Leagues of Legacies

Romans 4:13-25

Common English Bible (CEB)

13 The promise to Abraham and to his descendants, that he would inherit the world, didn’t come through the Law but through the righteousness that comes from faith. 14 If they inherit because of the Law, then faith has no effect and the promise has been canceled. 15 The Law brings about wrath. But when there isn’t any law, there isn’t any violation of the law. 16 That’s why the inheritance comes through faith, so that it will be on the basis of God’s grace. In that way, the promise is secure for all of Abraham’s descendants, not just for those who are related by Law but also for those who are related by the faith of Abraham, who is the father of all of us. 17 As it is written: I have appointed you to be the father of many nations.[a] So Abraham is our father in the eyes of God in whom he had faith, the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that don’t exist into existence. 18 When it was beyond hope, he had faith in the hope that he would become the father of many nations, in keeping with the promise God spoke to him: That’s how many descendants you will have.[b]19 Without losing faith, Abraham, who was nearly 100 years old, took into account his own body, which was as good as dead, and Sarah’s womb, which was dead. 20 He didn’t hesitate with a lack of faith in God’s promise, but he grew strong in faith and gave glory to God. 21 He was fully convinced that God was able to do what he promised. 22 Therefore, it was credited to him as righteousness.

23 But the scripture that says it was credited to him[c] wasn’t written only for Abraham’s sake. 24 It was written also for our sake, because it is going to be credited to us too. It will be credited to those of us who have faith in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was handed over because of our mistakes, and he was raised to meet the requirements of righteousness for us.

One of the most fascinating developments of the past 30 or so years in comic books is the development of the legacy hero, specifically in the DC comics line of heroes.

Let me explain, using a few examples. Back when DC comics got started, in what is now considered the Golden Age of comics, they had their first string of costumed heroes with interesting and fascinating powers. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman– these are the names you probably know the best. There was also a line of what some call second-string heroes, people who may not be the most recognizable, but are definitely powerful and interesting characters. These are characters like The Flash, the Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Sandman, Hourman, and so forth. These characters were often paired up with other characters, and the the ultimate team-up of the time time was the Justice Society of America. All these heroes, including the big 3, were in big team, solving mysteries and fighting crimes too big for just one of them to handle. And all was goofy and magical and wonderful and fantastic.

Then, in the sixties, began the Silver Age of comics. America had changed and the comic book companies were changing with them. Comics took a turn for the more science-fictiony psychedelic and convoluted–and most of the time, they did it well. However, the heroes of the Golden Age perhaps didn’t fit the mold of the new face of America. So what did DC do? They made newer, science fiction themed versions of the old heroes. For instance, the first Green Lantern was a man named Alan Scott, a railroad engineer who found a magic lantern coupled with a magic ring in a cave that gave him the power to create anything with his mind. In the 60s reboot, they made a new Green Lantern: Hal Jordan, test pilot, who stumbled upon a downed alien space ship with a dying alien inside, who charged him with the power of the Green Lantern (same powers, essentially) and he was drafted into a corps of Space Police to fight crime all over his sector of the universe. Big change, huh?

DC did this with countless other heroes, including the Flash and Hawkman (and there’s not enough blog space on the internet to discuss the reboots of Hawkman). Yet… at the same time, there were fans of the old guard of heroes, the Golden Age marvels of yesteryear. So DC kept them, and came up with a multiverse scheme, where the Silver Age heroes were on earth-1 and the Golden Age heroes were on earth-2. Earth 2 got the Justice Society, and Earth one got a new team with the rebooted heroes: the Justice League of America. Needless to say, there were crossover shenanigans galore, and all the fandom rejoiced.

Fast forward through comic book history a bit. As time went on, DC often rebooted characters in a similar fashion, and made new iterations of old identities, and yet they also somehow managed to keep the old identities in case a story needed them. What wound up happening was that there became several different generations of the same heroes. The mantle of the Green Lantern has been passed around, first to Alan Scott, then Hal Jordan, then to Guy Gardner and John Stewart, to Kyle Rayner, and now all of them are just hanging around saving the universe. (Note: My knowledge of DC events kind of ended around the Blackest Night event, so supernerds who are all up on the New 52 reboot, just keep it to yourselves, I’m getting to the point soon.) The point is, these identities became legacy characters; characters who stood for a certain ideal, and passed that ideal along with their character identity down the generations, creating families of heroes.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on the Green Lantern, but honestly the best handling of this in a family sense is the Flash. As much as I love Supes and Bats, the Flash family remains in my head as the First Family of DC Comics. Jay Garrick, the original Golden Age flash, became the speedster Patriarch, followed by his metaphorical Isaac and Jacob successors in Barry Allen and Wally West, and all the myriad speedsters in the line that surround them. The cool thing that happened with the Flash is that it really did become a family of heroes, each training up the next in line to uphold the good name and ideals of the Fastest Man Alive.

I love the idea of a legacy character, and a league of legacies, because it really does illustrate the point of what a strong sense of love and corporate identity can mean in a society that has largely forgotten the importance of community and familial love. Not all of these people were related by blood, but nonetheless the Flashes and the Green Lanterns all formed a fellowship bound by, in their case, a quest for justice and holding fast to the good in the face of evil.

Legacies have a major role in the Christian narrative as well–which is why I probably find it so fascinating. Paul articulates well the notion that it isn’t anything anyone earns that brings one into the family of God, but rather the idea that faith can create a new family where once there was none. Once we were no people, but now we are God’s people. The example of a patriarch like Abraham is a powerful thing, and can have effects on the people around us for generations to come.

So I’ll pose the question: in your life, what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? In my case, I want to live the best life I can in all the ways I can for everyone I meet. Legacies exist beyond merely familial ties. I’ve been impacted in my life, both good and bad, by people I’ve never met, as have you I imagine. What if people started looking at the long game, and tried to visualize the kind of legacy that love can make?

You don’t have to be super to be a hero to someone. You don’t have to be related to be family either. We inherited our love from one who took it on faith. What’s the best way we can live up to our legacy?

About grantimusmax

Grant Barnes, aka Grantimus Maximus, aka The Nerdcore Theologian. Currently, he is a PhD Candidate at the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, California. He is a graduate of Perkins School of Theology with a Masters Degree in Divinity. He graduated from Texas State University Cum Laude with a Bachelor's degree in English, minor in History. He watches way too many movies, reads too many books, listens to too much music, and plays too many video games to ever join the mundane reality people claim is the "Real World." He rejects your reality, and replaces it with a vision of what could be, a better one, shaped by his love for God.
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