A Blasphemy of Love
A year-plus later, a new publisher, six issues in the can, and the top image search result for Mark Russell and Richard Pace’s comic Second Coming still shows the first issue cover with the Vertigo label it was intended to have before the book was dropped by DC and picked up by Ahoy Comics. Weird as it is for me to say about a book with a “What if Jesus was roommates with Superman?” pitch, Second Coming is a book that deserves to outlive both that tagline and the ridiculous controversy surrounding it. The hype aside, it’s still one of the best new books out there.
I had completely missed the faux outrage from the religious right and now wonder if the move from DC was meant to secretly save the book before the Vertigo imprint was discontinued completely. DC, which once published genuine mature titles, now only seems content to reserve its mature content for dark superhero takes. Second Coming is satirical, but it’s not a dark take on superheros. Neither is it a dark take on the story of Jesus.
The darkness comes when depicting the people who pervert his teachings, from the Roman empire to current day society. When it comes to them, the story pulls no punches. Even Satan gets off light in comparison, if only for the honesty behind his hatred.
The above segment was part of a page that was circulating among my friends online (around Christmas, funny enough). In a way, those moments with the Devil, while engaging, are also misleading. Satan is engaging, but he’s not the most interesting character in Second Comings. Neither does he become the hero of the story as one might first suspect. He has his moments, but in the end he is stuck his old ways for the majority of the story. This is also true of the character of God as written by Russell. The Almighty is cast as an overbearing and overprotective father with more than a touch of what we might call toxic masculinity. It‘s revealed that after dying, God chastises Jesus, saying his son needs to learn “how to act like a real God!”
It is in fact He who introduces his son to the superman-like and insecure alpha Sunstar in the hopes that the often-brash hero will help make Jesus more of a man.
Instead, Sunstar serves as yet another stand-in for humanity’s tendency to twist and exaggerate God’s rules and Jesus’s teaching. When he gets a first hand taste of God’s manly self-righteousness, he tries to apply that to his own life with disastrous consequences. This leads to the best quote in the entire series, courtesy of Jesus: “I love my father. but there’s something you need to know about him — God is the life of the party…He’s not the guy who helps you clean up afterwards.”
As with any good superhero story tinged with realism, Sunstar, for all his power, fails spectacularly issue after issue. But rather than get piled on with ridicule a la Garth Ennis, Sunstar is made all-too human (thanks in large part to Pace’s span of facial expressions and Russell’s deft dialogue) as he clumsily and painfully makes his way through everyday life. He has problems with his girlfriend Sheila, his ailing mother, and his equally neurotic superhero friends, all of which he has to deal with and push through through while being acutely aware of his own helplessness. For all the digs on both religion and superheroes, it’s amazing how all the characters can elicit such sympathy. Even the token Batman knock off deserves his own character arc (which I’d argue he kind of gets).
If I haven’t mentioned Jesus much, it’s because he feels less like a protagonist in the story and more of a catalyst for whatever happens in each issue, with his time in the modern world serving to share his side of the story rather than the Bible’s. It isn’t until the sixth issue that Jesus takes all the necessary actions to bring the story to a conclusion. Only instead of some great epic battle, we end with a thank-you, a high five, a handshake, a hug, and a surprise twist that pleases more than it surprises but helps to set up a possible sequel. There’s no Preacher-style comeuppance for anyone. Neither is there validation for anyone’s point of view on any religious stance. Still, it’s good enough for a reader to wait hopefully for Russel and Pace to revisit this world and its characters.