Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Strange Tales

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/marvelcinematicuniverse/images/8/8a/Dr_Strange_Fuller_Textless_Poster.jpg/revision/latest/scale-to-width-down/335?cb=20160512000840
"By the Layers of Photoshop,
Behold my Awesome!"
Three miracles happened this month; you need to know them, so you can give thanks. Abraham Lincoln decreed we should have “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” and these certainly qualify.

First, the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years after being behind three games to one. They won it in the 10th inning after blowing a beautiful 5-2 lead. As one Facebook friend said of the last minute victory - after a rain delay of 17 minutes - “there are no fingernails left in Illinois.”

Secondly, contrary to my own prediction and those of the liberal-controlled media, Hillary Clinton lost the election for President of the United States to Donald “You’re Fired!” Trump. I have zero point zero adoration for Hillary Clinton and the same for Trump. I can only defend the platform he stood upon, as a conservative that despises his own past sins. I oppose abortion, and find partial-birth abortion especially heinous and damnable. I also found the Affordable Healthcare Act [“ObamaCare”] a terrific burden that was re-labeled a tax merely to slip by the objections of the Supreme Court. If you get it, you pay dearly, [standard family of 4 pays $12k and has a deductible of roughly the same]. If you do not, you are fined thousands of dollars.

I thought Hillary Clinton’s policies a bomb dropped into the heart of the American family. I think Trump is a baseball bat to the teeth of American liberals, and they have begun protesting and crying and damning all at once. It is madness. But I thought Hillary would win. I really did.

I was wrong.

Thirdly, I went to see Doctor Strange, though as an evangelical Christian who was raised to avoid all sorcery and magic, I never followed one of his adventures. I never cared a wit for his character, either. I did, however, think Benedict Cumberbatch a perfect casting for the role of Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme. He’d played a great Sherlock Holmes on PBS – brilliantly arrogant and aloof satisfied with his own intellect – and looked the part very well. So I said “I’ll see it once, just to get it done.”

I was shocked again. It was marvelous.

Strange Fiction

The creative crew followed the original line of “Arrogant Surgeon in Car Crash Loses Superior Skill to Become Earth’s Greatest Sorcerer” perfectly. The small updates to the bare bones origin were excellent, using distracted driving as the culprit that destroys the doctor’s fine motor tuning in his hands in a stupendously brutal whirling car wreck.

Let me take a fast aside to tell you how marvelous the editing was done on this film. I never once felt rushed, but got just enough breaths of pain as Strange tries to recover his former abilities, that I throughly enjoyed watching it happen the second time in my re-viewing. It was not muddled or cut short; it was clear. It hit, and moved on.

Caught that did you? I saw it twice in three days. I had to.

Now, in my defense and to clarify: this was not a movie about how to be a sorcerer.

It was a film about how there is a greater reality above and beyond our senses. It was more like watching “super Jedi” being born than some forbidden dark art. A wise choice by the producers, IMHO.

My favorite scenes are where we find how much Strange can do, but how much he cannot be. He is a child in very many ways, and terribly selfish. But to his credit, when he sees how foolish he has been, he repents.

I mean it: he repents. He becomes wiser too, not just more powerful.

He sees that everything has a price, and the promise of eternal life – well, of “not dying” - is Survivalist Mentality turned Evil. We are supposed to die to self and let go of our life here.

God does the edits in our life. It doesn’t matter if we like them.

Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

Here’s one section from I Corinthians 15:42-50 that I read to my mother before she died of cancer:

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

That’s what Strange finds out: the Natural Man is not enough.

He has to become a Spiritual Man.

Not a Technology Man or Theology Man or a Wise Man. A man born of the spirit–and we Christians know that should come from God–i.e. the Holy Spirit.

If you want to be a spiritual man, you can begin practicing yoga, looking for enlightenment, buying books, studying arcane things, or a host of other things.

Or you can ask God for His Spirit. Jesus paid for this, so you can go to Him in your heart and say “I want to be a spiritual man. I want to have your spirit, Jesus. I want to know You as a spiritual man and walk with You.”

If you do this, strange things will happen you cannot explain.

But they will become tales worth telling – and a thousand thousand lifetimes from today, we will still be laughing.

It is a bargain you dare not refuse. ;)

Amen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Star Trek: 50 Years & Counting–to Eternity

Oh how I loved K-Mart for having Megos!
[Man, the faces look FIERCE, don't they?]
It was 50 years ago Captain Kirk and his stalwart crew graced our living room TV screens for the first time, bringing us morality tales and social adventures featuring alien beings, gods, mad computers and split personalities, all hurtling through warped space fueled by anti-matter and raw courage.

Shatner's Kirk was perfectly balanced by Nimoy's Spock, with the kind and affable Kelly constantly stirring the emotional pot with the ever-elegant Nichols framed perfectly over Kirk's right shoulder, calmly announcing that hailing frequencies were indeed open.

So much has been written about the social norms Star Trek broke or challenged, there is no need to repeat them. What no one has ever acknowledged is that they were course-correcting an ungodly, un-Christian attitude towards race and the role of women, not inventing a better one.

Gene Roddenberry's moral idealism was attractive, even beloved, by many a Southerner and many a disenfranchised youth of the 70s. My school district of Southaven, Mississippi was very new in 1972, just four short years after Dr. King was shot and killed in Memphis, but it was fully “integrated” from day one. I grew up with black teachers and white teachers, black students and white students. My mother herself despised racism and the Jim Crow laws of the Old South. We were the New South, and we were to be Christ-like about it.

My mother loved Star Trek, but was wise enough to see its flaws I imagine. She was a creative person, given to agoraphobia and mood changes due to her Irish  heritage. If you think of Erma Bombeck meets Lucille Ball, you got a good idea of her personality and style. If you are too young to understand that reference, I am sorry.

So hating racism, and being a creative, she embraced imaginative stories. She wrote poems and painted and let her prepubescent son watch Star Trek. She probably saw that I was different from my brother and liked playing inside more than going outside and all things imaginative, so she worked with it. In 1975,we watched Star Trek re-runs in the afternoon on WHBQ, channel 13. From 3:30 to 4:30 we were mesmerized. I would jump off the school bus, hurl myself through our front door and turn on our large wooden Magnavox color TV. She would make us two ice-cold glasses of Lipton Instant Tea [with sugar and lemon already added—yum!] and together mother and son would dream of a better world, where so many of humanity's flaws had been overcome and the stars were in our reach.

The Enterprise. It was mine, all mine. *sigh*
We bonded. My mother approved: that next Christmas, Santa Claus made sure I had an all-Trek extravaganza. I have a picture with me clad my Spock pyjamas, pointing  a flashlight phaser at the camera, with my U.S.S. Enterprise action playset behind me on the dining room table. Even my silken dark brown hair is cut like Mr. Spock's. When I say I am a geek, I mean Old School, baby.

Of course I collected the books. All of them. Of course I memorized the episode titles and numbers. All of them. Of course I had the models—er, most of them (I was not good with the patience needed for gluing them together.)

But at the same time, I was being taught to be a Christian. We were going to our nice gentle Presbyterian church in Whitehaven—the part of Memphis where Elvis lived, just north of us. My mother and father had sadly discovered their limits and even personal failures in raising my older brother who was eight years my senior. He was fighting and losing battles internally. He was hurting. I was too young to know why, but I  remember my mother establishing something new in our home, which my father, a truck driver and Marine, complied with: we began having nightly Bible readings.

From the age of ten to the age of seventeen, my family made sure we had a time to intentionally sit down and hear what the Bible said about life, humanity, and God. This was as non-negotiable as putting on pants. One chapter from the Old Testament, one chapter from the New, roughly five nights a week.

I seem to recall it being faded out over time. I only have a handful of memorable events to recall. But it made an impact on me and I listened, though I was confused on several points.

I could not articulate it at the time, but I loved reason and the rationality of Mr. Spock. I also knew intuitively that the Bible was story—like Trek was—but unlike Trek it featured some truly messed-up "heroes". I caught on that being a Christian meant that we were preparing for a New Universe because this Old Universe was deeply flawed. Jesus said it, so it must be true. I never even thought to call Jesus a liar.

I found myself squirming as I heard over and over again how bad humanity was—to each other, to their spouses, to their children, to God and even going so far as to kill Jesus.

"Surprise!" was the story; it
was Nichelle Nichols sweet
epilogue that undid me.
I have never wanted to be religious, following a set of rules. But I have always loved space and wanted to explore. I wanted humanity to be good, not bad; like in Star Trek. I have a distinct memory of reading a heart-warming story from “Star Trek: The New Voyages 2” and walking outside to go look up at the stars on a crisp winter night.

I choked up. A huge sense of melancholy hit me. I wanted to be a part of their family, their crew, traveling through the stars, with kindness and compassion for each other. I did not want to go to school the next day and face bullies and homework and being called a fag behind my back. Or to my face.

I wanted the heavens. I was stuck on Earth. And because Spock was my hero, I enjoyed logic, science, math. I was an effortless student, getting B's and B+'s with minimal prep.

I realized that I would never, ever get to the stars. We simply did not have the technology. Even if we did, it would not be as Star Trek presented it. Differing evolutionary changes and societal forces would make the aliens most certainly our enemies first. Our human history proved that. The magic wrought by the dream of Star Trek began to fade.

Fast forward 10 years; I am a young man of twenty now.

My mother is dying of cancer. Her hope is no longer in social justice or humanity being able to travel to the stars. It is in the promises of the Bible. It is in being resurrected. It is in the “new heavens and new Earth” Jesus talks about.

Fast forward another 10 years. My marriage is over. My dream job gone. My hopes of happiness ended.

I am back in church. I am hearing the timeless tale that God had a Jewish son go through the Kobayashi-Maru to save us. I hear Amazing Grace that saves wretches like me. I hear that being saved from this world is an unearned gift, given by God. Suddenly I can see why all the “bad heroes” of the Bible were presented: they are not heroes; they are victims, being rescued from themselves.

I have a fight with God. He hears my complaint. He shows me my true self.

In a flash, I realize I am not just lost; I have been a rebel. I fall to my knees in a speed that would have made a pleading Captain Kirk proud.

Something changes in my soul. I can see why I loved what I loved, but could never obtain it on my own power. God has given me what I wanted. Love. Hope. Destiny.

I now have eternity to figure it out. I will die. I will be raised to life.

I will trek through the stars.

Forever.

Amen.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Tony Stark: the Iron Man I Needed to Be

Boss, boss! So very boss.
My first exposure to Iron Man was two-fold, so close, I cannot tell which came first. I will guess my first exposure to Shellhead was in The Avengers #143, with him and Cap getting Patsy Walker to be the new Hellcat.

I was 11 or 12. The line "Well, this is another fine mess you've gotten us into" to me was comedy gold. I knew of Laurel and Hardy and seeing two superheroes act properly [a lady is undressing] while kvetching about the situation was beautiful to me. It was fun; it was noble; it was unavoidable.

Iron Man and Cap were cool guys. I've covered the coolness of Cap; I owe Shellhead his due.

Mildred Ferguson, Lutheran Lady of Cool gifts
So my next door neighbor, a widow with two grown children and my mother's best friend, gave me gifts a few Christmases in a row. Thinking back, she made a real bummer of a Christmas morning [Santa had not gotten me a bike nor an Evel Knievel figure with cycle] pretty cool. Millie--as mom called her--was like that. God sent grace through this woman.

She on this one fine Christmas, she gave me a K-Mart "Triple Pack" of comics, that had three issues of Iron Man for "...one low price!"

Kraken's Kirby Krackle Kills!
Those were dam' good issues. It was Iron Man 94-96 with Jack Kirby covers and George Tuska art [Kirby did the inside of 94 as well].

Dude, you have no idea. While I admit the cover to 95 is merely serviceable, the covers for 94 and 96 are epic, with every bit of goodness we want in good Master Scene shots.

Thus, Iron Man became one of my faves. I liked him. I followed him in the Avengers. I bought the Mego action figure. He was neat.

Fast forward three years. David Micheline, Bob Layton and John Romita, Jr. get busy crafting the armored avenger.

Oh yeah. One other thing: America is going through a tech explosion. My parents buy their first digital calculator, FM radio is picking up speed and surpassing AM in listeners, our school gets a photocopier and lastly, personal home computers begin to appear. I even learn to load cassette programs onto a TRS-80 at a local Radio Shack. The guys were very generous to me though I was an annoying boychild. [cringes at memory of same]

Has Tony Stark ever looked cooler?
Nay, dear reader. Nay.
Demon in a Bottle
This was the watershed book; Tony Stark has fallen into alcoholism while playing superhero - the pressures of running his company Stark Industries and  unintentionally killing a sweet ambassador [and ardent fan] have come down so hard he is self-medicating. The art on the splash page is necessarily glorious and Shakespearian, for we are watching a nobleman in grave despair.

It is considered one of the finest Iron Man story arcs ever done. You may know all that. What you do not know is what it meant to me.

I was being bullied. I was being humiliated. It was a bad time in my childhood development. I was learning how hard, painful, relentless, cruel and vicious the world can be.

While I did not know it, there was alcoholism in my family and that meant I had the same cast in my heart: the desire to escape by self-medication.

My blue collar father and artistic mother, after putting me into a Christian Prep School - Southern Baptist Educational Center for one year, allowed me to escape the [expletive, expletive, expletive] hole of sanctimonious hell and let me return to public school. Where I promptly enjoyed myself and stupidly made an enemy with some large, surly, quiet Hispanic kid who made sure he hunted me down to teach me some manners. I think I almost deserved it. I was a smart mouth.

But he? I suspect he's doing [or ended] sort a poorly. He did not have a forgiving or kind spirit.

I had to pick myself back up from that, go to a nearby friend's house and tell him I'd just been hit. In the face. Yeah - it was just one hit. What a crybaby, you know?

Fast forward four years. I am again getting my face beat in. Also for "mouthing off" to someone bigger than me. The fist that blackens my eye and bruises my cheekbone, leaving a full unhideable mark that takes two weeks to heal is caused by a family member with a cross tattooed on his fist.

I heal. I move forward. I learn my lesson about the power of my words and threat. Some men - very manly ones - will pound me. I am not a man to them. I am a boy. Worse, I am a faggot.

No, I am not gay. I am a Momma's Boy. I have to learn slowly from dedicated Christian men and women how to be a man. It will not happen for decades. On this, I learn slowly. You learn by taking on responsibilities wisely and doing what is in front of you.

You learn to leave well enough alone. You learn to trust God and not men. My dad simply was a man; the Marines edited his Kentucky boy wildness and he respected them for it.

Me? I was too pretty and too civilized. Too egalitarian and liberal in my thinking. I was not a man. I was a man-ling, due to my mother's emotional needs and my father's absence. Later, it was black men and a white female manager who "manned" me up. They said "You are responsible for this. We trust you to do it. Don't lie down and quit. Just do it." When I did what I was supposed to do, a healthy pride and confidence came to me. They respected me, too.

I say all that to share what Iron Man meant to me.

It meant that a civilized, smart, charming man could fail and fail hard. He could even get someone killed, or endanger others with neglect. But if he was a man, he dealt with the problem. He seriously apologized, wiped his face off, took his lumps and got back up. That's the entire point of the character: he has a damaged heart. He looks great but inside can be dying.

But he gets back up.

He faces murder charges. He is falsely accused. The government is about to take total control of his company. His girlfriend admits she has a husband and must leave him. He weeps. Surrounded by wealth and power, he weeps.

And he gets back up.

I think God used this story arc of Tony Stark at just the right time in just the right place to help me accept a great deal of pain and abuse - some self-inflicted by childishness, some unwarranted no matter how I try to justify my perpetrators.

This verse from the Bible shows the same concept, though it was written roughly 3,000 years ago:

Proverbs 24:16
"For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, But the wicked stumble in time of calamity."

God picked me up. I saw graces in many friends even as I was hurt. I saw sympathy and compassion.

I pray I too will grant the same--or at least inspire another to do what Tony Stark did --get back up to fight evil one more time.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Captain America - 240 Years and Counting

I was 10 when I first saw Captain America in a comic. He was fighting big nasty spiders in New York under the control of the Yellow Claw in Captain America & Falcon #165.

The next time I saw him, he was with Iron Man and helping Patsy Walker become the Hellcat. I showed my dad the splash page after he was asking why I was reading comics in the car. "Because they are cool, dad - look!" He took one look at George Perez's fetching pinup of Hellcat and gave a appreciative grin. "Yeah. O.K."

He never bothered me about reading comics in the car again.

The next thing I remember seeing Cap in was a read-along Power Record, where he fights the son of an old villain. It was essentially a radio drama, an edited version of Captain America #168, put on a 45 rpm record.

CAP TAUGHT ME HISTORY
I learned a lot about the burdens Cap carried, just for being alive. All his enemies of ages past - or their offspring - hated him still. It was no fun surviving World War II. It seemed only your foes stayed vibrant.

I kept seeing Cap every month in the Avengers and so I was happy. He was a great soldier - a veteran like my dad and his friends - and he had an indestructible shield which simply was too cool for words. Back then, we comic fans knew only three things were absolutely indestructible in the Marvel Universe: Thor's hammer, Cap's shield and Ultron's robotic body.

As I matured and different writers came aboard, Cap changed to - he became more stalwart and less dramatic. I imagine it must have been the legacy of the writers as well - each one wanting in their time to add to the legend of Captain America.

But I think something else was transpiring, and it is hard to put into words so bear with me, gentle reader.

CAP WAS NEVER A SUPERHERO
Captain America looks and sounds just like your iconic superhero, one can easily forgive this error.

But the fact is, Cap is a super soldier, a man who wanted to fight for his country and stepped up to be experimented on. He is neither a victim nor an accident. His training came afterwards. He was always been a man on a mission. He's just America's most patriotic superhero.

Even his "secret identity" is as nothing. Steve Rogers is known by anyone who cares on sight.

CAP IS AN IDEAL
When Cap returned from "suspended animation", that was Jack Kirby bringing back his WW2 creation to speak to the disaffected youth of the 60s. I mean, seriously, you bring back a supersoldier patriot, and saddle him with a smart aleck carny trickshooter and two mutants and call them the new Avengers?

Wha?

But Jack and Stan knew that kids were feeling the changes in their society and it must have been just the easiest gut instinct to pair an old WW2 vet with some weird punks, just to show that old does not mean square or stupid. There can be acceptance and wisdom and respect - if you give some.

Cap is therefore a symbol - not just of America, but her veterans and her ideals worth fighting for.

In the first Avengers movie, there are some fabulously great "Cap" lines that say all the things we want to say as Americans. Things John Wayne used to say.
Steve Rogers: Word is you can find the cube.
Bruce Banner: Is that the only word on me?
Steve Rogers: Only word I care about.

Did you miss that?

You see America has this hope and ideal that men should not be judged except for their character. Not by the color of their skin, nor their wealth or power, just their character. In this brief exchange, actor Chris Evans simply NAILS the essence of Captain America: he doesn't care what the world says [i.e. "word on the street" or "word"], just that this cursed and alienated man is here to help, so Cap immediately accepts him without judgment.

This is the Cap we have before us now, and he's pretty good.

CAP IS A SYMBOL
He's struggled and limped through Viet Nam, Watergate and the end of the Cold War. He's been Nomad, the man without a nation and simply "the Captain" in the 80s, but we always knew Cap would come back, it just would take time.

Cap reflected our disillusionments in America after the glorious victory of WW2. The things we feared, he took on. From embracing mutants [hippies] to fighting the Serpent Crown [Watergate] to refusing to be a government puppet [Iran-Contra] and even fighting Iron Man [yuppies in corporations].

He's part of American history now. He's arguably one of the most recognizable superheroes ever created outside of Superman.

What did Cap do for me, as a kid, then as a young adult, by reading him and watching his legacy grow in the pages of the Avengers and the greater Marvel Universe?

He made me realize how tough it is to be good and how nobility is won by lots of little decisions. That a God-fearing American soldier was not some gung-ho nationalistic machine-gun toting testosterone-filled killing machine.

He was rather a man of conviction, of faith, of integrity who honored those who had fallen so that all men could live in freedom.

He stood for American ideals and lived them out. He was never petty nor rancorous nor fearful. He led with his body and mind and never backed down.

Cap had Batman's intensity but Superman's kindness. I have always - I mean after 40 years of reading - admired that.

There's one last weird thing about Cap, though.

He's no good by himself. He exists to serve and protect. I always, always imagine him with a team or with a partner. He's just too perfect by himself and it hurts me to see him alone. Cap loves people and needs people.

You see, his indestructible shield is not just to protect himself; it's so he can protect others.

Captain America may often walk alone, but he can never stay alone.

A captain needs men to lead, and America needs Americans to exist.

A super man can be super by himself. So can a wonder woman by wonderful or a bat man be... uh... batty.

But not so with Captain America. We created him and he has defined us.

Thanks, Cap.

Amen.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Person of Interest Finale - Ending the Drama

"Mr. Reese?" "Yeah, Finch?"
"Why is Predator hunting us?"
"Maybe he works for Samaritan?"
Every human being is a story in progress. Some end triumphantly; some end tragically. What you learn in screenwriting is that the last moments are the message of the story. How a story ends is ultimately more important than how it begins.

Person of Interest Season 5 ends on a bittersweet note: they satisfy the needs of the plot and characters with a hope in the future, but that future is secured by a cost, a great loss.

It is well done.

In fiction we are often given God's POV with compressed time and multiple scenes. We can see and understand what our heroes are going through. We get a glimpse of their enemies too and find ourselves sympathizing with part of their motivations. As John Bradford humbly remarked, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." [source]

We know we too can be villains, if we are humble enough to admit it.

Drama is about conflict; story is about how the drama works out. No conflict = no drama = no story.

If we have conflict, we have drama. If we have drama, we have story. We have something to tell, a message to give. But if there is no drama, no conflict, we have nothing to say, nothing to give.

"Mr. Reese - is this truly necessary?" "Well, no, Finch, not really...
but I've been the NYC paintball champion for 12 years and I'm not losing today."

We are marginalized. We are ignored. We overcame nothing; we found out nothing. We got nowhere.

The message at the end of Person of Interest was beautiful and profound: that each individual life has a worth -  a great worth - and is worth our lives and resources to redeem if at all possible. The very crew is made up of ugly people who did bad things and learned to love, trust and feel again. Outliers from the community, and very anti-social, they got redeemed by serving others and fighting evil. By serving the "God" Machine, they end up opposing the "Devil" Machine [codenamed Samaritan for irony's sake].

Difficult Disciples Become Determined Apostles
It reminds me of how Jesus tamed His disciples. It reminds me how James and John were called "sons of thunder" and became apostles of the gospel.

I think of how John was 80 when he wrote his gospel--he was 90 when writing Revelations--and how much Jesus changed him. When we read "the disciple whom Jesus loved" in the gospel of John, we Christians tend to think: "The loving disciple of Jesus who writes beautifully about God's love."

I'm afraid that is not the case.

Like Tax-Collector Matthew telling us not to worry about money, Dr. Luke writing about supernatural things, and Staycation Mark telling us about the bold adventures of Jesus, John is not writing about how much he loves Jesus.

He's the Hateful Bastard telling us about God's love for him. "Not that we loved God, but He loved us..."

Like Lionel, and Shaw, and John, and Root and Harold - he was an unloving, anti-social misfit, given to bouts of rage and flesh-satisfying escapades.

But Jesus loved on him until he got better; it only took six decades. Jesus changed him with fierce, unyielding love.

Only God can accomplish this transformation of character.

Only God can end the drama of our lives with deep love for others as we face insurmountable odds.

But only you can know what He will do with you if you go to Him and say "Yes. I will follow you."

A son of thunder did it and his life was changed for all eternity.

You may find that comforting to know, and wonderful to do.

May you too follow Him--so your drama too will end well.

Amen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Captain America: Civil War - Our Reponsibility

One coooool retro poster
by Punmagneto on DeviantArt.
This third film of the Captain America trilogy has been wisely called "Avengers 2.5" by Robert Downey, Jr. Anthony Mackie for its large cast and continuing storyline from Avengers: Age of Ultron. In fact, it is almost its flaw; we get so many scenes without Cap, the fact that this IS a Captain America movie is often forgotten.

But Cap wears big boots, and Chris Evans does such a knockout job as the anachronistic super-soldier I am loathe to complain. It is amazing to watch the younger fresh-faced Evans play against the idiosyncratic older Downey and believe immediately that he as Cap has the cool wisdom his generation earned by suffering not only the Great Depression but a world war. He's the old guy; Tony is the punk.

We are introduced to the Black Panther, our new Spider-man and a lovingly mis-cast Aunt May while moving forward with the newly minted Ant-Man and the Scarlet Witch/Vision romance.

It is a great Marvel movie. It has plenty - and I mean plenty - of clever and powerful action that does indeed remind me of reading Marvel Comics of the 70s. From balletic web-slinging and quips by Spidey to Cap's astounding physical prowess and nearly magical shield to the Panther's glorious African voice and agility, it is clear the Russo brothers and their creative team did their homework.

But the reason for the conflict struck me as partially false: who would expect any group of metahumans who had saved the entire world twice to be agreeable to being ruled by a super committee of 117 nations of the United Nations?

I mean, that's the entire point: it's the Avengers vs. the World they've saved. The saviors are all supposed to be under the control and command of the very people they have kept alive. If that seems ridiculous to you, trust me, it is a timeless truth.

We all want our savior[s] to obey us. We hate someone more powerful. We fear them.

As for the historical truth of this, let me show you how Christ was feared for saving someone:

Luke 8:26-37 (NASB)

The Demoniac Cured
26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 And when He came out onto the land, He was met by a man from the city who was possessed with demons; and who had not put on any clothing for a long time, and was not living in a house, but in the tombs. 28 Seeing Jesus, he cried out and fell before Him, and said in a loud voice, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.” 29 For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had seized him many times; and he was bound with chains and shackles and kept under guard, and yet he would break his bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert. 
30 And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They were imploring Him not to command them to go away into the abyss.
32 Now there was a herd of many swine feeding there on the mountain; and the demons implored Him to permit them to enter the swine. And He gave them permission. 33 And the demons came out of the man and entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. 
34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they ran away and reported it in the city and out in the country. 35 The people went out to see what had happened; and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting down at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they became frightened. 
36 Those who had seen it reported to them how the man who was demon-possessed had been made well. 37 And all the people of the country of the Gerasenes and the surrounding district asked Him to leave them, for they were gripped with great fear; and He got into a boat and returned.

We Christians are often working so hard to show the love of Christ, we are truly hurt when someone hates us and we blame ourselves. Then, in the midst of that, some idiotic pastor who spent too much time in seminary guilts us: "Are you showing others the LOVE of JESUS?!" they demand.

My response: "Yeah, pastor. I cast out some evil crap. Cost them a buttload of money. They all asked me to leave. Funny that."

It really is enough for a disciple to be like his master.

One of the most telling scenes in Captain America: Civil War is watching Secretary Ross [played by William Hurt] show ONLY the collateral damage of the Avengers' conflicts, laying the guilt of the dead at their feet.

But when Steve tells him, "Alright, that's enough." I read that as our Captain seeing through the tactic to beat up brave men and women who risked their lives. It is wrong.

Steve says this later when he says "Yes, people died. We cannot save everyone. But if we stop trying, we don't save anyone."

If you are feeling the burden of guilt for failing others, let me tell you, you are only guilty of your sins - not theirs. And certainly not for being imperfect.

I caught this in myself years ago: my self-hatred for being imperfect. I had a friend say about me "He's so uptight, that you could put a lump of coal up his tail and it would come out a diamond." I have changed a bit, even he would admit.

The truth is, if we do it perfectly, we scare people or intimidate those who are far weaker. Christians full of the Spirit used to intimidate me, they were so kind and measured and patient.

I cannot tell you how freeing it was to learn of grace and how God only wanted me, not my performance. It is the world that demands performance at all times. That we be perfect and never fail their expectations.

Oswald Chambers called it "The Discipline of Disillusionment" and said it like this:
The refusal to be disillusioned is the cause of much of the suffering in human life. It works in this way — if we love a human being and do not love God, we demand of him every perfection and every rectitude, and when we do not get it we become cruel and vindictive; we are demanding of a human being that which he or she cannot give.

There is only one Being Who can satisfy the last aching abyss of the human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Mark that well. It may save your soul. Not just after you die - way before that.

The day you realize that you expect humans to be God may be the day you realize what a cruel and vindictive fool you have been.

And, like me, perhaps you too shall repent.

Amen.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

30 Years Later: Remembering The Dark Knight Returns

Even Thor was impressed, methinks.
[This post appeared originally on PopCultHQ. WARNING: Major Spoilers.]

When Frank Miller’s stunning vision hit the stands in 1986, he single-handedly buried the charming kitschy Batman of the 60’s and raised up a vigilante that had more in common with Clint Eastwood than with Adam West.

Here was where Batman lost the “World’s Greatest Detective” moniker to become our “Dark Knight." He no longer solved crime, he waged war upon it. This strong paradigm shift moved the entire Batman franchise – I’m sorry, that’s terribly sloppy– there was no “Batman franchise.” There was nothing there but a pile of tinder, until Frank Miller grabbed a piece of flint and struck it - hard.

He was a merely a character DC marketed on lunchboxes and produced a comic for, his days of popularity long past. His monthly title sold roughly 30,000 copies a month.

The Dark Knight Returns? It sold 200,000 to 400,000 copies an issue. It flew off the shelves so fast, I remember feeling fortunate to get a THIRD printing of the first issue by April.

Lucky. Lucky old man.

And three years later, after Miler's groundbreaking, coffer-filling success, Tim Burton flew in with a wildly gothic Batman on the silver screen. Thus, our Dark Knight was forever cemented in the hearts and minds of America as a properly dangerous vigilante to be respected not scoffed at. A cloaked figure of the night, a gargoyle of vengeance-- a creature who descended from skyscrapers to terrify criminals, not run up city steps in satin blue in broad daylight.

Batman is number 60?! Whoa.
This was not the Batman we deserved, but it was the one we needed.

Miller knew that, understood that. His iconic inks and silhouettes growl at us. Refinement is for the delicate. You did not get the carefully crafted, highly plotted dystopian future of Watchmen. No, Miller did something nearly a polar opposite: he gave us an epic myth in colors and forms suitable for opera or jazz – where the vocals are sometimes so beautiful you are lifted to the skies and sometimes so raw you swear you are face down in the mud.

Miller’s work, aided by Lynn Varley’s heart-stopping watercolors, just hit and hit and hit until you could be hit no more. There is not a dull page in the entire 4-issue series and every fanboy, filmmaker and critic since then has held this as a high water mark of excellence. They will cite all the little moments that captured their imagination; they will praise his work and sorrowfully admit his latest is not as good, but they cannot tell why.


Sold for a LOT of money. Wait 'til you see
the color version...
I have a few ideas was to why it was great then, and I've realized more of the secret glories in Miller’s work that I overlooked the first time. First, some technical reasons why it was so great:


1) It Did Not Look Like a Comic Book. It was a squared “Perfect Bound” format -glued, not stapled- on new paper with the photographic 4-color process. It was like nothing on the shelves. We who loved comics wanted the world to see the potential in them we’d imagined — the film-quality story that had been cruelly obscured for decades. Pulp is cheap and disposable, so by printing on slick paper – “Baxter paper”– you could show more detail in and more color. Each page looked like a painting.

2) It Was Direct Market with No Ads. Like film vs. TV, this upped the game. The entire book was for the story. I cannot tell you what it was like to hold that for the first time. It made it serious, weighty, epic.

You had to walk into the comic shop to get it, but it also meant it was not going to be beaten and abused on the newsstand or spinner rack. So when you walked in, if they had a copy, and it was visible– baby, you bought it. It was the closest thing to paying a ticket to see a Batman movie that had never been made. We drove miles and miles to get it, to experience it. You cannot understand unless you were there. It was validation of a hero we’d seen done ridiculously for years. It was validation of comics as a serious art form.

Lynn  - we love you.
 3) Lynn Varley Showcased Color as Never Before. She rightly deserved and got front cover credit. Today we commonly use Photoshop, but that wasn’t possible in the 80's. You did it by hand. And if you wanted gradients, you had to use zip-a-tone and masking. But with the slick paper using a 4-color process, Lynn was able to do her gorgeous volumetric watercolors knowing they would appear sharp and clear on the prestige paper “as-is."

Lynn Varley was ahead of the curve, and her colors turned a grim tale into something magical.

4) It Had No Competition: There were not 15 graphic novels on the wall to choose from. There were not 40 collected trades on the shelf. There was The Dark Knight Returns and nothing else. Watchmen you say? That came out in September, three months after it was over. Once finished, they stood side-by-side, of course. But the first horse out of the gate was The Dark Knight Returns. [Some Philistines opine they like Watchmen better. I nod politely. Really, you must not judge the lost.]

And now my artistic reasons The Dark Knight Returns was so great. You have never heard these before, so listen tight. Yeah, chicken-legs. My man Just don’t shiv.


1) It was a Grand Western, not an Urban Tale. Yes it was. “But it was in Gotham City…” Yes. And caves. And mudpits. And with sheriffs. And gangs. And horses.

Remember this is Batman as Clint Eastwood would portray him. Clint made some great spaghetti westerns before becoming Dirty Harry. Just reverse the flow and end with a showdown between two gunslingers in the alley where Bruce’s parents were killed and you’ll see what Miller has done: Hi-yo Gorram Silver!

You’re welcome.

2) It was the Beginning of Robin[s]. This, admittedly, backfired into the demanded / desired / prophecy-fulfilling death of Jason Todd. One of our weaknesses as a race is to want to fulfill prophecies on our own timetable. We are impatient. So when Miller revealed Jason Todd as a sadly deceased figure in TDKR, no one would rest until DC made that prediction come true. Hades, DC even put it up for a vote to kill him off just a few years later. Thankfully, some good has come from that, but it meant Robin had to be replaced yet again, and that turned into Tim Drake and later, Damian Wayne. So here is where it began. Miller led the pack, though. It was Carrie Kelly – a girl – who had to become Robin. [Miller credits that to John Byrne, BTW.]

Never had you seen the sick dark humor of the Joker
so perfectly done. Catwoman has been dressed up as Wonder
Woman just to make the clown - and us - laugh. Nervously.
 3) It was the Conclusion of All of Batman’s Major Foes. A hero is defined by the people he loves and helps and those he cannot help but fight. From the revelation of Two-Face’s failed re-construction – the plastic surgery that did not change his soul – to the non-surprise of finding Catwoman as a high-class madam to the impeccable Tim Curry-esque depiction of the Joker [“Batman… darling.”], we see the believable end of his rogues gallery. Without them, we have so little to see and appreciate about the heart and mind of the caped crusader.

4) It Was the Conclusion of Batman and Superman, Not a Re-Definition. So many get this wrong. This is not a war between two enemies. It is a war between two ideologies.

Does humanity need more compassion or does it need its butt whipped? Like all real-world problems, you find the answer is “Yes.” They are two sides of the same coin. In TDKR we have both kids, all grown up: one child who can kill you with a glance and one child who’s glance terrified a killer. They have to work out their heroism differently or it is they who become evil. Their final battle ends in the only way it possibly could – with Superman defeated and Batman dead.

But the story itself ends the only way it should – with Batman alive and Superman smiling.

 5) It was Beautifully Romantic; It Was Wondrously Tragic. Nothing chaffs my left butt cheek more than reading posts by the ignorant who think The Dark Knight Returns is about the darkness in Batman and how grim he is and blah-blah-blah-blah. I wish they’d go eat their Darth Vader Cheerios and leave the adults alone.

It is not about being dark. It is about fighting the dark. Outside us is easy. Inside us? Not so much.

It shows the sadness and pathos of a good man who is relentlessly fighting evil, yet not callously nor humorlessly. From “I see a reflection, Harvey. A reflection.” to “I believe you.” to “I almost asked him why…” to “Mine’s Bruce.” to “Good soldier. Good soldier.” Miller shows, over and over, how deep the humanity and compassion of Bruce Wayne is.

That is why everyone writing gritty and grim miss the point – they think more darkness is “awesome.” Not without the light, bunky. You’re licking used coffee grounds and calling it chocolate.

And his final fight with Superman? It is not a battle born out of fear or of hate. Sure, they both have snarky thoughts, but it is battle between two good men who are deep, deep friends.




It is the end of Camelot, not Lord of the Rings. This is not Sherlock going over the falls with Moriarity. This is Kirk and Spock fighting on Vulcan during pon-farr. This is King Arthur having to fight Sir Lancelot for taking Guenevere. This is ugly, and no one wants it. It is a Lose-Lose scenario.

But that is the beauty here, so overlooked. This is Miller’s genius, lost on Watchmen fanboys.

Batman dies – but comes back.

Superman is ashamed – and winks back.

The heroes win, AND they keep their integrity.

They played out their drama for the cameras and calmed down the world and the governments, but in the end?

Superman has become, by default, Batman’s greatest ally. He has succeeded in making the dark knight a shadowy figure again. He’s dead – what threat can he pose?

And Batman? The boy who lost his parents so many years ago? The man who has lived in a cave ever since?

He has a family now. Not only a daughter to care for, but a team of young men to train and a peer to aid him in his cause for justice.

It is one of the most epic endings of all time. It goes through the darkness and loss and death to give hope on the other side.

And it all happened 30 years ago.

I hope, when you read it again, you will remember it as fondly as I do.

Amen.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Deadpool Is So Biblical It Hurts

[ This post appears in edited form on PopCultHQ.com ]

"Maybe I need to do something else. I hear Wheaton College is offering a
degree in Spiritual Formation - awesome! Think of all the chicks I'd get!"
Any film that has you laughing out loud in the first ten seconds of runtime – and by laughing I mean howling – has fulfilled its promise of entertainment. Any film that ends with you laughing out loud – and by this time I mean snickering – has schooled you in how to please an audience.

Deadpool is that film.

Deadpool is exuberantly rated R, and while every studio exec in North America will try to copycat its success by bringing us more rated R films now that Ryan Reynold’s love-child has garnered over $150 million on it’s opening weekend, they will have sorrowfully missed the point of why it is a success.

It is Biblical. I mean, Old Testament meets the New. Totally.

Look, I am a volunteer preacher and let me tell you, I can smell a Bible story from a mile away. Born in Memphis, raised in Southern Baptist country, reading the Holy Bible and Marvel Comics at the same time, I am a Bronze Age baby who grew up with Wyle E. Coyote, Bugs Bunny and Vietnam in the rear view mirror. Presidents actually resigned in those days and Elvis was alive – well, until I was twelve. I remember Federal Express being born in Memphis with giant purple airplanes and Billy Graham preaching at the Mid-South Coliseum. To say I am child of holy letters, grand entertainers and wounded soldiers is to understand much of my point of view. I am, by training and ordination, a graphic designer turned minister & Bible teacher, and no one is more surprised than me about it.

So when I tell you that I did not write Deadpool, you can believe me. But you can believe I wished I had. You can also believe I laughed every minute of this wondrously profane romantic adventure that proved, once again, that there is a God, He has a sense of humor, and He created the gorgeous Morena Baccarin so we could believe that Wade Wilson, a disgracefully charming mercenary with perfect comedic timing, would go through Hell to stay with her.

It is hard to tell this to the inexperienced [clueless] geek [fanboy with a large taste for naked women, curse words and guns], but Deadpool is first, and foremost, what it is supposed to be: a romance of heroic – nay, mythic – proportions.

There is no snark left unsaid by this red-suited bon vivant who [minor spoiler] had to go through hades to become an unkillable, irrepressible soldier of fortune with machine-gun delivery – and free two-for-one kills on Tuesday [ladies, take note]. At every single opportunity, Ryan Reynolds serves up some 4th-Wall shattering commentary that made you love him and his character more and more.

Deadpool works because of this central truth we see played out graphically on-screen: for the ones we love we will do anything, up to and including, dying for them.

G. K. Chesterton said that marriage is really a forging between two different types of human beings. Men and women essentially dislike the other’s ways, so they must be forged together as hot as possible so they will stick together when things cool off.

Let me say it this way: the “forging” of Wade Wilson with his girlfriend is really, really hot. And since every single time I see Morena Baccarin [y’know, Dr. Leslie Tompkins from Gotham], I am reminded I am a man, I’ll have to submit that Deadpool is indeed a love story of believable yet epic proportions.

I absolutely agree that Deadpool is not for children to see, nor the whitish souls who seek to remain pure of all erotic imagery. I utterly respect that; I did have to avert my eyes a few times. That has been my choice for several years, since my family gene pool has a real hard time saying “No” to things we like that are honestly bad for us. [Just a friendly piece of advice: if you ever forge your own mini cannon, don’t test fire it at a neighbor’s solid wooden fence.]

Deadpool is a popcorn movie for those who have been run over by the world. It is for anyone who wishes they could have one more day with the person they loved. It is for people who have been viciously scarred and abused have only one reason to go on: a duty of love.

"I don't wanna be your test tube baby!!"
That’s pretty heavy, ain’t it? Deadpool is a heavy movie, when you remove the humor. Like Forest Gump, the themes we are playing with either make you laugh or make you cry. If you are in for a penny, you are in for a pound.

Wade Wilson has had a wretched life and is facing a wretched end. We who have seen what it cost him would not laugh in any other film – but therein is the genius of Deadpool: Wade is the one making all the jokes.

He paid to play, and by God, he’s going to PLAY.

He starts the jokes. He runs the jokes. He is the joke. He refuses to let you sit there and watch him make a total fool of himself without you joining in. He’s been abused, killed, mistreated and betrayed and he’s still moving on; what’s your excuse?

In the end, the theater was not laughing at Deadpool.

The theater was laughing with Deadpool – and with Ryan Reynolds.

That is why it was such a great film to see, especially for us pastors who worship a smart aleck who got up from the dead.

Thank you, Jesus.

Amen.


p.s. BTW. don't think I am casting off holiness. Deadpool has an amazing correlation to Biblical heroes and even by type, Christ Himself. We sanitize the Old Testament for kids and so we lose this viewpoint. Between David getting 200 foreskins of the Philistines as markers to prove his manly worth so he can marry a king's daughter, to superstrong Samson getting out of bed with a prostitute to rip the city gates off of their hinges, to Abram having a wife so hot a king took her into his harem, we do a grave disservice to the ancient stories of heroes who learned to have faith and obey God, but did NOT start that way. Definitely stories not for children.

As I said to my dear mother one night while doing our Bible reading – “Mom, if they ever made the Bible into a film, it would be rated ‘R’!”

Enter Deadpool. Thank you Mr. Reynolds. You went all “Old Testament” on us. ;) 


Friday, January 29, 2016

What Made ROM Spaceknight Worth Reading

[This article first appeared on PopCultHQ.com ]

It was the end of the 70s. Star Wars had blown America away and its comic adaptation had saved Marvel from bankruptcy. Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden had gotten Mego’s eponymous Micronauts off to a roaring start and it was clear that toy properties being turned into comics was a marriage made in accounting heaven. The comics promoted the toys and vice-versa. Artists and writers even inspired future products. In the case of Hasbro’s G.I. Joe line, Larry Hama was singularly responsible for crafting all the new Joes we loved in the 80s. That was a definite Win-Win for Marvel and Hasbro.

But before the success with Hasbro, there was Parker Brothers and their newest – and only – action figure with blinking lights and sound: ROM the Spaceknight.

Originally conceived as a wizard with sound effects, creator Bryan “Bing” McCoy re-imagined him as a cyborg fighting evil named “COBOL” (after the old business programming language). Execs at Parker Bros. renamed him “ROM” for “Read Only Memory” and the rest is… well, not exactly history. More like a tale of survival. 

You see, after Bing McCoy’s rather interesting LED-blinking, sound generating, Spaceknight from the “Solstar Order” was on the toy shelves for a year or two, it was abandoned. It looked and sounded cool, but it had too little articulation and no other supporting figures, not even his supposed arch-enemies the Dire Wraiths. Though they were discussed at Marvel, nothing came of it. And so, ROM Spaceknight as a toy was soon no more. 

That would usually mean the end of the comic too, but something happened that no one, not even Bill Mantlo, predicted. ROM Spaceknight, the comic, kept selling. 

From December 1979 to February 1986, ROM went the distance for 75 issues and four annuals. In 1983, it sold 162,000 copies and was Marvel’s 15th best seller of their line. In 1984, it outsold Captain America, Batman and Superman.

ROM was liked. I mean a lot. And, like The Micronauts, it soon crossed over from its smaller setting into the larger Marvel Universe. However, unlike the diminutive Micronauts who had their own Microverse, Rom stayed here in Universe-616 wooing us. 

Power Man and Iron Fist #73
 (Sept. 1981)
He had many relationships and team-ups within the Marvel Universe, including some minor heroes like Power Man and Iron Fist, major characters like Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, and Forge from the X-Men. Heck, he even showed up at Rick Jones wedding after he had become human.

What made ROM Spaceknight such a worthy read? I see several reasons: old-school storytelling, classic Marvel vibe of man-as-monster, coupled with a simple sci-fi concept of a strange visitor from another world comes to a small town. Mix in some Cold War-era concerns about fifth columnists, some pre-X-Files paranormal spookiness, and ROM had plenty of playroom for paranoia and sinister threats for him and his newfound friends to face.

All this was de rigueur for writer Bill Mantlo, Jim Shooter’s go-to guy for last minute stories. When deadline doom approached and a story was needed on Monday, Shooter could ask Mantlo on Friday and get it. Bill wrote and wrote and wrote. His bibliography reads like a Marvel checklist (you remember those, don’cha bunky?).

Rom #65 (April 1985)     
ROM Spaceknight’s final chapter became an epic-level event in the Marvel universe with all of Earth’s heroes coming alongside ROM to eliminate the Dire Wraith threat once and for all. The upshot of this craftsmanship was that ROM did not end until the Fat Lady sang. Mantlo wrote it all, using only two classic Marvel artists for the entire run – Sal Buscema and Steve Ditko. They were not the newest and hottest artists like Byrne, Golden and Perez, but they had pedigree. They knew monsters and machines and loves lost. They fit right in. Their panels told the story cleanly; they knew what to put in and what to leave out. Sadly, a lost art. [Alex Toth had 10 Rules. My fave: “Simplify, simplify, simplify & draw the hell out of what’s left.”]

But besides a devoted fan base and a good pedigree of creator/artist combos, what was it that made ROM Spaceknight worth reading and re-reading? 

What made Rom, the cyborg warrior from golden Galador, so beloved that Chris Ryall has moved heaven and Earth to get the rights to bring him to IDW for a re-launch in 2016?

It was simple kids. Rom was a hero for all ages. You could be seven or seventy, and you understood Rom.

He was a man turned into a machine, a veteran on a foreign battlefield, a poet who had lost his humanity, a man who fought demons daily but deep down inside he was a romantic buried under technology.

Rom was all that and more.

ROM Spaceknight was a medieval romance or if you prefer, a Greek epic for modern times. If Star Wars is a space opera, and Star Trek is science fiction, then ROM Spaceknight was a galactic epic.

He was Odysseus returning home to find he’d been betrayed. He was Christ leaving heaven to cast out demons on Earth. He was astronaut Steve Austin, a cyborg serving his country. He was Rambo coming home to find his friends crazy or dead by the bureaucrats they’d served and the locals hating him for being different. ROM had it all. He was a man – a poet – who gave up his humanity two hundred years ago to wage war on an insidious foe that strolled through the halls of power and preyed upon our family and our friends. He was a man so noble, so right, so true, that an Earth woman fell in love with him merely because of his character.

He was Superman [alien], Batman [obsessive], Captain America [anachronistic patriot], Thor [warrior], and Iron Man [hi-tech] all-in-one. 

Rom #32 (July 1982)
His moral goodness was so great that when the villainous Rogue kissed him to absorb his powers [he had "living metal" skin] she was struck dumb.

Fans of Rogue may well mark this event as the reason she went from being a strict villainness to a woman seeking redemption.

So Rom did that for the Marvel Universe. 

He outwitted Galactus so wisely, he made the Devourer of Worlds laugh.

That's right kids. Rom owned Galactus.

James T. Kirk would have been proud.

But I think ultimately, when pressed, what made ROM Spaceknight so great was that Rom was a hero who absolutely, utterly, and decisively would not stop fighting evil, even at the cost of his own body, his loves, and his home.

He truly was a hero’s hero. You could even say he was a superhero’s superhero.

So when that seven foot tall, red-eyed cyborg sheathed in living metal summoned his Neutralizer from subspace to banish Dire Wraiths said, “Wraith scum! Is there no end to your filth? ROM shall make an end!” – you got the distinct impression that goodness could be far more terrifying than badness. 

You wanted to be on Rom’s side. You really, really did. 

Because nothing could stop Rom.

Not pain, not despair, not loves lost, not worlds destroyed. Not even comic book cancellation. 

Long before Arnold Schwarzenegger uttered those famous words, you knew. You just knew.

You knew he’d be back.

Amen.