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Comics can be Catholic.
BY ANGELO STAGNARO
When it comes
to comic books and science fiction, I am not alone when I proudly say I am a
geek of the first order. That geekdom has become magnified now that we are
seeing a steady stream of our favorite comic book heroes in cinematic
Mike Mignola’s Hellboy
II is a case in point.
came out this past summer, we could barely contain ourselves. That, and its 2004
predecessor Hellboy, are, without a doubt, the most
action-packed Catholic movies ever made.
With all deference to The
Robe and The Passion of the Christ,
Hollywood hasn’t made movies as authentically Catholic as the Hellboy
series since The Bells of St. Mary’s. Okay, maybe it is
a bit of hyperbole.
The lead character, for whom the
movies are named, is a denizen of another dimension who is pulled into our
world through the machinations of the evil sorcerer Rasputin in order to bring
This would-be destroyer of worlds is
rescued from that horrible fate and raised by a Catholic FBI agent who recruits
him to help defend the world from ultimate evil.
Both films, directed by Guillermo
del Toro with Ron Perlman in the title role, are not merely a nod to
Catholicism with hackneyed accoutrements poorly slapped together just to move
the plot along.
On the contrary, the movies are
profoundly Catholic with a clear Christian message of the importance of faith,
hope and love, forgiveness and the eternal struggle between good and evil.
Hellboy’s faith is the driving force
in his life. It offers him structure and guidance in times of moral confusion.
In fact, in the first movie, in a
moment of moral indecision, he was reminded of his duty to God by the sight of
his rosary’s crucifix searing into his otherwise flame-resistant hide.
In fact, like many Catholics,
Hellboy carries a rosary with him at all times. In Issue No. 3 of the comic,
while fishing through his pockets for an appropriate weapon against his
adversary, his beads fall out of his pocket.
Hellboy II, released
July 11, reminded me of how much Hollywood is indebted to Catholicism. We stand
as a symbol of hope in the struggle against evil. When flocks of vampires
attack your town, who are you going to call? Filmmakers know the presence of
the Church, whether portrayed positively or alas, negatively, as has been the
case for a generation or more, adds weight to a plot.
This convergence of art and faith is
a rich and fascinating one, especially in our secular times. Hellboy shows us a
way of making Catholicism accessible to the unchurched.
Many of us might remember how Marvel
published comic-style biographies of Pope John Paul II, St. Francis of Assisi
and Mother Teresa in the 1990s. British artist Rich Johnston’s “The Flying
Friar,” a graphic novel about St. Joseph of Cupertino, was an immediate
financial and artistic success. The Daughters of St. Paul published a 10-part
comic series on popular saints including Joan of Arc, Martin de Porres,
Maximilian Kolbe and Thérèse of Lisieux.
Even Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy
Dolan, understanding the power that this art form can command, had himself
redrawn in a comics-style character that greets young readers to the kids’ page
of his archdiocesan newspaper the Catholic Herald.
Sean Pryor, a graphic novelist in
New York City, spoke recently on the topic of religion in comics.
“A growing trend in graphic novels
and comics is to portray spirituality, which is something that was largely
avoided in the early days of comics,” he explained. “Religion is all the vogue
in the graphic novel and comics medium and is definitely here to stay.”
In the comic book multiverse, you
can find nearly 140 Catholic superheroes, 17 Muslim superheroes and
approximately 120 Jewish ones. Consider some of the well-known Catholic
n Erasmus possesses the most
powerful mind in the world, and his Catholic spirituality directs him as to how
to best use his gifts to fight against those who subvert justice and terrorize
n Daredevil (aka Matt Murdock) is
the blind superhero played by Ben Affleck in the film adaptation.
n El Gato Negro is a
n Nightcrawler (aka Kurt Wagner)
is a demonic-looking, blue-skinned superhero with fangs, pointy ears, a forked
take and crooked dog legs. He also had studied for the priesthood.
Nightcrawler’s devotion to Christ
and the Blessed Mother, his heroic understanding of love and justice, and a
keen understanding of the difference between good and evil, make him an
excellent Christian superhero. He even prays for his enemies.
n The Punisher (aka Frank Castle)
is a former Catholic seminary student. It’s understandable where and how he got
his unshakable sense of justice.
n Both the Hulk (aka Bruce Banner)
and his wife, Betty Ross, are Catholic. In fact, Banner almost became a priest.
on the list goes. You can find an unofficial listing at
Adherents.com/lit/comics. Parents take note, however: These movies and their
comic book counterparts are often geared for teens and older.
In order to make the fictional
characters who artistically represent our deepest hopes and struggles appear
more human, they are frequently depicted as being seekers of religious truth.
If not, it would be difficult to
explain the characters’ certitude as to the true nature of good and evil and
how they fit into the grand scheme of things. How else does a hero identify the
source of his knowledge of good and evil?
Stagnaro writes from New York City.