SOME THOUGHTS ON RELIGION AND SUPERHEROES…

SOME THOUGHTS ON RELIGION AND SUPERHEROES…
             My gaming group was playing the RPG DC Superheroes, which the GM set during WWII.  Some of us played original characters while others played established golden age DC folks: Dr. Mid-Nite, Green Lantern, Phantom Lady, etc. I played the Shining Knight.
            During the game Nazis stole a book by one of Copernicus’ protégés and in the course of the adventure I asked if I could read it. I said my character could probably read or understand Latin because as a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table he would have been at mass at least once per day!
            “He’s Catholic?” someone asked.
            There was no Catholic Church back in the seventh century; there was only “the church”. Sir Justin (the Shining Knight’s real name) lived during King Arthur’s reign. Whether he wanted to or not, if he lived back then, he probably attended mass in Latin.
            That got me thinking about superheroes and religion: what religion would our favorite superheroes be? In what faiths were they raised, if at all?
            I read the Fantastic Four graphic novel of Marvel’s Civil War where the Thing talked about being Jewish. This was the first reference to the Thing’s religion I knew of (not being up on Marvel over the past decades I don’t know when they first mentioned that).
            There are some superheroes (scant, but some) whose religion is central to their character. The current Dr. Mid-Nite, for example: in the pages of the last version of JSA he used his Catholicism to help Mr. Terrific deal with the loss of his wife (see my previous blog regarding good and bad deaths of comic book characters…).
            Religion is (was) strongly emphasized with the X-Men. Magneto’s Jewish-ness (is that a word?) and Nightcrawler’s Catholicism has been used well for story fodder.
            Like they did with the Thing, Marvel may have established religions for all their characters. I will freely admit if I am wrong. So this is a purely objective list subject to only my whims and generalizations! Feel free to argue! And note this gets sillier as it goes along (as said: if a character’s religion has reallybeen established in the comics, let me know!).
            Also this is from a Silver and Bronze Age fan. The post-Crisis and post-New 52 (for DC) and post annual reboot (for Marvel) have changed the personalities and backgrounds of all these characters thus making my generalizations questionable, haha:
            SUPERMAN: raised in a Kansas farm town? Baptist. Maybe Methodist. Currently, not attending a church. Rao was a Kryptonian god and Superman would sometimes shout out “Great Rao” in times of shock and stress, but otherwise the comics never showed Supes really worshipping him per se.
            BATMAN: I imagine his unbelievably rich and isolated childhood (pre-Crime Alley obviously) to be much like Teddy Roosevelt. “Gotham City – home of high crime and the cod, where the Ryders talk only to the Waynes, and the Waynes talk only to God.” Episcopalian.  Currently? … oh c’mon! Agnostic is being kind.
            WONDER WOMAN: Pagan. Pretty obvious there.
            FLASH (Barry Allen): Solidly set in the Midwest. Methodist or Lutheran. But with the last name Allen being of Irish extraction, I would guess Presbyterian or Catholic. Same with Wally West. However, the various weddings of family and friends throughout the 60s and 70s do not show the usual Catholic trappings (I don’t mean that in a bad way), so I would guess Protestant.
            Jay Garrick? What is Garrick? If a German name, Lutheran; if Irish, Presbyterian.  I would believe all Flashes would still be attending church, it fits their characters.
            GREEN LANTERN: father was in the military. I’d say non-denominational if he was given any religion at all as a child. More likely with his cavalier attitude toward life; he probably wasn’t taken to church much at all as a youngster.
            GREEN ARROW: Oh, please, with his intense hatred/aversion/suspicion over authority figures? Lapsed Catholic.
            BLACK CANARY: No opinion. Any religion (or none at all) would fit. When she married Green Arrow it wasn’t in a Catholic Church. But then GA may have vetoed a Catholic wedding. I’d bet she went to church well into adulthood and may still go on major religious holidays.
            TEEN TITANS: By this I mean the original teen sidekicks – Batman would raise ROBIN to be as irreligious as he is.
            Ditto SPEEDY.
            Probably only KID FLASH would have gone to church.
            AQUAMAN/AQUALAD: Pagan. Interesting that with his worship of Neptune he and Wonder Woman haven’t argued over the similarity/assimilation of Greek and Roman mythos.
            ATOM: Northeast Ivy Leaguer? Episcopalian. And was a regular attender until his life fell apart with the split with his wife.
            HAWKMAN/HAWKWOMAN: I think Thanagar’s religion was established, but I can’t see Katar and Cheyera being very religious.
            The original Carter Hall? Well, I suppose with his hundreds of reincarnations he has been many religions. But I suspect his worship of Horus the Hawk (really a falcon) headed god still lurks underneath.
            ELONGATED MAN: United Church of Christ. Just seems right.
            MR. FANTASTIC: He probably eschewed religion early on, but what about his heritage? If Ben Grimm is Jewish, I’ll bet Reed Richards is, too.
            INVISIBLE WOMAN AND HUMAN TORCH: Their last name Storm is probably a derivative of Strom, western German/French. Tight family with a large age disparity. I’d guess Catholic. Any brothers and sisters in between?
            ANT MAN/GIANT MAN/YELLOWJACKET: What kind of a last name is Pym? Welsh? Anglican or Catholic. Dutch? Danish National – a type of Lutheran.
            WASP: With a maiden name like Van Dyne? Danish National again – which would help explain the initial attraction of a wealthy socialite and a bookish scientist.
            THOR: Rather obvious. Is it narcissism to worship yourself if you really are a god?
            SPIDERMAN: He was probably irreligious as he got in his teens, but what denomination were Ben and May Parker? Where would they have taken Peter as a youngster? Methodist.
            X-MEN: (Other than as professed in the introduction)
            Professor X: Jewish;
            Colossus: Russian Orthodox;
            Wolverine: In Canada, Catholicism and Anglican make up 81% of the religions, so I guess lapsed Catholic – he has that distrust of authority-thing going, too;
            Storm: well, herself… (she was worshipped as a god in her tribe before joining the group);
            Kitty Pride (whatever her moniker is this week): I believe in the comics she has said she is Jewish;
            Cyclops: tough one, but I would guess a very Orthodox conservative Catholicism;
            Marvel Girl: Catholic (if only because of imagining her in the schoolgirl outfit… oy…)
            DOCTOR DOOM: Latverian Orthodox, what else?
            LEX LUTHOR: Russian Orthodox. Can’t you see that?
            THE NEW GODS: well, each other I guess.
            THE JOKER: Scientology.
            Except for the last one, none of these were meant to be for the sake of a joke or to be insulting. If I have insulted anyone, I apologize for doing so, even if unintentional. But if Marvel & DC decide to announce that most of the X-men are Catholic or that Superman was raised a Baptist, it wouldn’t surprise me. Keep in mind – if I didn’t know the Thing was Jewish, I would have guessed Catholic with his inner-city-street-gang-past-coming-straight-out-of-“Angels-with-Dirty-Faces”.
            So what do I know?
            JWhat do you think? Who would you add?
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry
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One thought on “SOME THOUGHTS ON RELIGION AND SUPERHEROES…

  1. This is a topic that has apparently captured the interest of many fans. A google search of 'Religions of Comic Book Characters' yields many sites. This entry made me recall what Stan Lee wrote in his 'Origin of Marvel Comics' many years ago. No matter what other influences prompted the Thor title (classic Captain Marvel imitator, Superman for the Mighty Marvel Masses, etc), Lee said that he was going through a period of spiritual reflection when he was working on what would become Thor, and wanted to do a comic about a divine entity. Paraphrasing, he said he decided he wouldn't put God in a comic book as a main character, but he had no problem putting -a- god in one. Or at least a being so vastly superior in strength and power to humans that he was looked on as a god by humans of ancient civilizations. I'm also reminded that many earlier fans of iconic comics characters like Superman always took for granted he belonged to their faith…Catholic, Jewish, Protestant…it was just a given with them, which speaks much for the universal acceptance and appeal of the Man of Tomorrow. Stan's take on 'putting God in a comic book' is also interesting in light of DC exploring that avenue more or less with their Zauriel character in the 1990's. I must admit that I never warmed to the angel-hero, and always felt it an odd fit when the superheroes were shown taking part in what amounted to angel warfare between the different hosts. The Voice in the Spectre stories, appearances by Christ-like figures in Ghost Rider, hosts of infernal baddies in both companies threatening the heroes never gave me pause. But the Zauriel take left me wondering why the writers would go there…however, Zauriel himself, judging by some comics discussion groups I read back then, was a fairly popular character with many readers.

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