Comicbook Superheroes, John McCain, Thor: Ragnarok, John Donne, and Standing to Face a Challenge

By Seth Singleton
It started on a Saturday morning.

I didn’t mean to watch the service for Senator John McCain, but when it came on I did not turn away. I didn’t even change the channel.

When I listened to his daughter and President George W. Bush and then President Barak Obama, I was moved in so many different ways.

I was heartbroken, I wept many times, I laughed, and I was inspired.

So how did that lead to watching Thor: Ragnarok?

Photo Credit Lobo Studio Hamburg from

It starts with heroes.

I was raised on the Christian stories from the Bible that were taught in Sunday School. I read them in an illustrated version of that Bible.

It was the illustrations that really struck the deepest note. They were gorgeous. The men had bold jawlines and the muscles of an elite athlete.

The women were noble and graceful. The stories presented virtue, compassion, and love. They portrayed the dangers and the pitfalls of selfishness and pride.

When I started to read my first comic books, I made a connection with every element triggered by the sensory experiences of my childhood. The art was a continuation of those same strong lines I remembered. The goal — to stop evil by advancing the cause of right, it made all the sense in the world. But, aside from a trip down memory that was enhanced with new generations of art and storytelling, there was something that kept me coming back.

It was the moral questions that were always challenged by new villains, new agendas, and new dangers that drew me back again and again.

John McCain

That made it easy for me to look at the same war stories that my friends and I saw on television and in movies with a graduated understanding. I don’t remember how old I was when I made the connection that my father had served in the military or that the Vietnam War was more than just the name for something I didn’t understand.

When I did, I tried to put a shape around the things I had seen and heard. I had questions about why it had so much meaning. It made people so emotional. But, there was the problem with my level of understanding. When I was 13, my dad handed me the book When Hell was in Session by Senator Jeremiah Denton.


Denton was a pilot who was shot down and held captive as a Prisoner of War in the City of Hanoi. Denton described a gruesome experience at the hands of guards in the North Vietnam Army. He also provided a first-person description of John McCain’s actions as a fellow prisoner. The stories of leadership and faith that they both demonstrated were described with such humility that it was moving to read such simple displays of bravery.

It created a problem for me when I grew older and began to shape viewpoints and opinions that were different from men like McCain and Denton. These were men that I looked up to for their example. Now, I disagreed with our conflicting viewpoints of the world and what it needs to thrive. When I voted against him in 2008, it was less against the man and more the platform.

The announcement from McCain’s family that the senator would no longer receive treatment for the rare brain cancer he had been fighting was disheartening. I knew that it was not about giving up. This decision was about the time and the toll that his fight was taking on the people he loved. John McCain believed in choosing his time and making sure that his decision was ultimately the best for others and not just himself.

His funeral service was a rebuke of the climate that continues to erode the social and political decorum that once defined Washington, D.C. It was a choice to make a decision about how he would face his end. It’s something that I have to remember when I talk to my dad.

My dad has been in a fight with prostate cancer for a few years now. The how and other pertinent details are his to tell and he’ll tell them if and when he wants that information public. What has been a challenge is the need to understand that in the end, this is his fight. It’s his life and he gets to decide what he does about it and what treatments he will use to try and save it.

I have my views and opinions about his treatment. So does my sister. Then there is the first doctor that he talked to, followed by a urologist, then a different one in another state. Then there is my sister’s husband who manages a medical center and consulted experts in oncology and other specialized cancer departments.

My dad listens. He weighs the pros and the cons. He has spoken with homeopathic herbalists. He has tried two courses of treatment using modern medicine. He has been concurrently following three different herbal regimens.

I don’t agree with everything I hear, but I would like to think that I have come to an understanding that I can support no matter what happens next. It’s not my body.

It’s not about me.

When I first heard the news that my dad had cancer I wanted to do something. I made suggestions. So did my sister. We found more things. We found new things. But, he kept trying what sounded best to him. There were conversations and a few arguments. But, he kept choosing the options that he read or heard about and his reasons were anecdotal and factual.

It took some time for that to sink in. Eventually, it did. But, it bears remembering and repeating. Sometimes in a shorter form. It’s his choice. And that’s how I get to Thor: Ragnarok.

The third installment in Marvel’s Thor franchise is a tale of destruction and loss. It is the Norse apocalypse that features the death of Odin, which leads to the fall of Asgard.

Odin, Thor, and Loki

There is a touching scene when Thor and Loki find their father — Odin — in Iceland. Standing on by the shoreline and watching the water, Odin tells them that it is his time. His mother is calling and he wants to go. He departs in a glitter of sparks. His final words are, “Remember this place.”

“When the fall is all that’s left it matters very much…” —  The Lion in Winter

We don’t always get a choice to decide our time. When that time is chosen for someone, those remembering them will say that they were taken or stolen. Others might add that they are gone too soon.

Having the right to make the choice is a gift. Choosing how to face a threat to your life is an option that not everyone is given. Taking that choice away from my dad would be wrong. For as long as he is able to make that choice, I have a responsibility to support his freedom to make decisions about his quality of life.


The poem Death Be Not Proud by John Donne is a perfect example of this choice. The speaker is challenging death by questioning the power it claims to have over men. By the end of the poem, a final claim is made that death too shall die.

There is no power greater than choice. Even death is humbled by such might.


To contact Seth Singleton click here

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