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The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
Xi'an Coy Manh
of the New Mutants
When Karma (whose real name is Xi'an Coy Manh) was introduced, she was portrayed by New Mutants creator Chris Claremont as a devout, churchgoing Catholic.
Recent depictions of Karma in the pages of New Mutants (volume 2) and New X-Men have made no apparent reference to Karma's Catholicism, but instead portray her as a lesbian.
Nunzio DeFilippis, the co-creator and writer of the New X-Men characters (for whom Karma was a teacher and supporting cast member), was raised by a "lapsed Catholic" father - lapsed because of his disagreement over Catholic teachings regarding GLBT activity.
From: Nunzio DeFillipis, "Re: New X-Men Q & A" message, posted 15 September 2004 on ComixFan.com website (http://www.comixfan.com/xfan/forums/showthread.php?t=29801&page=19&pp=20; viewed 2006):
I know that there are people who do not believe in evolution... My father has his doubts on evolution, actually. And I consider him tolerant, open-minded and very intelligent.
His argument (while also citing the evidence issue you do) is that the world is too complex and beautiful to have been the result of random mutation. He's a lapsed Catholic (lapsed because the church let him down by not accepting my gay brother) and I think he retains a strong spirituality. He likes to believe that God had a plan in creating the world...
Note that many characters written or created by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir in New Mutants (volume 2) and New X-Men incorporate pointedly GLBT themes. Many readers regard DeFilippis/Weir stories as entertaining, despite being laden with GLBT apologia. The DeFilippis/Weir issues of New Mutants and New X-Men simply continue the pair's standard pattern of using GLBT themes, which they have done in mainstream comics as well as in independent works such as the graphic novel Past Lies.
Excerpts from: "Are Superheroes Religious?" forum page, started 13 May 2004, in "The John Byrne Forum" section of the Byrne Robotics website (http://jb.24-7intouch.com/forum/get_topic.asp?FID=3&TID=558&DIR=P; viewed 9 January 2006):
13 May 2004
Catholic folks... Firebird (Bonita Juarez), Jeanne Marie Baubier (Aurora), Daredevil, Living Lightning, Karma (was, not sure if she's still practicing), Dagger (Cloak's partner), Banshee, Siryn?, Sunspot
Excerpts from: "Religion/Spirituality" discussion page, started 29 November 2003, on ComixFan.com website (http://www.comixfan.com/xfan/forums/archive/index.php/t-24121.html; viewed 10 January 2006):
From: "Religion of the X-Men" message board started 15 May 2005 on Comic Book Resources website (http://forums.comicbookresources.com/archive/index.php/t-58362.html; viewed 13 June 2006):
Feb 5, 2004, 02:49 pm
Mutants and religion can go hand in hand... But in my mind, if you want a strong Christian character searching for answers and divine help, then you can't go wrong with the original New Mutants series. Specifically, Rahne Sinclair...
Other strong religious characters include (of the X-Men variety): Dani Moonstar (Cheyenne/Norwegian beliefs), Kitty Pryde (Jewish)... Kurt (Catholic), Shan Coy Manh (Catholic)...
When handled respectfully and appropriately, religion (of any flavor) can add a whole new level of impact and insight to comic book stories. When badly or sloppily handled, it can very easily turn into mockery of whatever point it was trying to make.
Feb 6, 2004, 03:09 pm
[Wolfsbane is a] much, much better example [of a religious character than Nightcrawler] because Wolfsbane's religious beliefs were written as being a very strong part of the character - always. Kitty, Shan [i.e., Xi'an], and Amara are the only others that I would include.
From: "(OFFTOPIC) Sleepwalker and a RANT!" thread started 9 April 1996 on rec.arts.comics.marvel.xbooks newsgroup (http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.comics.marvel.xbooks/browse_thread/thread/530027d02cbeb884/7c688dd20f2f433c; viewed 13 June 2006):
05-15-2005, 05:56 PM
Do you ever wonder what religion an X-Man is? I know they are just characters, but still, just for the fun of it.
I am wondering if you could guess their religion by their character, or what they've said, etc.
The Lucky One
05-15-2005, 07:38 PM
...As for [other] characters...
Karma, Sunspot - Catholic...
From: "X-Men religious affiliations" thread started 1 June 2002 on rec.arts.comics.marvel.xbooks newsgroup (http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.comics.marvel.xbooks/browse_thread/thread/78e6830d00083d2f/102a03cd2dab9fda; viewed 13 June 2006):
Date: Wed, Apr 10 1996 12:00 am
Say, this [religious affiliations of the X-Men] would be a neat thread. My memory doesn't really remember a lot of the X-Men having stated a religion... Anyone know any issues where a X-Member professed his/her religion?
From: Sarah Anne Yost
Date: Fri, Apr 12 1996 12:00 am
I remember an old NM [New Mutants volume 1] when they used to have halfway decent lettercols [letter columns] where they gave all of the current members' religions:
Amara - Roman beliefs
Rahne - something like "Scots Presbyterian"
Roberto and Xi'an were both Catholic
Cannonball was some sort of Christian
Dani naturally had Cheyenne beliefs
From: Chris Dodson
From: "Atheist superheroes?" thread, started 21 September 1999 on rec.arts.comics.marvel.universe newsgroup (http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.comics.marvel.universe/browse_thread/thread/e8d686f0b20944a6/4d0bf3df5f0c4e8d; viewed 23 June 2006):
Date: Sat, Jun 1 2002 9:38 pm
I'm looking for information on the religious beliefs of all the current X-Men...
From: Jim Longo
Date: Mon, Jun 3 2002 10:09 am
...Karma, I think, was a converted Catholic.
Date: Tues, Jun 4 2002 8:18 pm
Karma's Christian, possibly Catholic. I seem to recall that it was these beliefs that led her to leave her younger siblings in the care of Father Michael Bowen (Nightcrawler's priest and Dagger's uncle).
From: Luis Dantas
Date: Mon, Jun 10 2002 8:29 pm
...it is not too unlikely for Karma to be a Christian... What is unlikely is that she would choose such an un-Christian codename as "Karma" for herself.
Truth be told, this word has been abused to such a degree that she would perhaps be even less likely to choose it as a codename if she were Buddhist or Hindu.
From: Brian Doyle
Date: Tues, Jun 11 2002 2:34 am
Xi'an got her name for a reason other than the purely religious. She and her twin brother had identical powers, but he used his in a psychotic manner for thie crime boss uncle. She wore a "yang" symbol on he outfit, he wore a "yin", representing the duality and oppositeness of their gender, natures but codependence as twins.
Ultimately, she had (via some inexplicable means) to absorb her brother completely, physically and mentally and his symbol appeared on her outfit as he vanished into her. She was a living representative of balance; good and evil, male and female etc etc, and so represents karma in very real sense.
I think she took the name as it was the best word she knew to represent what she had become.
During her time with the New Mutants I don't think we ever saw any ramifications of what she did to her brother, but some reference may have been made in her post-NM appearances.
From: Luis Dantas
Date: Wed, Jun 12 2002 2:45 am
...I still find it weird that she would have such a lot of references to non-Christian beliefs in her first appearance (Marvel Team-Up #100 IIRC) and still suddenly become a Catholic out of the blue. I consider that a characterization flaw.
From: Uli Kusterer
Date: Wed, Jun 12 2002 8:49 am
In my opinion that wouldn't be weird:
I'm Catholic, but I am very interested in other religions, and their beliefs. So much in fact, that I have no problem using such names for characters in stories I write or as working names for programs I code. In fact, I met a good number of Muslims who really appeared to be interested (and very well-informed, at that) in other belief systems, from Christianity, to Buddhism on to ones I'd never heard of before.
Just because you believe in one thing, doesn't mean you can't respect or at least develop an interest in other belief systems, or use their terminology for things that your vocabulary doesn't encompass? Maybe she just learned about these particular concepts (Karma, Yin/Yang, ...) very recently and thought them cool? Heck she was still a teenager after all. And these two in particular have become so common in the media, that I doubt too many people don't know them.
From: Carmen Williams
Date: Thurs, Sep 23 1999 12:00 am
Others on the list [of Marvel superheroes with known religious affiliations]:
Karma - Roman Catholic
[8 other characters listed]
From: Dan McEwen
Date: Thurs, Sep 23 1999 12:00 am
re: "Was it established anywhere that Karma is a Catholic?"
Yes, I think so. Dagger's uncle was a Roman Catholic priest. Karma was known to have frequented his church.
Date: Thurs, Sep 23 1999 12:00 am
re: "Roman Catholic? She's Vietnamese. Not to say there aren't Vietnamese Catholics, but that certainly isn't the norm."
Vietnam: French colony
France: Roman Catholic
Vietnam: Lots and lots of Roman Catholics
From: Carmen Williams
Date: Fri, Sep 24 1999 12:00 am
From her language and thought balloons, Xi'an is definitely Christian; she was close to Father Michael Bowen, who's Catholic; and I could swear I remember some reference to her going in for confession...
From: "Top Ten Most Stereotypical Mutant Characters Ever!!" forum discussion started 29 August 2006 on "Comic Book Resources" website (http://forums.comicbookresources.com/archive/index.php/t-141418.html; viewed 25 May 2007):
08-29-2006, 04:45 PM
Nothing can scream "AZIAN" more than a martial arts tunic and half of a yin-yang emblazoned on it. Karma first appeared in a team-up with Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four where she, of course, has a twin brother, and is incomplete until she absorbes his essence.
After this, the yin-yang on her tunic becomes whole. Duality and all of that, eh? How very deep.
There's something to be said about a silly fortune-cookie codename to represent an entire culture of people, a Buddhist symbol, and overtly Asian exotic garb. If we didn't know Karma's background before, we sure are aware of it now. And, of course, since Karma's Vietnamese, her past involved the VIETNAM WAR, probably 98% of the reason 1/8th of Americans even knows Vietnam exists. Good thing she wasn't from Bhutan, because then the mass readership would be googling it up like no one's business.
Of course, no Karma is without good and bad Karma, and the character was plagued with this dualistic gobbledygook through most of her appearances. Absorbed by psychic spirits and channeling the "bad" Karma, and then being resident psychic -- the "good Karma" -- poor Xi'an could never get a break to save her life. Then she went to Madripoor, the Marvel equivalent of all things East Asian. And finally, she just became a lesbian. One day we may see her break her Karmic roots, but I don't think so just yet.
From: "New Joe Fridays: Week 49" forum discussion, started 1 June 2007 on Newsarama website (http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=114952&page=5; viewed 8 June 2007):
06-03-2007, 04:58 AM
You brought up the issue of comic-book stereotypes and religions. Since I study religion (all kinds, really) this is something I've thought about a lot...
So, on to religion. What religions do we find represented in Marvel? A lot of them are "weird" ones associated with exotic fantasy. Several decades ago, comic book writers could be fairly sure that none of their readers would know or be Tibetan Buddhists, Kali devotees, Voodoo practitioners, or Gypsies, so they felt free to make up details out of whole cloth, or portray some religions as wicked. Today this is no longer possible. Recall the Hindu reaction to Krishna's appearance on "Xena: Warrior Princess" (as a villain)...
Mainstream religions were generally unmentioned before the 1990's... Then suddenly a number of characters were revealed as being of Roman Catholic background (Daredevil, Invisible Woman, Nightcrawler, Punisher), or occasionally Jewish (Thing, though he is predated by minor characters Doc Samson, Sabra, Kitty Pryde, and Justice)...
In these cases, religions were still mainly used as shorthand. A number of non-heroic examples would fit the description of "religious leader turns out to be an evil-doer" (e.g."God Loves, Man Kills", or the Six-Fingered Hand or the cult of Joshua from Defenders). These too are fairly obvious targets (Protestant evangelists, cult leaders) from the point of view of the pop culture. Some positive (but highly "orientalized") images of Asian religions come to us via Dr. Strange, Iron Fist, Karma from the X-Men (remember the appearance of the yin/yang emblem from her origin?) and even Wolverine... Note the different treatment with Western religions, which are more "ordinary" and generally lack magic powers...
From: "Please Help List Minority Groups" forum discussion, started 11-05-2006 on "Super-Hero Hype" website (http://forums.superherohype.com/showthread.php?t=255464; viewed 12 July 2007):
11-05-2006, 02:40 PM
I'm doing a project for Ohio State University about subordinate group representation in Marvel Comic's superhero population (pretty awesome, huh?)
A subordinate group basically means a population that's not a dominant group. And I've got 7 categories to fill; ethnic, gender, religious, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, and physical or mental ability. ..though I think I'll cut socioeconomic status do to it's fine line-ish qualities in comics.
So, how about I'll give what I've got so far, and then feel free to add to my lists. I think I have a pretty good handle on the MU, but it's still huge and I don't want to forget anybody. Should be fun anyway...
11-05-2006, 10:21 PM
...Xi'an "Shan" Coy Mahn aka Karma is Vietnamese. She is also Catholic.
...Rahne Sinclair aka Wolfsbane is a devout Scots Presbyterian.
Sooraya Qadir aka Dust from the New X-Men is a Sunni Muslim...
From: "Superheroes and Religion" forum discussion, started 17 May 2006 on HERO Games website (http://www.herogames.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-42820.html; viewed 12 July 2007):
Mar 17th, '06, 10:51 AM
Ever wonder what religion you favorite hero is? Check this out.
Mar 19th, '06, 05:02 PM
"GLBT" is a religion?
"Well, maybe for some people" observes the palindromedary. "Kind of like Hates Spider Man can be a religion for someone we know."
Mar 19th, '06, 05:06 PM
I was wondering about that myself.
Is there a religion that also uses that particular abbreviation, or does the author of the site think that by default anyone with an alternative sexual identity CAN'T actually belong to any other religion, I wonder?
Mar 19th, '06, 05:14 PM
[Quoting the "Religious Affiliation of Obsidian" page on the Adherents.com website:
We are unaware of any stories that have attempted to reconcile Obsidian's previously portrayed Catholic devotion with his recent identification of himself as gay.
Or words to that effect for almost all characters identified as GLBT.
This is such a steaming pile!
Mar 19th, '06, 05:33 PM
Actually, I don't think it lists anyone as JUST "GLBT" but always as an addition to some other faith. Um, if "GLBT" is a faith. So I don't think his reasoning is "by default anyone with an alternative sexual identity CAN'T actully belong to any other religion..."
Mar 19th, '06, 05:37 PM
Well, if you are GLBT you are not living up to the tenents of the Catholic Church (for example), you are actively living an daily lifestyle (not momentarily lapsing into sinful acts) that is a violation of the doctrines of the Faith.
I chalk it up to giving elaboration to the designation "Catholic (lapsed)" that he uses for some of the characters.
If I started espousing Monophysite, Nestorian, or Gnostic beliefes though I was raised Catholic and these facts were mentioned in comics, then listing me as "Catholic (Nestorian adherent)" that would be similar.
From: "2000AD characters with defined 'real' religious orientations" forum discussion, started 7 March 2005 on "2000 AD Online" website (http://www.2000adonline.com/?zone=fan&page=messagethread&choice=13185; viewed 3 August 2007):
posted by Tordelbach on 7 Mar 05 at 17:58
2000AD characters with defined 'real' religious orientations
Just reading the always interesting 'Fool Brittannia', where Reggie... asks about the whereabouts of characters with clearly-defined religions in comics...
Do we have many 2000AD characters with defined 'real' religious orientations?
posted by Tordelbach on 7 Mar 05 at 19:02
...As to Nightcrawler, Reggie does mention him all right - other less well-known X-mutants now spring vaguely to mind too, Cannonball is/was pretty mid-west Christian (a Baptist?), I can't shake the feeling that Psyche (aka Xian/Shan) also of the New Mutants is/was Catholic.
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