Surprisingly, many popular superheroes were written as Catholics.
This week we celebrated #NationalComicBookDay and it’s good to know that comic books have yet to go out of style, as the storytelling medium (and the longer graphic novels) fascinates every generation in turn.
The recent success of a number of Marvel and DC movies has only added to the renewed interest in comic books.
What many people do not realize is that a surprising number of comic book characters are portrayed as Catholic — usually conflicted Catholics, because conflict is such a natural driver of narrative.
Whether it’s due to the rich history and beautiful images associated with Catholicism, or the ancient and supernatural character of the Church — which naturally lends itself to fantastic stories — the inclusion of Catholic characters (who often struggle with faith and their violent lifestyle) is certainly welcome.
In addition to superheroes who were Catholic, Marvel has in the past gone out on a limb and created a few comic books that featured popular religious figures of the 1980s. The gamble turned out to be successful — the issues sold well, but the idea was never regularized.
Here is a list of five Catholic superheroes (some you may be already familiar with) and how their Catholic faith impacted their comic book appearances.
Created by writer/editor Stan Lee, Matthew Murdock was born into a faithful Irish-Catholic household, but lived in a Catholic orphanage during his childhood. His Catholicism is explored in many stories and is a standard feature of the new Netflix series. He is often seen in the confessional, struggling with his need for justice, his instincts to vigilantism, and the tenets of the Catholic faith.
Born in Bavaria, Kurt Wagner possesses a strange ability to teleport and was a member of the X-Men team of mutants. His Catholicism is brought up in different ways; an earlier storyline suggested he was ordained a priest at some point in his life, but this is disputed by subsequent issues. He is seen in the movie X2: X-Men United praying his rosary in German and is found hiding in a Catholic church. While sometimes serious, Nightcrawler is also known as a joker and prankster.
Not as well known, Helena Bertinelli was born in an Italian-Catholic mob family and religious imagery is sometimes drawn into her costume. She struggles with her Catholicism and is known for her excessive violence. Interestingly she has a bit of a “reversion” later on in the series, where she is shown finding peace in once again practicing her religion.
Around the 800th anniversary of St. Francis’ birth, a Franciscan friar met with a Marvel representative and discussed creating a comic book about the popular saint’s life. Marvel agreed and the result is a comic book biography (Francis: Brother of the Universe) that was a smashing hit when it was released in 1980. The story was written by Father Roy Gasnick, and illustrated by top-notch artists at Marvel. It was a new venture at the time and paved the way for more religious comic books.
St. John Paul II
After the success of Francis: Brother of the Universe, Marvel turned their sights on recently elected John Paul II. His entire life up until that point was translated into a comic book, including the assassination attempt in 1981. The comic book was released in 1982 and Father Mieczyslaw Malinski, a Polish priest who attended seminary with John Paul II, was a consulting editor.