And now for a topic that will not strike up any hostile feelings: Religion
The release of Second Coming #6, effectively ended the first “season” of Mark Russell and Richard Pace’s “controversial” comic. While Russell’s script certainly challenged the traditional orthodoxy of Christianity, it was far from the barn-burner that certain groups attacked it as. In fact, over the course of these first six issues, Second Coming showed itself to be surprisingly tame. It’s depiction of God, Heaven and Hell, and Satan were not too different from movies such as the Bruce Almighty and The Devil’s Advocate, or the comic series Spawn. If anything, Russell and Pace put superheroes under the microscope, asking readers if these costumed characters are deserving of our adoration.
Russell leans heavily into the teachings of Jesus as depicted in the New Testament of the Bible, while God is written as shown in the Old Testament. This is a logical choice, as Jesus is an active player in the New Testament, just as God is actively involved in humanity’s world in the Old. It sets up a dichotomy of parents and children that is very relatable – the fire-and-brimstone God and his son, the loving and gentle Jesus. Despite being family, they couldn’t have more different personalities. It’s a classic literary trope that is used to great effect to highlight the teachings of Jesus – the supposed foundation of Christianity – and the lack of empathy and tolerance seen from many modern-day Christians. In the world of Second Coming, that includes superheroes.
While much of the press has focused on the portrayal of religious figures, much of Second Coming focuses on the character Sunstar, who is very similar to DC’s Superman. Though it hasn’t been confirmed or denied, it is easy to envision the Man of Steel in this book had it remained at DC/Vertigo. Sunstar is near invincible with the power of flight and super-strength. He is revered by the general populace, and is viewed as a Christ-like figure – sent from the heavens to save humanity. But when confronted with Jesus is a face-to-face interaction, Sunstar’s actions do not measure up to the religious figure.
One of the most important aspects of Jesus’ ministry was his healings. Whether or not you choose to believe in the ones depicted in the Bible is a personal matter, but in a historical context there were healers throughout the ancient world. As early as the first issue of Second Coming, Sunstar is shown thwarting an attempted crime, casually beating up the perpetrators in the process. Then the wildcard that is Jesus comes into play, and he begins healing the “baddies.” When asked by Sunstar why he would do such a thing, Jesus responds with a beautifully simple, “Because they needed it.” This leads into a humorous exchange about good and evil, and that the “evil” is usually the result of pain… which requires healing.
This humanistic and compassionate depiction of Jesus does contradict religious teachings, but it does shine a light on the perversion of his ministry by certain religious and political groups. Mega churches prey on followers, asking for large donations by twisting the teaching “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20) for their financial gain. In this country in particular, many identify as a Christian and at the same time fetishise the wealthy, despite Jesus’ teaching “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24).
Throughout Second Coming, Russell and Pace consistently point out the contradictions that is teachings of Jesus and the behavior of Christians through direct character interactions. Jesus even gets arrested at one point for vagrancy, the result of a heated exchange over the legitimacy of the writings of the disciple Paul that comprise half of the New Testament (who never actually interacted with Jesus, as Second Coming accurately points out). Essentially, Jesus is accused of blasphemy, a modern parallel to the stories from the gospels. The creative team also pokes fun at the use of a crucifix as a religious symbol, which is a fair criticism upon reflection. I mean, for the good the religious figure is said to have done while alive, it’s funny that the means of his death is what is most associated with him. Personally, I’ve been more partial to the use of the ichthys.
Russell and Pace’s comic use humor and satire to bring to light legitimate criticisms of modern Christianity. Yes, the majority of people that practice are good people with well intentions. But the public facing figureheads, like those that run mega-churches, have twisted teachings to fit what Al Franken referred to as “Supply Side Jesus” and the principles of modern capitalism. Whether or not your agree with the perspective Russell and Pace have presented in Second Coming, at least they had the courage to get the conversation started.