In Mark Russell’s Second Coming (with art by Richard Pace), Jesus Christ comes back to earth with a superhero as his mentor and roommate, after God deems his first return to earth a failure. The humor comic was controversial from the start, so much so that even before the first issue came out, an online petition cropped up calling for DC, the original publisher, to cancel it.
Instead, DC returned the rights to Russell, and the series was picked up by the startup indie publisher Ahoy Comics in July 2019. The first volume of the collected trade paperback edition was published on March 10, and Russell, who is also the writer of God Is Disappointed in You, the political satire Prez, and the DC version of The Flintsones, said there is more to come.
You have written several books about Christianity. Where does that interest come from?
Well, I grew up in a fundamentalist evangelical household which believed in some pretty transparently ridiculous things. We had a book in our home library proving that Christ was coming back in 1979. And another one proving that he was coming back in 1983, so on and so forth. So it didn't take me long to dismiss that religion and its Bible as anything worth taking seriously. But I was talking to a friend about my upbringing one day and he said something that sort of nagged at me. He said, "Are you sure you didn't swear off barbers just because you had one bad haircut?"
And as I was writing God Is Disappointed in You, my book about the Bible, I realized that, in a way, he was right. There was actually a lot of profound wisdom in the Bible, and in the teachings of Christ, that I had sort of cavalierly written off simply because it had first been presented to me in such an unintelligent way. So a lot of my work since then has been about rediscovering what's great about the Bible and Christianity and my incredulity at how badly it's been mangled in order to sell prayer cloths, survival beans, and right wing politicians.
How did you first get the idea to juxtapose a superhero and Jesus Christ?
It was actually the combination of two ideas. I had an idea for one story about a superhero realizing just how few of his problems could be solved by, you know, being able to fly or punch out a bear. And another story about Christ returning to Earth to discover how wrong everyone had gotten Christianity. But it occurred to me that these were really two sides of the same coin. They were both telling a story about the futility of power and the need, now more than ever, to find our solutions in the simple human connections that have made survival possible for humans since the beginning.
There’s a real social justice subtext to your work. How do you come by that?
Like most writers, I tend to write about the things that worry me. That keep me up at night. The things that could forever tip over the canoe of human civilization. And our utter failure at valuing other human beings seems to be at the core of a lot of those worries. As we are seeing now from the Covid-19 pandemic, "social justice" isn't really optional if we wish to keep surviving on this planet.
Humans are, by nature, a social species and our individual survival depends on the well-being of the entire group. If we don't prioritize the survival of the other people in our group, we endanger our own. There's a line in The Flintstones, where Fred risks his life to save a guy he barely knows, who's buried under a rock slide. Fred explains his seemingly irrational decision to Mr Slate saying, "If civilization is to last, if it is to amount to anything, it will only be because we have learned to do one thing... to care about those who mean nothing to us." That's my position on social justice in a nutshell.
You have imagined Jesus as more of a Sunday school version than historically accurate. Why did you go with this look, rather than making him darker-skinned and darker-haired?
This is primarily a story based on Christ as he appears in the Bible and in the imaginations of his followers. It's not really our intention to do a historically accurate depiction of life in Judea in the first century.
Are you planning a followup?
Yes. We are currently at work on a second season of Second Coming (Third Coming?) which will deal more with Sunstar's [the superhero] childhood and Christ's attempt to spread his word and find disciples on Earth the second time around.
Have you gotten any criticism or condemnation of Second Coming?
There has been a fair amount of condemnation of this book, ironically, almost all of it coming out before the book was published by people who hadn't even had the chance to read it yet. Thankfully, the response since the book has come out has been much more positive. Luckily, once people read it for themselves, they seem to get it.