COVID-19, the coronavirus, has introduced uncertainty into the lives of countless people worldwide. When I am uncertain, I turn to stories about superheroes. Here are a few about what it means to keep going through uncertain times.
“Secret Wars” (2015) by Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic
Jonathan Hickman is writing “X-Men” right now for Marvel, but before that he wrote a story about what it means to be afraid that the things you love will disappear, a story that unfolded across runs on “Fantastic Four,” “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Avengers,” and “New Avengers” and half a decade of comics. It was a story about the end of all reality and the ways in which superheroes – and readers – would deal with the end of the Marvel Universe. It is a grim story. Heroes struggle, and they fail. People die. Over and over again we are told that “everything dies.” And, then, Marvel blew up their universe and canceled all their books for half a year while “Secret Wars” explored what little survived the end. The story shows that the characters, stories and worlds readers had loved and lost could never really go away, because they had loved them. This is a comic book that gives me chills everytime I read it – a book that both makes me terribly sad and fills me with joy. It is a testament to the genre, to the Marvel Universe and to making it through the worst.
“The Death of Superman”
If there’s anything you can say about Superman, it is that he endures. We have to kill him every few years to make sure that he does, and we are always surprised to find that it is true. All of these stories have different takes on what it means for Superman to die. Sometimes, as in 1962’s “The Last Days of Superman!,” he works to inspire a world that can be full of super people who do as much good as they can. Sometimes, as in 1986’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow,” he gets to live a life for himself, though he lets us know that he will always be there if we need him. In 1993’s “The Death of Superman” and 2016’s “The Final Days of Superman,” he passes the mantle down to others inspired by his power, and the idea of Superman endures. In 2008’s “All-Star Superman,” he discovers that in a world without Superman, we would have to imagine him and so would learn to hold each other up. Every time DC Comics tests Superman by killing him, we discover that what made him special is what makes all of us special, that what we should do in times of uncertainty is look out for the people around us, that when the things we think are forever are brought into question we must find strength in ourselves.
“Amazing Fantasy #15” by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and “Amazing Spider-Man #121-122,” by Gerry Conway and Gil Kane
If there is are any comics about dealing with uncertainty – about dealing with tragedy – that should give us an idea of how to move forward constructively when we can’t see what our future looks like, they are “Amazing Fantasy #15” (the first appearance of Spider-Man) and “Amazing Spider-Man #121 and #122.” These are stories about a person, twice in the span of just a few years, dealing with terrible personal tragedies he feels complicit in and blames himself for. Over the course of those first 123 issues of Peter Parker’s story, he goes from being a scared and angry kid to being someone who really understands that with power comes responsibility, that with tragedy and fear comes an obligation to look out for the people who aren’t gone, to reach out and know that time will show the way.
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” might be the best comic book movie ever, partially because it knows exactly how to take a lesson and pass it on to a new character effortlessly. It is a film about finding community and acceptance and hope in a world that doesn’t make sense. It knows that when we don’t know what to do, we shouldn’t feel guilty, but take responsibility to try to make things better.
If you need a couple of hours off of thinking about the coronavirus, I hope you’ll look to these stories that I love – or any stories that you love – to gain some peace of mind.