Mark RussellAt this time last year, Mark Russell was promoting his comic Second Coming as part of a stable of forthcoming new Vertigo books. But since then, much has changed.

In Second Coming, which is a collaboration between Russell and artists Richard Pace and Leonard Kirk, Jesus Christ returns to Earth, urged/commanded by his father to become roommates with the world’s mightiest superhero–a thinly veiled Superman analog who punches his way through any and all challenges. The book is essentially a sendup of a culture that has evolved to value heroes who solve problems with fists, rather than with the peaceful protests first taught by Christ. Second Coming looks at us (all of us) as a society, with a special focus on super-heroics as well as a modern day Christian establishment that has perhaps strayed from the faith’s earlier, more subversive teachings about love, peace, acceptance, forgiveness, etc. (all the good stuff).

Again, Second Coming was to be part of Vertigo. A reinvigorated line for the imprint was announced last spring, with panels and press appearances scheduled for San Diego. Vertigo was reloading, with new comics about immigration, white supremacist networks, and other searingly-relevant hot button topics. Months before Second Coming was even released, however, the comic drew fire from conservative groups, calling its premise blasphemous. There was an online petition and coverage from Fox and World Religion News.

As a result, before the book’s release, all parties involved (from creators to publisher) thought it best to part ways, which enabled Second Coming to move from the corporate ownership of Vertigo/DC to the upstart, razor-smart, and consistently satirical publisher, Ahoy Comics (itself the creation of former Vertigo staffers…what has since become of Vertigo is another story…).

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Annnnnyway, this is all a rather verbose (but hopefully informative?) way of noting that after some tumult, Second Coming #1 will make its debut via Ahoy Comics in shops this Wednesday. And we were lucky enough to shoot some questions over to writer Mark Russell, whose generous and thoughtful responses can be found below…

The Beat: First things first, what are some things you’d like potential readers to know about this book in advance, especially as it relates to any misconceptions that might be out there?

Russell: Yes. I think the general impression that has been created by media outlets that have reported on Second Coming without having read it or spoken to me about it is that it’s some disingenuous prank simply to stir up trouble by mocking Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus Christ is the real hero of this comic and Second Coming is, in part, a serious examination of what a tragedy it is that Christianity has abandoned him to become a prosperity gospel, to become a doctrine which has been used to justify slavery, war, and forcing people to live in shame. In short, to serve the very sorts of empires Christ had hoped to undermine with his teachings.

The Beat: I love the way that some of your past work—thinking specifically of The Flintstones here—has been structured, with ongoing themes and other threads, but largely kept to clear episodic formats. How does Second Coming function structurally, are there cliffhangers and a story that builds from one issue to the next, or is it a little looser?

Russell: It is structured in much the same way as The Flintstones. Each issue tells one story with its own theme, but also work to push the common narrative forward. Generally speaking, I don’t like using cliffhangers unless the longer story arc really requires them. I think sometimes writers use cliffhangers as a sort of cheat. They think they can get away with treading water for twenty pages, but if they have a killer cliffhanger at the end, readers will come back for the next issue. I try, with varying degrees of success, to pour as much of myself into the every page of the story as possible. I like to have resolutions within the issue to make my point as strongly as possible to someone who may never pick up another issue. I really believe in just saying what it is you have to say in as short and blunt away as possible. Whether I succeed or not, I pride myself on being as straightforward with readers as I can and giving them a complete experience in twenty-two pages.

The Beat: What can you tell us about the artwork in Second Coming…I understand Leonard Kirk will also be joining the series for scenes set on Earth?

Russell: Yeah, Richard Pace had this really great idea of making the artwork look different depending on the setting. The scenes on Earth are sharper, more heavily-inked, whereas the scenes in Heaven are hazier and less defined. It has a great visual effect and adding Leonard Kirk has done wonders for the look of this series.

The Beat: The intersection of traditional religious faith and perceptions of heroism seems like an excessively relevant one for 2019. What makes this a potentially important story to tell right now?

Russell: The more the world falls apart, the more we look to our stories to sustain us. Christianity is, arguably, the most successful story in human history. Which is great, because it’s the story of of a man standing up to the most powerful empire on Earth and winning in a way they couldn’t even fathom. So much of his story is about how controlling other human beings with your wealth and strength is ultimately illusory and how focusing on these things blinds you to your basic humanity. So, given the importance of this story, I think it’s important to ask to what extent we got the story right and to what extent it’s simply become one more tool for trying to control people with wealth and power.

The Beat: What are some of the things you’ve learned from your past work—both in religion and in superhero comics—that have informed Second Coming?  

Russell: Pretty much everything I’ve learned about religion and superhero comics is informing Second Coming. But I think the most important take away is that ultimately they’re all just made out of people. Almost every mythology in the world is the story of a dysfunctional family. Of kids trying to succeed where their parents failed. Of heroes with hopes and fears and shortcomings of their own, overcoming themselves as much as their adversaries to fix a broken world. And the fact that this gap exists between the world as it is and the world as it needs to be is the reason why we as simple people created these gods and heroes. To be the stories we needed.

The Beat: An odd thing about the manufactured controversy following the announcement of this comic was that the concept seems more of a sendup of faith in superheroes than faith in religion…how right is that? And were you surprised at the reaction? 

Russell: That is exactly correct. And I think the people condemning this comic without having read it perhaps sense that it is them that is being satirized, not Christ. They’ve just gotten used to conflating the two and not having anyone notice. I was surprised in the sense that I thought people would at least read the comic before getting upset about it, but I think once people read it, they will quickly realize that they’ve once again been misled by the manufactured outrage and professional anger merchants.

The Beat: I remember seeing the headline that Second Coming was leaving Vertigo and DC, and getting over my distress pretty quickly by thinking there might be a better home for it. How does being at Ahoy benefit Second Coming, in terms of things like censorship and potential backlash?

Russell: Working with the editorial team at Vertigo was a great experience and I know they loved this series as much as I did and so we all felt to honor what we all originally set out to accomplish, it would be best to take it somewhere else. But I’m so grateful for all the work people like Molly Mahan and Mark Doyle put in on behalf of this series. That said, I wasn’t terribly broken up about leaving Vertigo precisely because I knew there would be other homes for the series and places that would let me do what I’d originally set out to do. AHOY seemed like an ideal match because, despite being a new company, they had already built up a great stable of irreverent but thoughtful titles like High Heaven, Wrong Earth, and Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Terror. Staffed mostly by exiles from Vertigo, it really felt like a natural landing place for Second Coming.

The Beat: Finally, what do you see as the scope of this project, in terms of longevity and length of run?

Russell: Ideally, I’d like to see this series run 18-24 issues. Maybe 30, depending on how much I have to say on the matter.

Second Coming is slated to debut on Wednesday, July 10. Mark Russell and others from Ahoy Comics will be appearing at San Diego Comic-Con next week. You can find information about them below…

Thursday, 7/18/19

6:00p.m. – 7:00p.m., AHOY COMICS Conversation with Mark Russell, From his radical revamp of The Flintstones to the acclaimed Snagglepuss to his own controversial SECOND COMING, Mark Russell brings a unique blend of wit and intelligence to every project he tackles. AHOY Comics’ Stuart Moore hosts a one-on-one conversation about this important voice in the comics field and SECOND COMING. Room: 32AB

Friday, 7/19/19

5:30p.m. – 6:30p.m., AHOY Comics: Expect More,  AHOY Comics has burst on the scene with acclaimed creators, smart satires, and a commitment to publishing fun and eclectic storytelling. Join writers Mark Russell, Mark Waid, Tyrone Finch, Mariah McCourt, and Stuart Moore for this can’t-miss panel discussion. Why did AHOY Comics decided to publish SECOND COMING, the controversial comic in which Jesus Christ resumes His Holy Mission? Which comic will emerge victorious from the STEEL CAGE competition? Will AHOY publish more time travel comics like BRONZE AGE BOOGIE and PLANET OF THE NERDS in the future? Do you have to be 21 years or older to read EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SNIFTER OF TERROR? The answers will astound you! Room: 24ABC