Today, we’re going to look at a book from Ahoy comics, Second Coming. The collection of the first season, a.k.a. Volume 1, a.k.a issues 1-6 should be out now!
Written by Mark Russell with covers by Amanda Conner and interior art from Richard Pace and Leonard Kirk, Second Coming tells the story of Jesus’s big comeback. Basically, God decides that Jesus is just a bit too soft with all his talk of forgiveness all the time, so he sends Jesus back to live with a Superman analogue named Sunstar. Originally slated to be part of DC’s Vertigo imprint, Second Coming had to find a second home once Vertigo closed up shop. DC seems to have forgone their partially creator owned adult oriented line for their Black Label books, which feature the same adult themes and images, just more often with featured DC characters. So instead of Mark Russell’s thoughtful examination of both superheroes and religion, we got the exposed Batawang in Batman: Damned. Their loss.
I’ve written about Mark Russell books before, and this book is probably the Mark Russell-iest of them, tackling our most sacred systems with humor and a sardonic wit. Originally, this series was met with great blowback from the religiously informed, what with its heretical depiction of God and religion in general. That’s what you would believe if you judged the book without reading it.
Instead, what it offers is a thoughtfully heretical depiction of God and religion in general that serves to examine and reinforce the importance of a religious morality.
I mean heresy in the kindest way, as Russell’s caricatures provide the gentle poking at authority that people often need to reach understanding. What Mark Russell does is ask the questions that those who have ever sat through a Sunday service have always wondered. Russell’s goal is not to destroy religion, but to reinforce it in his own way.
Russell’s God is an interesting one, and one that helps to fill in the gaps between the old and new testaments. God is the gruff parent who simultaneously wants to be loved and obeyed, and doesn’t entirely understand why people struggle to do both. Throughout the story, God struggles to understand people just as much as they struggle to understand him. Why would people be afraid when God is appearing in front of them as a giant face yelling “Do not be afraid!”? People are dumb. And frustrating.
God: “That’s the third time today! I haven’t been to Earth in two thousand years and those people are still a pain in the ass.”
Jesus: “Well, you did create them in your own image.”
That’s a classic case of self-hating projection if I’ve ever seen one, just from the big guy.
It’s also not just people that frustrate God, it’s the small details. Even despite being the guy who creates everything, God doesn’t focus on the deets or what comes next after he creates something. Jesus classifies him thusly, “God is the life of the party…he’s not the guy who helps you clean up afterwards.”
The example God himself gives is one where he’s an idea man. “I’ll invent an eyeball, but I won’t stick around long enough to make sure it isn’t diseased or near-sighted or whatever. Gotta keep the assembly line rollin’. Know what I mean?” Both positions seem valid, it’s just the point of view that changes.
It doesn’t mean Russell’s God isn’t self-aware. At one point, Sunstar asks God “How can there be evil in the world if God is all-powerful?”
God answers, “Laziness. I’m just lazy.”
Me, too, God. Me too.
I’m going to skip of Jesus for a bit to focus on the superhero Sunstar.
Sunstar gives Russell and company the opportunity to take the air out of superheroes in general as well as organized faith. Sunstar’s group therapy sessions with Row-bot and Night Justice are hilarious and spot on. Sunstar even has the relatable secret identity human problems with his girlfriend who is trying to conceive a child. They’re facing a world where Sunstar, while still being the hero everyone calls out for, is still an alien, an illegal one, and persecuted as such.
The conflict between God and Jesus is perfectly represented by Sunstar, who’s is perpetually stuck in between. He has the power of a god that he uses to fly in and punch things. Sunstar feels the burden of his powers, as he worries about how many people will die if he takes the day off, let alone an entire two weeks for a honeymoon. He settles for one week and one hundred and forty lives. He also recognizes the trauma of his powers when he accidentally kills several criminals who tried to rob banks disguised as robots. Sunstar wants to be a responsible god, but he also wants to be a regular person with a regular family and a kid.
You would think all of God’s problems with his own children might convince Sunstar to go the other route, but the hero will not be deterred in his quest to do what he hopes is the right thing.
In contrast to God, Mark Russell’s take on Jesus is one of hope and quick wit and salvation. When Jesus goes with Sunstar to interrogate criminals, he tries to show Sunstar that forgiveness and healing are the ways to solve problems instead of violence.
Since Jesus and his relationships with God, Satan, and Sunstar are the main story focus for the book, I won’t spoil it by giving you too many Jesus quotes. Just the one that says “in a way, Satan was right. Of the things I have to say…I don’t have proof. I don’t even have much of an argument. So I can’t expect my disciples to be men of great intellect. But that’s okay. I don’t need scholars or philosophers to remind people of their humanity. Of their need for each other. All I need are some fools for Christ.” I will say for those who might take umbrage at Russell’s characterization of God, his work with Jesus shows him to be the kind compassionate man who is the consummate example for others. Until he isn’t. And even then, he kind of still is.
I genuinely enjoyed the series from start to finish. I’ve written about a lot of the story elements, and Russell really is emerging in my mind as one of the modern greats. His bit at the food court in heaven is great. The small details he puts in the characterization of his characters imbibes all of them with a lived in depth, whether they are dieties or not. Characters are not just saved with bees or violence, but with admission to community college.
On the picture side of this creation, we have art by Richard Pace, with Leonard Kirk finishing the superhero-centric pages with the solid lines you would normally associate with such, and Pace’s own scratchy art for the scenes focusing on the heavenly figures. It adds an extra element of switching back and forth to remind you of the stakes, almost. Both styles are effective in their purpose. It’s as though the art reflects the morality of their respective scenes, sketchy Richard Pace stylings with the big time players, and overly smooth Leonard Kirk heroics for the superhero scenes. Conner’s covers are fun, too, although I kind of wish Pace could have been given cover detail as well. That’s no knock on Conner’s work, as she is great. I just almost always feel like the cover artists is an unnecessary bait and switch.
Ahoy books also come with backup material like essays or in one case a sneak previews of Billionaire Island. One day I will pay more attention to the extras. I enjoyed a few of them like Matt Buechele’s Important NYC Checklists and skipped over some of the others. Honestly, I appreciate letter pages (which this book had), but the extras haven’t hooked me yet. I’m not looking to comics for pages of full text when I’m sitting down with my comics. That’s a different skill set.
That’s ok, as the main story is definitely more than enough. Second Coming is a story I will go back and re-read down the road if I have the opportunity, so that’ll give me something new to discover upon closer reading next time. The extras are an Ahoy thing line-wide, apparently. In the other other books from Ahoy I’ve read like Hashtag: Danger I’ve appreciated the extras more, but not so much that they’re a big selling point. Maybe they’ll be a more tide me over while I wait for the next volume sort of thing.
Second Coming is the type of story that simultaneously pokes fun of faith and subtlely renews your faith at the same time. It reminds you of the important stuff while helping you to see through the fluff and misunderstandings that all too often are caused by others interpreting faith as they see fit.
All the people that were quick to condemn Second Coming are rightfully so condemned by Second Coming, and all the areas that deserve praise are given their due, as are the murky waters inbetween. I definitely give the book an A+ and recommend it if you’re into the thoughtful exploration of important issues. If not, you could still read it for the jokes and funny bits and still be satisfied.
Until next time, I’ll be questioning all the things I can question and making fun of the answers I get regardless.