The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
of Infinity Inc., and the JLA
Todd Rice, the superhero known as Obsidian in the DC Comics universe, was a member of Infinity Inc. and later the Justice League of America. Obsidian was introduced in All-Star Squadron #25 (September 1983). The character was created by Roy Thomas, Jerry Ordway and Mike Machlan.
Obsidian has been portrayed as a Catholic in a number of different comics featuring the character. Obsidian's Catholicism was a fairly overt and prominent aspect of the character in Infinity, Inc., the comic book series in which the character has had the largest role.
Obsidian's twin sister is Jade, also a superheroine who was a member of Infinity, Inc. Jade is not a Catholic like her brother, but is a Protestant. (The twins were raised apart in separate families.)
Infinity, Inc. #5 is one of the best examples of comics which portray Obsidian's Catholic devotion. Obsidian prayed at the pulpit for his father. Obsidian's sister Jade entered the church as well and asked the priest if she could join her brother in prayer, even though she is a Protestant. The priest naturally invited her to do so. Obsidian and her brother both prayed for their biological father, a man who they barely knew at that time. Obsidian lit a memorial candle for their father.
Obsidian was shown praying with a rosary a few times during difficult situations in some of the later issues of Infinity, Inc.
Obsidian was originally conceived as a heterosexual character. He dated only women, although as is typical with superhero characters, many of his relationships ended disastrously. Later writers introduced hints that Todd Rice was confused about his sexuality. Obsidian definitively came out as being gay in Manhunter #18, releaesed 18 January 18 2006, written by Marc Andreyko, with art by Javier Pina and Fernando Blanco Cover.
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. Clearly there are conflicts between normative Catholic practices and beliefs and normative GLBT practices and beliefs, so this would seem to be an inevitable topic, but it may present complexity beyond that which most comic book writers or publishers are willing to address. The current religious attitudes of other Catholic comic book superheroes who have subsequently been portrayed as GLBT (Living Lightning, Northstar, Karma) has similarly been unaddressed.
From: Hat, "Infinity Inc. 6-10 (1984-1985)" (review), posted 1 January 2004 on "The Comic Treadmill" blog website (http://www.comictreadmill.com/CTMBlogarchives/2004/2004_Individual/2004_01/000179.php; viewed 27 December 2005):
Infinity Inc. #5 is listed as Part V in the Generations saga and so far there's been enough plot to fill a page and a half of a golden or silver age story. This part starts with the Infinitors having gathered in the small Colorado town where five JSAers appeared to have drowned. The Infinitors are shown coping. Obsidian goes to a Catholic church to pray.
From: Dave Carter, posted 7/06/2005 on "My God, my God, why have [comic book writers] forsaken [you]?" page, on Comics Should Be Good" blog website (http://goodcomics.blogspot.com/2005/06/my-god-my-god-why-have-comic-book.html; viewed 27 December 2005):
Obsidian, late of Infinity Inc., was Roman Catholic, a fact which figured into one or two II storylines.
Maxine Nelson, an extremely knowledgeable Infinity Inc. fan, wrote to us and provided some excellent additional insight about Obsidian (29 January 2006). Her comments are presented below with her permission:
You have a good point on how recent comics failed to reconcile Todd's (as well as the other heroes) possible conflicts with his faith and his current lifestyle.
Even though Roy Thomas was quite willing to use his character's religions frequently in Infinity Inc., I think current comic writers are either too rushed for time in completing comics or afraid of alienating part of a small fanbase to use characters' religions nowadays. It seems religion only pops up occasionally, unless it's an "adult" comic or one that really wants to court controversy.
I have heard of Catholic sects that welcome GLBT lifestyles and have their own churches... it would be interesting to see if any or all of the [Catholic GLBT] heroes [such as Obsidian] you mentioned are involved with them.
Then again, Todd has lived a life with many trials, any of which could've easily shaken his faith!
Here's some others:
a. He was given up for adoption as a baby and raised a house that was poor in finances and apparently even poorer in love (I'm sure his adoptive parents did love him when he was young, I've heard babies who are not loved can fail to develop the ability to love) but when he was in his teens his adoptive father James Rice was emotionally and physically abusive to him and just before she left the family his adoptive mother Shirley Rice revealed that she had wanted to adopt Todd's twin sister Jennie but adopted him to follow her husband's wishes. This was also the first time Todd learned about his twin. This occurred during the Infinity Inc. era and he was shown praying after enduring one of these particularly tough situations.
b. Not one but two stints at villiany. In the late 90's Green Lantern mini-series and starting in the later 1990's with the current JSA series, Todd apparently let the dark side of his shadowy powers take him over. He was only salvaged when first his sister (in Green Lantern) and then his biological father (in Justice Society of America) used their light powers to eradicate the evil influence his powers had over him. But the latter salvage eradicated his corruption at the apparent cost of his powers, though it isn't known for sure if his powers are permanently gone or dormant. Plus even if he never manifests his powers again I can't rule out the possiblity he could become a hero with another source of power (an online pal suggested he would make a good member of the Green Lantern Corps) or perhaps a powerless hero, such as Batman, Green Arrow, etc.
So perhaps over the years he either found an unshakable way to reconcile his faith or decided to change how he follows his faith or abandon it. But until we see something in a comic it will be left up to our own interpretations.
From: "Any Christian Superheroes?" thread began 22 April 2004 on rec.arts.comics.dc.universe newsgroup (http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.comics.dc.universe/browse_thread/thread/4e5839f075fecf76/8821b5db671e7ce1; viewed 20 June 2006):
I can't think of any major superheroes that strongly believe in any real faith, and that surprises me. Certainly not in the DC Universe. I think there are more minority superheroes than religious ones...
From: Dan McEwen
Date: Thurs, Apr 22 2004 7:24 pm
Obsidian was a veritfied Catholic while Jade was Protestant (but no particular denomination named). This information came out of one of the earlier issues of Infinity, Inc.
From: "Superman Wedding -- why a Christian ceremony?" newsgroup discussion started 11 October 1996 in rec.arts.comics.dc.universe (http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.comics.dc.universe/browse_thread/thread/4d17a1ff0ee9c715/d141c36005b90ea4; viewed 5 June 2006):
From: Jon Ingersoll
Date: Wed, Oct 23 1996 12:00 am
re: "Just out of curiosity, is there any major character in the DC Universe definitely shown as being Jewish?"
For that matter, what characters have been portrayed as having any definite religion? I believe Obsidian was shown to be Catholic.
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.
"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: "Religion in the DCU?" forum discussion, started 25 October 2006 on "Comic Bloc" website (http://www.comicbloc.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-37480.html; viewed 20 July 2007):
October 26th, 2006, 03:09 PM
One of the big things I liked about Infinity Inc. was how Roy Thomas made it a point to reveal the characters' religions and how they impacted their lives. I.e., he revealed Todd [Obsidian] was Catholic fairly early on and showed him praying with a rosary when he was going thru difficult times in his life during the series.
Now that Todd has been revealed as gay (or possibly bi) it would be an interesting subplot to see if he sought out a LGBT Catholic sect and church so that he could continue his religious devotion or if he had considered himself becoming a lapsed Catholic prior to or at the time he came out of the closet so it wouldn't be a concern either way.
I know the main branches of Catholicism don't accept LGBT lifestyles and thus wouldn't acknowledge or accept any LGBT Catholic sects or churches but it would still be a way for Todd to continue his religious devotion if he wanted to ;)
But I suspect that's the kind of sandbox most comic writers wouldn't want to play in.
October 27th, 2006, 12:58 AM
Pardon my ignorance, but what is a LGBT Catholic sect? I'm from the South and don't know much about Catholics. Thanks!!
October 27th, 2006, 07:48 AM
Let's see if I can dig up a website.
I did some searching on the net on this topic starting around the time Manhunter 18 came out to see what options Todd had or would have in continuing being a practicing Catholic if he so chose (of course something could be altered or completely made up for the DCU but I figured I'd give it a shot with some research on this side of the 4th wall).
Here's a good site to start off with for info :) http://www.dignityusa.org/
October 27th, 2006, 02:40 PM
Ohh... Sorry, was thinking some sort of (I guess the word would be) sect like Jesuit or some such.
From: "Barry Allen is Jewish?" forum discussion, started 13 May 2005 on "Comic Bloc" website (http://www.comicbloc.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-4308.html; viewed 20 July 2007):
May 15th, 2005, 09:12 PM
I thought one of the most interesting aspects of Infinity Inc. was the way Roy Thomas portrayed the characters' various religions and how they influenced the characters lives.
Seeing the characters praying, lighting candles for loved ones, having Bar Mitzvahs, made them more human to me than characters in most other funny books ;).
Sure religion is controversial and people believe different things on both sides of the 4th wall but I find it interesting to see it having such a keen role in the lives of young people who might otherwise seem silly because they choose to run around in tights instead of trying to lead "normal" lives.
And even though I may never know what Roy Thomas' religion is, it showed me what an important role his beliefs had in his own life :).
From: "NY Times outs Batwoman. DUH SPOILERS!!!!!" forum discussion, started 27 May 2006 on "Comic Bloc" website (http://www.comicbloc.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-27770.html; viewed 23 July 2007):
May 28th, 2006, 09:11 AM
I feel like DC is tying to be an advocate... Is DC just wanting quick media attention? If this were truly about diversity where is the devote Christian hero? What about a Pro-Life Republican? A priest that takes a vow of poverty to fight poverty?
For years people have praised or criticize liberal Hollywood. Are we now looking at a Liberal DC comics?
May 28th, 2006, 10:20 AM
Christian hero? I'm sorry but aren't a good majority of heroes Christian?
May 28th, 2006, 06:04 PM
But the point is that there are a majority of Christian characters in DC comics that already exist, so there's no "diversity" in creating more of the same...
May 28th, 2006, 06:36 PM
Really? One might make a case for a general "good works ethical monotheism", but how many have made on page confessional statments of Christ being their personal Lord and Savior? To assume that these characters are Christian is akin to assuming that any male character without a girlfriend is gay. Is that good enough?
May 28th, 2006, 06:49 PM
Did you click that link in my last post? It uses evidence from the various appearances the characters have made to determine what denomination they belong to.
May 28th, 2006, 07:05 PM
I've seen it, and I'll reiterate that I believe that the number of confessional Christians in mainstream comics is equal to, or less than the number of openly homosexual characters.
May 28th, 2006, 07:12 PM
Thanks for the link. It is interesting. But religion is not shown in their everyday life. We see the gay lifestyle, but when was the last time we saw Dick Grayson (Christian) at a Baptism, Batman (Catholic) attend mass, Hal Jordan go to confession, or Superman darken the doorway of a church?
May 28th, 2006, 07:48 PM
re: "...I believe that the number of confessional Christians in mainstream comics is equal to, or less than the number of openly homosexual characters."
I don't mean any offense, but if you believe that, it's probably because that's just what you want to see, because there's no way there are more openly gay characters in mainstream comics than openly Christian characters. Granted, we may not see declarations of their devotion to God in every issue, but there are still lots of Christians in comics who are open about their religion, like Black Lightning and Nightcrawler.
May 28th, 2006, 08:48 PM
Maybe Batwoman will be the exception that proves the rule, like Nightcrawler is for confessional Christian characters. Black Lightning shows up nowadays maybe slightly more than Pied Piper. I just don't see nominal ties to a certain denomination as proof positive that a character is Christian. I have no more reason to to believe that they are than I did to believe Obsidian was gay prior to his appearances in Manhunter.
June 1st, 2006, 05:54 AM
But how does one act in accordance with the "Christian lifestyle"? The "Christian lifestyle" (just like the dreaded "gay lifestyle) is up for interpretation. It's not one thing or another, because not everyone lives their lives the same way. Besides, they're Christians, not Christ himself. it would be impossible for anyone to live up to such a standard at all times. People have different codes of ethics, they make mistakes and bad decisions, etc. That doesn't mean they aren't "good Christians" across the board.
June 1st, 2006, 11:45 AM
Not to mention the "gay Christian lifestyle." Which, since Todd Rice/Obsidian was a fairly devout Roman Catholic in Infinity Inc., might be an interesting avenue to see with his character (is he a member of Dignity, etc.?).
June 1st, 2006, 08:54 PM
re: "But I do know know that those who self identify as Christians, for the most part, share certain behaviors, chief among them regular worship."
Just to point this out:
Dr. Mid-Nite was shown to attend Worship in JSA.
This is why I'd never call foul on DC.
They have done a fair job of representing all diversities in their comics.
DC having Mid-Nite (a Christian) and Terrific (an Atheist) interact in a fair and balanced way and their (DC's) fearlessness (see Obsidian and now Batwoman) to show all the beauty of individuality in the world.
I think DC is also doing well at letting these diversities be PART of the character and not the totality of the character (like in real life) and not being afraid to show all sides of a character.
Just my impressions, though.
June 2nd, 2006, 06:50 PM
I would very much like to see that explored. The potential for conflict, both within himself and his church, how he finds a way to honor both his beliefs and himself. That would be an Obsidian arc I would buy.
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