Regardless whether a reader is a carrier of faith, or of no faiths, or of many faiths, the influence of religion on comics is apparent—much like everywhere else—but, within the realm of comics, its placement can be either compelling, disorientating, or just plainly ignorant of the lore surrounding the faith. Like all those who attempt to craft new narratives for their generations, writers cannot help but take a little bit of inspiration from the works that came before, so, to no surprise, there are many references, allegories, and motifs from the epics of old found in the “fresh” medium.
However, the question imposed by this blog to readers of all seasons—new or old—does anyone fully understand religion’s significance in comics? Does anyone think that they have a place with the colors pages of suspenseful tales? Does anyone mind it at all?
Inspiration for Character’s Journey
At the core of the industry, most comics, not all, are tales of morality that often come in the form of high flying adventure story made to entertain, but sometimes, purposely, writers do craft narratives meant to inspire heroism or, to put it plainly, adhering to a code of moral.
As a character, Matt Murdock is always in state of upheaval—even if he or writers don’t realize it. His urge to constantly deconstruct himself partly stems from the facts that both in and out of the costume Matt tends to over exert himself to meet his goals, and his Catholic upbringing. For those unfamiliar with Catholicism, guilt is a cornerstone of the religion—and no the phrasing is not for a humorous effect. In Catholicism, there is more pressure on one to be honest with their sins and deviant, which is necessary for confessional sessions to be true, but, as an unintended by product of that practice and line of thinking, Catholics tend to overthink and overstate the importance of their actions—which is sometimes justified depending on the circumstances. For Matt Murdock Daredevil, his roles as lawyer and crime fighter deal him very heavy situations where second guessing one’s self would be natural but with the added toll Catholic perspective any doubt becomes amplified ten-fold.
Catholicism is not a religion that hinders one’s life; it just does for Matt somehow.
With Azrael, Michael Lane, there is an interesting case with his situation. For lack of better terms, the Order of Saint Dumas was a cult that cloaked itself with Christian values. Eventually after learning that the Order manipulated him into being a solider for their secret “holy” war, Azrael left the cult. However, even after being spoon-fed thousands of lies about the mission Christainity and the purpose God, goodness, and evil in the world, Azrael still kept his faith.
Although his debut onto the DC landscape was terrible—as a 90s Batman with guns, bladed claws, and the most over the top power armor of the decade—and writers kept messing with his origin to added more twists for shock value or gimmicky writing, now Azrael fills a nice niche within the bat family. Every member of the bat family has something going on: Dick is the perfect son, Red Hood is the dumb one—click here to read why—, Tim Drake is the genius, Batgirl is the most mature and level headed one, and Damian is the designated brat, but Azrael is the reserved and religious member of the bat family. He expresses his faith openly on occasion and he respects one’s opinion regardless of their stance on faith.
Scripture as Building Blocks for the Universe
With most religions having a great influence on humanity and containing grand lores in their scriptures, it would come off as a bit foreign if the characters in comics did not have some familiarity with the faiths of real world. It is only when certain elements of actual faith become cannon in the pages of comics the structure of certain universes or character become confusing and unclear. A perfect example of concepts that confuse readers is Marvel’s Memphisto and the knowledge known about him.
Aside from ruining One Day for many Spider-man fans, Memphisto’s existence introduces the idea of a Hell in the Marvel Universe. He is an eternal being who rules a realm of fire and carries the ability to harvest souls. Cool, but then, a reader may ask themselves if he is—by all intents and purposes—the devil, is there a God in the Marvel universes? Is there a heaven full with angels that fallen superheroes go to when they die? Did Jes…. [The questions can go on and on, so we’ll stop here].
For those who are confused, from the official Marvel Universe Wiki, Mephisto is
A Class Two Demon or Hell-lord, Mephisto rules a fiery nether realm that he refers to as Hell or Hades, though it is neither the Biblical Hell nor Pluto‘s Olympian Hades… Mephisto delights in impersonating the Biblical Satan.
In short, he is a cosmic entity who read Milton’s Paradise Lost and loved it. Marvel would only later retcon Mephisto’s origin to be more cosmic-based than myth-based solely to avoid clashing with the parameters established in the bible, but even then, the laws of nature encircling his presence and influence becomes baffling again at times because certain writers will give him different backgrounds and origins.
To avoid confusion, Mephisto can never be the real devil or else his existence changes the entire framework of the Marvel Universe. So, no matter what he says or what any of the ghost riders say about their origins, none of them derive their powers from Hell that readers know but their “Hell”.
Invoking Dark Christianity
Taking the material from the bible and turning it dark is nothing new to comics – or of the 1990s. To refer again to Milton’s work, most of the characters dynamics in Paradise Lost were written to be twisted reflections of sacred relationships in the holy doctrine. Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit; Satan, Death, and Sin.
There should be no offense when writers other than Milton take artistic liberties with ideas from the bible because the writing style and narrative format of the bible itself came from the epic of long gone civilization—like the Greeks and Romans. However, there is room for criticism when a writer calls upon Christianity as muse and uses it to a poor and juvenile effect.
Todd McFarlane has stated in multiple interviews that his inspiration for the Spawn mythos came from Jack Kirby’ work on the Thor because he liked the idea of building a word basing a world off of an established lore. Jack Kirby used Norse mythology because the stories and characters seemed epic and larger than life, and Todd McFarlane chose Christianity to be boundary pushing— well, as boundary pushing as one can be with Spawn. For the most part, Spawn is cool and the idea of a hero on a ticking time clock was interesting, but using Christianity to capitalize on “edginess” is a bit cheap and it really shows as the series progresses and Spawn becomes dismissive of everything.
Another Prime example of employing Christianity for shock value in comics was a Robert Kirkman, of Walking Dead fame, series titled Battle Pope. The art says enough.
The Second Coming of Jesus in Comics
At the end of the day, regardless of one single person’s opinion, religion is a staple of human culture. Nevertheless, for purposes of creating more narratives and crafting more stories, religions can be a great muse when talent and coordination follows drive.
If should Christianity ever fall into obscurity like Norse mythos…well…
Free Ideas for Marvel:
Put a Jesus stand-in the Marvel Universe. He should be “Jesus” in everything but name. If the X-men is allegory for minorities, than the Jesus stand-in should be rockin’ a yellow and blue uniform because he truly stands for all. Also, the character should team up with Spider-man some point.
Make it Happen Marvel! —Oscar Barron