Justice League vs. God

The Magazine Editor was visiting the other day and conversation turned, as it often does in my house, to the Justice League.

My son Sam (5) is, to say the least, obsessed with the Justice League, an obsession I’ve done little to discourage.  He sleeps under a shelf full of Justice League dolls action figures (he has 80 or so, not including the inevitable copies, and also not including the various members of the Green Lantern corps, who, although appearing on Justice League, are not actually members of the Justice League), as well as banks, comic books, encyclopedias, posters, and a wall covered with his own drawings of various members.

TA. I don’t know — I think I might have gone too far with the whole Justice League thing.
TME. Could be worse.  You could send him to Sunday school.
TA. I mean, I don’t mind, you know, the intensity of it — and it’s not violent like Batman is violent — but I just worry that he’s watching something that he isn’t really getting.  I mean, there are all these moral and ethical concepts in the show that are just too sophisticated for him —
TME.  That’s what I mean.  It could be worse, you could be sending him to Sunday School.

So be it.  Sam likes Justice League because it’s more interesting to him than Superfriends or Magic School Bus (both of which delight his four-year-old sister) and he’s too old for Maisy or Thomas the Tank Engine.  Its moral lessons are couched in high drama, well-drawn characters (in every sense of the word) and fluid, exciting, colorful action, more so than any Sunday school class I remember (although the Bible is certainly not lacking in colorful, absorbing, morally complex action stories).

Sam confessed to me the other night:

SAM.  Dad?
DAD.  Yeah?
SAM.  I believe in superheroes.
DAD.  Sure.
SAM.  No, I mean I really believe in them.  I think they’re here, I think they’re hiding, so they can be there if we need them.

Well, okay, he’s five, so I’m not too concerned about him having actual paranoid delusions.  If he believes there really is a Superman who is good and strong and (mostly) invulnerable, a vastly powerful being with an unerring sense of right and wrong (or at least a team who will correct him if he’s wrong), if he believes in a collection of smart, quick-witted, eloquent heroes who will help him out when he really needs it and never let him down, well, that’s the message of Justice League, but it’s also the message of Sunday school.  And as far as I’m concerned, as far as belief systems go, I would rather have him believe in the brightly-colored pop-culture fantasy of Justice League than in the blood-encrusted gothic tales of organized religion any day.
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32 Responses to “Justice League vs. God”
  1. eronanke says:

    No, really. I love your son.

  2. greyaenigma says:

    Does this mean Satan is the biblical equivalent of the Justice Lords?

    I’m interested by the idea of believing in superheroes, who unlike god, he hasn’t been explicitly told (by someone, somewhere) that they exist. Although when I first read this, I thought he was saying he believed the Justice League exists, but it seems he’s more sophisticated than that and just believes they exist as a general concept.

    Of course, it would seem easier to have a crisis of faith in a tangible superhero who keeps forsaking us when when its their job to save us, rather than a god who’s merely hiding for the sake of a mysterious Plan. Maybe it’s Batman and he’s just really good at covering his tracks.

    • Todd says:

      Does this mean Satan is the biblical equivalent of the Justice Lords?

      You may be on to something. In the cosmos according to Sam, the Legion of Doom encompasses every villain in the DCU, including even villains who were never on an episode of Justice League, like Harley Quinn and the Penguin, but on his shelves, the Justice Lords are on a shelf with the Justice League itself, implying that they have a special, powerful, hard-to-define evil all of their own, one commensurate with the good force of the Justice League.

      How seriously does he take this? He takes it so seriously that, even though we have a Justice Lord Flash (who bears a striking resemblance to Reverse Flash), Justice Lord Flash is not permitted a space on the top shelf with the other Justice Lords; he must take his place down below with the Legion of Doom rabble.

      I’m interested by the idea of believing in superheroes, who unlike god, he hasn’t been explicitly told (by someone, somewhere) that they exist.

      In his afterword to DC: The New Frontier Darwyn Cooke explains the purpose superheroes had in his life. He realized at some point that they aren’t real, but by that point it was too late; he had already absorbed their lessons of bravery, heroism and morality. Superheroes exist, at their most base level, simply to generate income for multinational corporations. The fact that they have come to impart a message of good is only a by-product of their true purpose. God, on the other hand, was created by organized religions for a much darker purpose.

      Another thing that makes superheroes preferable to God in my household is that there are no jealous superheroes who demand you worship them above all others; the superhero universes are teeming with heroes to emulate and villains to hiss, and you can love Green Lantern one day and Batman the next, and no one will ever accuse you of heresy (except for comic book geeks).

      The Marvel/DC schism presents two different ways of looking at the world. And while both companies are experts at branding, they never say that you must follow one way at the expense of the other.

      Maybe it’s Batman and he’s just really good at covering his tracks.

      If there was a superhero who made it his business to destroy lives and property in the pursuit of a higher goal, I think that would be Ditko’s Mister A.

      • greyaenigma says:

        Justice Lord Flash is not permitted a space on the top shelf with the other Justice Lords; he must take his place down below with the Legion of Doom rabble.

        Well, yeah, that loser went and got himself killed before he even turned bad.

  3. robolizard says:

    And the best part? Superman doesn’t try to hurt you if you question his existence.

    No children have been harmed in the name of Wonder Woman, and John Stewart has never slaughtered millions of men in the name of the Oans. Captain Marvel would let a man marry another man, and Dr. Fate would never force you to see the world in his light and imply that by not doing so you are somehow evil.

    Yeah, blood encrusted or not, the ideas of the Justice League have done much less evil in the hands of man than the ideas of Christiany in the hands of man.

    …..I can see Elongated Man stopping gay marriage though…yyyeah…

    • Todd says:

      And the best part? Superman doesn’t try to hurt you if you question his existence.

      I’d love to see a Superman story where he goes off to fight some alien menace and when he comes back to Metropolis he finds that everyone is idolizing a tree-spirit or something and so he decides to kill everyone.

      • robolizard says:

        A possibly improved ‘Superman Returns’?

        • Todd says:

          I’d love to be in that pitch meeting. “Is it okay if Superman gets really angry at Metropolis and decides to destroy it?”

          • robolizard says:

            ‘And Superman glanced at the planes of this current day Sodom and whispered ‘They must burn…’

            I’ve never read Mr. A, but its a good thing Roscharch never had any Godlike powers…

            Howabout just Superman trying to be more loved than God? Superman vs. God… oh yes…

          • greyaenigma says:

            The idea had been growing in my brain for some time: True Force.

            Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, and Jodie Foster in Revenge of Superman: Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

            With Albert Brooks as Jimmy Olsen.

  4. thunder24 says:

    What I like about this is that the JLA is already set up like a pantheon of gods. Note some of the similarities between them and…say, the Greek gods. Superman/Zeus-Heracles, Flash/Hermes, GL/Apollo, Wonder Woman/Ares, Batman/Hades.

    However what makes them great is that they are like ‘low maintenence’ gods. they don’t get angry if you don’t love them, don’t care if you doubt their existence, and they don’t want wars fought in their names. (well…maybe Batman would =D)
    And a valid argument could be made that there is more actual physical proof of the JLA’s existance than Gods existence, anyway. They certainly are as valid as the bible is for displaying a compelling mythology.

  5. ndgmtlcd says:

    Polytheism as opposed to monotheism.

    The rich pantheon of the Greek city-states as opposed to the Zoroastrian belief of the Persian empire.

    • Todd says:

      Or even the more casual, Hindu, Buddhist sort of “household gods” thing, you know, gods you can hang out with, gods who aren’t there to judge you or punish you, they’re just there to give advice and be examples. And who knows, maybe kick back, have some brews and watch TV.

      • ndgmtlcd says:

        Yes, the later stories of Norse gods outlined that kind of deity. Thor was that kind of ordinary Joe who likes to have some mead after dispatching a few giants.

        The early versions described jealous, bloody types whose idea of fun involved torture, betrayal and rivers of blood. The “early” Odin had a wicked sense of humor.

        Let the protagonist be wary, and choose his Scandinavian era with caution.

      • thunder24 says:

        Another point I’d like to make, is that despite Marvel using actual gods in their teams, the Avengers themselves are more like a team of classic mythological heroes than gods.
        It’s like they are a tier down from the JLA’s godhood.
        Captain America is more like, say Achilles, Hawkeye could be any classical archer, Iron Man is like the smiths that make the gods wondrous gifts, and the Hulk is not unlike a Golem. Thor is the only one that doesn’t quite fit in that mold, having the power level to easily fit in with the JLA. I love the Avengers, but I just don’t think they really are a match for the JLA.

  6. edo_fanatic says:

    And unlike God, the justice league is morally flexible.

    • Todd says:

      I wouldn’t say they’re morally flexible, I’d say they’re human. They have core beliefs that are unwavering, but they make mistakes, get angry and sad and tired, and occasionally have to remember who they are.

      Besides which, the Judeo-Christian God is plenty morally flexible — he changes his mind about what’s good and bad all the time. One minute he’s laying down the ten commandments, the next minute he’s smiting the world with a flood, the next minute he’s sacrificing his own son to prove how much he loves us. The Judeo-Christian God is a Bad Dad with manic-depressive tendencies.

  7. robolizard says:

    You know, I’m watching the Timm cartoons, and really being part of the JLA seems like a full time job. And yet as we know from the comics Batman and Superman and, to a far weaker extent Wonder Woman, they also protect thier own home turfs, sometimes on two seperate missions at a time. Clearly the members of the Justice League have to be everywhere at once. Much… like a group of Gods…

    This has been one of the most interesting blog entries I’ve read to date on superheroes, ever btw. Somewhere in this entry I’m sure lies the meaning of life…

    • Todd says:

      Justice League extends a continuity from Batman TAS through Superman TAS. The shows all form a kind of DC Universe mega-narrative; subplots from Superman TAS show up later in Justice League Unlimited and so forth.

      For the purposes of this continuity, Batman very much hangs around Gotham City, doesn’t show up for meetings and often can’t even be bothered to help save the world (there was one episode where a bunch of aliens or something were attacking and Hawkgirl was dispatched to call Batman; she returned saying only that Batman took the call, said “I’m busy,” and hung up.) And Green Lantern seems to keep in contact with the Guardians on Oa (and occasionally rubs them the wrong way). Hawkgirl, of course, has her own problems, which come to bite her on the ass in “Starcrossed.”

      WW has definitely “left” Themyscira, although she does go back from time to time. It’s only Flash who doesn’t seem to have a home; there’s no Central City for him to defend. But what the hey, Central City is in a flyover state, the world is never going to end there anyway.

      • robolizard says:

        Awww, poor Flash. You really don’t see him in pretty much the entire third season though. We can only wonder what types of wackiness Central City was up to then…

        I was just wondering if Batman’s effect is diminished when the weird figure of the night is seen on television, seen socializing in political situations and working as one figure of many; the weakest one.

        • Todd says:

          Batman’s place in the Justice League these days is the guy who doesn’t appear on television, doesn’t socialize and doesn’t participate in political situations. He remains distant to the point of pathology. (In “This Little Piggy,” the funniest of the JLU episodes, WW asks Batman why he doesn’t pursue a romantic life. Batman hands her a line of crap about how he can’t let romance intrude on his work and WW cracks “Yeah, it might cut into your brooding time.”)

          In the Alex Ross/Paul Dini oversize JLA book, it’s Superman who has no problem walking into the Pentagon to discuss a military crisis; Batman is the one who sneaks in through a heating duct to eavesdrop on the conversation. He’s still the weird creature of the night; they take care to never have him seen in daylight hours.

          Although I’m still not sure why they feel it necessary to wear their masks and costumes around the Watchtower and call each other Batman and Flash; you’d think they’d gotten a little more intimate after all that time.

          • megachef says:

            Regarding Flash, you’ll finally get a look at his hometown/digs in the final DVD set due in March.

            As for the continuity, yeah, they definitely continued that line all the way through. I love how they took one moment with Superman and Prof. Hamilton in the last episode of Superman and took it through a new door. (Also, the Question and Amanda Waller should have a kid, because that kid would be made of awesome.)

            What did Sam think of the Superman/Captain Marvel episode? I showed that one to my young cousins who were visiting over the holidays, and during the fight, one of them turned to me and asked, “So which one do you think is the bad guy?” That was an interesting conversation.

            • Todd says:

              Sam likes Captain Marvel, and he will, I’m sure, totally love the comics when he’s old enough to read them.

              The good guy/bad guy thing comes up so often on Justice League that it didn’t really faze him at that point. He totally gets that someone can be good but be fooled by someone bad and do something bad even though one thinks one is doing good, and start out good and turn bad and then be turned good again, he loves all that stuff, it’s high drama for him.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Until the JL begin having incredible sexual fables, and doing things like transforming into some animal or maybe natural forces, in order to slip past the partner at home and go knock up the nearest nymph, there is NO comparison to any Deity system.

    As for “if he believes in a collection of smart, quick-witted, eloquent heroes” – eloquent is not something I’ve heard attributed to the dialogs of Superheroes, unless by eloquent you mean camp, bombastic, cliche… then yeah, they are eloquent.

    • Todd says:

      Until the JL begin having incredible sexual fables, and doing things like transforming into some animal or maybe natural forces, in order to slip past the partner at home and go knock up the nearest nymph, there is NO comparison to any Deity system.

      I’ll check again, but I don’t remember anything about the Judeo-Christian God changing into an animal to go impregnate a nymph. Is that in Thessalonians?

      eloquent is not something I’ve heard attributed to the dialogs of Superheroes

      Well then, you haven’t watched Justice League. The characters on that show always know the right thing to say and say it in the clearest, most direct way — even better, they say it in ways that simple and true to character, and the moral lesson takes form in the viewers head, it’s not spoon-fed or recited by those onscreen. The kind of dialogue you’re thinking of (“Great Scott! I’ve only got one chance to find some way to use the rocket’s generator to reverse the polarity of that black hole!”) went out of style with Superfriends.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Damn. I wish I had read this yesterday; I would have gladly gone to the screening (I live just a short ride away via the 1 subway line.) I’m glad it went so well — congratulations!

    And I’m loving your Coen Bros. series. Can’t wait until you make it to The Big Lebowski. I feel like an ass for not having seen No Country yet — I decided to spend my money on There Will Be Blood instead. I can only afford to see so many movies at $12 a ticket, and Daniel Day-Lewis playing another sociopath for some reason tempted me much more than the ever-reliable awesomeness of a Coen Brothers flick.

    Which, incidentally, brings me to pose a question I’ve been asking everyone I can find: What did you think of There Will Be Blood? I’ve thought about it so much I’ve become confusedly ambivalent about it and I need to hear more opinions.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Our other dinner companion was beloved animator/designer John Kuramoto.

    In the photo above, Todd and Kriota are interviewed by the Artistic Director of the Dance On Camera Festival, Deirdre Towers (right).

    Also, the audience photo was taken by illustrator/cartoonist Tom Daly.

    I am unable to identify the names and professions of all the people who watched in rapt silence.

  11. chtulie says:

    Not for the kids, but on that note you might wish to have a look at ‘Flex Mentallo’ as written by Grant Morrison. (His name is sort of a seal of quality when found on a superhero comic)