Not being a connoisseur of comics, I’d always assumed that most comic book characters were religiously neutral. After all, religion can be divisive — so if you’re a creator of comic books, why alienate a big chunk of your prospective audience with your character’s God beliefs?
But that was before I stumbled across Comic Book Religion, a website that claims to have sussed out the theological leanings of everyone from Batman (lapsed Episcopalian/Catholic) to Bart Simpson (Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism).
Atheists are present too, but barely: Only 70 (0.2%) out of more than 33,000 characters catalogued by CBR are godless. The 24 atheist heroes are here (and we featured a few additional ones last month); 17 atheist villains are here. (The 29 remaining unbelievers can’t be easily categorized, I guess.)
Apparently, God is increasingly stoked about working His magic through comic books. The Mormon-owned, Salt Lake City-based Deseret News published a story yesterday claiming that
… religion is becoming the story itself where biblical tales told in the comic book format have been on the rise in recent years. And with the introduction of the new Muslim Ms. Marvel, who is poised to hit comic stands this coming February, religion has become a drawing point for readers of more mainstream comics published by Marvel and DC, rather than just a subtle reference within the pages. … The business is simply responding to a growing market of readers becoming more interested in religion or religious stories.
The paper shares no numbers to support the assertion (I’d be curious to see stats that reflect trends in religious-comic-book sales, current and previous bestsellers, market share, etc.), but does have this anecdotal paragraph:
Kingstone Comics, started by Art Ayris in 2010, is a new brand in the emerging field of faith-based comic books and graphic novels, which are books presented in comic book format. Joining Kingstone in publishing religious comic books is HarperCollins Christian Publishing, which recently decided to offer graphic novels and comics, and Zondervan, an Evangelical publisher.
One eye-popping passage in the Deseret News piece:
Kutter Callaway, an affiliate professor of theological and cultural studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, said comics are extensions of religious learning. “It’s really something that appeases people’s imagination and hearts more so than a sermon ever could,” he said.
If that’s true, I’d imagine it spells magnificent trouble for preachers across the land.
simple-minded childlike believers, the attraction of theology in the form of pictures and text balloons is obvious:
Not only can people learn from the text, [Callaway] said, but they can visualize and grasp the message because of the animation seen on the pages. Lectures and sermons don’t always work, and “the Bible can be difficult, boring and hard to understand,” he said. But comics are easy to understand and extend the learning experience.
Unmentioned by the sources quoted in the piece: Comics relegate religion to the realm of fiction. From an atheist’s perspective, that can’t be bad.
Deseret News commenter Tyler D thought something along the same lines:
What rich irony! Whenever I read an exchange of religious (supernatural) ideas or disputes about doctrines or theology, it always sounds like children arguing the relative merits of Superman vs. Batman.
With that, Tyler just became a superhero of mine.