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The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
Rev. Norman McCay
central figure in near-future DC Universe novel Kingdom Come by Elliot S. Maggin,
based on the comic book limited series written by Mark Waid
Norman McCay is one of the most well-written, fully realized Christian characters in recent American literature. The fact that his story was told in a novel adaptation of a comic book limited series may be surprising, but makes the character no less effective and impressive.
Rev. McCay is a Dutch Reformed minister who presides over a Presbyterian congregation in near-future Metropolis. Kingdom Come (the novel) was written by Elliot S. Maggin (an observant Jew), based on the comic book limited series written by Mark Waid. The introduction of Rev. McCay is one of the most dramatic and welcome changes between the comic book version of Kingdom Come and the novel.
From: Regie Rigby, "The question of religion" article, "Fool Britannia" column, posted on "Silver Bullet Comics" website (http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/fool/111010997522360.htm; viewed 22 December 2005):
So, there's no shortage of characters based on religion in comics, but what about actual religion? ...I'm not really aware of any other religions [other than Judaism] that have been shown in quite this [positive] way, at least not in Western comics. It seems that every time a see an overtly Muslim character in a comic they're either a fanatic or a terrorist, or both and Christians seem to be portrayed as utterly boring, dull people. (With the rather obvious exceptions of Nightcrawler, and the wonderful Pastor from Kingdom Come.)
From: "Elliot S. Maggin's Kingdom Come [review]", on Adherents.com website, written October 2000 (http://www.adherents.com/lit/bk_Maggin_KingdomCome.html; viewed 22 December 2005):
Surprisingly, the main character in Kingdom Come is not a superhero, but a Dutch Reformed minister named Norman McCay. This is the only science fiction novel outside of L. E. Modesitt's Of Tangible Ghosts and The Ghost of the Revelator I'm aware of that mentions the Dutch Reformed. There is nothing distinctly Dutch Reformed about McCay, however. In the novel he presides over an aging Presbyterian congregation in Metropolis; his preaching and personality are mainstream Protestant.
In Dickensian fashion Rev. McCay is spirited around by the enigmatic being known as the Spectre to be a witness to events which culminate in an important turning point in superheroic history. McCay's adopted home of Metropolis is, circa 2030 A.D., ground zero for ceaseless battles between costumed "heroes" and "villains." In this near-future DC Universe Maggin has projected the eventual outcome of certain contemporary comic book trends. The diminishing boundaries between the good guys and bad guys seen today have, by Rev. McCay's time completely eroded. The old guard of clearly noble superheroes such as Superman, Aquaman, and the Green Lantern have retired or retreated from a world which seems to no longer their brand of heroism. The new generation is brash, more violent, and willing to kill their opponents. But nobody really knows who is on which side any more, and their destructive "rumbles" are apparently little more than gang warfare, over turf or sparked by trivial affronts to personal honor.
Superman withdrew from serving as the protector of Metropolis, and the world, when he came to believe that the values he had long championed had been rejected by those he had sought to protect. Ironically, Superman comes to be blamed for allowing things to get worse by his absence. Then, when a freak accident sparked by Magog in a supercharged battle destroys most of Kansas, Wonder Woman convinces Superman to return to activity. Superman leaves his isolated Antarctic retreat and, along with Wonder Woman, reforms the Justice League and begins recruiting all superpowered types who will stand with him to his cause. He visits the United Nations and declares the metahumans under him to be an independent state, and he begins to round up and imprison all superpowered people who will not agree to halt their troublemaking ways. Needless to say, the Justice League is not unopposed in their new unilateral measues.
McCay is not simply an incidental narrator, but a fully developed character in his own right. With an aging minister in the driver's seat, Kingdom Come explores faith and doubt, good and evil, religion, ethics, etc. with a mature, balanced approach extremely rare in contemporary fiction. Rev. McCay faces considerable crises of faith as he bears witness to the adventures of heroes and gods, but he also encounters much that bolsters his beliefs...
One interesting passage has Rev. McCay wondering if his lifelong Christian beliefs are in question when he encounters the actual Zeus, from Greco-Roman mythology. It is Zeus himself who chides McCay and humans in general for being so linear that they suppose their old beliefs must be wrong just because they encounter something new. Despite the presence of pagan gods this is a very Christian novel and could easily be grouped with works by C. S. Lewis, L'Engle, Greeley, Chesterton, Card, Tyers, and Henderson.
I read Maggin's Kingdom Come immediately after reading the trade paperback which collected the six separate comic books by Mark Waid which comprised the Kingdom Come storyline.
...overall, both the comic book and novel versions of Kingdom Come among the best examples within their respective subniches, and will likely be classics. The thing to be aware of is that the two different versions of Kingdom Come have extremely different plots. In adapting Mark Waid's comic book story, Maggin has utilized many of the plot points, as well as most of the major characters (new and old), but spun from these elements an entirely original novel. The good thing is that even having read the comic version, I was constantly surprised and impressed while reading Maggin's novel. The down side is that Maggin's rewrite is so good that aspects of Waid's comics seem weak by comparison. (Like I said, read the novel if you have to choose only one.)
It took some time before I realized how different the two versions were, which initially made for an odd experience. I kept expecting Rev. McCay to be transformed into the powerful villain Gog, which is what the minister character in Waid's comics did. This never happened: in the novel, Magog (with name slightly changed but appearance the same) is a completely different character from the minister. In fact, in the novel Magog's role is still pivotal, but altered, and focused on much less...
From: "Religion in God Loves, Man Kills: Using the clergy as a bad guy" forum discussion page, started 2 September 2003, on "Captain Comics" website (http://www.captaincomics.us/forums/index.php?showtopic=754):
Sep 4 2003, 10:39 AM
My mind is blank as to the name, but the pastor from Kingdom Come was a postive influence.
The Culture Vulture
Sep 4 2003, 10:52 AM
The pastor is Norman McCay - who I think was named in honour of the creator of Little Nemo in Slumberland.
From: "Possible writers' cliche/prejudice: No well-adjusted athiests/agnostics in the DCU?" forum discussion, started 26 May 2005 on "Comic Bloc" website (http://www.comicbloc.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-5064.html; viewed 20 July 2007):
June 1st, 2005, 02:20 PM
The thing is they've never shown the Christian God anywhere in DC Comics, which shows you that he's really big stuff. You always see Ares God of War and Zeus. The closest they've ever come to showing God is when the Spectre runs around damning people to hell or turning there hands to black ash, this doesn't give Christians or God that much positive exposure. The best thing tying into Christianity I've read in comics is Kingdom Come. Waid used a minister to stop Armageddon.
Webpage created 22 December 2005. Last modified 20 July 2007.
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