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The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
Antoine Sharpe
The Atheist


Despite being nicknamed "The Atheist," it is not entirely clear that Antoine Sharpe is, in fact, an atheist. The character is clearly skeptical, but whether or not he actually is an atheist or identifies himself as an atheist is a matter of debate.

In the first issue of The Atheist, writer Phil Hester admits that the title character of The Atheist is not an "atheist proper." Hester states that Antoine Sharpe is really more of a "skeptic," but that The Skeptic would not have been as "cool" of a title for his comic book series.

Phil Hester identifies himself as the "opposite" of an atheist, although he has many friends who are atheists.

Jeff Swenson's review of The Atheist provides an excellent analysis of the Antoine Sharpe "Atheist" character from an atheist perspective. Swenson regards both the overall comic book and the Antoine Sharpe character as non-atheistic in portrayal and worldview. Swenson regards The Atheist as a missed opportunity that unjustifiably uses up a name which would would have been better utilized by an actual atheist comic book writer. Swenson wonders who the market for this series could possibly be, as it presents is written from a clearly non-atheistic worldview, features a character who essentially comes to "see the light" about the error of his purely rationalistic/materialistic views, and yet has a title which is certain to dissuade traditionally religious, spiritually-oriented and non-atheist readers from even picking it up.

From: Mike Storniolo, The Atheist #1 description page, posted 12 April 2005, on Silver Bullet Comic Books website (http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/news/11133440864788.htm; viewed 22 December 2005):

The Atheist #1
April 13 marks the official release date of the first issue of the new Desperado Publishing series, The Atheist, written by Phil Hester and featuring art by John McCrea. Published through Image Comics, The Atheist #1 is the first issue of an ongoing, bi-monthly black and white series.

Series creator Phil Hester describes his series this way: "Antoine Sharpe is called the Atheist by his fellow employees in the office of the undersecretary of defense for emergent technology, a government team of debunkers. He couldn't give a fig about belief or lack thereof, but his teammates can't get a handle on his relentless skepticism and tag him such.

"The first story arc - "Incarnate" - is about how Sharpe reacts to the first case he can't debunk. It concerns possession, a far-fetched concept, but the case studies Sharpe encounters prove unimpeachable. The possessed haven't been taken over by demons, but by the souls of the dearly departed wishing one more spin in a human body. The dead long to party and they're coming back by the thousands. They don't want to eat brains, but do Jell-o shots and get laid in an intense bacchanalia of fast living, leaving burned out husks behind.

"Sharpe sets out to prove the menace has an earthly origin, but supernatural or not, it's a crisis that threatens to swallow civilization whole."...

"The Atheist is a vehicle for exploring some offbeat horror and science fiction concepts that don't easily fit into a mainstream comic," Hester said. "I'm trying to introduce a character that doesn't necessarily have an appealing demeanor, but a voracious and uncompromising logic that lets him cut through any problem like a scalpel. A badass Dr. Who. If none of that interests you, at least come check out John McCrea's pretty pictures. He's trotted out a new style that will surprise and please a lot of readers."

To learn more about The Atheist and other Desperado Publishing series, log onto: www.desperadopublishing.com.

From: "Comic Religion", published in The Revealer (Daily Review of Religion and the Press), 20 March 2006 (http://www.therevealer.org/archives/timely_002486.php; viewed 25 April 2006):
A visit to the comic book store reveals dueling impulses in pop culture religion: Atheist, in which our hero is a genius unbeliever doing battle with a host of demons he'll defeat through the power of rationalism; and American Virgin, in which our hero is chaste youth minister doing battle with televangelists and terrorists he'll defeat through the power of his untouched genitals. Sample dialogue from Atheist: "My dear, I don't believe in anything. I know, or I do not know. Belief is worthless." From American Virgin (to an evil prostitute who asks our hero who he's saving himself for): "It's God. And he's special as it gets."
From: Alex Johnson, "At the comics shop, religion goes graphic: Judeo-Christian themes woven into comic books you might not expect", published on MSNBC.com, 25 April 2006 (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12376831/; viewed 2 May 2006); re-posted by Worldwide Religious News (http://wwrn.org/article.php?idd=21302; viewed 2 May 2006):
...One of the more talked-about comic book debuts in recent years was the introduction last year of Antoine Sharpe, a government agent who rejects all things supernatural, by Desperado Publishing and Image Comics.

Sharpe's rigid devotion to rationalism ("If your God falls out of Heaven tomorrow I'll walk up, shake his hand, tug his beard, ask him who shot JFK, and then I'll know God. Until then, he does not exist.") provides his nickname around the office - and the name of the series: "The Atheist."...

The conversion of 'The Atheist'
To a certain extent, the same thing [that happened to the "Reverend Stryker" character from X-Men comics and film] has happened to "The Atheist." When issues 4 and 5 appear, probably later this year, the title will have been de-emphasized, and it will eventually be branded exclusively as "Antoine Sharpe," said Phil Hester, the series' creator and writer.

Because of the series' title and Hester's reputation as an illustrator (he is perhaps best known for artistically invigorating the mainstream characters Green Arrow and Swamp Thing), "The Atheist" generated buzz even before the first issue was released last year. From the beginning, television and the movies were intrigued, but the TV talks fizzled, Hester said.

"The TV people were like, 'Look, there's not going to be any sort of "The Atheist" brought to you by Ford,'" he said from his home in Iowa. "'I don't think we're going to be able to round up sponsors with this title.'"

That wasn't a problem for Hester, who was already rethinking the title. For one thing, the story line isn't religious, and "The Atheist" raised expectations among readers that Hester wasn't prepared to fulfill. In effect, the title had become bigger than the story.

"I think people were expecting bigger answers," he said. "And I just thought it was a cool name. I just wanted to present this character with an impenetrably skeptical, logical world view and throw him into these unexplainable paranormal events."

More striking were the letters Hester got, most of them positive. But a few "sort of got to me," he said. They were from teens who were "taking a lot of grief in their school life for their world view."

They didn't care so much about the book being reflective of their world view, but they thought the fact that any horror comic book that had that title sort of reinforced some negative stereotypes about their world view," Hester said. "And after thinking about it, I could not argue with that point. I agreed."

Hester said the running conversation drove home to him that "we're all individuals." In his letters, "no two people had the same understanding of what being a Baptist was like, and no two other people had an understanding of what being an atheist was like. All these belief systems were unique to each individual.

"That's sort of the way we as creators are like," he added. "We're doing the best we can to express ourselves. We're not always going to represent your point of view."

The positive thing, he said, is that the topic can be discussed rationally today. While he probably won't do so with "Antoine Sharpe," Hester said he wouldn't hesitate to take on an explicitly religious story some other time: "I don't want to be bound by what my comic can and can't do. If I want to explore it, it will go in that direction."

Today, "creators feel they have that freedom," he said. "Whether or not they're using it in an effective way is another issue, but at least creators feel like they can explore all these issues."

Excerpts from: Jeff Swenson, "Review of The Atheist Comic Book Series", posted 17 May 2006 on The Institute for Humanist Studies website (http://humaniststudies.org/enews/index.php?id=242&article=9; viewed 8 June 2006):
[When] I read the first issue and I became pissed off. The creator/writer Phil Hester says in a letter to the reader in the back that he is not out to offend atheists... he squandered a perfectly good idea -- the idea of a genius black atheist who encounters cults and battles pseudoscience -- and turns it into a dead-take-possession-of-the-living rehash of countless horror movies.

Who... is the target audience here? If you're going to create a great atheist character and splash the title on the cover, don't you think your goal would be to attract an atheist audience that would readily pay their hard earned cash for it, plus spread the word about the comic to other like-minded individuals? The atheist community talks to each other like you wouldn't believe. They are also widely known to be comic book and science-fiction fans. You just alienated what I would consider to be your target audience.

So no, Phil, as an atheist I'm not offended by your characterization or your story. Fact is, the first part of the story where we meet this "hardcore skeptic" is quite enjoyable. It's when you take that character and then throw his -- or rather our -- worldview away that this story becomes a major disappointment. It's just another repetitive concept of the hardened skeptic coming to terms with the supernatural that he must believe in because the evidence has become overwhelming and empirical... You even say that this character is not an "atheist proper." And thus why did you name the character "The Atheist?" Here's what you say:

"I am not an atheist. I am the opposite. I believe in nearly everything, many of those things demonstrably false. I am happily bewildered. If you, dear reader, are an atheist and the title of this story offends you I can only ask your forgiveness. The Atheist simply sounds much cooler than The Skeptic or The Logician and I sure want my comic to be cool. Most of the atheists I know, just like most of the religious folks, are swell."

Discussion

From: reader comments to "Godless Sunday" blog post on Pharyngula [subtitled: "Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal"] blog (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/03/godless_sunday.php; viewed 26 April 2006):
Posted by: Orac | March 19, 2006 08:19 PM

I've actually read The Atheist. Sadly, it's just OK. Also, unless I missed something in the first issue, it never really says explicitly whether Antoine Sharp is an atheist or not; that's just his nickname.


Posted by: Roman Werpachowski | March 20, 2006 01:11 AM

[Quoting the blog post] "There aren't many atheists, I'm afraid, but there is actually a hero called The Atheist, whose super-power is 'a voracious and uncompromising logic that lets him cut through any problem like a scalpel'."

Since when does being an atheist implies posessing "a voracious and uncompromising logic etc"?


Posted by: windy | March 20, 2006 04:21 AM

Does wearing blue tights imply that you can fly, or do all wolverines have retractable adamantium claws? Lighten up, this superhero stuff isn't logical :)

Plus, that scalpel stuff sounds like it was inspired by Occam's razor, and as we all know he was a monk... So I'm sure nobody's claiming the principle is limited to atheists.

From: Abby Scott, "Complete with Utility Belt Carrying a Calculator and Ennui," posted 22 June 2006 on "Abby Scott does tend to go on" blog website (http://abbyscott.blogspot.com/2006/06/complete-with-utility-belt-carrying.html; viewed 22 June 2006):
I grew up in a strong athiestic [sic] tradition...

The above is a link to a list of the religions of many of our comic book heroes. Quite cool, actually...

But where are the athiests [sic]? I'll tell you. Banished to the world of villains.

In the athiest [sic] pile we have Lex Luthor, The Joker, Two-Face, Kingpin, Green Goblin, Sabretooth. Sabretooth?? Yeah, I love that issue where he tears apart intelligent design before ripping the president's arm off.

I guess anyone that murders is assumed to be athiest [sic]...

There was a comic book that premiered a year ago called The Athiest [sic], about a skeptic that works in a government think tank. But according to the creator, The Athiest [sic] is not actually an athiest [sic]. Bah.

So I've created my own superhero.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you... Atheialady!

...Coming soon to a comic shop near you! Or not.

[Note: This blogger seems to have looked at this website with some haste. The page she refers to lists many atheist superheroes, while the overwhelming majority of super-villains listed on the site are not atheists. Furthermore, characters are not presumed to be atheists purely because they are murderers. It is certainly true that most murderous villains depicted in comics are not portrayed as having any traditional religious affiliation or belief, and they frequently espouse philosophies which identify them as atheists. But there are many exceptions to this trend, as noted on our website.

Another observation: It is not uncommon for people, including self-described atheists, to misspell the word atheist as "athiest." Normally we correct this misspelling before posting excerpts on this website. In this case, we left the spelling as we found it, because it seems ironic for a person who "grew up in a strong athiest tradition" to misspell the tradition she so strongly identifies with. Not excerpted here are a few paragraphs in which this blogger recounts experiences growing up in a strongly atheistic family, including her feelings of resentment towards non-atheists - feelings which festered further when she attended a Catholic high school. Once again, none of this has been copied here for purposes of ridiculing this blogger. The irony is entertaining, but not unique. Many atheists misspell the word "atheist," but they probably do this no more so than people from other faith traditions, such as the many Episcopalians who misspell "Episcopalian." It is clear that neither spelling errors nor super-villainy are confined to any single religious group - atheist or otherwise.]

From: "The Church of Superman" forum discussion started 19 June 2006 on the "James Randi Educational Foundation" website (http://www.randi.org/forumlive/showthread.php?t=58627; viewed 15 May 2007):

19th June 2006, 06:03 AM
headscratcher4

The Church of Superman
http://adherents.com/lit/comics/comic_book_religion.html

Hmmmm... the "religious" affiliations of comic book characters. Huh?


19th June 2006, 08:32 AM
c4ts

There is this guy called "The Atheist," who is listed as an agnostic!
http://adherents.com/lit/comics/Atheist.html

...One more thing:
http://adherents.com/lit/comics/MrChristian.html [URL for a profile of a superhero named "Mr. Christian."]

So does this mean The Atheist is his archenemy?

From: "Question about Magneto" forum discussion, started 12 May 2006 on "Giant in the Playground" website (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-15296.html; viewed 17 July 2007):

The Vorpal Tribble
05-12-2006, 11:31 PM

What's funny is there's a site somewhere that lists the majority of comic book characters by religion, because apparently they each had one.

Just found it:
http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/comic_book_religion.html


Dhavaer
05-12-2006, 11:44 PM

Incredulousness aside, why is there a question mark beside Mr Atheist's religion? Surely a man who calls himself 'Mr Atheist' is pretty unarguably an atheist.


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