Back in September, DC Comics relaunched it’s entire lineup of titles. Called “The New 52”, the idea behind this major reboot is to update these characters and stories for a new audience and to give readers an opportunity to jump on board without necessarily needing to catch up with all of the various intersecting story lines. Some of the characters have somewhat new portrayals. All of them have updated looks. I’ve been enjoying these rebooted stories, and I think they are doing pretty well with other fans as well.
Over the past 25 years, beginning with Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC has actually made quite a few of these course corrections. They are often attempts to clean up confusing story lines and character histories, bring conflicting stories into agreement, and unify a far reaching corpus into a single, coherent canon. Because of the nature of comic books—multiple writers and artists working on numerous titles—these attempts to simplify and unify the canon don’t typically work for long. But it’s always fun to see how new creative teams reinterpret classic characters, stories, and themes.
The whole idea of rebooting a comic book story is fascinating to me. (It happens in comic book movies as well—Ang Lee’s under-appreciated Hulk movie was replaced by a unrelated reboot, and the very successful Spider-Man series is being re-imagined with new actors just a decade after the first series began.) This phenomenon demonstrates that superheroes are fundamentally archetypal myths that can be told and retold in different ways and for different contexts yet still maintain their essential qualities. In fact, for these modern day myths to maintain any sense of relevance, they must be updated and/or rebooted. Try reading a Batman comic from the 1940s today and see what I mean.
As those familiar with my passion for comic books will know, my interest in this genre of literature is not unconnected to my study and practice of religion. I understand that comics and religious myths share many common elements. So as I contemplate what it means to reboot a comic book story, I wonder what it might mean to reboot a biblical story.
In many ways, we do something like this already. If the point of rebooting a comic series is to make it relevant to newer readers, we can argue that our various practices of preaching and teaching aim to accomplish the same thing. Indeed, relevancy is one of the primary goals for any good preacher or religious educator. If we cannot make these ancient stories seem alive and relevant to contemporary hearers we fail to communicate what we believe to be good news.
Thinking more historically, we could also consider the variety of ways in which Bible stories have been retold and even expanded. From reworking of biblical stories in non-canonical literature to ancient Jewish midrash to the host of contemporary novels and films that are shaped by biblical themes, we can see that there have been many examples of activity that is similar to the reboot phenomenon.
But I wonder if we could push this further in our preaching and teaching today. In Protestant churches, our primary practice is to read an ancient biblical text and then offer a speech or lecture that does the work of bringing contemporary hearers into the ancient text and demonstrating its relevance for today’s world. By comparison, it would be like reading a Batman comic from 1940 and then writing an essay about what the themes of Batman mean for us today. Instead, comic book writers and artists create entirely new stories that spin the essential ideas into a contemporary form. The old stories don’t go away. Rather, they are part of an evolving tradition that maintains its connection to the past yet stays fresh for emerging generations.
Could we do something similar in the church? Some preachers, teachers, and artists are in fact quite good at creating new stories that express the core themes and values of ancient myths, narratives, and parables. Should we be doing more of that? What would it look like? Would a reboot of the Bible—or all of Christianity—be an effective way to reach new generations? Is this happening already?