A Portland comic book author’s series about a Jesus who returns to Earth — and gets lessons on how to use powers from a Superman-like hero — has been revived at a new independent publisher after DC Comics cancelled the six-issue title last month following a backlash at Fox News and other conservative websites, including a petition that gathered more than 230,000 signatures and even a fact check from Snopes.com.
“Second Coming,” a series by writer Mark Russell and artist Richard Pace, was originally set for publication this month by Vertigo, a DC imprint that focuses on mature adult titles rather than mainstream superhero fare. But after Russell declined to make changes in already approved scripts amidst the outside pressures and requested to take “Second Coming” to another publisher, AHOY Comics, a company that began last year and focuses on comedic titles, announced last week it will take up the series this summer.
Russell said in an email that it was best for all parties that he “take the project somewhere else where it could be published in its original intended form rather than risk endless delays and dilution of the story to a point beyond recognition.”
Russell said the series was initially announced in July 2018 without much negative reaction until Fox News began to report on the book, which he describes as both a deconstruction of superheroes and Christianity.
“There’s a government shutdown that everybody’s blaming on Trump, and Mueller is handing out indictments like they were Arby’s coupons, so not wanting to report on any of that, they look around for culture war stories, both as a distraction and to rally their base,” Russell said. “It’s a common tactic of theirs — it just happened to be our turn on the distraction throne.”
Russell said the series began as an idea for a Superman story, one that Vertigo editors suggested he re-pitch as an original creator-owned idea. So, Russell said, Superman became “Sunstar,” a superhero counterpart to the returning Christ and “much more of a flawed and tragic figure than Superman could possibly be.” In the series, the two characters are roommates as the son of God returns to Earth to find a place much different than the one he left and a religion perhaps unmoored from his teachings.
While Russell said “Second Coming” was initially a good fit at Vertigo given the imprint’s history with controversial titles with religious themes such as “Preacher” and “Hellblazer,” he said he’s happy with the book’s new home at AHOY.
“The thing I like about AHOY is their focus on the book itself,” Russell said. “Almost every conversation we’ve had has been about making ‘Second Coming’ the best comic it can be. That, and they are 100 percent committed to seeing this story through in its original vision.”
Tom Peyer, AHOY’s editor in chief, said in an email that “Second Coming” fits right in with the publisher’s line that includes anthology series “Edgar Allen Poe’s Snifter of Terror,” the superhero parody “The Wrong Earth,” science fiction dramedy “Captain Ginger” and “High Heaven,” another religious satire about a man who visits the afterlife only to find it profoundly underwhelming.
“A human story with larger-than-life elements and a satirical bent, paired with ambitious, confident art — it’s exactly what we try to do every time,” Peyer said. “Some people I know guessed that we would acquire ‘Second Coming’ before we made the announcement, which would convince me it’s a good fit if I needed convincing.”
“Second Coming” isn’t the first comic to face some sort of public outcry — the 1950s saw an entire moral panic devoted to them — and it’s not even the only comic with religious themes that Fox News has recently criticized. But Peyer said the controversy over the series is different because people are objecting to the book without even reading it.
And as to the petition to get the series cancelled, Peyer said it was like the organizers were trying to help “Second Coming.”
“235,000 signatures on the petition to get it banned? That’s a lot of brand recognition,” Peyer said.
With “Second Coming” now at a new publisher, Russell can continue working on what he said is a personal project.
“I grew up in an evangelical church that was very focused on ‘the last days’ and were utterly convinced that Jesus Christ would be returning to Earth at any moment,” Russell said. “They seemed equally convinced that when he came back, he’d be some Charles Bronson character, bent on revenge and violence.
“This seemed odd to me. That a man who came to Earth and gave his life to teach us about mercy and forgiveness would come back only to refute all his earlier beliefs. I wanted to write a story both about these people getting the sort of messiah they wanted and of Christ returning to be appalled at the sorts of things his followers were expecting from him.”
Russell said he wanted Christians to take from “Second Coming” that the real Jesus is in the Gospels and comes without “all this extra baggage churches have thrown onto him over the last two millennia.”
He also said he’s excited to finally publish it.
“Now that everyone has formed an opinion about it,” Russell said, “I couldn’t be happier that they’ll actually be able to read it.”
“Second Coming” #1, from writer Mark Russell, artist Richard Pace and publisher AHOY Comics, will go on sale July 10.