(Photo by Bob D'Amico – © 2013 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.)
Christian reviewers say the underlying theme behind the new hit ABC TV series "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." reflects the way Jesus impacted the world through seemingly ordinary people who can do extraordinary things.
"I think S.H.I.E.L.D. celebrates the everday heroes getting caught in potentially extraordinary circumstances," Craig Detweiler, an author, filmmaker, cultural commentator, and associate professor of Communication at Pepperdine University, told CP on Monday. He even compared this underdog story to the tale of Jesus' disciples. "The foundations of the Christian Church begin with Jesus leading a team of outsiders who seemingly have no business challenging something as massive as the Roman Empire."
"Yet acts of courage, service, and bravery can undermine the mightiest of armies," Detweiler added. The Pepperdine professor explained that while the show's director, Joss Whedon, is known for rejecting faith in God, people of faith are often drawn to his work.
"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." follows the top-secret group behind the "Avengers initiative," the program which connected the superheroes who saved the world in the "Avengers" film. While the movies follow the stories of demigods, genetically-altered superheroes, and the tech master Iron Man, this TV series features the agents behind the scenes.
"What's refreshing about the series is that it's written about everyday heroes rising to super levels, rather than superhuman skills," Detweiler noted. He encouraged pastors to use these stories to "challenge the faithful to rise up to their highest God-given potential."
"The Christian community is at its best when it is identifying with the underdog challenging the weak to face and defeat the strong – finding strength in paradox," the Pepperdine professor added. He mentioned the story of David and Goliath – the weak vanquishing the strong.
Meanwhile, Paul Asay, senior associate editor for Focus on the Family's review blog, Plugged In, told The Christian Post in an interview Monday that "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." shows "what it means to be human in a superhuman world, what it means to be mortal when some of the people around you are almost god-like," summing up his understanding of the show's central theme. "Even in our frailty, we really do matter," he said.
"Even in worlds where it seems like power is so overwhelming, there are so many uncertainties, and we can feel like nothing…Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets to the idea that we are not nothing, that we are something very significant," the reviewer proclaimed.
The success of superhero stories demonstrates a widespread sensation of weakness and confusion, Asay argued. "When our world felt smaller, it seemed like we had control over certain things," the reviewer claimed. But in a global, multi-cultural and traumatic world "it can feel as though our world's spinning out of control," he added.
Asay rejected the idea that the show resembles Jesus and His disciples because "Jesus wasn't an underdog at all, but rather the Son of God. He had a great deal of power, but he chose to relinquish it or hide it in order to be more like us."
Nevertheless, he agreed with Detweiler's comparison of the agents to the disciples. "The disciples and the agents both know that there are amazing, scarcely imaginable forces at work in our lives," Asay noted. Instead of feeling small or insignificant, however, both the agents and the disciples understood the importance of their work, and undertook it humbly.
"I don't see them necessarily as underdogs – they are the best at what they do," Alex Wainer, associate professor of Communication and Media Studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University(PBA), told CP.
Wainer agreed that the agents are "also human, and relatable – just what we want in our heroes," but he disagreed with the idea of comparing them to Jesus' overturning of the Roman Empire. "I just don't see them as challenging a mighty empire and turning the world upside down in any sort of revolutionary sense, which is what the early Christians were said to have done by their stalwart stand for Christ," the PBA professor contended.
Wainer emphasized the absence of superheroes like the Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. "The series appears to be avoiding much interaction with the superheroes of the Marvel universe, leaving them to the feature films and carving out its own niche of action/adventure missions involving comic book 'super science' of fantastic technology and the characters using and affected by it," the PBA professor explained. He described it as a mix between "James Bond" and "The X-Files."