A New Imagination

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By Daniel Chou
Cover Illustration by Ruth Sze
Jun 01, 2016 | min read
Part of 44: What If?
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IN THE LATE 1970s Marvel Comics began publishing their "What If?" series with this simple premise: Take significant events in the Marvel Universe and explore what might have happened if there were different outcomes. 

What if Bruce Banner was savage and the Hulk intelligent? What if someone else besides Spider-Man had been bitten by the radioactive spider? What if Captain America had been elected president? What if the Fantastic Four all had the same power?

These hypothetical retellings of key moments allowed writers to have some fun as they reimagined new plot lines. But it also offered the opportunity to delve more deeply into the complexity of beloved characters. 

These hypothetical retellings of key moments allowed writers to have some fun as they reimagined new plot lines. But it also offered the opportunity to delve more deeply into the complexity of beloved characters. 

In "What if J. Jonah Jameson adopted Spider-Man?", Marvel ponders what might happen if the editor-in-chief of the "Daily Bugle" (Jonah) was Peter Parker's adoptive father. While Jonah is supportive of Peter, he harbors his usual deep hatred for the web-slinging superhero. It's not until Peter — fed up with the casualties of Jonah's war on Spider-Man — reveals his secret identity to Jonah, that Jonah changes his heart, even turning to being partners in crime-fighting with Peter.  

It's an ingenious concept, but also not entirely brand new. 

Fiction has often been used as a way to speak into current situations and to renew our perspectives on socially pressing topics. Science fiction like "Star Trek" not only featured lasers and fancy technology, but also served as allegories of contemporary issues like imperialism and human rights. Most recently, "Zootopia" used the narratives of lovable furry creatures to communicate a pointed statement on what it means to perpetuate racially-charged fear in society and the effects of police brutality. 

Prophets in the Bible did the same thing.  Nathan confronted King David by presenting a story about a rich man who stole a poor man's only lamb. King David was infuriated by the actions of the rich man, even demanding that the rich man repay the poor man four times over — until he realized that the story was really about him — "You are the man!" 

Fiction is fantasy yet deeply true. It can stoke up a new spiritual and moral imagination in people for a better future beyond current limitations, even perceived impossibilities. When we examine a current situation through the lens of fiction, we see new things. 

Fiction can stoke up a new spiritual and moral imagination in people for a better future beyond current limitations, even perceived impossibilities. 

That's what this issue is about. It's the first time we've ever "made up" stories. Some of them are glimpses into possible futures. Others are alternate realities of things that have already taken place. Regardless, we hope that it helps us as a community to see things in a new light. To imagine, to wonder, and to ultimately act, if we only asked, "What if?"

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Daniel Chou

Daniel Chou (he) serves as the editor-in-chief of Inheritance and is also one of the magazine’s founders. He holds a Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. Outside of Inheritance, he is co-founder of Winnow+Glean and enjoys roasting coffee. He posts sporadically on Instagram @dchou and even more sporadically on Twitter @danielchou.

Ruth Sze

Ruth Sze is a Bornean-born illustrator currently living and working in Los Angeles. She has an insatiable thirst for travel, a not-so- secret love of magic, and a passion for all things cinematic. You can check out more of her work at ileanasoon.com.

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