In June 1938, Action Comics #1 sold for ten cents. The cover featured a muscle-bound alien in blue tights and a red cape, hoisting a green 1937 DeSoto with whitewall tires above his head. A yellow “S” gleamed on his chest. Superman was the brainchild of writer Jerry Siegal and illustrator Joe Shuster, both children of Jewish immigrants. Their hero was an American Samson. His hair was already cut short, but his superhuman strength disappeared the moment he touched kryptonite.
Today, Action Comics #1 sells for 3.2 million dollars. It’s the most valuable comic book in the world. Its story is emblematic of the story of comic books as a genre—children’s pulp fiction turned multibillion-dollar culture industry crisscrossing all corners of the globe. From memes and t-shirts to blockbuster franchises, 21st-century superheroes rule the world.
But our obsession with heroes isn’t new, nor is it confined to aliens in tights. Heroes show up in our fathers and mothers, authors and artists, saints and disciples, political leaders and sports stars. From Achilles to Atticus Finch, Frederick Douglass to Martin Luther King, Lao Tzu to Yao Ming, Shakespeare to Beyoncé, Isaac Newton to Albert Einstein, Socrates to Jesus Christ, we love putting people on pedestals. History might not be the biography of great men, but it’s certainly a catalogue of great men and women—what happens when they triumph and especially, when they fall.
This issue is about how Christians should approach those pedestals. How should people of faith think about heroes? What should we do with fallen idols, hated villains, and oft-repeated myths? What, ultimately, is worthy of our adoration?
We don’t promise answers, not until we can don our capes, fly around the world, and speed up time to ask God ourselves. But we do promise an X-ray vision, of sorts. We promise to look at the Samson behind the Superman—and to ask him what he can tell us about power, responsibility, and kryptonite today.
The Harvard Ichthus