If Second Coming isn’t already the most controversial comic book of 2019, it is certainly the most hyped. The book was originally announced as one of the new series being introduced as part of Vertigo Comics’ revival line in June 2018. A vocal protest and on-line petition drive following Fox News and the Christian Broadcasting Network reporting on the series led to DC Comics releasing the book back to creators Mark Russell (The Snaglepuss Chronicles, Red Sonja) and Richard Pace (Imaginary Fiends, Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham). It has since then been blamed for the end of the Vertigo Comics line and picked up by Ahoy Comics.
Naturally these charges of blasphemy were leveled by people who knew nothing about the book beyond the initial summary – God sends Jesus to Earth in hopes that he will learn the family trade from Sun-Man, an all-powerful superhero, who is like the varsity quarterback son God never had. But, upon his return to Earth, Christ is appalled to discover what has become of his Gospel and vows to set the record right.
It likely seemed a safe bet to these people that Second Coming would be full of horrible, anti-Christian views. After all, this is the same publisher that gave Lucifer his own comic book! Unfortunately, the only people likely to take offense to Second Coming are the same ones currently petitioning Netflix to cancel Good Omens – a series, it should be noted, that has already ended and was produced by Amazon Prime.
The grand irony of Second Coming is that Russell’s take on the personalities of God and Jesus are perfectly in line with their portrayals in the Old and New Testament respectively, even as he humanizes them through the lens of a classic generational conflict. God is all thunder and brimstone, quick to anger and quick to punish, but ultimately loving and well-meaning even if he doesn’t really understand His children. Jesus is presented as a dutiful and obedient son who wants to follow his father’s wishes but still believes that there is a better way to get humanity to stop acting so inhumane towards one another than flooding the planet and starting over every few generations.
This leads to God’s attempt at tough love and sending Jesus back to Earth to learn from God’s idea of what an acceptable savior should be – the barely-veiled Superman expy Sunstar. Quite honestly, Second Coming‘s idea of a Superman who revels in violence and punches before speaking is more blasphemous than its portrayal of God and Jesus. Yet even Sunstar is portrayed in a sympathetic light, being unable to marry his reporter girlfriend or adopt a child because of his alien status. If the book has a weakness, it is that Sunstar’s background is undefined, though it is implied he grew up without a Kent family to provide him with the same moral foundation that defines Superman.
There are aspects of Russell’s cosmology I do question. For instance, the arrival of Sunstar at the scene of a crime prompts a bank-robbing robot to exclaim “Jesus Christ!” I find this fascinating. Is this robot a Christian, despite his autonomous life of crime? Does he fear his silicon soul is tarnished by his actions? How do robots get into Heaven if they are programmed to commit crimes? Where does free will and the knowledge of good and evil come into play here?
I’m also fascinated by the existence of an alien superhero in this world and wonder if this fictional God was only responsible for the Earth and the Heavens while some other deity was responsible for creating Sunstar’s home planet of Zirconia. It would explain that commandment about not worshiping other gods, because God is jealous. (These are, to borrow a phrase from George Carlin, the thoughts that kept me out of the good schools.)
I do feel sorry for Richard Pace in all of this. Doubtlessly many pundits and critics will ignore his contribution to Second Coming to focus on the story and the controversy and ignore the artwork beyond a few shocking images, such as what Adam is doing in the background when Eve confronts God about how she couldn’t understand the consequences of knowing of good and evil without knowing of good and evil. Because showing boobies and dicks in a comic book is just as wicked as writing Jesus and God in a comedic light.
Pace is a skilled artist, capable of working in a variety of styles. There are entirely different looks to the flashbacks depicting the creation of Earth, the flashbacks showing Jesus’ time on Earth and the modern day scenes set in Sunstar’s adopted hometown of Urban City. This is due, in part, to the finishes by Leonard Kirk and the colors by Andy Troy, which give the modern scenes the aesthetic of a classic four-color comic book. Pace himself lends a sepia tint to the scenes depicting the human Jesus and heavier inks to the scenes set in Heaven.
Like The Bible, I fear the message of Second Coming will be lost on those who most need it, preferring instead to believe in what they believe it to say, as they justify their own prejudices. Those who approach this book with an open heart and open mind, however, will find an enjoyable story and, perhaps, some degree of illumination.