The Bible is full of amazing stories, miraculous events, tales of bravery, sacrifice, strength... and so are superhero legends. Jeff Dunn and Adam Palmer, co-authors of the soul of spider-man: unexpected spiritual insights from the legendary superhero, examine such similarities between Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man and the characters and principles found in God's Word.
Dunn recently sat down with Crosswalk to talk about great power, great responsibility, and great role models.
Crosswalk.com: Jeff, in this book, you and Adam Palmer focus mostly on the most recent three Spider-Man films?
Jeff Dunn: Right, we look at the three where Tobey Maguire plays Spider-Man.
CW: The line from those films, "With great power comes great responsibility" is now burned into all of our brains. Is this a Christian principle, and how so?
JD: Yes, it is. And the verse that comes to mind with me is, "Luke 12:48." So, with great power comes great responsibility. Also, then we look in James where James tells us, Hey, James 3:1 or a leader because those who are leaders, there is more required of them. So when we are given much, much is required of us.
Peter Parker was given this great power, and thus he had a responsibility. Of course, that line was given after he failed to exercise that responsibility. And look what happened after he failed to exercise that responsibility—his uncle was shot and killed.
CW: Is it just or fair that -- I mean, Peter is still a teenager -- he gets such power and, therefore, such responsibility at an age that he may or may not be able to handle it? What do we do when that happens to us?
JD: King David -- most scholars would say he was no more than sixteen, probably more like twelve or thirteen when Samuel came along and anointed him to be King of Israel. Look at Mary. She was, what, maybe thirteen or fourteen when the angel visited her and said, "Guess what? You are going to carry the Son of God." You know, in ways, I think that it is better for teens to get this power because they don't know what they don't know yet. They don't know what they cannot do. They don't know what they are not supposed to do. They don't know what they are not allowed to do. They just do it.
I have a son who just turned seventeen this week. He was at a Christian camp two weeks ago, and I went to pick him up. When I got him, we were talking, and he said, "You know David is one of my heroes." I said, "Really, why?" He said, "He wrestled with lions." Yeah, he did. And that was one of the things that stood out to him.
David was a teenager when he was wrestling with lions. I would not wrestle with a lion! I am smart enough now not to wrestle with lions. He was not smart enough to not wrestle with lions back then. So, yeah, I think that Peter did not go looking for this superpower. It came upon him. And now he has it [along with] all the awkwardness of teens [and] all the teen angst that is explored in these movies.
CW: Was that your target audience with the book?
JD: Yes and no. We wrote it at a level that teen viewers of the movies could really enjoy and would be able to appreciate. But honestly, I have talked to more adults who have read it, who love the movies and say, "Oh yeah, boy, that reminded me. I went back and watched it and, yes, I see what you were talking about." So I think that really we go from teens to all the way up.
CW: We actually ran an article a couple of years ago on Crosswalk where the author compared peter parker to joseph, the son of Jacob. And you just brought up David and Mary. Is there a biblical character who you think parallels Peter's story most?
JD: Well, I look at David. I think of David a lot. But certainly, Joseph would fit right in there too. Joseph is a cocky teenager. He thinks he knows it all, or at least that is kind of the feel that we get from reading his early story. And then things happen to him that are out of his control. And then he becomes faithful, and God sees him through. So I certainly could see Joseph in here too, but David is who I had in mind. Honestly, I do not know who [my co-author] Adam had in mind. That is a good question. I am going to ask him.
CW: We know that, being a teenager and someone who is wronged as Peter was, he struggled greatly with revenge. What do we take from that? What can Christians glean from the thirst for vengeance?
JD: We all get angry whether it is over someone cutting us off in traffic, or somebody stealing a valuable something from us, or who knows, but it just seems that, most of the time, our first thought is, "How can I get even?" So in a way, we kind of look at Peter Parker, and we see this attitude in him, and we say, "Gosh, yeah, I can relate." For me, it is holding a mirror up to me, and I say, "Oh yeah. You know what? I had that same attitude last week when somebody did this to me." When I look in the mirror, I do not always see good things. That is necessary at times. We don't sugarcoat what Peter Parker does in here.
CW: One of the things I enjoyed was that you and Adam go deeper than just standard one-to-one analogies. You even write, "Don't take us to task on this; we are not making a total one-to-one correspondence" to the Bible. But Jeff... when you compare the rise of the Sandman to the resurrection of Jesus, well, can you elaborate on that comparison for us?
JD: It is okay that we see glimpses of God in things, and that they do not totally carry all the way out. No, the Sandman is not Jesus. We are not saying that the Sandman was Jesus, but we are saying that God takes dead people and raises them to life. When you see someone who is dead who comes to life, you say, "Ah, there is God! There is God." And we just get little glimpses of that.
The Sandman is one of my favorite characters in the movies because he has such a good heart. Yes, he has broken out of prison. Yes, he breaks into his estranged wife's house, but why? It is because he loves his child. His child is sick, and he wants to help. He will give his life for his child. Again, now we are seeing Jesus, giving his life. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend. That is what the Sandman does.
He lays down his life, and it is given back to him in a very strange and unusual way. When he breaks into the bank to steal, it is not because he is evil and he wants to consume it upon himself, but he wants the money to help his child. He feels bad for what he is doing. So there are just lots of little things that we see in him.
CW: As you were writing, what other core Christian principles did you find in these movies, and which ones were you surprised to find?
JD: Oh, boy... good question! Aunt May is another one of my favorite characters. She is not condemning. She is very accepting of Peter. When Peter is going through his black Spider-Man phase, she is very accepting of him. When Peter has broken up with Mary Jane, and he is just heartbroken, but he is taking it out in a very angry way, Aunt May is there to calm him and to say, "It is all going to be okay."
So again, here is Jesus. I am not saying that Aunt May is Jesus, but we are seeing glimpses of Jesus through Aunt May saying, "You know what? It is going to be okay. I am going to be there with you. I am going to walk through this with you."
When Peter comes and says, "The Sandman who killed Uncle Ben is dead and Spider-Man killed him. Aren't you glad, Aunt May?" Aunt May says, "No, and Uncle Ben would not be either." Again, we are coming back to the principle of love. Aunt May is the one character throughout all three movies who portrays love the very best, and not a schmaltzy kind of love, but the foundational love that we can build our life on.
CW: Is it important for youth to identify spiritually with their heroes, whether real or fictional?
JD: Oh, absolutely! Absolutely it is because they say, "Okay I am supposed to be like Christ... Where is he? I don't see Him." But, I can go to the movie, and I can see Spider-Man. I can go to the movies and I can see Ironman. So I think it is very important that youth find people in movies, in music, and in sports with whom they can identify. And it is not always the person who is (this is going to come across wrong, but I will just say it) spouting "Christianese." It is not always the person who is just talking the talk. Again, we see little glimpses of God here and there. If our eyes are open, we will see him.
And yes, I think it is very important that youth have these people that they can look up to. I also think it is important that the Church not dissuade them just because a movie is rated PG-13, or there was violence in it or that there was sex in it or something like that.
In Ironman, Tony Stark is not Jesus, but look at his story from the very beginning: his heart is destroyed, so he has to get a new heart. Once he has that new heart, he now has a new life, and he has a new purpose in life. Hello! [Laughs.] That will preach all day long. And yet we have preachers who say, "Well, Tony Stark cannot be your hero because he is a womanizer, because he drinks, and because he drives fast." I do one of those three things. [Laughs.]
CW: So then what do you hope a young person who reads The Soul of Spider-Man will take away from it?
JD: I hope that it causes them to hunger for a life that walks with Christ in a very real way. I hope it strips away religion and "Christianese" from them. I hope it gets them to see that God has entered our world in a very real way.
Here's what I hope -- I hope that they come away from it saying, "You know what? I bet if Jesus were still here on earth physically, that he would have been at the Spider-Man movie with a bucket of popcorn, enjoying it just as much as I did." That is what I hope they come away with.
Jeff Dunn has been involved in mass media—primarily radio and publishing—for more than 34 years. He worked at the first commercial contemporary Christian radio station (KCFO-FM) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and taught radio broadcasting at both the high school and college levels for 15 years. Jeff was an editor with TulsaPeople and Charisma magazines, and the founding editorial director of RiverOak Publishing. Now a literary agent in the Winters Agency, Jeff represents both fiction and non-fiction authors who publish mostly for Christian readers. Jeff is the author of several books, including the TH1NK imprint bestseller taming a liger: unexpected spiritual surprises in napoleon dynamite. He has ghostwritten a number of other books for well-known authors. Jeff and his wife of 27 years, Kathy, live with their three children and one border collie in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Jeff is a diehard fan of the Cincinnati Reds and, though he does not like to admit it in polite company, of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Publication date: October 15, 2010