On XTalk Jim West mentioned Ben Witherington’s blog, on which the author recently commented on The Fantastic Four:
“What sets the Fantastic Four apart from most comic books, except for Spiderman perhaps, is there are actually characters who generate some pathos… [they] remind us that even if we had super powers, this would definitely not solve all of our problems — indeed they would create a whole new set of problems. Perhaps the lesson for us is that after all what is really needed is not juiced up humans, but an incarnational deity to handle the Evil problem.”
Tolkien thought the same about his own “hopeless” heroes from Lord of the Rings (as I’ve argued here). For him, history — including Middle-Earth’s mythic pre-history — was nothing more than a “long defeat”, demanding the Judeo-Christian victory at its consummation.
Parallels with Tolkien continue in Witherington’s observations:
“What is especially interesting is that it takes all of the Fantastic Four to handle one Von Doom. Each of the four has a specific power or ability, but it is the team work which insures that good triumphs over evil. In other words, evil is too powerful for even one robust super hero to handle.”
In the antique pagan world of Middle-Earth this is even more true, where “Black is mightier than White” (says Gandalf), its heroes must rely on efforts in fellowship, and Sauron is only defeated by apparent accident (or fateful intervention) when Frodo ultimately fails and claims the Ring.
But the Middle-Earth and Marvel heroes needn’t show a need for “something greater”, as Tolkien/Witherington would have it. The tragic is uplifting in and of itself, for teaching us hard and real truths. One of my favorite quotes comes from Eugene O’Neil: “the tragic alone has that significant beauty which is truth”; indeed, the tragic is the meaning of life. Depressing as it sounds, it’s true. So let’s push on to greater failures. More than Witherington’s incarnational deity, that’s what it takes to understand and address the problem of evil.
Post-script: It was a lousy film anyway.