Like many marvel fans, I was completely shocked to hear the news of the death of Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman from colon cancer just last week. I think many are reeling because of the disconnect between the healthy warrior image we have of Boseman in full costume as T’Challa, Black Panther warrior and king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, and the reality of the disease that was secretly ravaging his body for the last three years.

We should take advantage of every moment we can to enjoy the simplicity of God’s creation, whether it be clear skies and sun or clouded over with gloom.

—Chadwick Boseman

Tributes to Boseman started flowing in from the moment his death was announced. Stories were shared of the way he used his fame to champion causes he believed in. Fellow actor Josh Gad shared the content of the last text he’d received from his friend:

“We should take advantage of every moment we can to enjoy the simplicity of God’s creation, whether it be clear skies and sun or clouded over with gloom.”

Little did Gad know at the time that Boseman’s exhortation came from a man who knew his moments would soon run out.

Even Heroes Need Heroes

In addition to this message, a video of his 2018 commencement address at his alma-mata, Howard University, also started going viral. In it, Boseman talks of an interaction he had with another great hero—Muhammad Ali. Ali was walking across campus one day on his way to an official university event. Boseman locked eyes with the great, and Ali assumed a fighter’s stance, arms raised in guard, and proceeded for a moment to shadow-box the young man who would one day become a hero himself. The interaction only lasted for a moment before Ali’s minders ushered him along, but it made a lasting impression on Boseman.

Reflecting back years later about the event, Boseman shared,

“I realised [Ali] was transferring something to me on that day. He was transferring the spirit of the fighter to me.”

Even heroes need their own heroes.

Although there is no questioning the universal appeal of Boseman and his Black Panther character (the movie itself took in 1.29 Billion Dollars globally), like Ali, he was particularly a hero to people of colour across the world. When the film was released, Time Magazine marked it as a major milestone, “emblematic of the most productive responses to bigotry.” Reflecting on why the movie made such an impact, Carvell Wallace wrote in the New York Times that,

“Black Panther” is a Hollywood movie, and Wakanda is a fictional nation. But […] they must also function as a place for multiple generations of black Americans to store some of our most deeply held aspirations.”

But cinema-goers been drawn to superhero movies over the last decade. Why are we so drawn to these films?

It is no question that Chadwick Boseman, both in his on-screen persona and off-screen life, was a hero, and his loss will be keenly missed.

There’s no denying that cinema-goers have been drawn to superhero movies over the last decade. It is estimated that the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have taken in 22.55 billion US dollars since their first outing—Iron Man—premiered over 12 years ago. Why are we so drawn to these films? And why does the loss of one of these heroes, like Boseman, trouble us so much?

Dr William Indick, writing in the Journal of Media and Psychology claims that,

“The modern superhero, derived primarily from comic books, combines characteristics of the classical heroes of Greco-Roman hero traditions with the more humble and god-fearing heroes of the Judeo Christian traditions.”

The Hero’s Journey

Indick goes on to unpack how most superhero stories follow the “hero’s journey” pattern that was first noted by Joseph Campbell in his book The hero with a thousand faces. Campbell called this the “Monomyth”. Put simply, Campbell claimed that heroes (be they classical like Homer’s Ulysseys or modern like Lucas’ Luke Skywalker) goes through the following stages

  1. The hero is called to leave the comfort of their ordinary world behind.
  2. In the new and unfamiliar world, they face tests and enemies while also collecting allies.
  3. The hero experiences an ordeal that leads to death.
  4. The hero is resurrected.
  5. The hero returns to his allies and brings blessings with him.

Does this pattern sound familiar to you?

Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

1. Christ leaves the comfort of his “ordinary world” behind

rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,

2. Christ in the new and unfamiliar world

he humbled himself
 by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

3. Christ experiences an ordeal that leads to death

 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,

4. Christ is resurrected

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
  to the glory of God the Father.

5. Christ returns to his allies and brings blessings to them.

The Hero with One Face

Joseph Campbell’s monomyth is the story of Christ. Our culture’s love for heroes—be they superheroes like Black Panther, wizards like Harry Potter, or jedis like Luke Skywalker—reflects a yearning for something greater, something that only God can provide.

The world is crying out for a hero, and while I love Marvel movies as much as the next punter, those stories are fantasies—Wakanda doesn’t exist!

But, in Christ I have a true hero, one who saves me from a villain worse than Klaw or Killmonger. In fact, the Bible tells me that at one time, I was God’s enemy (Romans 5:10), and yet Christ died for me.

The loss of Boseman and the success of Marvel movies reminds us how so many people in our lives are searching for a hero. Is there someone you could share the good news about the true hero—Jesus—this week?