Joss Whedon has a heavy cross to bear… namely the bulk expectations of not just comics fans, but the increased fan base the recent years of interconnected Marvel movies has accrued. Those who’ve enjoyed the amazing solo entries of the upcoming Avengerssurely have big, bombastic hopes and dreams for what the assembled film will provide, in sheer spectacle as well as character advancement for their favorite among the heroes. (I’m praying for you, Joss!)
Along that Marvel mindset, I bumped into another writer for comics, theater and cinema, Jim Krueger, last week in Florida and shared engaging conversation over dinner regarding his own work with these superheroes. Revisiting a well-worn graphic novel of his in my possession, Earth X, I discovered the forward was by none other than Whedon himself. If Joss’ words of high praise hold true I hope stories like Earth X inspire the Avengers director to go big and thought-provoking as he weaves these larger-than-life characters together. I was inspired to peruse the book again myself, and recommend it as some (not) light reading between now and next summer.
“The beauty of Earth X is that it combines the best aspects of all Marvel’s eras… the story is complex (but not confusing), the characters layered, the twists and revelations (as in all great fiction) at once surprising and inevitable. (Krueger’s) work here stands beside Busiek’s and Waid’s – or anyone’s – as simply the last name in defining and exploring a comic book reality.” – Joss Whedon
With concept collaboration and covers by Alex Ross, Earth X doesn’t just assemble the Avengers, but also the X-Men, Fantastic Four, Inhumans, Defenders, and nearly every character in the Marvel Universe set in a speculative future. Peter Parker is old, retired from spinning around as Spider-man. He has a daughter. Tony Stark is a balding, aged recluse. The Hulk wears a diaper, Captain America has lost heart, and several well-known characters have already died as reality comes apart at the seams. Think Lord of the Rings meets the book of Revelation, Marvel style. With sequels – Universe X and Paradise X – the narrative forms an overwhelming metaphysical opus. Over the last decade, I’ve often used it as illustration when teaching about the intersection between God’s overarching story and our imaging/storytelling as his sub-creators. Some of the story even breaks traditional comic-panel format and simply expresses text dialogue between a Watcher of earth, Uatu, and the machine man X-51. They argue whether mankind is more than the sum of its biological parts: if there truly is a human spirit, a soul, or anything transcendent. The Watcher argues from a Nietzschean perspective, but has quite literally (and metaphorically) been blinded. The verbal interplay between them is the epic equal to the apocalyptic conflagration consuming the earth.
“X-51, history has shown from age to age the human condition. They need a hero. A champion. A savior. But when salvation has come, they turn on that embodied hope.”
“Because to be saved is to be weak. And to be weak, one must acknowledge that one exists in a constant state of need. That, in his natural state, man is found to be lacking.”
All of this is set against a cosmos-spanning spectacle I’m not certain could be achieved yet in film, even with our 21st century special effects. It’s one of the fictional stories that added to my heart the affirmation of God’s loving presence, power and mastery over the story of which we are all a part. It placed an “excelsior” on my excitement to pursue Christ, calling, and ministry. As Krueger himself mentions in the Afterword:
“…for every story written in the Marvel Universe, just like our lives, there is another story, one beneath the stories. One that ties our own adventures all together… even “accidents” themselves are built into some sort of cosmic firmament. Like a blank page left open for our heroes to write upon in a book that’s already been completed.” – Jim Krueger
So, if your appetite for cinematic superheroes has been whetted by recent comics or cinema, and you’re looking for something that offers not just the pop of popcorn but meaty entertainment to truly sink spiritual teeth into, check out the X-trilogy (you can even keep up with Krueger’s body of work at JimKrueger.com).
The only danger might be that next summer’s Avengers seems a little bit smaller by comparison.