal their lack of love and respect for Him.
I guess what I would say is this: I have no intention of censoring by force such stories. I vote with my wallet. That works pretty well, in fact, 'cause these guys are out to make money, not tell spiritual truths.
But if I were Editor-in-Chief, I would strive to honor God in what I let be published. I would use my authority to edit and re-direct any metaphysical stories to emphasize the wickedness of the Devil, his murderous and lying aspects, and present the Creator of All as benevolent to His children and dwelling in "unapproachable light."
DC Comics used to do that. I liked it. We can all pretty much agree on that, no matter what faith background we have.
A Final Confession:
Well, that's all I gotta say except I guess I should admit I do like two very un-Christian heroes. I find their style and image compelling, but I just cannot get behind them in origin or mythos:
Ghost Rider and Wonder Woman.
NOTHING is cooler IMNSHO than Ghost Rider riding his flaming motorcycle up a 30-story building with that flaming skull of his, out to bring his vengeance upon the wicked! WOW! But, dear reader, I just cannot get past the fact that the DEVIL has empowered him - to fight evil??? Why wouldn't the Devil take the power back from him? Non-sequiter, you know?
...and as a boy I fell for Lynda Carter's portrayal of Wonder Woman like all the rest of my generation. She was sweet, she was super-strong, she was gracious, she was BEAUTIFUL - wow!
But the origin is always screwed up: she's a statue come to life. By a goddess. Its just TOO Greek mythos for me. And of course men are BAD ["No man may set foot on Paradise Island!"], and women are GOOD. I just cannot get past those two concepts: the life creation by a Greek goddess and that "devout feminism = peace, love and beauty." That double-combo just shuts her out of my imagination as uninvitable.
If I ever can create a Christian version (i.e. Christ-honoring, God as sole Creator and Vengeance taker) of those two characters, I'll let you know.
Thanks for the questions. May our Lord Jesus Christ bless you richly today.