The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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The Marvel Man


It was the word Stan Lee would use to sign off his pithy column to fans in his early comic books, meaning ‘higher, ever upward!’ The legendary publisher, writer, and co-creator of superheroes from Spider-Man to the Incredible Hulk died on Monday, and it is no wonder that many have used the word in tribute to him on social media.

In real life Lee was as colourful a character as the caped crusaders who filled the pages of Marvel Comics: his editorial flourish; his in-story asides that drew the reader into a shared secret world; and his cameos in every Marvel film since 2000 have made him the best-known figure in comic book history.

Frustrated by the dull, two-dimensional, black-and-white comic book characters of the 40s and 50s, Lee instead chose to create more colourful, full-blooded, and flawed characters. He spawned ‘The Fantastic Four’ and soon after the teenage web slinger with whom he’d become synonymous.

Spider-Man encapsulated the characteristics that would make Lee the doyen of a bold new age for comics: Lee’s heroes were ‘gods’ among humans but gods with feet of clay. Science geek Peter Parker gained all the powers of a human arachnid and so never had to fear the school bully again… but he still had to pay his rent, deal with acne, and stumble through fumbling romantic interludes.

Lee hit on a formula that fans loved: heroes with dark sides and doubts who would have to learn, as Spider-Man’s mentor tells him, that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.

You see, saving the world is never simple, a fact that the late great Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of John 1:14 attests to: ‘The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.’ To save humanity, God would have to become one of us, would have to get his hands dirty.

Lee gave us all too human heroes, but Jesus shows us what true humanity is like. And his expectation for us is revealed in what he prayed to the Father: ‘I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me’ (John 17:22-23).

As Athanasius famously insisted: ‘God became man that man might become God’.

That’s a destiny far weightier than any superhero could hope for.

Excelsior indeed.

Jason Gardner
Jason is curate at St Peter’s West Harrow.


  1. Excellent. Well crafted
    And inspiring, thank you.

    By Richard Taylor  -  16 Nov 2018
  2. Thank you, this is really uplifting certainly the use of Excelsior is more than apt! The message can somehow get to the heart of things.
    Thank you again, this has lifted my heart!

    By Pam Reeve  -  16 Nov 2018
  3. Thank you for a very insightful comment.

    By Alan J F Fraser  -  16 Nov 2018
  4. Excellent article Jason which I have forwarded to all my Christian friends (and others!) I have also printed out a copy for my son Mark! I know he will be very impressed.

    By Bob Mynett  -  16 Nov 2018
  5. nice piece jason

    By brett  -  16 Nov 2018
  6. Brilliant article Jason,I too will forward to my son – a huge comic fan when younger.
    Thank you for another great conversation starter.

    By Ann Page  -  16 Nov 2018
  7. As a childhood Spidey fan, fun to read indeed. Not heard the Athanasius quote before though, and its theology doesn’t sound quite right. We may become like God in important ways as we’re sanctified, but I’m not sure we ‘become God’. Call me a stickler!

    By Bruce Gulland  -  16 Nov 2018
  8. It’s an interesting parallel – Jesus certainly “got his hands dirty” but unlike Spiderman there is no “dark side” to Jesus – He is the light of the world.
    Secondly I am not sure we should be comfortable with insisting that ‘God became man that man might become God’. John clearly maintains the distinction of “I and them”. Paul teaches that if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation but still a creature and not the Creator. Discovering the divine within our humanity is an idea and error promoted by post modernism – we need to tread carefully – we are on holy ground.

    By David Child  -  16 Nov 2018
  9. Brilliant! I haven’t had time to read this until this morning but it has definitely lifted my spirits. Thank you.

    By Sue W  -  17 Nov 2018
  10. Brilliant writing. More from Jason please! (Although I am TOTALLY biased!)

    By Rachel Gardner  -  22 Nov 2018

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