Every Friday in Panel Discussion, Jeremy Writebol considers how the latest comic book releases intersect with the Good News of Christ. This piece may contain spoilers.
“It’s a terrible thing to have to learn. That sometimes you don’t get to say everything you need to before someone you love… dies.” — Captain America
Regret is one of the deepest and most painful emotions a person can feel. When it’s embodied in the character fabric of a super-hero, though, the ramifications of that pain are maximized beyond what’s normal. Which is why we resonate so deeply with the heroes and anti-heroes of comic books. More than just juvenile stories of good versus evil, comic books have largely become a portal to another universe that mirrors our own and allows us to stand as spectators of the moral and ethical dilemmas of super-powered heroes, villains, and everyone in-between. They are moral dramas for us to examine, learn, and understand ourselves even though they’re contained in the laboratory of the “that could never happen” supernatural. Today’s comics are our versions of Greek mythology complete with origin, philosophy, psychology, and religion. We can learn much about ourselves here.
Captain America’s origin story is a fairly familiar one. A scrawny sub-100 lbs. young man feels a moral duty to his country in the midst of WWII. After trying many ways to enlist in the military, he’s discovered by a secret scientific research group looking for the right candidate for their “super soldier serum.” Upon a successful infusion of the serum, Steve Rogers becomes a super-powered soldier with a super-powered sense of truth, justice, and liberty. He’s the embodiment of everything right and good in the world powered to fight everything evil in the world. But before he can complete his mission to defeat the Nazis, he and his best friend/sidekick James “Bucky” Barnes end up falling into the frozen waters of the North Atlantic where it’s presumed both are killed in action. Rogers, however, becomes encased in ice where he sleeps for decades without aging before finally being found by the Avengers and resuscitated to live and fight for truth and justice in our modern times.Can we live a life for the sake of Christ and the kingdom of God without carrying any regrets about the consequences that life could carry down the road?
This well-known origin story has been picked up and retold by the renowned team of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale in their latest Captain America: White series. Loeb and Sale have teamed up at both Marvel and DC to create some iconic comic stories, most notably the Daredevil: Yellow series and the epic Batman: The Long Halloween saga. When these guys create a comic, it’s one for the ages. Their Marvel stories retell the origins of some of the Marvel Universe’s major characters: Spider-man, Hulk, Daredevil, and now Captain America. For each origin, Loeb and Sale pick a specific color to parallel an aspect of that character’s nature. We’re often left to surmise the meaning of the color all the way through the series until it’s revealed at the series’ pinnacle.
Captain America: White drops us into the realm of regret. Within Captain America’s story, there’s a man caught between two eras. Flashbacks from the past constantly haunt and impact the very real present of Steve Roger’s new life. Loeb and Sale interject a deep relational tension between Rogers and Barnes in the last casual conversation the two have before their icy demise. When Rogers reawakens in the modern world, he’s carrying the burden of a dead friend, hurting words, and internal irresponsibility. Regret abounds.
Captain America is the embodiment of juxtaposed tensions. How can good, truth, justice, honor, and freedom coincide with a deep well of regret? If a life is lived to uphold the world’s best standards, even to the point of opposing the world’s greatest evil, it would seem that there’s no room for regret. Yet for Steve Rogers — in this story, anyway — regret is his life’s overriding quality.
This tension poses a deep question for Christians: can we live a life for the sake of Christ and the kingdom of God without carrying any regrets about the consequences that life could carry down the road? If the statements of Jesus — that the gospel will divide fathers and sons and mothers and daughters — are true, then a life of regret could be very possible in the realm of our faith. Furthermore, the separation of death and an unreceived gospel pushes the heart to regret what should have been and could have been if only we had spoken up more frequently.
Captain America: White causes us to take stock of every interaction with those we love in light of eternity. If our next interaction with our family or friends was to be our final one, how would we speak? What would we declare? How would we love and share with them? As Captain America ponders the “what-ifs” of his past relationship with Bucky, we ponder the “what-will-bes” of our future relationships with others.
With a viewpoint of God’s grace and his power to save accompanied by our responsibility to share, we can move confidently forward in life without regret. As we are faithful to God’s calling on our own lives, we find God’s grace to cover both our past and future failures. We can live free from the burdens of our past because Christ has taken our burdens upon himself, even the burdens of the future, so that we can move forward in faith and freedom instead of regret and remorse.