Superhero movies smashed through the box office this summer, like seemingly every year. The top three grossed $2.6 billion. At the same time that comic hero profits have been rising, religiosity in America has been on the decline.
Bill Radke sat down with authors Reza Aslan and G. Willow Wilson to ask if superheroes are filling our moral and cultural need to connect with something larger than ourselves.
Reza’s new book, "God: A Human History," argues that our deities have always been a reflection of ourselves. “Religion is far more of a matter of identity than of belief or practice,” he said. And those stories shift to reflect the times. As the borders that separate us have begun to crumble, and people begin to feel uncertain about the future, “over the last two decades, superheroes have been reconfigured for a darker world.”
Willow sees that as well in the ways that we’ve begun to choose our leaders. “People yearn for security over change,” she said, which may be why we’ve started to imbue our leaders with stronger and stronger moral authority (and construct elaborate narratives when they fall short of our hopes). "This is not unrelated to that broader decline in religiosity."
Willow says this is apparent in our more religiously diverse culture. "An increasing number of people don’t practice at all," Willow sayid. “We’re questioning whether the moral and ethical contracts offered by religion still work, but we still need an ethical framework.”
Religion has been interwoven into comics since they were founded. The first heroes are not so dissimilar to the mythology of the Golem of Prague. In the present day, part of the innovative nature of Ms. Marvel is that she is a practicing Muslim who is both sustained and challenged by her faith.
Both authors agree that the only constant in comic books – as in life – is change. “The only way in which superheroes will continue to matter,” Reza said, “is if they continue to shift.”