Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Jesus in a Cape

Easter is almost here so I thought I would review Jesus figures in superhero comics. Usually these are tastefully done. The exception was National Lampoon's Son 'O God Comics. The premise was that this is how a comic book about a modern day incarnation of Jesus would be handled if it was published by Marvel Comics.

As a parody of Marvel, it was perfect. The art was by Neil Adams who had just done some memorable work at Marvel. The feature included a letters page with promos for future stories.

Meanwhile, over at the real Marvel, Jesus did make an occasional appearance. In the early 1970s, Satan appeared so often he counted as a supporting character. Writer Tony Isabella felt that there should be a counterweight to this. In one episode, Satan was about to collect Ghost Rider's soul when a bearded stranger intervened and saved him. The stranger's identity was never given and Isabella himself only referred to him as "JC" in private conversations.

More common was the Christ-like character. The Silver Surfer was often depicted this way, especially since his recurring enemy, Mephisto, was obviously a version of Satan. This was most pronounced when the Surfer met Dracula. At the time, Dracula was living in a de-consecrated church. He had married, his wife was pregnant, and he was gathering a cult. A portrait of Christ still hung in the church and the Surfer made his entrance by phasing right through it. Twice. Dracula survived, mainly because of the intervention of Dracula's wife.

In the same plotline Dracula fought a golden-skinned creature. Dracula kept calling him a demon but he was obviously an angel (in spandex). At the end of the issue, the angel died but his essence apparently went into Dracula's pregnant wife. When their child was born, it had golden skin. Unfortunately, the comic was canceled around then so the plot was never really resolved.

Then there was Adam Warlock. This character started as an artificial life form created by a trio of scientists. They referred to their creation as "Him". When we first saw Him, in a Lee/Kirby issue of the Fantastic Four, he was still developing in a cocoon. When he finally hatched he was a perfect being with blond hair, golden skin, and great but undefined powers. He left earth but later ran into Thor and his girl friend, Sif. Him decided that he liked Sif and Thor beat him up, forcing him back into his cocoon.

Enter the High Evolutionary, a Lee/Kirby creation from Thor. He was a scientist who came up with a way of speeding up evolution on mammals (or combining their DNA with human). His big failure was with the wolf. The result was an evil being known as the Man-Beast. Thor helped defeat the Man-Beast and the High Evolutionary left Earth. He showed up later in a Hulk comic and turned his machine on himself, making himself god-like.

All of these elements came together when the High Evolutionary decided to recreate Earth without original sin. As it turned out, Him happened to be nearby in his cocoon and stopped to watch.

Creating a second Earth on the far side of the Sun was enough to tax even the High Evolutionary. As he rested the Man-Beast took over the experiment and introduced sin to Counter Earth. He also arraigned it so that there was no religion and no super-powered beings.

The High Evolutionary was ready to destroy his creation but Him offered to go clean things up. He emerged from his cocoon, weaker than before. The High Evolutionary named him Adam Warlock and gave him a soul gem to help his mission.

Once on Counter Earth, Adam gathered a following. The strip was canceled after a few issues but
the plot was concluded in the Hulk. Hulk ended up on Counter Earth as one of Adam's disciples. Picking up the Christ references, Adam was arrested (it turned out that the Man-Beast was the President) and sentenced to die (on sort of a cross-shaped table). Hulk played Peter to Adam's Christ.

Adam reverted to his cocoon and emerged after three days. He turned the Man-Beast and his minions back into the animals they started as and left for the stars.

The least likely Christ figure in comics is the mad titan Thanos. Originally Thanos was a death-worshiper who hoped that by killing enough of the universe, Death herself would accept him as her paramour. Never the less, in one limited series, Thanos absorbed the "Heart of the universe", becoming all powerful. He discovered that there was a fundamental flaw in the universe caused by characters constantly being resurrected*. The flaw could be fixed but it required Thanos to destroy and recreate the universe with a stronger barrier between life and death. This process would destroy Thanos, meaning that he had to sacrifice himself for the universe. Of course, Thanos tended to cheat on things such as this and survived.

One other character deserves mention. Doctor Strange ran across someone named Sise-Neg traveling back in time and absorbing mystic energy as he went. He reasoned that by the time he got to the Big Bang, he would be all powerful and could recreate the universe any way he wanted. He got his wish but the wisdom that came with so much power told him that the universe was already perfect so he recreated it exactly as it had been. BTW, Sise-Neg is Genesis spelled backwards.

* Marvel characters resurrected so often that Peter David made a humorous point about this in an issue of the Hulk. Rick Jones's girlfriend, Marlo had been killed and he was trying to get someone to bring her back to life. When he asked Dr. Strange, he was told that death is normal and people don't come back. "What do you mean?" Rick asked. "I've come back from the dead. You've come back from the dead. Wong, have you been dead? See? People come back from the dead all the time." He was right of course and a few issues later he married the resurrected Marlo.

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