Religion, faith and spirituality in comic books

(Disclaimer: While I, and perhaps you, may have no particular religious tendencies, other people do. And they have the right to their beliefs, so please don't post comments about how religion is for morons or anything like that. Thanks.)

(Secondary disclaimer: Storm is not a goddess, so please don't bring her here as an example of religion in comics)

I was recently revisiting the Galactus Seed arc of The Mighty Thor. While still being a shining example of Fraction's incompetence, it had one scene that I found interesting:

Faith and spirituality have a lot of influence on both Marvel and DC's works. A couple of years ago, when I read Rage of the Red Lanterns, I was surprised to see that the Blue Lantern named Warth was obviously heavily inspired by the Hindu deity Ganesha. He even had the broken tusk and everything. It was fitting because in Hindu mythology, Ganesha stands for the belief that all obstacles and adversities can be overcome. Hope, basically.

Religious mythos can be the source for great stories. Vertigo's Lucifer series is one of the best comic book titles ever made, and it derives much of its background and detail from the Judeo-Christian tradition. There are significant changes, however. In mainstream Christianity, Lucifer/Satan seeks to overthrow God and impose the will of Hell over creation. Or something similar, I confess the Bible isn't really my strong point. In essence, he's definitely the bad guy. In the Lucifer series, its protagonist, Lucifer Morningstar is more of an anti-hero. He rebelled against Heaven because he felt that by creating him and predetermining his life, his father had robbed him of his right to choose his own destiny and bound him to the Presence's rules.

Owning the junkless look since the dawn of time.

But that's not to say villains can't be drawn from religion as well. Earlier this year, Marvel published the event Chaos War, where an assortment of heroes (including Hercules and Thor, both drawn from mythology) went up against Amatsu-Mikaboshi, the Japanese god of evil and chaos. Elements of the villain's real world source were easy to see, such as his enmity with the Kami, Japan's Shinto gods.

One of the last issues of the 2009 Power Girl series (damn you for what you did to her, DC) featured a Muslim metahuman named Rayhan Mazhin, arrested by overzealous law enforcement on suspicion of being a terrorist, when in reality he was trying to save lives. The issue was sort of a statement against discrimination on the basis of religion or ethnicity (Batman called it "an egregious miscarriage of justice").

I could go on about religious influences on various characters. Wolfsbane and Nightcrawler are staunch Christians (Presbyterian and Catholic respectively), Thor and Hercules are gods (as are all the members of the pantheons they belong to), the Spectre is God's hitman, etc. The point is, religion and religious elements can be incorporated into stories that entertain without getting too preachy.

Unfortunately, there's the other end of the spectrum. While faith and spirituality can be celebrated in comics regardless of which religion they pertain to, some comics are filled with the denigration of religion, most of the time for impact or shock value. While I'm a big Vertigo fan, a prime example of this is the Vertigo series Preacher, where the Judeo-Christian God (this one's not the Presence) is portrayed as an insecure, tyrannical megalomaniac desperate for the love of his creations, and who would smite anyone who so much as thought of disagreeing with him.

There's a thin line between celebrating faith and mocking it. Anyway, if you read this, thanks.

26 Comments
26 Comments
Posted by super_psycho

Another great blog, Well done buddy :)

Posted by Saren

@super_psycho: Thanks :)

Moderator
Posted by Dommed_Cannon

I think as long as writers avoid throwing their own beliefs around to the point of ruining the story then it's good to have religion and spirituality in comics. It's outright needed if comics and characters are to be any shade of realistic as the world is full of beliefs and people who have them.

Special thanks to mentioning that Power Girl comic, never read it myself but it's good to see a writer stand up for Muslims, that get a mistreated way too often in the media(and real life to an extent).

Posted by Dernman

Nicely put blog.

Posted by Saren

@Dommed_Cannon: @Dernman: Thanks :)

Moderator
Posted by Billy Batson

interesting read and so was Preacher.
BB

Posted by Saren

@Billy Batson said:

interesting read and so was Preacher.
BB

It was interesting no doubt, but I don't think it needed to go that far. I enjoyed every issue until those first God appearances.

Moderator
Posted by Billy Batson

@CitizenBane said:

@Billy Batson said:

interesting read and so was Preacher.
BB

It was interesting no doubt, but I don't think it needed to go that far. I enjoyed every issue until those first God appearances.

I didn't mind it though I'm not religious and IIRC Ennis isn't one also.
BB

Posted by Saren

@Billy Batson said:

@CitizenBane said:

@Billy Batson said:

interesting read and so was Preacher.
BB

It was interesting no doubt, but I don't think it needed to go that far. I enjoyed every issue until those first God appearances.

I didn't mind it though I'm not religious and IIRC Ennis isn't one also.
BB

I'm not religious either, but I couldn't shake the feeling that the depiction was done primarily for shock value.

Moderator
Edited by ApatheticAvenger

@CitizenBane said:

@Billy Batson said:

@CitizenBane said:

@Billy Batson said:

interesting read and so was Preacher.
BB

It was interesting no doubt, but I don't think it needed to go that far. I enjoyed every issue until those first God appearances.

I didn't mind it though I'm not religious and IIRC Ennis isn't one also.
BB

I'm not religious either, but I couldn't shake the feeling that the depiction was done primarily for shock value.

It was to a degree, but I wouldn't say that was the predominant reason. Ennis is an atheist, and a disdain for religion is a common theme in his works (much like Warren Ellis, also an atheist). It's actually one of the reasons I (as an atheist myself) enjoy Ennis' writing so much, Preacher in particular is one of my all-time favorite series.

Ennis portrays the Christian god as an egotistical bully, a cruel despot who humanity would be better off without. There's no doubt in my mind this is a representation of how Ennis feels about theism in general, that it is something humanity would do best abandoning (much as the heroic Jesse Custer does in Preacher).

Posted by megamoses10

nice article

Posted by Jonny_Anonymous

The main thing that annoys me about religion in comics (mostly DC/Marvel) is that they will do anything they like with gods from every pantheon eg Shinto, Asatru but when it comes to Jesus and the Christian god their untouchable, they are better than the rest, The One Above All, but other gods a fair game just because they have less adherents to there respective faiths. and saying it's ok because comics are mostly made by people of Christian background is very small minded.   

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Posted by Saren

@spiderbat87 said:

The main thing that annoys me about religion in comics (mostly DC/Marvel) is that they will do anything they like with gods from every pantheon eg Shinto, Asatru but when it comes to Jesus and the Christian god their untouchable, they are better than the rest, The One Above All, but other gods a fair game just because they have less adherents to there respective faiths. and saying it's ok because comics are mostly made by people of Christian background is very small minded.

DC's Lucifer and Sandman series featured a lot of different faiths and gods.

Moderator
Posted by Jonny_Anonymous
@CitizenBane said:

@spiderbat87 said:

The main thing that annoys me about religion in comics (mostly DC/Marvel) is that they will do anything they like with gods from every pantheon eg Shinto, Asatru but when it comes to Jesus and the Christian god their untouchable, they are better than the rest, The One Above All, but other gods a fair game just because they have less adherents to there respective faiths. and saying it's ok because comics are mostly made by people of Christian background is very small minded.

DC's Lucifer and Sandman series featured a lot of different faiths and gods.

Yea that's why a said DC/Marvel I wasn't really counting Vertigo.
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Posted by Izaiah
@spiderbat87 said:
The main thing that annoys me about religion in comics (mostly DC/Marvel) is that they will do anything they like with gods from every pantheon eg Shinto, Asatru but when it comes to Jesus and the Christian god their untouchable, they are better than the rest, The One Above All, but other gods a fair game just because they have less adherents to there respective faiths. and saying it's ok because comics are mostly made by people of Christian background is very small minded.   
Just a thought, mythologically speaking, the Judeo-Christian God does seem significantly more powerful than many polytheistic deities, at least feat-wise (creating the Universe > three brothers creating the Earth from the corpse of a giant).  And I seem to recall a Wonder Woman arc where Angels died, and implied that Heaven was just as much in danger from Cronus as the Olympus and the Hindu gods.
Interestingly, Marvel seems to acknowledge the Hindu Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva) as having completely unknown power levels (thus potentially as über powerful as traditional Hinduism probably implies; at least that's what this page tells me).
Posted by Jonny_Anonymous
@Izaiah said:
@spiderbat87 said:
The main thing that annoys me about religion in comics (mostly DC/Marvel) is that they will do anything they like with gods from every pantheon eg Shinto, Asatru but when it comes to Jesus and the Christian god their untouchable, they are better than the rest, The One Above All, but other gods a fair game just because they have less adherents to there respective faiths. and saying it's ok because comics are mostly made by people of Christian background is very small minded.   
Just a thought, mythologically speaking, the Judeo-Christian God does seem significantly more powerful than many polytheistic deities, at least feat-wise (creating the Universe > three brothers creating the Earth from the corpse of a giant).  And I seem to recall a Wonder Woman arc where Angels died, and implied that Heaven was just as much in danger from Cronus as the Olympus and the Hindu gods.
Interestingly, Marvel seems to acknowledge the Hindu Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva) as having completely unknown power levels (thus potentially as über powerful as traditional Hinduism probably implies; at least that's what this page tells me).
That's really not the point. The thing is the Christian god is The One Above All, he's beyond good and evil, where as every other deity is just a potential superhero/villain 
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Posted by Izaiah
@spiderbat87: How would you like to have it, then?
Posted by Jonny_Anonymous
@Izaiah said:
@spiderbat87: How would you like to have it, then?
ether there all = or they don't use any and stick to made up gods like the abstracts and celestials 
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Posted by RedOwl_1

I don't like to read comics about religion (not even Thor or Wonder Woman though they are mythology) but the only thing I remember read was Judgement on Gotham, and the villain (Azrael) was a religious maniac that wanted destroy Gotham because was an actual "Sodom and Gomorrah" (u now the bad cities the God destroyed in Genesis 18:16 to 19:25).

Yep religious maniac (at least so far I know).

Posted by Chronus

"While I'm a big Vertigo fan, a prime example of this is the Vertigo series Preacher, where the Judeo-Christian God (this one's not the Presence) is portrayed as an insecure, tyrannical megalomaniac desperate for the love of his creations, and who would smite anyone who so much as thought of disagreeing with him."

That's a perfect representation of how God is in Abrahamic mythology.

Posted by cloudzackvincent

i don't really have a problem with the depiction of gods in popular media.... those groups who where opposing the depiction of their Gods in mainstream comicsn and screens brought up the point that while many aspects of christianity like angels, demons and even Lucifer are frequently used, you will rarely see them using Jesus Christ or Mary... i feel like they do have a point

ps: i m a christian

Posted by Xenozoic Shaman

I love it when they include religion in comics. Not so they can throw it down our throats, but because it's a part of the world. I hate revisionist history, and when they remove something because they don't agree with it, it diminishes the believability of the book. (You generally have to have a level of reality with the fantasy, so you can have the readers accept it as believable.)

That Power Girl two-parter was great, and brought a smile to my face. It's great to see Muslim's portrayed in a positive light. There are fanatics in all sorts of groups, not only religious organizations, but it's only fair to show the standard every day fellow along with the fanatics. Doing otherwise only paints an improper picture and does the average religious individual a disservice.

So yeah, I'm happy when they put religion in comics, so long as it's not always used as a weapon by some writer who has a beef against it, but rather to paint a more accurate and fair picture of the good and the bad.

Posted by NerdsFTW

Interesting read.

Posted by ccraft

religion has come up with amazing stories and I can respect that, great blog.

Posted by Veshark

Cool read. Personally I don't mind religious depictions in comics, however positive or negative - I can differentiate the real-world from art. That's why I still enjoy guys like Ennis or Ellis, despite their own beliefs leaking into their work. I think religion, like any other aspect of society, can be used as fodder for good storytelling.

Posted by _Black

Nice read, especially since I'm reading through Sandman right now.