Second Coming #1 is out this Wednesday from Ahoy Comics, and Monkeys Fighting Robots got the chance to speak with writer Mark Russell about his thought process behind the series and what fans should expect.
The series is by Russell and artist Richard Pace, with finishes by Leonard Kirk and colors by Andy Troy on the scenes set on present-day Earth. Rob Steen letters the book. The main cover is by Amanda Conner and Paul Mounts.
As the name suggests, this is a story about the second coming of Jesus Christ, who returns to Earth in the present-day and moves in with the world’s greatest superhero, Sunstar (who strongly resembles a very famous character we’ll call “Blooperman”). Upon returning, the son of God is taken back at how the world has twisted his gospel into something “as un-Christlike as one can possibly imagine.”
DC Comics was originally slated to release Second Coming under its Vertigo imprint, but dropped the title earlier this year following some controversy. Luckily, Russell and Pace retained the rights to the property, and Ahoy Comics picked it up for publication soon after the cancelation.
Read on for our interview with Russell about Second Coming, the transition to Ahoy, his writing as a whole, and more!
Monkeys Fighting Robots: A lot of people heard the premise for Second Coming and immediately labeled it as “blasphemous.” But after reading it, it actually feels like you’re celebrating Jesus’ message of peace, love, and forgiveness, not mocking it. If anything, I’d say it’s more blasphemous of superhero comics, saying that these characters we idolize have been solving problems the wrong way for their entire existence. Would you agree?
Mark Russell: Yeah, I think that’s about the gist of it. It’s about rediscovering empathy, not as some sappy ideal or something we reserve for our private lives, but as a necessary ingredient for solving the very real problems of the world. For example, the global refugee crisis is not a problem that can be solved by super-strength or seeing through walls, but only with empathy and genuine concern for people we may not even know. And attempts to address these problems with force only make them worse, as can be seen by the situation on our southern border. The superhero solution of just overpowering the forces of evil (which is also sometimes necessary) only really works for a very limited set of problems. It’s about broadening our understanding of what really constitutes power.
MFR: What’s your history with religion? Were you raised in a religious household/environment, and how did your background influence Second Coming?
Russell: I was raised in what would today be considered a pretty average evangelical church. Which is to say, a church that had demoted Christ from spiritual leader to team mascot. The first comics I ever read were Chick tracts which combined right wing conspiracy theories about Catholics and Freemasons with detailed and often gleeful explanations of why everyone else was going to hell. What little of Christ’s empathy and kindness was left was reserved for other people in the church. I think people often use kindness and good deeds for people like them to buffer themselves from questions of conscience about their inhumanity toward people who aren’t. But ultimately, as Christ points out in the parable of the Good Samaritan, everyone is our neighbor. This is a big theme in Second Coming. How far modern Christianity has drifted from Christ.
MFR: What did you learn about comics from a business perspective amidst Second Coming’s shift from DC to Ahoy? What was your positive takeaway from the experience?
Russell: The industry is always in flux. The corporate landscape shifts under our feet in ways we can’t really foresee and the market is always in motion so doing work you believe in is really the only stability you can count on. There’s no point in chasing trends or trying to catch lightning in a bottle because the market will have moved on to something else by the time your project hits the shelves. So just do work that matters to you and that will be relevant to you for years to come so when the rug is pulled out from under you, you can bide your time and eventually find a home with other people who believe in the work the same way you do.
MFR: Has the move to Ahoy allowed you to take the story to new places that you wouldn’t have been able to previously? What kind of changes were made to Second Coming following the transition?
Russell: For one, we were allowed to expand the first issue from twenty-two to thirty pages, which was huge. It allowed us to tell a more complete story and really give people a stronger sense of what this series is all about right off the bat. Which I think was really important given how much the narrative had already been set by pundits and people who hadn’t even read it. Also, it allowed us to bring Leonard Kirk on board as a finishing artist and both Richard and I are very happy with the impact he’s had on the look of the series.
MFR: Can you speak at all about your depiction of God in the story? He had me cracking up from the first page, when he appears as a terrifying, disembodied giant head screaming at Adam and Eve not to be afraid. The idea of God as an angry, spiteful deity isn’t new, but your version of God does feel flawed in a very real, relatable way.
Russell: God is depicted differently in the Bible depending on who’s doing the writing, but the Jahwist depiction of God resonates the most with me. It sees God as being a lot like us, but all-powerful. Which, yes, is a terrifying thought. This is the God who gets angry enough to flood the Earth, but then sort of feels bad about it afterwards, who makes impetuous bets with Satan, that sort of thing. And it’s not that God is spiteful, per se, but that he’s capable of great emotion. This is the God I wanted to use as the backdrop to Christ’s mission. A God that created the human race, but then got so frustrated and heartbroken that he abandoned them. Which is much the way that Jeremiah and other prophets describe what happened. It’s how they explain the Babylonian captivity and, in my story, it’s what opens the way for Christ to come to Earth and try his hand at the family business.
MFR: Why was Richard Pace the right person to tell this story with? His art feels very biblical, especially in the flashback scenes with the muted color palette.
Russell: Richard is really great with both the epic sweep of events dealing with superheroes and gods, but also very adept at capturing the intimate emotions of characters in their facial expressions and body language, the latter being the most important thing I look for in an artist.
MFR: Your comics are often supercharged with social/political/economic themes, but they always feel naturally woven into the story. How do you approach inserting these ideas into your comics without coming off as “preachy?”
Russell: I think if a writer genuinely cares about the characters they’re writing and the messages come organically out of the characters’ lives and struggles, the fact that there are bigger themes and messages at play doesn’t feel preachy. By having compassion for what these characters are going through in their own albeit fictional world, we allow ourselves to expand our own.
MFR: And what comes first in your process: the story idea, or the message that you hope to get across?
Russell: It varies. Sometimes, I get a story idea and it’s not until I’m almost done writing that I figure out what it is I’m actually trying to say with the story. Other times, there’s something I really want to say and I have to work at coming up with an elegant metaphor for my point and once I have it, elegant or not, the metaphor is what drives the story.
MFR: Why are comics the way you’ve chosen to get your messages out into the world? What speaks to you about them compared to other mediums?
Russell: You can get away with more in comics because the financial stakes are lower. You don’t have a team of executives constantly looking over your shoulder or focus-grouping your work the way you would if you were doing a TV series or movie. And the fact that it’s a monthly medium means that you get to tell a lot of different stories within the same title and if one falls flat, you get a another chance a month later. Comics allows me to simultaneously spend my days performing thought experiments on the biggest problems in the world and my deepest personal fears.
MFR: And finally, can you give readers a taste of what’s to come in Second Coming? The world’s changed a lot since Jesus first tried to spread his message. Between the development of nuclear weapons, the internet, and a couple of thousand years’ worth of other advancements, things have gotten significantly more complicated. Is Jesus going to have to address these hurdles?
Russell: Yes, but the first big hurdle to Jesus is having to fix just how wrong the world has gotten his message. So, of course, this runs him afoul of the mega-churches and institutionalized religions. Sunstar and his girlfriend are trying to adopt, but run into problems because, technically, he isn’t a human being. And we get to see Heaven’s food court.
Thanks again to Mark Russell for taking the time to talk with us!
Are you excited for Second Coming? Let us know in the comments! And read our review of the first issue right here!