Mark Twain once wrote, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” While I do not fully understand the meaning of the great American author’s words I find myself drawn to the concept that reality is odd, weird, peculiar, and problematic. Seeming senseless suffering occurs daily throughout the globe: wars, famine, and violation of human rights. I do not want this post to turn into a philosophical treatise on the problem of evil. [please refer to the writings of St. Augustine or The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis for a clearer and more authoritative outline of the issue than myself !] To be clear, although I experienced a push from reality toward despair when things get overwhelmed, it is interesting that fiction pulls me away from this strangeness and helps center myself.
Over the past year, I have delved into the DC Comics Universe- the realm of Superman, Batman, The Flash, and Green Lantern. I am most recently reading a voluminous story arc from the New 52 series on Superman! I think I finally realized why I am drawn to and experience calming graces in the medium of comics.
1. Larger than Life, Yet Relatable Characters: Stories portray transformation and inner conflicts within characters. Superhero comics contain traditional character developments. They also add layers to the story through its main actors possessing enhanced powers. Instead of alienating the reader, I find I am drawn into a comic book through the device of the dual identity of a superhero—their superhero appellation and their secret identity.
I will use Barry Allen/The Flash as an example because I loving running and the main power of this character revolve around speed and endurance. Most versions have Barry’s desire to help others stemming from the death of his mother at a young age. Later endowed with super-speed and Speed-Force powers from a lightning in a laboratory, Barry soon dons the mantle of The Flash! Despite his ability to nearly travel at the speed of light, Barry oftentimes has to slow down to solve both personal and professional problems. By reading these comics this superhero appeals to me because I sometimes tend to be impatient and act rashly at times.
2. Alleviation through Art: I am a visual learner. Illustrations bring me closer to the events of the comic book story. When I am reviewing books to check out from the library, one of the things I look for in a good comic is appealing artwork. The Blackest Night Green Lantern story-line contained popping colors and heroes decked in hues highlighting their unique power rings. I felt like I dove into a verbal kaleidoscope in that crossover event. I cannot quite put my finger on it but something about the artwork of the New 52 DC Series soothes my anxiety. Without alleviation through art, I would return an unread story back to the library as opposed to diving further into the comic book universe.
3. In a galaxy far, far away…there is no place like home: Along with the character development of DC’s superheroes [and even non-powered support characters] and the beautiful art, I have come to greatly enjoy the move to solar system based settings. Although strangeness abounds in the various planetary systems and alternative timelines, I get a sense of excitement and wonder instead of fear from my mind travels to exotic scenes!
The freshness is anchored by the stability of the characters in the DC universe. Despite reading a revisionist version of Superman, Batman, or other heroes, a certain familiarity and tradition still remains front and center. Traveling on these journeys provide small interludes of rest from the weariness of reality. For instance, the phones were going of the hook at my job today. I encountered strange and perplexing questions I never dealt with before. During my break time, I become an observer of Superman’s battle against his archenemy– Brainiac. I returned to the real world energized to complete my day’s remaining work.
Pontius Pilate asked Jesus Christ a question that in an old as time but still fresh and relevant today, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Truth, reality, actuality is a perplexing thing to grasp. Humanity is not called to fully understand the mysteries of the universe yet creation is laden with hints at what the purpose of the real world is all about. What I have learned it that created truth—i.e. fiction– helps orient myself toward realizing my purpose of this life. Through the gift of fiction, I acquire a renewed and broader perspective when I return to the “real world”. I will leave you to ponder the wisdom of J.R.R. Tolkien legendary creator of Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Referring to fantasy as a natural human activity he states,
I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?