The Funnies Ain't So Funny Anymore

By Omri 

Issue #10 

      Hey.  Sorry to have stayed away for this long, but sometimes life gets in the way of your hobbies.  Stuff just keeps piling up and before you notice, you are buried under its weight.  So for those returning, sorry for the delay, but Iím back now.  For the improbable new reader jumping on, welcome aboard!  Todayís topic was raised from a mishmash of issues I read lately; some old, some new, and all raise a good subject which, if I do my job right, should have no resolution by the columnís end.  It is none other than the role of religion in the DCU.  Or rather, the way it is handled.  Well, thatís not a very accurate a description either.  I have the direction clear in my mind, but canít really describe it, so letís slowly ease into it so as to not raise too much dust at once. 

      Letís start with the act of belief.  This month alone, two different titles had characters who claimed their powers were divine and their acts were only aimed at serving God.  Both Kid Crusader (in Teen Titans) and Redemption (in Action Comics) are presented as archetypal men of church with their strong and unyielding beliefs in their respective Christian denominations.  Though we still do not know Kid Crusaderís origin, Redemptionís was discovered to not be divine at all but channeled by another individual.  Steering away from whether the powerís source is true or not, we are presented with characters who use their ability to enforce their faith.  To police around, if you will, some more aggressively than others.  Superman of course feels uncomfortable with this, saying that it is not the religion angle that bothers him, but the fact that the power is abused ďin the name of anything.Ē  Sounds a little hypocritical if you ask me, as Supesí sense of right and wrong are strongly based on his small-town Christian upbringing.  Being told that he stopped going to church as a kid does not diminish this, as his parentsí home was still an ideal of that environment.  So what IS right and wrong?  Our heroes all stand for one thing, and the villains all break those conventions by definition.  But for a true believer of the Religion of Crime, introduced in 52, the roles are completely reversed.  Robbery and murder are not only right, but are encouraged.  These believers are evil only when seen through our eyes.  Without any of the ďthere is no universal truth, right or wrongĒ mumbo jumbo, many of the heroes we know are acting the way they do because their faith tells them to do so.  And yes, I realize it is also the majority of the readersí common moral ground, and so seems acceptable, but it does not mean the other side cannot exist or is explorable.  The character of Lobo started out like that, and look at what he petered out intoÖ  I could go on and on about this, so instead of continuing on this thread that will only take me in circular arguments, letís examine the religions themselves. 

      More than the tenets of the beliefs, letís just jump to the source: the figure head/s which is/are worshipped, remembering that mythology is just an alternative name for Ďancient religion.í  In the Wonder Woman title, we have several times encountered the Greek gods as actual entities.  Not necessarily living, but existing nonetheless; talking to each other and to mortals, granting wishes, giving gifts and generally interacting with our world.  The Roman gods are also somewhere in the mix, acting prominently in the War of the Gods crossover.  Odin of Norse mythology is part of The Quintessence with other beings of divine status.  The Egyptian pantheon has a small, though off panel, discussion with Captain Marvel in 52.  On top of that we have the invented gods Rao (from Krypton) and Xíhal (from Tamaran) and to top it off, the Spectre who works for ďThe Presence,Ē who, though not explicitly, is alluded to be the Judeo-Christian God.  Add to this the several demons (Etrigan), devils (Neron), mythological creatures (Griffin) and angels (Zauriel and Phantom Stranger) and it is clear that DC has decided to make religions true, at least on some planes of existence.  But it is funny how all these ancient religions are shown the be machinations of Ďbeingsí, while all stories involving modern, living religions drive the Ďbeingsí to the back and the story becomes about the individualís (or angelís, in the case of the Spectre) interpretation thereof.  So from here we are led to the next level: beings who claim they are gods.  This list obviously includes the New Gods of New Genesis and Apokolips, but also such creatures such as Lady Stix and the 3 Eyed Fish God.  How is their religion any different for the followers except from the fact that the object of belief is alive in the same plane of existence as opposed to some higher one?  Actually, the New Gods donít even HAVE followers.  They got their status from being the descendants of the Old Gods living before them, so what religion are they gods of?  Or are they called gods simply because of their power levels?  If so, who defines what is enough power to get the title?  Does beating one of them show you are superior, and automatically grant you the designation too?   

      These are muddy waters we are treading, and we better be careful lest we offend somebody.  Funny, since itís this same ďbe carefulĒ that stops writers from fully realizing their ideas.  Thereís this stigma in mainstream comics to stay away from talks of religion, because readers get offended by the presentation of beliefs that challenge theirs.  Seriously, if you are not mature enough to hear someone elseís point of view, even if you donít agree with it, you should stay at home, lock the doors, and throw the TV out the window.  The world is full of people, all different from yourself.  All grew up in different situations, with different environments and different needs.  Religions exist to comfort and unite, and each religion is best suited for different backgrounds and wants.  So why are writers afraid of touching the subject?  Take for example (and yes Iím going out of DC for a second, but bear with me) Eric Larsen in Savage Dragon.  The nature of his story had him be the target of several fan outrages at the way he presented religions, so he came up with a story that was meant to appease everyone.  His solution: ďEverybody is right!Ē  If you believe in heaven, there is one waiting for you.  If you believe in giant turtles who hold the world up, the turtle will be there should you ever leave the planet to have a look.  Clever, eh?  Well, this drew even more fire.  Some people just couldnít accept that other religions could be ďrightĒ too.  For them, there was only one true God, and only one true interpretation of his teachings.  And you know what? I donít know if I agree with them, but I kind of understand them.  Take for example a devout Christian who all his life did good deeds so that he could go to heaven.  One day, a mistake or a small oversight costs him the afterlife and he ends up in hell.  This guyís neighbour was a criminal, a rapist, and (pardon the pun here) god knows what else.  But being an atheist, and his belief being true for him, there is no hell waiting for him.  So now our poor Christian suffers for eternity for a small mistake while the real sinner gets away from punishment.  An absurd and pretty simplistic situation, yes, but one that clearly shows the point that believers need a reason to believe.  If not believing does not have consequences, then why are they believing in the first place?  Itís a self defense mechanism built into every faith as a means of maintaining its followers, and as we have seen in Warren Ellisí Transmetropolitan, all religions, with no exception, have at least 3 elements:  the first, sometimes highly subtle, is the principle of superiority, or why this religion is better than others.  The second, an object, person, entity or place towards which prayer is directed, and third a set of rules or guidelines on how to behave so as to receive the full impact of the belief.  And it is the first and the third elements together that form this antagonism towards other beliefs.  So, with this tangent all presented, where does that leave us?  Well, to tell you the truth, it left us absolutely nowhere.  And Iím not surprised.  I do not believe it should have led us anywhere in the first place.  Who am I to say what religion is right, whether in real life or in the DCU?  But using that same argument, who am I to say which religion is wrong?  I cannot say the Bible of Crime (52) or the Church of Fred Christ (Transmetropolitan) are wrong without using the same arguments that we already established are improper.  So why donít we see more stories exploring these themes?  Peter Davidís Supergirl was subtle enough to let the topic pass under the radar, but we donít get many of those.  See, the editorial at DC is big on not using token characters.  John Henry Irons is a scientist, dad, hero and mentor, who also happens to be black.  Renee Montoya is a detective, ex-alcoholic with a death-wish, who just happens to be Latina and gay.  So Ė back to our point, Rory Regan is a lost teenager with a magic coat, who also happens to be Jewish.  Sirocco just happens to be Muslim.  So why is it that only the Christian heroes are explored in terms of their faith instead of their character? (and yes I know there are exceptions, but they are outliers rather than the rule)  Not bashing anyone in particular.  Havenít even decided myself if thatís a good thing (so as to not make the same mistakes with other religions as they did in those stories) or bad thing (why the exclusivity?).  But the truth is, the predominance is there, and for anyone who remotely cares about this, it is extremely obvious.  So, to close off a topic which should by all means remain open, this is not intended to be a critique on any religion, whether real or factual, its followers or its depiction in comics.  I just wanted to paint a picture of where we are at.  Just wanted to raise some awareness that there is still space to improve, with plenty of ground to cover.  Itís the writers that need more guts to do the same edgy stories they write, but from these different perspectives.  The editors who need to see things for what they are and promote these things instead of suppress them.  And most of all, itís us fans that need to change.  The comic book community is known for being very vocal about its feelings, and some select few who canít stand hearing things they do not agree with does not mean all of us have to suffer because of them.  Some people want to relate to their beliefs for a change.  Others simply want to be more educated.  Others see it as a ďknow your enemyĒ approach.  Whatever the reason, there is a diversity out here that the DCU is yet to reflect.  Itís getting there, but it is still lightyears away. 

      So without further ramblings,

      Iíll see you next time.


      P.S.  If I have offended anyone here, please accept my apology.  It was not my intention to attack or offend any individual or group.  But seriously, doesnít the fact that I feel the need to include this disclaimer here speak by itself on the delicate state of the topic, which should not be so fragile in the first place?