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The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
Peter Cheney
Shock-Headed Peter


Peter Cheney, who is commonly known by his super-heroic name "Shock-Headed Peter," can be classified as a "super-hero" by virtue of the fact that he has super powers, wears a colorful costume, and is a resident of Neopolis, a city in which virtually all of the residents are comic book-style super-characters. More importantly, however, Shock-Headed Peter is a police officer who works out of Neopolis Tenth Precinct, known by the nickname "Top 10."

Shock-Headed Peter was one of the stars of an ensemble cast of Neopolis police officers whose stories were chronicled in the colorful and critically-acclaimed Top 10 comics written by Alan Moore and published by America's Best Comics. The original stories were illustrated by Gene Ha and Zander Cannon. The original Top 10 series ran for 12 issues, and has since been followed up by two additional 5-issue limited series, a graphic novel and a few other stories set in the same universe.

Shock-Headed Peter was drawn as a Southern hick who wore an ill-fitting and unstylish super-hero costume and a crew cut haircut. The character's dialogue reflects Southeastern American dialect. Shock-Headed Peter's Southern dialect is more subtle than the heavily-inflected dialect used in early portayals of Sam "Cannonball" Guthrie or Rogue (two overtly Baptist characters who appeared in Marvel's X-Men and New Mutants comics). Shock-Headed Peter's more standardized pronounciation reflects his many years living in the big non-Southern city of Neopolis.

Although Shock-Headed Peter was one of the least stylish-looking characters and he was associated with some personality traits that might be considered negative (discussed below), the character was in no way depicted as villainous, evil or generally unethical. Shock-Headed Peter was a fairly shy, insecure individual, which made him even more relatable or likeable in a way, although in no way fashionable or "cool." Overall, he was simply a small-town guy in a big city. The character was usually portrayed sympathetically, as well as with some depth and nuance. Despite his failings, he tried to do the right things as a person and as a police officer.

Despite his unassuming manner, Shock-Headed Peter was actually a very effective police officer in the "Top 10" precinct, and the electrical bolts he fired from his head made him one of the most powerful in terms of super-powers. In instances where other characters were largely helpless -- such as in apprehending M'rrgla Qualtz, the dangrous and monstrously metamorphosed alien being known as the "Vigilante from Venus" -- Officer Cheney's powers saved the day.

Shock-Headed Peter was portrayed as a somewhat bigotted and ignorant individual, apparently modelled after author Alan Moore's perception of fundamentalist Protestants (or "fundamentalist Christians"), specifically Baptists.

It should be noted that Shock-Headed Peter is far from the only character in Top 10 who exhibited prejudice toward various minorities or types of people different from themselves. All or nearly all of the characters, including the most likeable and most sympathetic characters, exhibited prejudices of some sort. Moore was not disparaging or dismissing all of the characters in Top 10 because they had difficulties adjusting to the wide array of new peoples and cultures they encountered on a daily basis. Rather, Moore was observing that such difficulties and discomfort are normal and commonplace. Although Shock-Headed Peter was used to illustrate the prejudice present among the citizens (including the police officers) in Neopolis, the author was not implying that Southern Baptists are the only people who are prejudiced. Shock-Headed Peter was simply the only Southerner in the Top 10 cast, which is the only reason it is germaine to discuss the parallels between the prejudices of his character and attitudes historically attributed in literature to Southerners and Southern Baptists specifically. Individual readers will need to decide for themselves whether Shock-Headed Peter is a fair depiction of a Southerner, or whether the character itself represents unfair and inaccurate prejudices that people have toward Southerners and Baptists.

Shock-Headed Peter's prejudices against various minority groups who live in Neopolis, such as robot intelligences ("ferro-Americans") mirror the author's perception of Baptist (particularly Southern Baptist) attitudes toward minorities (African-Americans, Jews, Latter-day Saints, GLBTs, Wiccans, Muslims, etc.). Note that Southern Baptist prejudices have shifted to different targets over the years. For example, the denomination's early foundational principle of rejecting Northern Baptists' anti-slavery stance has been transformed into today's full acceptance of African-Americans as fellow congregants and even ministers and leaders. The Southern Baptist Convention was founded because the Baptists in the South did not wish to reject slavery, but that historic position has been rejected and the contemporary Convention has formally apologized for it. Likewise, contemporary Southern Baptists are rarely openly disparaging of Jews and are, in fact, among the strongest supporters of the state of Israel.

Rather than defending slavery, contemporary Southern Baptist denominational funding and teaching is used to target other minority groups, particularly rival religious and cultural groups with emerging prominence. Likewise, Shock-Headed Peter seems to have no prejudices against the many racial minorities living in Neopolis, but he does harbor prejudices against emergent intelligent lifeforms such as robots. Shock-Headed Peter is prejudiced against robots, who in the context of the Top 10 universe were previously a slave class and are now fighting for equality and recognition as people. But obviously this attitude reflects historic and not contemporary attitudes held by Southerners and Southern Baptists toward African-Americans.

It is notable that Shock-Headed Peter's prejudiced attitude was portrayed more subtly and sympathetically by Alan Moore, who created the character, than by Paul Di Filippo, who wrote the 5-issue limited series Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct.

Unlike fellow Top 10 police officers Peregrine and King Peacock, who were portrayed as more openly and devoutly religious, Shock-Headed Peter's formal religious affiliation was a less important aspect of his character. Possibly Shock-Headed Peter was only brought up in a fundamentalist Protestant/Baptist family, and retains some attitudes from that background, but is no longer religiously observant. Shock-Headed Peter is never overtly identified as a Baptist within the Top 10 comics. The character's Southern Baptist background has been assumed based on the fact that he is overtly portrayed as a Southerner through his dialogue and the way he is drawn, and because his specific prejudices seem to reflect the author's perceptions of Southern Baptist prejudices.

From: review of Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct #1, written 19 August 2005, on "Jog - the Blog" blog website (http://joglikescomics.blogspot.com/2005_08_01_joglikescomics_archive.html; viewed 30 March 2006):

Di Filippo also seems to be shooting for a broader, somewhat goofier tone than what I recall from the wry original; witness the Beagle Boys being chased down the street by talking dinosaurs in police hats, complete with little guns for their little hands in giant shoulder holsters. And how about that robot junkie dialogue...? Are my memories of Moore's issues merely gilded with time's passage? No, I'm certain Moore managed to tackle Shock-Headed Peter's anti-robot slurs with an abler hand; under Di Filippo, the character basically walks out and goes "Greetings fellows, I am prejudiced! Why not have a laugh or two at my expense?" and everyone obeys.

Alan Moore and Baptists

What does "Shock-Headed Peter" creator Alan Moore really think about Baptists? It probably depends on the Baptist. Moore is too good a writer to treat characters simply as straw men, i.e., characters who are clearly created as flawed in order to polemically demonstrate the flaws of the group the represent. But based Moore's body of work, it is safe to say that Moore does not think highly of Baptist religious denominations, Baptist theology, and Baptist religious practice. In the comic panels below, which were written by Alan Moore himself for his America's Best anthology series, we see character who worship Alan Moore. They are fretting that they have not sacrificed enough Baptist children to their deity (i.e., Alan Moore). This is just a joke, of course, and Alan Moore does not actually demand that his acolytes sacrifice Baptist children. But this excerpt serves to illustrate that Moore is aware of the existence of Baptists and regards Baptists as a distinctive group of people. (Source: America's Best Comics Volume 2 trade paperback.)
Alan Moore desired blood sacrifice of Baptist children
No real Baptist children were sacrificed to Alan Moore

Discussion

From: "Up, up, and oy, vey!", posted 5 February 2006 on MetaFilter.com website (http://www.metafilter.com/39326/Up-up-and-oy-vey; viewed 19 June 2007):

Speaking of Alan Moore, he created an interesting social paradiggem in his book Top Ten, which is about police officers in a city populated entirely by superheroes. In it, robots are the opressed minority, living in slums, degraded with racist terms (like "clicker") and harassed by the cops. Later, a robot character [link to page about Joe Pi: http://www.internationalhero.co.uk/j/joepi.htm] joins the cast and faces harrassment by a fellow cop.

An interesting take on racism, particularly within the context of what is essentially a superhero ghetto.

posted by hifiparasol at 10:27 PM on February 5


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Webpage created 30 March 2006. Last modified 19 June 2007.
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