Thursday, April 17, 2014

Easter Reads

Okay, Okay, so Easter is only a few days away

I messed up on that one. But I just thought about this last night so I'm trying to make it happen. Bear with me.

Anyway, what examples of graphic literature do I recommend one read to commemorate this holiest of times in the Christian calendar? I thought about it and picked out five titles that one could read around Easter to contemplate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. No, none of them is a comic book adaptation of Mel Gibson's movie (if such a thing exists). But, come to think of it, I would totally read a comic series based on Murtaugh and Riggs from the Lethal Weapon movies. Somebody at IDW should get on that!

Seriously, there was a Die Hard prequel comic.

Back on track! I could have delved into individual issues, but I decided on stories which are readily available in collected editions from retailers such as Amazon or ComiXology (mostly).

The Judas Coin
by Walter Simonson

This may only tangentially be related to Easter. Actually that can be said about all of my choices, but such is the nature of stories. The crucifixion is covered in the first few pages, but then the story jumps around as it follows a coin throughout the history of the DC Universe. Now, this is no ordinary coin, for it is one of the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas to betray Jesus. And since this is blood money, paid in exchange for the blood of the Son of God, no less, it happens to be rather cursed and brings destruction to all who possess it. Like I said, the story jumps forward through time, covering incidents with the Judas coin in the times of ancient Rome, vikings, pirates, cowboys, Batman, and the far off sci-fi future. Simonson is a master of his craft as he changes up the art style for each period so it matches the literary genre. The Batman portion is quite intriguing for it is presented as newspaper comic strips supplemented by newspaper clippings to flesh out the story.

So yes, this doesn't have a whole lot to do with Easter, other than providing the origin for the cursed coin. But I include this original graphic novel because I think it showcases how influential the Easter story is to our popular culture. Simonson took a small detail from the story and extracted an entirely different story from it.

Amazon     Not available on ComiXology?

Pax Romana
by Jonathan Hickman

In the not too distant future the Vatican discovers time travel. Yup, that's the premise of this story. Oh, but it gets better. How does the Vatican of the not too distant future first use time travel? They send a military force back in time to ensure the emperor Constantine reigns supreme and solidifies the worldly supremacy of Christendom. Of course, with any time travel story things go wrong and Pax Romana is no exception. The time traveling Vatican military splits into factions and squabble about how best to lead Christendom into the future.

So why do I think this is relevant to Easter? This book shows Christians, with perhaps good intentions, ignoring the words of Jesus. Jesus spoke out against accumulating worldly gains and power. But all too often we pervert Christ's teachings and use them to somehow justify our own pursuit of worldly advances. In Pax Romana these leaders utilize certain Christian doctrines, regardless of whether they believe them or not, as a weapon to further their political and military ambitions. Jesus told us to love one another, including our enemies. He did not tell us to use him as a platform to consolidate political and social capital to use against our enemies. Maybe Pax Romana isn't an Easter story, but it can serve as an illustration of just how far we have strayed from the teachings of the man who, while still being crucified, prayed for God to forgive those who were killing him.

Amazon     ComiXology

Punk Rock Jesus
by Sean Murphy

Again, in the not too distant future, a media company clones Jesus and raises him on a 24/7 reality TV show. It's like the Truman Show, but with a clone of Jesus. Some see this as the second coming while others, like overly militant fundamentalist Christian groups, violently protest and attack the show. Further, this clone, named Chris, escapes his sheltered made-for-TV upbringing, becomes an atheist, and joins a punk rock band.

And what does this have to do with Easter? Punk Rock Jesus showcases our consumerist culture and how we have packaged and sold Jesus and Christianity as a product like anything else you can buy on Amazon. The Jesus clone is even genetically tweaked for American audience so instead of being Middle Eastern he looks like any blue eyed, fair skinned boy born in Wisconsin. Like Pax Romana, it shows how far Christianity has strayed from the teachings of a crucified servant/teacher/God. And as much as this is a story about the corruption of religion and losing faith, it's also about holding onto faith when all seems lost. It's about those who either maintain faith in Chris as the returned Christ, or simply maintaining faith in Jesus and God in light of this crazy cloning of Jesus scenario. In the end this story even begins to parallel the passion narratives from the Gospels in a rather clever way. Punk Rock Jesus certainly isn't for everyone, but there is a reason why I have art prints from this book hanging on my wall.

Amazon     ComiXology

American Jesus
Book One: Chosen
by Mark Millar and Peter Gross

So far there is no other volume of American Jesus. It was originally a three issue miniseries entitled Chosen, but was then collected as a trade with the title American Jesus. Millar obviously had plans for subsequent volumes of this story, but they have so far yet to manifest. As such, I always waffle over what exactly to refer to this book as.

Anyway, American Jesus is about a young boy who begins to experience weird situations and occurrences which lead him and others around him to suspect he might be the second coming of Christ. It's also about how much such a revelation would wreck a twelve year old boy. I actually wrote a paper about this book as an examination of the humanity of Christ. As the life of this boy begins to parallel the life of Jesus the reader begins to explore what it might have been like for someone to have to reconcile that he is both human and deity in one flesh.

All too often we lose sight of the humanity of Jesus. We focus solely on the God aspect of that "God became a man" thing. We do this to our own detriment. This can even lead to the heresy called Docetism. But, like Punk Rock Jesus, it's not for everyone. However, if you can get past the vulgarity (it is Mark Millar, afterall), this is a very, very sweet story and I think it can affect the way you view the historical Jesus during this Easter season.

"For Mum and Dad who would have hated the bad language, but hopefully would have appreciated the sentiment." - Mark Millar's dedication in American Jesus

Amazon     ComiXology

All Star Superman
by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Superman is not Christ. I know. But Superman can act very Christ-like. I think All Star Superman provides a great example of this. This is the story of the death of Superman. His body is overexposed to solar radiation and is breaking down. There is no cure. Superman will die. This chronicles what he does with his remaining time.

And man, it is epic, fantastic, sweet, sublime, and emotional. Morrison characterization of Superman is of a man who will selflessly give of himself until his last, dying breath. This book can be dense because it packs 70 years of Superman mythos into 12 issues. Periodically, though, the story slows down to examine intimate, personal moments between Superman and the people around him. It infamously shows him dropping everything to go save and hold a completely random girl in crisis. And it makes me cry every single time I read the dang thing. This is a man who could easily rule the entire world and instead he sacrifices his time and his self to serve the least of us. Sound familiar? As I said, Superman is not a Jesus analogue. But there are times when he embodies the teachings of Christ better than any of us ever do. This book about the death of Superman is definitely something I would recommend reading as we remember the death of our Savior.

Amazon     ComiXology

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