It’s little surprise that the editorial board of the conservative Washington Times didn’t embrace the announcement that the new Ms. Marvel is a 16-year-old Muslim from New Jersey, but the newspaper’s actual response is a bit … bewildering. One might even describe it as eerie.
Beginning a Sunday editorial with a declaration that “diversity and quotas are more important than dispatching evil” — because, as we all know, heroes can’t be diverse and fight villains! — the writer engages in a little concern trolling, warning that Ms. Marvel, and by extension Marvel, will have to be careful not to anger “militant Islam” if there’s any hope for newsstand sales in Muslim nations. Of course we’re told in the very next paragraph that, “Ms. Marvel probably won’t appear in comic books in Saudi Arabia, anyway,” which apparently takes care of that problem.
Once we slog through the bumbling writing and odd aside involving Secretary of State Kerry, however, we arrive at the crux of the Washington Times’ argument, such as it is: that diversity is strange and frightening.
I happen to be a person of faith who also has a sense of humor. As a result, the effort by writer Mark Russell and cartoonist Shannon Wheeler to accurately, yet comically, condense the Bible, God Is Disappointed in You, amused the hell out of me. In Catholic high school, I once offended several people by characterizing a newly unveiled statue of Christ (hands outstretched blessing a crowd) as showing the son of God opting for a “basketball zone defense.”
Fortunately Russell and Wheeler, are far superior at comedy (and religious scholarship) than I have ever been. The book clicked with me from the opening pages. While it will not be released until August, you can preorder it now from Top Shelf.
Tim O’Shea: First question goes to Shannon, thanks to his part of the book dedication. Just to clarify: In the dedication, in which both you and your mom were glad you were not struck by lightning, you also thank Patricia, who survived a lightning hit. I have to hear the story about that.
Shannon Wheeler: My mom manages to be in the middle of all sorts of zeitgeists. Elvis played at her high school. When I was little we went to see Jim Jones preach (before Guyana). She managed to stop by the Koresh compound mid-standoff (she bought me a novelty Frisbee from a roadside vendor). She seems to be at the right place, or wrong place, at the right, or wrong, time. In college she was hit by lightning. It knocked the shoes off her feet and threw her into a ditch. She couldn’t move her legs. A couple of co-eds carried her back to her dorm. The doctor told her to take a warm bath and call back if the feeling didn’t return. Over the next couple hours everything returned to normal. She said it was “tingly” — the same as when your foot falls asleep. She had a circular carbon mark on her side for a bit. Some Native Americans believe that being hit by lightning makes you a shaman. She tells the story like it was no big deal.
As Man of Steel, with its spiritual themes, soars toward a $590 million worldwide box-office haul, the Vatican’s official newspaper has turned its attention to the faiths of other prominent superheroes, asking in the headline, “Is the Hulk Catholic?”
The answer, according to L’Osservatore Romano writer Gaetano Vallini, is yes, and he points to the wedding of Bruce Banner and Betty Ross as the most concrete evidence of this. “Bruce Banner, the incredible green man, in fact married his beloved Betty Ross in a church and a Catholic priest presided at the ceremony,” he writes in the full-page article. “There are other indications dispersed among the hundreds of comic strips dedicated to him that are said to unequivocally reveal his faith.”
Of course, Adherents.com, the go-to source for the religious affiliations of comic-book characters (and other figures, both real and fictional), lists the Hulk as a lapsed Catholic, but the website appears preoccupied with the Ultimate and live-action TV versions of the character. A final determination may require Pope Francis to intercede.
The one-panel cartoon, titled “Divine Intervention,” depicts a trio of angels confronting God with a list of how his behavior affects others, ending with, “… and then there was the weekend bender when you reached rock bottom and created man.” It’s not the stuff of such anodyne comics-page mainstays as Family Circus or Garfield, but it hardly seems offensive.
Yet the editor of the Paris, Tennessee, Post-Intelligencer donned sackcloth and ashes in reaction to a phone call from a displeased reader. “We won’t repeat its irreverent humor, accusing God is sinning — let’s just say we were horrified that we didn’t pay attention to it in advance, when we should have refused to publish it,” states the editor’s note in Wednesday’s paper. “We apologize to all our readers offended by this particular comic strip. And we’ll try to do a better job of ensuring it doesn’t happen again.”
Father Humberto Alvarez isn’t a typical Catholic priest. Every Sunday, the 40-year-old dons a tunic emblazoned with images of Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, and, armed with a Super Soaker loaded with holy water, delivers a special Mass to the children of Saltillo, Mexico.
It’s an unconventional approach, but one that appears to work, drawing parishioners young and old to the service. Alvarez told Zocalo magazine, that he embraced the superheroes because, “We talk about attitudes of struggle and effort to achieve overcome fears, find peace and forgiveness.” He began using the water gun to bless the congregation following a series of fatal shootings in Saltillo.
While not everyone agrees with Alvarez’s tactics, he’s undaunted, saying, “Jesus was different and always sought justice, we must follow his example.”
These days, it doesn’t take long between a news story breaking and a couple of comics artists posting some sketches in reaction. Here’s a couple that have shown up from members of the sketch blog Drawbridge, 2000AD mainstay Simon Fraser and Tim “Fahrenheit 451” Hamilton. Fraser isn’t the first comic artist to point how just how downright … Emperor Palpatine-like … Pope Benedict XVI had a habit of looking. To Hamilton, however, it seems like just another occasion to display his ongoing preoccupation with Moebius-esque conical headgear.
Conventions | Creative director Rico Renzi discusses HeroesCon, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this weekend with a three-day event that’s experienced a spike in advance ticket sales: “Stan Lee’s attendance to this year’s show has definitely caused a spike in advance ticket sales from what I can tell. I honestly like the show at just the size it is; it’s just right. I used to hop on a bus from Baltimore to go the NYCC and I loved it for the first couple years. It just got too big for me too enjoy it, you couldn’t walk around without rubbing up against strangers. It’s a great alternative to San Diego now I guess. If you’re looking for a pure comic book show though, HeroesCon is where it’s at.” In addition to Lee, this year’s guests include Neal Adams, Mark Bagley, Cliff Chiang, Frank Cho, Becky Cloonan, Geof Darrow, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Evan Dorkin, Tommy Lee Edwards, Matt Fraction, Francesco Francavilla, Jaime Hernandez, Dave Johnson, Jeff Lemire, Paul Levitz, Mike Mignola, George Perez, Louise Simonson, Walt Simonson, Scott Snyder and Bernie Wrightson. [The Comics Reporter]
Publishing | John Jackson Miller takes apart the December sales numbers and finds that while comics were up for the month, graphic novel sales fell just enough to prevent the direct market from having its first up year since 2008. In fact, trades are down 16 percent from December 2010, and Miller spends some time discussing why that might be — and why next year might be different. [The Comichron]
Publishing | Houghton Mifflin has high hopes for Are You My Mother?, the new graphic novel from Fun Home author Alison Bechdel: The publisher plans a first printing of 100,000 copies. [Publishers Weekly]
Retailing | Diamond’s Retailer Summit will be held the two days before the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, with attendees receiving free admission to the April 13-15 convention. [ICv2]
There are a lot of places where I’d expect commentary about Superman’s costume changes for the New 52 and the Man of Steel movie. A blog for evangelical Christian leadership wasn’t one of them.
What I love about it is that it’s not a moralistic rail against pop culture a la the Jeff Lamb/Action Comics kerfuffle, but a fannish lament much like the ones we’ve seen on most comics and movie blogs. Pastor and author Skye Jethani calls it a “blasphemy against my childhood hero,” but the tone of his article is actually pretty thoughtful and balanced. In the end he decides to judge Man of Steel on its storytelling rather than Superman’s Underoos.
He also, appropriately for his blog, pulls some leadership lessons from the missing trunks: the power of symbolism, generational differences, compromise, and how much influence leaders (religious, political, or Warner Bros.) actually have. The piece is a fascinating and unexpectedly comfortable blending of religion and pop culture.
It looks as if The Great “GD” Controversy has ended as quickly as it began, with Action Comics writer Grant Morrison assuring anyone concerned that Superman didn’t utter a blasphemy in the first issue of the DC Comics series.
“It should go without saying that the offending panel and caption, a mere ‘GD’, is a sound effect grunt – to suggest Superman’s breath being forced through gritted teeth – much like ‘DHH’, ‘GNUHH’ or the many others used throughout this book and in general in the comics business,” Morrison said in a statement posted this morning on DC’s Source blog. “It’s not in any way representative of God or a curse.”
The clarification may satisfy Jeff Lamb, owner of The Comic Conspiracy in Asheboro, North Carolina, who on Thursday announced a boycott of Action Comics and all Morrison titles after he interpreted “GD” — see the offending panel below — to mean the Man of Steel was taking God’s name in vain. Labeling Morrison as “a liberal Scottish schmuck,” he called the first issue of Action “a slap in the face to Superman, Christians and Superman creators Siegel and Shuster!!” Lamb announced his intention to cancel orders for the second issue of the series, writing on his store’s Facebook page that, “I ask my customers to understand as best they can. I understand that it’s only a comic and it’s not the real world, but I feel that as a Christian I have to draw the line somewhere.”
But earlier this morning, Lamb indicated that a statement from Morrison could make the whole problem go away. “The bottom line is that nobody but Grant Morrison knows the TRUE intent behind the GD letters. This issue could be easily resolved by a simple post from either Mr. Morrison or the editors at DC Comics,” he wrote on Facebook, adding, “I will say that this was NOT a publicity stunt. I will be back later in the day for a final, and I do mean final, rebuttal. (Unless of course we hear from Grant or DC) As of now though, all things considered … the boycott stands.”
Jeff Lamb, the ball’s in your court.
Update: Lamb has responded to Morrison’s explanation, writing on The Comic Conspiracy Facebook page: “Thank you Grant Morrison. The boycott is lifted. Once again my apologies to Grant for the unwarranted name calling. Thank you to those who supported my stance. To those who didn’t… I respect your opinions. To those who only posted to bash Christians and people with opinions different from yours … grow up and get a life.”
A North Carolina retailer has declared he’s boycotting all Grant Morrison comics after what he views as religious blasphemy in this week’s Action Comics #1.
“If you want Action Comics, you will have to buy it elsewhere,” Jeff Lamb, owner of The Comic Conspiracy in Asheboro, North Carolina, wrote on the store’s Facebook page. He called for Christian comics readers and retailers to join in the Morrison boycott, characterizing the first issue of the relaunched DC Comics series as “a slap in the face to Superman, Christians and Superman creators Siegel and Shuster!!”
That “slap in the face” is a single panel (above) in which the Man of Steel, when struck by artillery fired from a tank, utters “GD.” What many read as a grunt — Superman says “GNUHH,” “HNN” and “GGAAAAAA” in the same scene — Lamb interpreted as an abbreviation for “goddamn” (or maybe simply “God”?), an affront to his religious beliefs.
“I could see Guy Gardner and maybe even Hal Jordan (Green Lanterns) saying it,” he wrote. “I could see Oliver Queen (Green Arrow) saying it. I could easily see Damian Wayne (Robin) or MAYBE even Bruce Wayne saying it. But Superman was created to be the ‘perfect’ super-hero. Unblemished. Superman is an American icon. [...] This wasn’t creative flow. It wasn’t necessary in the story. It isn’t Superman at all. And it goes against a basic Christian principle. It was a blatant stab.”
Retailing | Sacramento, Calif.-area retailers are relatively unconcerned about DC Comics’ newly launched digital initiative or an immediate threat to their bottom lines from digital comics. “I just see it as another way of kind of expanding the whole readership,” says Dave Downey, who runs World’s Best Comics. “If you missed an issue of Spider-Man, and you can’t find it anywhere, you can always go online and read it that way.” However, Kenny Russell of Big Brother Comics sees a time, “years off,” when that will all change: “It’s inevitable, and this is kind of the first step. In no time, iPads are going to be good enough, and it’s going to be easy enough, and it’s going to come out the same day where people are going to just read their comics on their iPads.” [Sacramento News & Review]
Comics | Gene Luen Yang explores the tangled history of comics and Christianity, both of which, he points out, were started by a bunch of Jewish guys who loved a good story. (Good-sized excerpt at the link; full article requires free registration.) [Sojourners]
I’d almost forgotten about ole’ Foreskin Man. About a year ago, the hooded champion debuted. Written and created by Matthew Hess, president of an anti-circumcision organization, the comic stars “intactivist” Miles Hastwick, who fights super villains like Dr. Mutilator and, in the second issue, Monster Mohel:
The Dalai Lama has his own bio-manga, so it’s only fair that Pope Benedict XVI should get one too, right? Creator Jonathan Lin has already produced two biblically themed manga, one on St. Paul and one on Judith, and now he is turning his hand to a more contemporary story, that of Pope Benedict XVI, in a manga titled Habemus Papam! (For the uninitiated, the title is the Latin phrase used to announce the election of a new pope.)
One flaw with this plan, of course, is that Benedict has had a rather sedate life compared to the others. Judith saved her people by befriending and then beheading the general of the enemy troops. St. Paul had a blinding vision on the road to Damascus, which could be a real tour de force for a serious manga artist, and he traveled quite a bit, which opens the possibility of some action-packed, if uncanonical, adventures. And the Dalai Lama’s story is filled with battles and betrayal. The pope? Not so much.
This short story captures different moments throughout the Holy Father’s life – specifically as a cardinal working with the late Pope John Paul II, and culminating in the moments leading up to his election as Bishop of Rome. The story also shows how he grows into his role as pope.
So it’s one of those more contemplative manga, then. You can’t argue with the numbers, though: Lin, who has his own publishing company, Manga Hero, plans to print 300,000 copies, which places Habemus Papem! in the same league as Twilight: The Manga, although it sounds like many copies will be distributed for free during World Youth Day in Madrid this coming August.
How can a harmless, feel-good bumper sticker get people so riled up? That’s what Box Brown sets out to explain with his webcomic “To Exist,” which traces the history of the “COEXIST” bumper sticker. Famous or infamous, depending on your political leanings and/or feelings about sloganeering, the sticker cobbles the word “Coexist” out of symbols for major world religions and has a tendency to spur some religious and political conservatives to paroxysms of conspiratorial rage, as you can see in the excerpt above starring Representative-Elect Allen West.
In addition to cataloging some of the more outlandish reactions to the sticker, Brown also traces its origin to the work of Polish designer Piotr Miodozeniec; the version you’ve likely seen is an unauthorized knockoff, making “COEXIST” the “Calvin Peeing” of the bleeding-heart set. Brown also advances some theories about why people would answer the equivalent of “Can’t we all just get along?” with such a resoundingly angry “NO!”, all while working through what looks to me like a pretty heavy Seth influence. Read the whole thing.
(via Jess Fink)