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Wednesday, May 24, 2006 

Frank Miller's Lutheran World View

I always have been an avid comic book geek. I still have the first comic book I picked up at a local drug store from back when I live up north. I don’t know why I chose Fantastic Four #178 over the other titles but that’s the one I wanted and that’s the one my parents bought me. For those of you who are not big fans of the genre, Fantastic Four #178 came out in January of 1977. When I started going to high school I stopped reading and collecting comic books because, it just wasn’t cool to be caught even reading them anymore.

I picked up the hobby again when I was stationed in Germany by the Army. My roommate, James VanBeek, collected comics and I took the occasion to catch up with what was going on with Peter Parker and who was breaking into Wayne Manor this time around.

During the 80’s the comic book world started getting a little darker. Villains and heroes alike started getting killed off for the purpose of selling more books. Marvel killed off Kraven the Hunter, Doctor Octopus, and one of the Green Goblins in Spidey’s little corner of New York. Iron Man was turned into a murderer. The Punisher, a killer, had his own title as a hero who went around killing off members of the mob. DC killed off Supergirl and the Flash in one miniseries “Crisis on Infinite Earths”. Soon, fans were asked to vote whether a hero should live or die. Jason Todd, the second Robin to Batman, was a causality of this effort to make comics more appealing to a mature audience. In an effort to increase sales, comic books became a little scary.

One of the good things to come out of the eighties was Frank Miller. Frank Miller updated Daredevil from a second rate hero fighting third rate losers like Stilt-Man to a tortured soul fighting a very believable Kingpin of crime. While Daredevil’s world got a little darker, it was still recognizable as one we all lived in. Frank Miller also gave us one of the greatest Batman stories of all time with The Dark Knight Returns. TDKR gave us a future vision of Batman’s return to Gothom after a ten year absence. A great read for all, I assure you. Then came the 90’s.

In the 90’s, Frank Miller went over to Dark Horse Comics, an upstart rival to DC and Marvel. Miller at Dark Horse treated us to a series of serial stories from a place called Sin City printed within the pages of Dark Horse Presents. With the Sin City stories Miller took the mood of the eighties, shot it full of steroids and forced it to start slamming down multiple shots of espresso. Sin City was a hard edged noir world where Sam Spade would seem like a choir boy. Even the best people turned out to be bad people who were either killers or prostitutes or strippers. The police, politicians, and even the priests were corrupt and vile. Not the kind of place anyone would take the kids to vacation. Nope, definitely not any kind of Disneyworld I’d want to visit. Recently three of the collected stories were made into the bestest comic book movie adaptation ever.

A friend of mine and I were discussing that movie version of Sin City after our Friday night Bible study last week. My wife had to chime in and say how much she despised the movie-“Why would anyone want to see a movie that has as it’s protagonists very bad people?” My friend said something rather profound concerning Miller’s world view, its Lutheran!

Many in today’s society, and worse yet, today’s Church, don’t see the world the way Miller does: a very bad place filled with very bad people. Miller’s right, there is nothing good about us or anything we do, period. We are not, as some seem to think, just good people put here to do good things with a lot of bad things going on around us.

Since Adam’s first sin we have been very bad people. Psalm 51:5 teaches us Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
St. Paul writes that no one is righteous in Romans 3:10-18
As it is written: “ There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” “ Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;“ The poison of asps is under their lips”; “ Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “ Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known.” “ There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
The bottom line, we are not good people. As sinful human beings there is nothing at all about us worth redeeming.

But Frank Miller’s pessimistic world view is not the end of our story. If it were, we would be without any hope all! Thankfully, we have hope and faith in Christ as our propitiation to counter the world. We no longer have to worry about being poor miserable sinners as we have the promise of being justified before the Lord by not our own works but by Christ’s work on the cross. Augustana IV confesses that “Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and for that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness in his sight, as St. Paul says in Romans 3:21-26.
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
And in Romans 4:5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.

I loved the Sin City movie because it was the most faithful comic book adaptation I’d ever seen. I should be clear and say there is nothing Christian about Frank Miller’s Sin City, not the movie and not the comic book. And I certainly don’t want to return to an era where comic book companies thought it would be fun to have heroes that were every bit as bad as the villains they were fighting. But, there is in this case something refreshing about Miller’s dark view of the world. Everything is not peachy with our fallen world, and never will be, at least on this side of eternity. Once we understand that Miller is right concerning how deep sin has its hooks in us, we should race to the promise of the Gospel. We should by faith believe that no matter how right Miller is about this earthly kingdom, our crucified and risen Lord has declared us his in the heavenly kingdom. The light that Christ brings to us in Word and Sacrament shines so bright it illuminates the darkest world, not a make believe world written by Frank Miller, but our world. It is that light that Christ gives that gives us hope and allows us to look at a movie like Sin City and say…cool.

Very nice posting, Frank!

You've shown just how contemporary culture can, and should, be engaged from a proper theological perspective -- i.e., being in the world, but not of it.

It'd be interesting to see what Cranach & Dürer could've done with the graphic novel format, no?

Excellent write-up, very insightful, great job!!

my husband, the above oldhall, found your blog by hopping about. and he really wanted me to read this particular entry...

and I'm glad I did. while I'm not into comics, and my initial reaction would be similar to your wife's, I do understand your point.

I guess I'm of the mind that the secular world and the spiritual one should not be separted, but realized to be one and the same, in that it is the world we inhabit, just as Jesus inhabited a similar one. and for me, it's just to make our path what we can, and trust and rest in God's ability to make what He wants of the rest...

GHP, Thanks! Concerning your comment on Cranach and Durer, that's a a topic I'll hit on very soon.
Oldhall, Thank you as well.
Ipodmama, Also, thank you. You have also given me an idea for a post where I can discuss the Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms. There is the kingdom of the left where God works through the gifts He bestows on both believer and unbeliever alike. Then there there is the kingdom of the right where he works salvation through word and sacrament, that is to say the Church. More on that later....

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  • I'm Frank Gillespie
  • From The Haut South
  • Confessional Lutheran
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