Jesus versus the vampires

After yesterday’s all-out frontal assault on a dubious scientific journal (which, by the way, you should still read if you haven’t already), how about some lighter fare for today?

A couple of months ago, when the fury of fundamentalist Muslims was directed at Denmark for the publication by one of its newspapers of cartoons portraying the Prophet Mohammed, I wrote articles arguing that freedom of speech demands that religion not be exempt from criticism or satire. Indeed, religion is such a powerful and pervasive influence on so many people and societies that freedom of speech almost demands that it be as much a target of frank discussion, criticism, and, yes, satire.

I couldn’t help but think about that incident when I came across an announcement about a new comic book featuring Jesus that is scheduled to be released just before Easter.

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Yes, Chicagoan Tim Seeley is publishing a comic entitled Loaded Bible: Jesus vs. The Vampires.

I have to give him props for a cool title, anyway, although his timing is rather obvious.

Here’s what Loaded Bible, a story that Seeley compares to Blade Runner and I Am Legend, is about:

“Loaded Bible” is set in the near future in a dark, dystopian world. “After 9/11, Americans become more insular, more routed in Christian faith, to the point where church and state become inseparable.

So far, it doesn’t sound all that far-fetched to me. Let’s continue on to the less plausible stuff:

Then, one day, we find out that vampires exist. And from there, everything goes to hell,” Seeley explained. “Bible takes place in the aftermath of a nuclear war with the Vampire Nation. The last outpost of humanity is a giant theocratic church-state called New Vatican City. Vampires are everywhere, most of them starving due to a lack of human prey. They’re getting desperate. And then, our boy Jesus comes along.”

Seeley is keeping mum on the details of Christ’s return, but Jesus finds himself thrust into a world where living up to the role of Savior of mankind won’t be an easy task. “Our Jesus is as much based on what I could find out about the real Christ as possible, combined with a sort of Snake Plissken bad ass hero. He’s a good person – a thinker, a progressive. But, he’s responsible for all these people, who all look to him to save them. It makes him sort of tortured hero – a guy with the weight of the world on his shoulders who covers it up with brash confidence.”

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Uh-oh. Jesus as “tortured hero”? That sounds dangerously close to cliché, although the fanboy slumbering in me finds the concept of Jesus as a Snake Plissken-style badass hard to resist. I’m also a bit skeptical about the choice of New Vatican City. After all, if any religious group is likely to impose a theocracy in the U.S., it probably won’t be Catholics. More likely it would be the religious right evangelicals who now control the Republican Party. In any case, the world of Loaded Bible sounds reminiscent of the world created by Matt Wagner for his comic series Grendel, specifically the storyline entitled God and the Devil, originally published in the late 1980’s. In this world, America was also a Catholic theocracy (albeit also ruled by corporations), and this time its fictional capital was known as Vatican Ouest and located in Colorado. There’s also the parallel that there were vampires in Wagner’s story; indeed, Pope Innocent XLII was in actuality a vampire in disguise, using the power of the Papacy for his own nefarious ends. From the description above, it almost sounds as though Seeley appropriated this world and added a vampire-hunting Jesus to the mix.

How do I know all this? Well, buried in my garage are boxes full of comics, among which are many of the Grendel titles, which I used to read avidly, of course. Maybe I should go back and dig them out to read again. They are among the very best comics I ever came across, and I have the original issues

Seeley’s idea is just crazy enough that it could work. Or it could be a huge mess. It’s difficult to tell which it will be just from the description; so here’s some more:

Some people might wonder what kind of special skills the Jewish carpenter possesses to aid him in his crusade against the vile, blood sucking hordes. “Well, he’s Jesus. I mean, just the image of a cross fucks with vampires,” Seeley stated. “Imagine what the actual guy who hung from it can do. Three words….holy water spit.”

Now we’re talking! If you’re going to be sacriligious, then be sacriligious! And throw in a lot of fight scenes with vampires while you’re at it! Preferably scantily clad female vampires.

Of course, this whole comic sounds like the sort of silly adolescent intentional sacrilege that I would on occasion read (and still on occasion find myself purchasing even now, I must admit). It’s clearly designed to annoy highly religious types and to appeal to adolescent boys’ sense of rebellion and love of descriptions like, “Contrary to what the heavy metal band Slayer would have you believe, Jesus saves everyone; not through sermons, but by kicking some undead ass!”

Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Finally, given the intentionally sacriligious nature of this comic, you’d think that serious Christians might react pretty angrily to this.

You’d be wrong for the most part. In fact, the only Christian reaction I could find to this comic was surprisingly mild, with a few e-mail attacks, a thread on a discussion board that drifted into discussions of the Crusades, and a relatively neutral commentary in Christian Today, concluding:

Whether intentional or not, comic books and their superheroes have regularly dealt with spiritual themes of temptation, transgression, sacrifice and redemption, said Gregg Garrett, author of “Holy Superheroes: Exploring Faith and Spirituality in Comic Books.”

“You don’t have to look too hard to realize that Superman is Jesus, a messiah figure sent to Earth by a powerful father to help human beings,” said Garrett, an English professor at Baptist-affiliated Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and a master’s student at an Episcopal seminary in Austin.

“One of the things comics do is to give us this good versus evil conflict, and they do it in a larger-than-life way, which is one of the reasons it is such a valuable place to look for spiritual lessons.”

I can’t help but wonder how Muslims would have reacted if this comic had portrayed Mohammed as a butt-kicking vampire slayer.