Every now and then, a story becomes a living thing. It mutates and its cells start dividing. It goes from swimming, to crawling, to walking and finally to running. It pulls itself from the primordial soup of fiction and straddles that thin line of reality. A photocopy of a photocopy type of thing, but backwards. A big bang that evolves to shake hands with your soul.
If you examine such stories, if you dissect them, you will find their skeletons related. Crack their rib cages and butterfly their chests to see identical hearts. Clues, breadcrumbs, left in the ether unintentionally or on purpose. Subversively, there is a great wonder to such stories. A mystery otherwise nameless unless one is familiar with it.
That wonder being the gospel.
Gospel makes such stories family. Gospel makes such stories true and after all, is that not why we read about superheroes? Because we know deep down they are real?
If Jesus Christ is what he claimed to be, these are more than stories. They are living things that bewitch living things in a land of dying things. Photocopy of photocopy thing again. Backwards though.
At this point, I hope to have lost everyone. Christians, atheists, agnostics, and even the Kree. This is a good place to write from, and an even better place to read from. Trust me, I was just brought to tears by the words said from a purple faced robot as he comforted a telepathic witch from a made up country as they sat in a make-believe facility that houses fictional superheroes.
Just track with me for a couple minutes.
Stay with me and I will convince you that stories are a superpower. A superpower that we have a duty to master and exercise or a superpower that we have a duty to at least investigate.
-A Quick Background
I’ve been reluctant in my appreciation of anything Marvel. Where I grew up, we did not have comic books. All of my superheroes had anime eyes, bad English dubs, and I read about them backwards. Because, if you didn’t know, that’s how you read manga. From right to left.
If I am honest, there was a good deal of pretense in my opinion as well. I was too high brow to appreciate Captain America. Tony Stark was a bit cheesy to me and Thor was some bastardization of Norse mythology. I wanted a Tarantino bloodbath or a Scorsese slow burn. I wanted a Nolan maze and a Fincher grit to my stories for the vast majority of my life.
I like a bit of edge to my stories.. You can miss me with big CGI bad guys and world-ending stakes. Give me the nuance and ambiguity. Give me darkness and dread.
How easy it is to be surprised when one is bigoted. What shocks there are to be had when one is blind to their own blindness.
-A Blindsiding Event
“But what is grief, if not love persevering?”
It was after that floating purple man said this that I realized I was crying. Not just a tear, either. Three months of suppressed grief, anger, sadness, and the like burst as a fire-riser in a building’s basement. I was leaking from the broken parts of myself.
With a name like The Vision (and an honest to God stereotypical cape) I should be completely turned off to everything that is Wandavision. Yet there I was bleeding tears.
Which led to my utter confusion and surprise. The quick breaths I was trying to hide that accompany crying needed to be rationalized. I ruthlessly made fun of the people crying after Infinity Game. What the hell was happening to me?
Then as Colonel Kurtz says to Martin Sheen deep in the guts of Vietnam:
“And then I realized… like I was shot… like I was shot with a diamond… a diamond bullet right through my forehead.”
All at once the gun I wave at the world was finally turned back on me. I was suspended in space with a pistol in my mouth. The metallic taste and firework smell of gunpowder wove into a tightrope that I tiptoed on toward a mind crushing conclusion. A grin crept across my face right before the bullet jogged from the barrel, mushroomed and blew my brains all over my living room couch.
You bastards. You sly bastards. You got me.
The feeling that Mr. Shaibel had when Beth Harmon placed him into checkmate the first time. The feeling that Obi wan had when Anakin Skywalker bested him at a saber duel at long last. The feeling Mr. and Mrs. Incredible had when their kids rescued them on that island.
A sensation you can taste. It’s a bittersweet kind of taste.
This has nothing and everything to do with Ms. Maximoff at the same time. The same for the man with a face the color of wine. Same for all of it. The bewitching, the floating, the miracles and the like. This is not exclusive, either, to Marvel, or Star Wars, or Pixar, or even Disney. For the thing that they play with has but one owner. The thing I twist and model to navigate this cold world does not belong to me.
They, we, are but conduits for this thing we call storytelling.
After all storytelling belongs to God and it’s the single most powerful superpower there is and in the hands of certain people it can be as napalm. Burning down entire jungles of complexity, leaving a clearing that leads straight to God Himself.
-A Blindsiding Event Redux
It was Christmas eve and the morning was very old. We were still in our pajamas laying around the living room. Watching, ironically enough, some Marvel movie. Our innocence was translucent and frozen like a Christmas ornament, just waiting for some kid to come stomp on it.
That kid came in the form of a phone call and the entire bulb shattered into a million little pieces.
My mother in law was dead. Killed early that morning by a virus, just like millions of others. It was as if someone snapped their fingers and we lost half of our family. No infinity stones needed for that trick.
Within a few minutes my father in law arrived confused by the disease that steals memories. He sat there, with us, in shock and in our living room. Christmas decorations and unopened gifts were everywhere but the holiday feeling was absent. The Marvel movie playing in the background as we wept and tried to make sense of something that felt like fiction.
-Three Months of Grief
It felt like black and white those first couple weeks. Repeating similar platitudes and cornball jokes. Lots of “If there is anything we can do’s” and “So sorry’s” those first couple weeks. When I would go into work, I felt like an alien species. Looking at my computer and doing work things. My coworkers treated me like an alien too. I felt like I was cast into some kind of Van Dyke and I Love Lucy cocktail of a rerun. All the conversations were some kind of twisted laugh track that was hollow and pointless.
Those first couple episodes felt just like those first couple weeks.
Then the bad thoughts would come up out of the sewers. I had superpowers to make those go away. Alcohol would make the walls of my mind draw closer and I was able to box myself in, and them out. We’d reset the scene and call action.
I formed an impenetrable barrier around myself with video games and movies. The TV screen was like a shell, a technicolor cocoon where the metamorphosis was being stunted. My mind was like a larva, white and fat. It didn’t hurt but it didn’t heal and I knew I had to come out eventually, but it took the swindling of a Scarlet Witch to fool me out of it.
Soon, color started to make its way in and I realized that this was permanence. My mother in law was gone, but I still didn’t need to feel it. Telepathically I would move those emotions to the back of my mind. I’d force them out of my little town of a mind. Any unwanted neighbors were pushed outside of the hex.
I was living, but there was something wrong. Everything inside me knew this, but a war was being fought between my head and my heart. A cold war. The kind invisible but just as deadly.
I have not been a good father the last three months. I’ve been a real shit friend, and a horrible husband as well. The guilt of this compounded with the grief, the anger and the sadness. As it kept compounding, the episodes kept playing.
I have been stung by death before when I was in high school. I know what the hollow feels like. Something that I figured would make me stronger but things get confusing when it comes to death. It’s a trait that Wanda and I share. We both understood the trauma that comes with death, but it didn’t make it easier for us.
It didn’t take long for me to get lost in my own creation, just like Wanda did. Even with the team on the outside trying to rescue us, we wanted to stay in the quarantine of our minds. The only way for me, us, to get out was to trace back to the beginning. To be walked through our memories of how we ended up on Wandavison.
I remember Jonathan dying when I was in high school, I remember it like it was yesterday. The pain was in full color, full animation. We walked through the next door and to the anger that led me for the years that followed. The way I blamed God, the way she blamed Tony Stark.
My superpower was writing, hers was telepathy. They are similar in a lot of ways. I can move people without touching them. I can take them to worlds they’ve never dreamed of. I can make a prison for myself and convince myself it’s a home.
The next door we walked through, I saw my mother in law’s death dismembered and in different parts of a room. Someone was using a part of her death to make their political point. Another person was going on about the validity of masks, and conspiring that the government was somehow profiteering on her death. Two other people were trying to convince me that none of it was real because they wanted their life to go back to how it was before COVID. Either Way, and no matter what they were trying to do with her death, I was not allowed to bury her fully and I don’t think that I ever will. Wanda understands what this feels like. We really connected on that, actually.
One of the last conversations I had with Ellen, we were planning on looking at a house for us all to move into together to help carry the weight that is dementia. We had the foundations poured and deed was in my hand, figuratively and a lot like the way Wanda had the deed for her and Vision’s house.
There are two ticks left on my atomic bomb. Time for the final door.
This door led to our relationship. I saw her holding my kids and being a grandma, being a mother to me and my wife. It was comforting, it was calming. She was gracious and beautiful and unique. My daughter was still one year old here and sleeping on her chest. My daughter woke up and she comforted her back to sleep. She comforted me in a way I wish someone would have when I first experienced death in high school. The way Vision did with Wanda after her brother died.
And in my absolute truest form of anger and pain, I heard God say from the TV,
“But what is grief, if not love persevering?”
Then the tears, and this essay.
-A Thesis Redux
Every now and then, a story becomes a living thing. It mutates and cells start dividing. It goes from swimming, to crawling, to walking and finally to running. It pulls itself from the primordial soup of fiction and straddles that thin line of reality. A photocopy of a photocopy type of thing, but backwards. A big bang that evolves to shake hands with your soul.
I was reminded through superheroes the truth of the gospel, that God hates death. He hates what it does to us, even those of us with superpowers. I was reminded, also, that he mourns with us, despite his superpowers.
In anger and joy he sent his own son to die. To snap his fingers and bring us back like it was just some kind of bad dream. To save us, to be our hero.
Through a story being told in weekly segments about grief, I am reminded of hope. An eternal one, an all-powerful one. I am reminded of a story where Jesus himself grieved, where he snarled at death. Why are there not more stories being told like this? We have the skeleton. Why are we so afraid to add some muscle, some skin to it? Why don’t Christians tell more stories? Why do we look down on things like comic books? Why are we so fucking ignorant of the gospel?
Do not our chests burn when God speaks? Do we not weep on the couches in our living rooms?
I am but one story of millions to have been affected by the year that preceded the one we are currently in. I am but one of the cracks of the cosmic spider web of brokenness that have survived a bad thing. I am but one man who clings to these stories of hope, these stories of Gospel.
If Jesus Christ is what he claimed to be, these are more than stories and if we call Jesus Christ Lord, we have a soul binding obligation to tell them. We should be storytellers and seekers. We should be comic book writers and readers.
If you are reading this and all you know of Jesus is the surface of his name or the actions of his people, I urge you to look further into him. There are superheroes. There are Jedi. There is an ending that is coming to the story you are writing, what will be the pages between? There is bad but there is also good. There is hope, the kind you only find in the most spectacular of stories. The kind you feel like a child in hoping for.
It’s all real and it’s all constant.
Stay curious and you will come to find that these are all much more than stories. All of them.
Even the ones about a heartbroken telepathic woman from a made up country that wants to resurrect a sentient robot made of make-believe materials.