'Second Coming' Writer Defends Controversial Comic With Author's Note

Mark Russell, who saw DC cancel his series about Jesus returning to Earth, addresses the backlash: "for better or worse, this is my blasphemy."
Richard Pace/AHOY Comics
Mark Russell, who saw DC cancel his series about Jesus returning to Earth, addresses the backlash: "for better or worse, this is my blasphemy."

Today, comic book series Second Coming receives…well, it’s second coming.

The series, originally announced more than a year ago as part of the lineup for the relaunch of the DC Vertigo imprint, was hit by a wave of controversy before it even hit shelves, thanks to its subject matter.

Second Coming, created by writer Mark Russell and artist Richard Pace, centers around the return to Earth of Jesus Christ, who is appalled to discover what humanity has taken from his teachings, with both mankind and his own father seemingly preferring the morality of popular superhero Sun-Man.

Originally intended to launch in March, the series was officially canceled by DC mid-February, following an online petition decrying the series’ “inappropriate [and] blasphemous content.”

The cancelation, it emerged, was the result of Russell requesting the rights to the series be returned to him following requests for content to be altered by DC. A month after DC officially cut ties with the book, independent publisher AHOY Comics picked it up, leading to this week’s release.

The first issue of the series, released today, features not only the comic book story planned for the series’ original DC release, but also an author’s note by Russell about the thinking behind the series as a whole — which Heat Vision exclusively reprints below — and a second story by Stuart Moore and Cayetano Valenzuela.

Second Coming No. 1 is available digitally and in comic book stores now. Below, read Russell’s complete author’s note from the issue, as well as a preview from the issue’s main story by Russell, who is also known for writing The Flintstones and Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles comicsand Pace.

Author’s Note

Apparently this is where I explain myself.

As the world learned that some idiot had written a comic book about Jesus Christ sharing a two-bedroom apartment with a superhero, the ensuing controversy forced us to delay publication and ultimately go with another publisher. Since then, I’ve done a lot of media interviews, fielded a lot of questions, both from those who were sympathetic and those who were not so much. And all their questions sort of boil down to one — what were you thinking?

I suppose the short answer is that I was thinking that I had as much right to an opinion on the meaning of Christ’s teachings and their legacy as anyone else. That was enough to get me labeled a blasphemer. Though, I suppose that’s ultimately what blasphemy is...coming up with your opinion. So maybe they have a point.

But as the second half the New Testament is essentially an argument over the meaning of Christ’s brief visit to the Earth, I consider myself to be in good company. If Paul, James, and Peter themselves couldn’t come up with a consensus about what Christ wanted from them, then thinking the arc-welder who volunteered to teach your Sunday School class had it down to a peg...well, it just seems a tad presumptuous.

So, for better or worse, this is my blasphemy. My stab at what I think Christ came to Earth to accomplish and how he’d feel about returning to find that mega-church tycoons, prosperity doctrine charlatans, and media anger-merchants had made themselves the executors of his estate. By no means am I suggesting mine is the only possible interpretation, or even the best, just that when I consider what is important and unique about the life and words of Christ, the things that come to my mind are his empathy and forgiveness. His refusal to play any of the reindeer games of the rich and powerful. I suppose it’s possible that there were also people he wanted killed, closeted, or caged, but he never said so as far as I can tell and, anyway, that’s pretty much the way everyone felt back then. What makes a person’s words and actions worth remembering are how they are different from everyone else’s. It would be as weird to base Christianity on the beliefs Christ held in common with the people of his time as it would be to base it on the wearing of beards and robes.

So why pair him with a superhero, of all things? Superhero stories are, ultimately, a meditation on power. How you would apply power if you could fly, had the strength to melt steel with your eyes, or bend the very world to your will? It’s a question comic book writers have wrestled with since Action Comics No.1. But while they’re good at turning these thought experiments into entertainment, superhero comics are predicated on a rather dodgy assumption. That, ultimately, it is physical force that solves problems. “Good” is simply a matter of using violence better than “evil”. In a world where our problems are increasingly immune to violent solutions…no amount of drop-kicking people is going to solve global warming or get your sick mom the health care she needs…we need to start incorporating other solutions into the thought experiment. And that is why bringing Christ into a superhero comic made sense to me. He is the counterpoint to the assumption that you can fix the world with punishment. To me, that is the core of Christ’s mission to Earth…to show human beings that we could build a world immune to the threat of violence and to the seduction of bribery, if only we chose to be so ourselves. That’s also what made it necessary for any self-respecting empire to crucify him.

Whether people agree with Christ’s assessment or not, whether they agree with my assessment of Christ or not, none of it really matters. The great problems confronting the world today will not be solved by laying down more barbed wire or simply finding new ways to punch people harder than ever before. The ability of armies, empires, and the other great institutions of force to protect us dwindles by the day. If not Christ, then we need someone like him in our thought experiments to be the voice of other possibilities. Other ways of fixing human civilization. For without them, the world is lost.

I would like to thank the artist Richard Pace and all the good people at AHOY for incriminating themselves in this blasphemy. I wish I could tell them that they’re not committing career suicide. All I know is, as weird as the answers may seem, the questions these comics attempt to answer are important. And as professional thought-experimenters, that is our duty to the world. We blaspheme, not to belittle the faith of millions, but to offer the world something new.

— Mark Russell