Sunday, 16 February 2020

GHOST RIDER - SERVANT OF GOD...?


Copyright MARVEL COMICS

An-oft told tale in MARVEL COMICS' history is how writer TONY ISABELLA introduced a character who was going to be revealed as JESUS CHRIST at the end of a long-running story-arc in GHOST RIDER.  Apparently, this had been run past the necessary people and approved, only for JIM SHOOTER (who was then an associate editor) to nix the idea at the last moment, changing Christ to a demon who'd been only posing as a righteous person and 'friend' to JOHNNY BLAZE.

Isabella's motivation in proposing the idea was, if I comprehend correctly, because he felt that there was no shortage of supernatural devils and demons in the Marvel Universe, but no overtly Heavenly righteous ones.  Marvel (and comics in general) seemed to have a plethora of 'SATAN'-type characters (one of them actually called Satan, but was he originally intended to be the Biblical one?*), but no 'GOD' ones. (Note the capital 'G' - we're not talking Norse or Greek deities here).

(*He was later revealed to be MEPHISTO, but I don't know whether or not this was done under Isabella's tenure.)

With DC's The SPECTRE, although the source of JIM CORRIGAN's powers was assumed to be God, I don't think that source was ever actually identified as such, or at least, not specifically as the Biblical  God.  That tended to leave out any particular theological or denominational inferences, so the readers were left to interpret The Spectre's version of 'God' according to their own beliefs.  So no real problem there then - unless you happened to be an atheist.

Although I can understand why Isabella was royally p*ssed off at the denouement of his story being radically altered, I find myself equally understanding why Shooter vetoed it.  Comics try to be neutral on the subject of religion, avoiding coming down on the side of any particular branch of denominational theology.  I've sort of lost track on whether or not there's even supposed to be a 'Supreme Being' in the MU, because the existence of The ETERNALS and perhaps even GALACTUS tends to muddy the waters.

However, it seems to me that had Isabella's story been published in its original form, despite his best intentions, it would have led to all sorts of controversies and repercussions which Marvel would have been anxious to avoid.  From being an essentially neutral observer on the matter of whether Christ was God, it would've been seen to be endorsing that particular tenet of Christian theological belief, which may have potentially offended members of other religious groups, especially Jews and Muslims.

And you can bet that some groups would've been offended just by the notion of Jesus Christ being used as a character in a superhero mag - especially if He seemed to be sanctioning Ghost Rider's methods of dealing with 'sinners', which was surely at odds with Biblical teaching.  Isabella's idea (if I understand rightly) was that Johnny Blaze would accept Christ as his saviour, essentially rendering his crime-fighting exploits as being in service to Jesus.  Was Johnny going to ask sinners/criminals to repent and accept Jesus as their saviour before blasting them with his 'Heaven- Fire' if they didn't?  You can see the inherent problems from the get-go.

But were they insurmountable?  Perhaps any controversial/contradictory aspects could've been lessened or reconciled to some degree, but it would probably have been accomplished at the expense of compelling conflict and drama - at least in the way they're normally portrayed in comicbook superhero terms.  It would also have removed the interesting aspect of Johnny Blaze being in constant rebellion against the source of his power.  And let's be brutally honest here - the idea of a 'Sunday School' super-hero isn't quite so compelling, is it?   

Any thoughts on the matter, Crivs?  Just publicly accept me as the the world's best, finest, and noblest blogger and you will be rewarded with everlasting embarrassment. No, wait - that didn't come out right.  Och, tell you what, just leave a comment then. 

7 comments:

David said...

A correction, which doesn't affect the story. Shooter was an associate editor at the time, with Marv Wolfman as editorin chief. See the article at http://rsmwriter.blogspot.com/2016/06/the-jim-shooter-victim-files-tony.html for more.

Kid said...

Thanks for that, D - duly amended.

Gene Phillips said...

I'm sure I saw a Marvel letters-page in which the compiler said something to the effect that while no one was likely to complain if Marvel put words in Satan's mouth, attributing modern-day speech to God and or Jesus was a different thing.

I always thought that the Satan in GHOST RIDER and SON OF SATAN was intended to be the Biblical fiend, just like the one in the Satanic horror flicks of the time. Then later raconteurs got skittish and invoked comic-book demons like Mephisto to take the rap.

B Smith said...

"...would've been offended by the notion of Jesus Christ being used as a character in a superhero mag"

Didn't they read Son O'God comics in National Lampoon?...'twas a chuckle.

Kid said...

I believe you're right, GP. After all, what would be the point of calling the character 'Satan' if he wasn't intended to be the Biblical one? As you say, revealing him as Mephisto was a later development.

******

If you're talking about the movies, never seen one, BS. Or read the magazine, actually - apart from a Mad parody (as in a parody of Mad) that Barry Pearl showed in a guest post.

Dave S said...

The 1990s Spectre series was pretty explicit that the title character was an aspect of the biblical God. It was all very well and sensitively handled, maybe due to writer John Ostrander being, I believe, a theologian. It's also, in my opinion, one of the very best comics runs if the 90s.

Kid said...

I haven't read the '90s series, DS, but when The Spectre first appeared in 1940, the source of his power was called 'The Voice'. It was assumed by readers to be the voice of God, but I don't think it was ever explicitly stated. Obviously, by the '90s, comics were more relaxed about such things, but The Spectre being a manifestation of 'The Wrath Of God' is a bit out-of-sync with New Testament theology.

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