When it comes to books about religion, there tends to be two main camps – there are the more reverential and faithful like the Word for Word Bible Comics, or there are those which look to satire, skewer and generally dissect religion, like say, American Gods or Preacher. And so somewhere in between these camps, arrives Mark Russell’s Second Coming from Ahoy Comics. The story of Jesus coming back to earth and sharing an apartment with a superhero.
Publisher: Ahoy Comics
Writer: Mark Russell
Artist: Richard Pace, Leonard Kirk, Andy Troy
Price: £2.49 from ComiXology
Now, this brief description may make it sound like it is part of the latter, satirical group of religious comics, and in a lot of ways it is. However, Russell’s approach to story-telling is not to savage religion, but to gently lampoon it, pointing out the hypocrisies and inconsistencies that a modern assessment of religion brings up in order to make an entertaining read.
The book starts with a rundown of God’s time on earth, from Adam and Eve, via the flood and 10 commandments, then on to the moment where he has enough of mankind and lets his son have a go at ‘the family business’. With his first visit only lasting a mere 33 years, God refuses to let his son return, until he sees the work that Superman-esque hero Sunstar is doing in the present day. At this point he sees a potential role model for his son to live up to, and present a more dynamic approach to handling the sins of man.
Russell has a really fun, flippant tone to his writing (which feels a bit Mark Millar-esque, but less edgy) and uses modern vocabulary to give the book a contemporary feel which makes the most of the clever little bits of wordplay or jokes about outdated religious concepts along the way. But it’s not all jokes and satire, as Russell also adds in some strong emotional beats, such as Jesus’ relationship with his childhood friend Shimon or Sunstar’s relationship with his girlfriend and their attempts to start a family.
Artist Richard Pace brings a very polished style to the story, mixing classic silver age style superhero scenes with more sketchy historical pages (where he is aided by Leonard Kirk and Andy Troy to give thing a more old fashioned style to it). The book relies on a lot of visual shorthand and genre cliches to get the story across, using superhero tropes to flesh out sunstar in just a few panels. But also to make their points about now we now choose our heroes to worship and how views have changes and developed in modern society.
Sunstar is very definitely cast in the classic ‘Superman’ role (complete with Lois Lane style girlfriend) and they use the god like notion of this kind of hero to great affect, especially during Sunstar’s interactions with the actual God. But also by making him this omnipotent force who is seen as an equal to god, even though he shouldn’t be. In contrast, Jesus is cast in robes and sandals to play to his ‘out of touch’/old fashioned nature in the modern world. However, you can tell that in time both sides will be required to learn important lessons from the other.
Inevitably with a subject like this, Russell and co are skating a fine line and will not please everyone. However, they have managed to create a book which feels both satirical and respectful in equal measures and so should appeal to a broad church of readers (pun intended!). In his post issue summation Russell explains his decision to write Second Coming by saying he has as much right to interpret the teachings of the bible as ‘the arc welder who volunteers to teach Sunday school’ – and it is with this in mind that you must judge Second Coming. Despite what people might assume, this is not a Richard Dawkins level searing attack on religion, rather it is a fun read that takes the notion that religion has been usurped by idolising superheroes and other modern trappings, and looks at how society can balance these too contrasting viewpoints. All of which makes for an interesting counterpoint on both religion and superhero lore, that will definitely make you think more deeply about both.