March 30, 2016

Recommended Reading: Comics & Religion

By Roshan Abraham

To accompany the podcast "Religion and Comic Books: A Tangled Web," Roshan Abraham provides a list of recommended reading, in no particular order, for those interested in exploring the many facets of religion in comic books. At the bottom, you'll find nonfiction books specifically about religion in comic books as well.


Kingdom Come
Mark Waid and Alex Ross
Set in a dark future of the DC Universe, Kingdom Come draws its title from a phrase in the Christian Lord’s prayer and frames the Book of Revelation in the superhero genre. Superman is cast as a messianic figure who, after retreating from the world due to a loss of faith in humanity, who returns due to the rise of a new generation of hero’s who lack the moral compass that had directed him and his partners. The story is complemented by the amazing painted art of Alex Ross.


Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?
Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert
Gaiman, most well-known for Sandman, Gaiman here imagines the last Batman story, in which his friends and enemies gather for the funeral of Batman. Gaiman’s story paired with Kubert’s art points to the grander myth that underwrites any particular interpretation of Batman.

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills
Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson
This story provided the basis of the second X-Men movie. In it, Reverend Striker uses religion to begin a crusade against mutants.

Thor, God of Thunder Vol 1: The God-Butcher
Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic
Aaron jumps between three different points in Thor’s history, as a young god, the present day Avenger, and as the old king of Asgard, and constructs a mystery surrounding the murder of gods throughout the cosmos. The story brings up questions of what defines a god and why they allow evil to exist. Continued in Vol 2: Godbomb.


Ms. Marvel  Vol 1: No Normal

G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
Wilson upended the status quo by making Ms. Marvel a young, Pakistani Muslim from Jersey City. Kamala Khan balances her newly found powers with her care and respect for her immigrant parents. It’s both the story of a fangirl-become-superhero and a tender-hearted look into the family and community life of an American Muslim. 

 

The Wicked + the Divine
Kiron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
Gillen puts celebrity and divinity, worship and fandom side-by-side in this new superhero fantasty, where gods are the ultimate pop stars. Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. Just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.

Punk Rock Jesus
Sean Murphy

In the near future, a reality TV show starring a clone of Jesus Christ causes chaos across the U.S. J2 causes both outrage and adulation. Religious zealots either love or hate the show, angry politicians worry about its influence on the nation, and members of the scientific community fear the implications of cloning a human being at all, let alone the Son of God.


Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories

Will Eisner
Written and illustrated by an early luminary in the field, Eisner’s stories about the down-trodden Dropsie Avenue illustrates the development of a secular, Jewish identity within the immigrant community. The eponymous tale focuses on a pious Jew’s loss of faith upon the death of his child, which he perceived as a betrayal by God. Eisner is credited with coining the term “graphic novel” and was a pioneer in demonstrating the medium’s literary worth.


Persepolis
Marjane Satrapi
The autobiography of a French cartoonist covers her life in pre-revolution to her life as an ex-pat, representing both the modern Muslim experience and connecting to a universal search for identity.

Blankets
Craig Thompson 
A story of a young man who grows up in fundamentalist Christian community and his experience of breaking with it. It is a story of first love as well as a critique of the religion of Thompson’s own childhood.

Maus
Art Spiegelman
Perhaps the most famous graphic novel. It’s an account of the author interviewing his father about his experience as a holocaust survivor. Spiegelman deals with his father’s survivor’s guilt and the guilt and trauma that is passed on through the generations.


Sandman

Neil Gaiman and various artists
Gaiman’s entire 75-issue/10 volume magnum opus is filled with gods, myth, and the intersection of the divine/mythic world with the mundane. Vol 4, Season of Mists, is particularly relevant. In it, Lucifer has abandoned hell and the keys to it fall to Morpheus (i.e. The Sandman). Gods from every imaginable tradition come to him, trying to convince him to pass the keys of hell on to them.

 

Lucifer
Mike Carey and various artists
This series spins out of Season of Mists and follows Lucifer upon his abandonment of Hell to his time on earth, running a piano-bar in Los Angeles. Carey follows the Lucifer of Milton in many ways, presenting him as a champion of free will against the tyranny of predestination.

Promethea
Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III
Moore is best known for his works Watchment, V for Vendetta, and From Hell. He is also a practicing occult magician. His views of myth, esotericism, and mysticism comes to full view in this superhero-esque adventure. In it, Sophie Bang discovers that she is the latest incarnation of Promethea, a Wonder Women-esque hero, who, through her time in the Immateria, a world of myth and fiction. Sophie’s journey culminates with her ascension up the kabbalistic Tree of Life

Preacher
Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon
Jess Custer, a Texan preacher, becomes dillusioned with his beliefs after he destroys his church and kills his own congregation when he became possessed by Genesis, a supernatural being born of an unnatural coupling of an angel and a demon. Custer goes on a journey to literally find God. This work is particularly graphic and lewd at times. Like Lucifer and Sandman, God and his associates is the main antagonist who has left his own creation.


18 Days

Grant Morrison and Sharad Devarajan
Published by Graphic India, Morrison’s story reimagines the story of the Mahabharata, focusing on the 18 day war between the Pandavas and Kauravas. Morrison weaves into it other elements of the massive Hindu epic and takes on theme of deities as superheros and questions about the creation of the universe, the end of the world, and free will and predestination. The first of many volumes has just recently been published.


The Goddamned
Jason Aaron and R.M. Guerra
Aaron imagines the world of Genesis 6:1-7, in which God decides to destroy the world due to the wickedness of humans. The story follows Cain as he travels through this grotesque world seeking an end to the eternal life, cursed upon him by God.

East of West. The Apocalypse: Year One 
Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta
A sci-fi alternate future where the Civil War ended with the creation of the seven nations of America, representing the Union, Confederacy, African Slaves, Native Americans, and Chinese exiles. Hickman takes you through the internal politics and external conflicts of these nations as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse (Death, War, Famine, and Conquest) seek to bring about the End Times but are derailed when Death falls in love with a daughter of Mao III and gives up his mission.
 

Books About Religion and Comics:

  1. Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human. Grant Morrison
  2. Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal. Jeffrey J. Kripal.
  3. Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books and Graphic Novels. A. David Lewis and Christine Hoff Kraemer, eds.
  4. American Comics, Literary Theory, and Religion: The Superhero Afterlife. A. David Lewis
  5. Do the Gods Wear Capes?: Spirituality, Fantasy, and Superheroes. Ben Saunders