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The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
Al Simmons, known more widely as the comic book super-hero (or perhaps anti-hero) "Spawn," is one of the most successful and famous comic book characters to emerge from a company other than Marvel and DC during the last few decades. The character was created by writer-illustrator Todd McFarlane, and first appeared in Spawn #1, published by Image Comics in May 1992.
Spawn's name is derived from "Hell spawn" or "Hell's pawn." After Simmons died and went to Hell, he was transformed into Spawn by the devil himself, Malebolgia. Thus, he was literally spawned in Hell. Moreover, he was originally Hell's pawn in the cosmic conflict between Heaven and Hell.
The Spawn comic book series is explicitly religious. In fact, religious subjects are the central (or one of the central) themes of the series. Despite this, the religious affiliation of Spawn himself is difficult to categorize. The character has a key role in a fictional reality wherein Christian cosmology is rendered explicitly and literally real. But the series is in no way a vehicle for Christian proselytization. Rather, series creator Todd McFarlane has gone on the record stating that he does not believe in God. So although Spawn and his creator share a Christian background, the Spawn series itself is actually a vehicle for contemplation and satirization of many subjects, including Christianity, religion in general, philosophy and secular society.
Is Spawn a Christian? I don't think many people would call him that. Spawn knows from firsthand experience that numerous major doctrines taught by Christianity are true (i.e., the existence of the God and the Devil, the reality of an afterlife, the existence of Heaven and Hell, the punishment of sinners, etc.). Spawn does not, however, identify himself as a Christian or choose to live according to Christian teachings. Moreover, Spawn does not necessarily believe that Christianity is the only true religion. Much of what he has experienced can be associated with the religious beliefs of other religions in addition to Christianity.
Noticing that Spawn was not yet listed in this section, Ryan Bottorff generously wrote and provided the following notes about Spawn's religious affiliation (and the major religious themes in the Spawn comic book series):
Before Spawn's transformation he was probably a non-practicing Christian of some denomination.
The entire Spawn series is a complete and literal validation of Christianity, with some liberties taken throughout in order to create a working system for Heaven and Hell.
For a time Spawn could be classified as a demon of varying power levels, and he eventually actually became the ruler of Hell for a very brief period of time. He was insane for a little while recently.
Al Simmons/Spawn has usually been more interested and concerned with not being Hell's pawn and with wanting to be with Wanda than with religious goals of Christians, such as saving one's immortal soul. Al Simmons' soul was already lost for all intents and purposes, and he retained his free will. Furthermore, McFarlane's Heaven is a lesson in hypocrisy. So Spawn hasn't really been too concerned with redemption. I'm not completely sure about Spawn's religious leanings currently. They've taken him in something of a new direction and I haven't read the most recent issues.
From: "Spawn" article on Wikipedia website (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spawn_(comics); viewed 26 April 2006):
Al Simmons was a highly decorated member of the Secret Service... and the CIA. After being murdered... by his superior Jason Wynn, Simmons is sent to hell because of his life as a mercenary. Making a deal with the devil, Simmons agrees to become a Hellspawn and serve Malebolgia if he is allowed to see his wife, Wanda, one last time. Malebolgia returns Simmons to the living realm, but with only the barest of memory... Simmons is unaware that five years have passed.
His life over, Simmons has two choices before him: follow Malebolgia, or renounce the devil. The two choices come in the form of Clown, a... minor demon... and Cogliostro...
After many fights involving minions of Heaven and Hell... Spawn eventually kills Malebolgia but refuses the throne of Hell. Upon returning to Earth, Spawn discovers he has new powers... engaging in battles against Clown, a dark god named Urizen, Jason Wynn, and even himself. Recently, a new [important] character named Mammon has surfaced...
...Currently, Spawn's power is endless. There was even a brief period after issue #100 where Spawn was practically a god... The only human characteristics Spawn retains now are his emotion and the ability to feel pain... Other abilities now include super speed, super strength that enables him to throw around skyscrapers, hellblasts that can topple ancient gods and said to be strong enough to burn down the gates of Heaven... control over nature, and even the ability to stop time dead in its tracks... Al Simmons carries on his fearless warrior attitude, having beaten sky fathers and beings seemingly far above sky fathers, never letting an opponent' scope or power intimidate him.
From: "An argument for why religion should stay out of comics" message board started 17 May 2006 on official DC Comics website (http://dcboards.warnerbros.com/web/thread.jspa?threadID=2000076170&start=15; viewed 30 May 2006):
Posted: May 22, 2006 9:47 AM
No religion in comics?
Here are some of the things that may be missed or have to be adjusted:
From: "Religions of comic book characters" forum discussion started 18 April 2007 on Uberchristians website (http://uberchristians.org/vb/showthread.php?t=373; viewed 21 May 2007):
04-18-2007, 05:26 PM
I wasn't aware so many characters had their religions defined at any point. I hardly ever remember running into it when I was into mainstream comics.
04-18-2007, 07:36 PM
Someone spent a lot of time looking into all that. I was only aware of three or four that had religion as a big part of their character. Including those who had sold their soul or went to hell kinda thing (Spawn and Ghost Rider come to mind). I know some character's families like Spiderman have religion in their background but I don't recall many practicing any faith.
From: "How many Atheist superheroes/heroines are there?" forum discussion, started 20 May 2007 on Newsarama website (http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?p=3716053; viewed 24 May 2007):
05-20-2007, 06:23 AM
How many Atheist superheroes/heroines are there?
05-20-2007, 04:07 PM
Al Simmons (Spawn) was an atheist before he became Spawn.
From: "Unpractical Ethics: Superheroes", posted 11 October 2005 on "Millenial Star" website [which comments on topics relating to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] (http://www.millennialstar.org/index.php/2005/10/11/unpractical_ethics_superheros; viewed 5 June 2007):
Comment from: Eric Russell
What I find ethically disturbing is the relatively new wave of badboy superheroes who are dark and dirty people but obtain the good guy status just because they fight bad guys. In terms of recent movies, I'm thinking Hellboy, Constantine, Spawn, The Punisher, the guys in Sin City, etc. It's like writers want to make their characters as cool as possible to the fanboy masses while still maintaining an image of a hero who does good.
10/12/05 - 01:16
Comment from: Clark Goble
Eric, isn't Spawn a little different since in many ways it is a tale of redemption where the hero tries to lose his badboy image? I've not read the comics, but I have the HBO animated series on DVD and it raises lots of moral issues. I think it is much more complex and definitely not just the bad boy who happens to be good because of who he faces. There are silly weaknesses in it. But overall it is an interesting set of moral questioning.
Frank Miller's Sin City I agree with. To me it really was rather distasteful - especially the movie. It attempts to get the superhero archetype down to its raw Freudian edge and he described it in one interview as a kind of fever dream. I don't like it. I didn't like the art style and I didn't like the film, despite a lot of noirish style to it. Personally what little I've read by Miller since the 80's has seemed like he's a bit of a one note wonder. His return to the Dark Knight was horrible.
10/12/05 - 01:46
Comment from: Charles - http://job21-3.blogspot.com
...Unfortunately not many comics deal with religion. Daredevil is a Catholic, but not a very active practicing one. Spawn deals with redemption but doesn't really look at religion in the traditional sense, it seems to hang on the Dante view of hell and the magical properties of the spirit world, where demons have physical bodies and unique abilities. Its not so much about faith, but redemption - but redemption in who's eyes? ...
10/12/05 - 11:00
Comment from: Eric Russell
Clark, I think you're right about Spawn not belonging to the group I mentioned. It's been some years since I read it, but now that I think about it, he doesn't fit exactly.
TOTAL Nathan, I'm not sure that it matters whether they are actually superheroes or not. The fact is that they are the protagonists, the ones the reader is supposed to identify with and root for.
10/12/05 - 17:35
From: "Comics and Religion Discussion (DC/Marvel)" forum discussion, started 30 May 2007 on "Killer Movies" website (http://www.killermovies.com/forums/453153_2-successful-religion-based-comics-dc-marvel; viewed 6 June 2007):
Jun 1st, 2007 11:31 PM
I just think that it's too coincidental that you are working on an angelic character, have made numerous threads doing research on it and now out of the blue you created a new thread about religion. Even if you won't admit it, this thread is for the advancement of your character and you don't have to mention it because sooner or later someone else will, which is what you're hoping for deep down.
I didn't imply that you were ignorant and if your goal is too see this character made into a reality, then go ahead. Nobody is stopping you. IMO [in my opinion], I find religious characters (good guys) boring. I liked Spawn because of the artwork and because most of the time he was killing people. I liked Evangeline again because the art was pretty awesome (back then) and because it was a female character. The road to seccess is never easy and I'm sure if you make your character into a reality it will be much more rewarding knowing that there werent many people supporting the idea.
Jun 1st, 2007 11:55 PM
That's why I mentioned earlier in the thread that I was starting over, meaning form scratch. I also mentioned this in another thread.I already have admitted what this thread was for, and that was the truth... I only wanted advice, so that's why I'm starting over. I also said before that I thought religious comics were pretty boring and corny.
Jun 1st, 2007 11:58 PM
I guess that's why I dropped Spawn with issue 100 and never looked back same with Avengelyne. Characters like Nightcrawler I tolerate because the religious aspect of the character is brought up sporadically.
Jun 2nd, 2007 01:15 PM
Many people have seemed to compare my character to Spawn, and even Avengelyne. However I tried to explain to them that his comic was not to be all religious. But I was simply trying to make it seem more realistic with some religion, so besides that everything else would have been made up. I dont believe theres a comic where it explains who the creator of God is and how God had to be resurrected once he did before.
But I could be wrong...
From: "Stuart Moore's A Thousand Flowers: O Deadly Night" forum discussion, started 2 December 2003 on Newsarama website (http://forum.newsarama.com/archive/index.php/t-6949.html; viewed 28 June 2007):
The Amazing Spider-Fan
12-02-2003, 12:25 PM
A more recent Christmas comic that stands out to me is that Christmas issue of Spawn from a few years back (I don't remember the issue number). It tells the story of a poor family, and how the little boy is the only one looking forward to Christmas because he believes in Santa so much.
Cut to Christmas Eve, and he hears scratches on the roof, which he thinks must be Santa. He runs to the living room, but there aren't any presents. He starts crying, thinking that Santa forgot them. Cut to the roof, and Spawn is up there, beating up a couple of bank robbers (or something like that). In the struggle, they get tangled up in an antenna. Spawn flies off with the robbers in tow, and when the little boy looks out the window, the combination of Spawn's cape, chains, the and the antenna makes it look like Santa's flying off with reindeer.
Then the little boy notices a huge wad of cash that fell on the fire escape. Thrilled that "Santa" didn't forget them after all, the little boy puts the cash in a box with a bow under the tree. When the boy's mom and brother wake up in the morning, they wonder where it came from, but instead of asking questions, they use the money to throw a Christmas party and buy gifts for all the other poor families in their tenament. The little boy is happy that he and Santa were able to bring so much joy to all the families, and the boy's family feels the Christmas spirit again.
I think it's really Greg Capullo's art that sells the story for me...the way he drew the little boy, wide-eyed and with a grin a foot wide, made me feel his excitement for Christmas, his sadness when Santa forgets them, and his joy again to bring so much Christmas happiness to everyone. To this day, one of the few (if not the only) comic story to bring a lump to my throat.
From: "Sacreligious amd anti-Christian Comic characters" forum discussion, started 28 February 2007 on official DC Comics website (http://dcboards.warnerbros.com/web/thread.jspa?threadID=2000107545&start=45&tstart=15; viewed 20 July 2007):
Posted: Mar 1, 2007 11:43 AM
Nightcrawler was born being a demonic being, and yes he's both anti-Christian and sacreligious.
Other anti-Christian characters:
Webpage created 27 April 2006. Last modified 20 July 2007.
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