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The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
of the Justice Society of America
Terry Sloane, the Golden Age superhero known as "Mr. Terrific," has been portrayed in recent years as being agnostic. The character is not known to have been explicitly portrayed as an adherent of any organized religion or denomination. However, Mr. Terrific is most commonly known for his somewhat unusual, unbending beliefs in "Fair Play." In fact, this the slogan is emblazoned on the front of his costume. Mr. Terrific's beliefs about fair play appear to constitute a belief system of his own devising, rather than being something that stems directly from a specific existing religious denomination or alternative belief system.
Terry Sloane even founded an organization known as the "Fair Play Club." Sloane enrolled young people in this group in his effort to combat juvenile delinquency.
Mr. Terrific's beliefs in "fair play" have generally been portrayed as admirable. However, these beliefs do appear to have their downside, and Mr. Terrific's philosophies have been viewed by some (including some of his chroniclers) as anti-Darwinian, overly idealistic, non-scientific, and borderline socialist.
Terry Sloane should not be identified should not be confused with his successor, Michael Holt, the second superhero to don the mantle of "Mr. Terrific." Holt is a self-avowed atheist, but we are unaware of any printed references to Terry Sloane identifying himself as an atheist.
A dramatic scene, which illuminates Terry Sloane's character well, took place in the Elseworld's alternative reality story "The Liberty File," set in 1942 during World War II. In Bern, Switzerland, Terry Sloane ("Mr. Terrific") prepares to sits at a sidewalk cafe with his beloved Eva. Terry Sloane is preparing to propose marriage to her when a fight between Bruce Wayne ("The Bat") and the Scarecrow erupts from a window a few floors above them. Eva is shot by Scarecrow, who is firing his gun wildly trying to shoot the Bat (Batman).
As his beloved Eva dies in his arms, Mr. Terrific appears to cry out to God to not let her die. Whether or not Sloane is actually praying to God or expressing a possible belief in God in this scene may be a matter of opinion. Sloane is in no way an outspoken, steadfast atheist like his "Mr. Terrific" successor, Michael Holt. There is nothing here to suggest that Sloane prays regularly or has a strong belief in either prayer or God. But this scene would be consistent with him being an agnostic. His mind isn't made up about the existence of God, although this is a subject he has contemplated. He reflexively calls out to God in this moment of desperation.
Just as illuminating in this scene is the way that even here, at this unbelievably traumatic moment, Sloane invokes the concept of fairness. Far more than any belief, disbelief or indecision about the existence of God, Terry Sloane's core beliefs center on "fair play."
From: JSA: The Liberty File issue #2, DC Comics: New York City (2003), pages 5, 20; written by Dan Jolley and Tony Harris, pencilled by Tony Harris, inked by Ray Snyder; reprinted in: JSA: The Liberty Files trade paperback, DC Comics: New York City (2004), pages 74, 89:
[Page 19-20 (88-89 in trade paperback): Eva, shot dead by the Scarecrow while Terry was about to propose to her, lies dying on the pavement.]
Terry Sloane ("Mr. Terrific"): No . . . God, Please, no . . . No . . . No, it's, it's not . . . fair . . .
Rex Tyler ("The Clock"/Hourman): That thing is getting away!
Terry Sloane ("Mr. Terrific"): Please God . . . Please . . . don't . . . It's not fair! It's not fair! It's not fair . . .
National Comics #1 was a special one-shot issue that was part of "The Justice Society Returns!" story arc. This issue featured two Justice Society members - Mr. Terrific and the Flash - in an adventure set in Dresden, Germany in the waning days of World War II. This story is told from the perspective of the Flash, but focuses on Mr. Terrific. Selected excerpts below focus on what the Flash thinks of Mr. Terrific's unique persona and "fair play" philosophy. From: National Comics #1 (1999), written by Mark Waid, art by Aaron Lopresti. Reprinted in The Justice Society Returns! trade paperback, DC Comics: New York City (2003), pages 92-112:
Flash (thinking): My name is Jay Garrick. I'm the Flash -- the fastest man alive -- and right now I'm giving my all to keep a bomb from leveling a block of Dresden, Germany. [The Flash uses a wind tunnel created by moving his arm at super-speed to prevent a bomb from falling and exploding.] If I'd been sharper, I would have noticed the bystanders first -- rushed them out of the way. But nobody's perfect. Scratch that. [panel shows Mr. Terrific rescuing some people using his acrobatic skills.]He is. While I juggle a quarter-ton of explosive, Mr. Terrific vaults in -- and with a grace that could have won him his fourth Olympic medal -- saves the bystanders from plummeting -- and sets them on the ground so I can get us all the heck away from the blast. Between us, we can actually save the people of Dresden from the devastating explosion of one bomb. One.
Mr. Terrific (Terry Sloane): Victims everywhere . . . And those are our boys doing the bombing! Aren't we the good guys? How can we justify terrorizing innocent people?
Flash: You got the same briefing I did, Terry. Dresden's bursting with munitions factories essential to the Nazi cause. The balance of the free world depends on their destruction. I don't like it either that civilians are in the crossfire . . . but they tell me that's the tragedy of war.
Mr. Terrific (Terry Sloane):[speaking to some injured German civilians] Was ist die lage hier?
German civilian: Shrapnel -- shrapnel die explosion
Flash (thinking): He speaks German. Of course he speaks German... Terry Sloane is one of those guys born maybe once in a century -- a true prodigy by every definition. Accomplished architect at eight. Harvard grad at twelve. Advanced degrees in everything frokm archaeology to psychology... He became a mystery man [i.e., a costumed superhero] because it became the only thrill or challenge left to him. He's brought his skills to bear on the fight for justice . . . and we're lucky to have him... Still, he's only human . . . while the menace that brought us to Dresden to begin with . . . is super-human! [The Flash sees the powerful villain that he and Mr. Terrific have come here to stop - one of the seven dead but re-animated servants of the villainous being known as the Stalker. Much of the action of this issue, not excerpted here, focuses on the Flash fighting this villain]
Flash (thinking): Terry would have one [a plan] -- but he's not in earshot. Instead, he's keeping the peace as best he can... Terry has this real bug about equal opportunity. Lantern and I have had I don't know how many cups of coffee wondering where it comes from. Near as we can figure, though he'd never admit it, Terry feels guilty about being born with an unfair advantage over . . . well . . . pretty much everybody. Met his mom once. Sensed in a second that she's the one who taught him to share his gifts. [We see Mr. Terrific/Terry Sloane feeding and aiding German civilians, many of them injured. He has set up a makeshift aid center in a Christian church. Beneath a large wooden cross, Mr. Terrific plays music to help calm people down.] In time, sharing translated into a passion for bridging the gap between the haves and the have nots. Terry's world depends on everyone being treated justly... Whatever's going on his head, his heart's huge. I've never seen anyone work so hard to make sure that folks not only fight fair, but live fair . . . even as he shows all of us the excellence we can strive for. Hawkman kids me that there must be a flaw somewhere in all that perfection, but if there is . . . I've yet to see it. Whatever the situation, Terry always has it under control. Always.
Mr. Terrific (Terry Sloane):[Mr. Terrific has run into fellow American hero Americommando, who was working undercover in Dresden.] Now, what's the story here?
Americommando: The story is that I still despise the Nazi regime -- but I've also learned that no all Germans are the enemy. Many of them are plain, ordinary folks just as scared of the Nazis as we are. What's happening to them here is shameful...
Mr. Terrific (Terry Sloane): No argument. But what I meant was, where are all these hidden munitions factories we're bombing. If you can lead me to them, I can shut them down. That'll stop the shelling and--
Americommando: What are you talking about? Terry . . . There are no munitions factories here.
Mr. Terrific (Terry Sloane): What? Then we have to tell the Allies--!
Americommando: They know.
Mr. Terrific (Terry Sloane): But-- These people--
Americommando: --drew the short straw in war. Soldiers are never the only casualities. They're not being sacrificed for a greater goal, Terry. They're dying simply to make a point.
[Americommando (whose real name is Thompson) begins to enter a burning building, intent on rescuing some people he can see inside. But something ignites and explodes in this doorway, apparently killing Americommando in the blast.]
Mr. Terrific (Terry Sloane):Thompson! No! No. No. No. NOOOOO!
[The Flash defeats the villainous servant of the Stalker. He rushes back to where Mr. Terrific is, and finds Mr. Terrific standing staring quietly at the flames of the building in which Americommando died.]
Flash: Terry, you okay?
Mr. Terrific (Terry Sloane): Take me to Command Central.
Flash: In Riems, France? Why? Did you learn something new about Stalker?
Mr. Terrific (Terry Sloane): No. Just do it.
Flash: That wan't the plan, Terry. We need to--
Mr. Terrific (Terry Sloane):DO IT! Take . . . me . . . there . . . NOW!
[The Flash rushes Terry from Dresden to Command Central in France, and they arrive before Terry can finish his sentence.]
an American general: Gentlemen, this is a restricted area! You are not welcome here!
Mr. Terrific (Terry Sloane): No wonder. Are you the commanding officer in charge of the Dresden bombing? Do you know what's going on in the field?
general: Good Lord, is there a problem? Sergeant, radio the survey team! I want an assessment of progress, and I want it--
Mr. Terrific (Terry Sloane): I'll tell you the problem. We're doing just fine out there. Everything's just Jake [i.e., "perfect"] according to American strategy . . . meaning that there are innocent people dying in the streets. Women . . . children . . . who did absolutely nothing to deserve the horror visited upon them by American forces . . . and that's . . . not . . . FAIR!
[Mr. Terrific leaps to attack the general, but the Flash tackles Mr. Terrific before he can do anything. Mr. Terrific then flips the Flash over, smashing him onto a table. Mr. Terrific then lunges at the general once again, pinning him against the wall.]
Flash: Terrific, are you nuts? Stand down! Don't make me--
Mr. Terrific (Terry Sloane): We've been lied to, Flash! There are no munitions targets!
general:[getting knocked against the wall by Mr. Terrific] hkkKKK [a gasping sound, as if the wind has been knocked out of him] Son, you're in over your head--
Mr. Terrific (Terry Sloane): Then explain it to me! How can we kill just to kill? How can you let that happen? How can you live with their blood on your hands?
general: Son . . . Don't you think I wake up every morning asking myself those same questions . . . ?[Two soldiers pull Mr. Terrific off of the general. He doesn't fight much, as he is somewhat in shock at what he is hearing.] I don't like this mission. I don't like my orders. But what I like or don't like doesn't matter. This war's far from won. Every day, Allied forces continue to be cut down by Nazis, freshly drafted from their Fatherland. To stop our men from dying, we must evaporate that resource -- and Dresden's full of potential Nazi soldiers -- far too full.
Mr. Terrific (Terry Sloane): Women? Children?
general: Balanced against the very real threat of a Nazi victory . . . they lose. Is that fair? No. That's war.
[Having left the offices of the general and the Command Central building, Terry Sloane/Mr. Terrific finds a garbage can in an alley. He removes the cloth with the slogan "Fair Play" from off the front of his costume and throws it onto the top of the heap of garbage in the garbage can. He slumps against a wall, his hand held to his forhead. He looks despondent. The Flash watches him and thinks for a while before speaking.]
Flash (thinking): Rage. It was a side to Terry I thought I'd never seen . . . until I realized I had for years without realizing it. There was a chink in his perfection . . . and in my eyes, in that moment, it was the Grand Canyon. Terry's an incredibly disciplined man. He'd have to be to achieve so much. But his perfection always leads him into the same mistake. He expects everyone else to live up to the same high standards of fairness he imposes on himself -- and when they don't -- it eats him alive. Terry's so far above us, his wisdom is astounding. While the rest of us get bogged down in grays . . . he perceives the most complex and philosophical problems with black and white clarity. That's his blessing . . . and his demon. He won't accept the fact that . . .
Flash:[speaking aloud now to Terry/Mr. Terrific] . . . it's not a black and white world anymore, Terry. Those men in there aren't evil. They're just doing what they feel they have to towards a greater good. Times are changing. Right, wrong . . . I don't like it, but suppose they get even harder to define in the days to come? Are you enough of a hero to allow for that . . . but not to let it stop you? Learn from this, Terry. Starting today, you can be either an enforcer . . . or an example. One will tear you down . . . but the other will build a legend. You wanted a challenge. I can't think of one more noble.
[Silently, Terry Sloane/Mr. Terrific picks up the cloth with the "Fair Play" up from the top of the garbage. He will put it back on and wear it when he joins the Flash and the rest of the Justice Society in the final battle against the Stalker. It is a battle in which Mr. Terrific himself plays the pivotal role in destroying the infernal machine created by the Stalker for the purpose of destroying all life on earth.]
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: cm | March 19, 2006 10:56 PM
The superheroes page [Adherents.com's "Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Characters" page] has taught me of the existence of Mr. Terrific, and for that I am grateful. Do check out his entry; I like how his adherence to the concept of "fair play" is so strong as to suggest it is his personal religion. Great stuff.
From: Doug Tonks, "A Higher Power", posted 22 October 2006 on "All New! All Different! Howling Curmudgeons: Two-Fisted Comics Commentary and Criticism!" blog website (http://www.whiterose.org/howlingcurmudgeons/archives/009995.html; viewed 25 April 2007):
From: "Religions of super heroes" forum discussion page started 14 August 2006 on "Wizard Universe" website (http://wizarduniverse.invisionzone.com/lofiversion/index.php/t1595.html; viewed 25 April 2007):
The never-identified but usually heeded "they" claim that there are two topics you should never talk about: religion and politics. But since Mike already brought up religion... I'll follow it up with a link to this page [link to: http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/comic_book_religion.html], which lists the religious affiliations of various comic book characters. Many of the religious identifications are backed up with lengthy supporting arguments, but some of the more minor characters get little or nothing in the way of explanation.
Some of them are not too surprising... Others are obvious...
But this being comic books, it's not too long until things start getting a bit less clear... And some are just silly. Here are a few characters and their religious affiliation as listed: Bart Allen... -- "Zen Speed Force." The original Mr. Terrific -- "agnostic; 'fair play.'"...
Posted by Doug at October 22, 2006 7:12 PM
Aug 14 2006, 06:17 PM
...Since when is Communist, Liberal Marxist, "fair play", animal rights, mildly feminist, Alcoholics Anonymous, pro-abortion activist, Nazi, obsession with duality, and hates Spider-Man a religion???
From: "Superheroes/villains and their religions" forum discussion, started 16 March 2006 on "Animation Insider" website (http://www.animationinsider.net/forums/archive/index.php?t-17835.html; viewed 28 June 2008):
03-16-2006, 05:16 AM
Someone pointed this out at another forum. I found it to be quite amusing that someone would actually have enough time on their hands to ponder about this.
03-19-2006, 02:08 PM
Religion seems to be a little pointless in the DCU. There's no point going around believing in things that actually exist. I mean Lucifer has a bar in LA for ****'s sake!
03-19-2006, 08:10 PM
Well, they never give definite answers. I mean, Ragman's powers are based on magic, but he believes in Judaism. Mr Terrific has met the avenging hand of God [i.e., Spectre], but is still agnostic... Just because there are beings who claim to be heavenly or such, it doesn't mean they will be believed by everyone.
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