There’s a good chance you’ve already heard about this book. The premise is so charged, it made seismic reverberations throughout the zeitgeist just by being announced. Hard-right Conservatives protested and urged boycott.
DC Comics, in the titanic tradition of The Boys, cancelled the book due to concerns over content, but they didn’t even give these guys one issue, much less six! But young publisher Ahoy Comics stepped up and is proud to present Second Coming by Mark Russell, Richard Pace, and Leonard Kirk.
This is a story of what happens when God sends his only begotten son — Jesus Christ — back to Earth to learn how to handle western civilization from Sunstar, an extremely thinly-veiled Superman analogue. It’s a dynamite set-up requiring nuance to fully realize, and these gentlemen knock it out of the park, if anything, surpassing the expectations of anyone coming off of Russell’s other award-winning work (The Flintstones, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles) that manages to be funny while also powerful and deeply meaningful.
Characterization is what makes this book sing. Russell employs consistent narrative logic throughout to bring these characters to life, while making them seem consistent with the archetypes and tropes with which we’re all familiar. I suppose I can see our more hard-line Christian brethren bristling under the depiction of the Lord God Almighty, who comes across as pretty close to a blustering drunken maniac young Thor before he Learns His Lessons.
But, at the heart of it is nothing but our narrator’s understandable befuddlement at some fundamental Old Testament situations (“He [God] didn’t want anyone eating the fruit from these two magical trees he’d inexplicably planted in the center of the garden” is a prime example of this, as well as being a rare case of an adverb actually doing good work, for once). But those who are quick to rise to the clarion call of outrage and reaching for crayons to scribble out their protest signs will miss a depiction of Jesus Christ who is already as kind, loving, and understanding as any I’ve ever encountered.
As for Sunstar, at first it looks like there’s going to be a strong Silver-Age vibe, but that’s just camouflage for a more deconstructed take that skews closer to Moore realism than Ennis vitriol. This strange visitor from another planet isn’t an asshole, but he’s . . . extremely confident, nowhere near as beatific as Frank Quitely might draw him sitting on a cloud without a care in the world, and not above talking down to a battered robotic opponent.
This issue has a lot of heavy lifting to do, taking us from the Garden of Eden all the way to maneuvering our extremely odd couple into place in the present day, and the creators make it happen with a deft hand. Pace delivers lush full interiors (all by himself) that slow the narrative pace to a crawl because the reader is forced to stop and admire the craftsmanship and detail. And, then, in a wonderful surprise, Kirk and Andy Troy pitch in on finishing and coloring the Earth pages, which lend contrast to the heavenly proceedings and help the scenes pop with superheroic dynamism.
Everything comes together in the last scene, when the creative team does nothing less than a slight retcon of the Crucifixion that nearly blinds the reader with Jesus Christ’s resonant and uplifting message of abiding forgiveness under even the most dire circumstances. This is such a fascinating pairing because so many people want to and have attached messianic subtext to the Man of Steel (even though he’s so much closer to Moses), and so putting the actual Messiah in the room to teach and learn from a character with those same attributes, there’s just so much strong character work to mine.
This is an important and thoughtful work that I highly recommend to all readers who are comfortable with adult language and tasteful nudity (and drunk-Thor playing the part of God, as noted above). I can’t wait to see what happens next. 5/5 Wooden Crosses.