The purpose of this page is to present some general thoughts and discussion about our website's "Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Characters" section. On this page I hope to present some context for this website and explanations about aspects of this research that have generated questions or criticism. This page is intended to be informative. I do not want it to be defensive or argumentative.
Like the rest of the Adherents.com website, the Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Characters is designed to be fact-based, presenting a compilation of data based on carefully referenced material. This is not the only valid approach to this material. This is simply how we were interested in conducting our research and we feel it best serves the purposes of research.
I have often seen this question on blog and discussion sites: Why are there no superheroes (of a given religious group)? Sometimes this sentiment is expressed in the form of a declarative complaint, i.e., "There's not a single (religion X) superhero!"
The answer to this can be divided into two parts, depending on the religious group in question.
First, many times there are superheroes of a particular religious group, the reader simply didn't see them listed. I find this perplexing, because even if the page isn't formatted the way you might have formatted it, I don't think it is very hard to use the "Find" command (under your browser's menu bar, or via the Command-F keyboard shortcut) to pop up a text search box, type in the name of the religion you're looking for, and hit return.
Furthermore, near the very top of the page is a section of religion names, each of which is a link that will take browsers directly to the section in the pages superhero table which lists the super-heroes associated with that religion. Characters are grouped in the superhero list by faith group (i.e., the Catholic characters are grouped together, Muslim characters are grouped together, etc.) I can't think of how to make this any simpler.
Some of the questions/complaints posted on discussion forums that include: "What, no Methodist superheroes?" This, despite the fact that Superman himself is listed as a Methodist, and he is the very first superhero listed in the main table. Plus Supergirl (Linda Danvers, from Peter David's run) is very overtly, pointedly, repeatedly identified as a Methodist, and she is listed there as well, along with some others. It is true that there aren't very many Methodists compared to some other affilations, but they've always been listed. How does one miss that?
I recall seeing somebody bemoan the fact that there are no Jewish superheroes listed. Jews and Catholics are the largest groupings on the list. Jews are listed further down the page, true, but scroll a little... How does one miss this page's huge listing of Jewish superheroes?
I have also seen complaints that there are no atheist superheroes listed. Atheist superheroes have always been listed on the page. There aren't a large number of them, and they are listed toward the bottom of the main list. But they're there. Maybe people are looking alphabetically, I don't know. But I would think it would be obvious that the religious groups aren't listed alphabetically when the very first group listed on the page is Methodists.
Of course, it is possible that readers looking for atheist superheroes used the find command to search text on the page and mistakenly typed "athiest," with the vowels transposed. I can't tell you how often I see this spelling error. Everytime I copy text from atheist blogs, atheist discussion forums, etc. to add to the "Discussion" sections on pages on this website I have to correct all the misspellings of the word "atheist." And no, this isn't a way of getting in some kind of sly dig at atheists who don't know how to spell the word "atheist." I can see how it can be tricky. Atheists aren't the only people with this problem. "Episcopalian," for example, is sometimes misspelled, even by people who identify themselves as Episcopalians. The most commonly term for religious self-identification is "atheist." I just did a Google search for the phrase: "I'm an athiest", and came up with 20,500 hits.
Along similar lines, I have seen people wonder that there are no "Mormon superheroes." At least this is more understandable, because such characters are listed as "Latter-day Saints," which is the actual term for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Someone searching only for "Islamic" superheroes or the word "Islam" might have trouble because these characters are listed as "Muslim." Jewish characters are listed as "Jewish", so somebody might have a little difficulty if they search only for "Judaism." But I don't think this would really cause a problem, because at the very top of the Jewish is Acidic Jew, whose religious affiliataion is lited as "Hasidic Judaism," followed by Billy Kaplan of the Young Avengers, whose religion is listed as "Reform Judaism."
Sorry if it wasn't easy enough to find what you were looking for on this page (if it's there), but like I said, I've tried to make it as easy as possible. If you know of a way to make the information on the page even easier to find, please let me know. Fortunately, the "table of contents" link cluster at the top, the logical groupings in the table, and the ability to use the Find text command in a browser window seem to suffice for most people.
I know that the first thing most people do when they come to the "Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Characters" page is look for their own religious affiliation. I believe most readers have no difficulty finding it. In addition to the above-mentioned methods for making this easier, one of the reasons most people find what they are looking for is that so many different religious affilations are listed. We have gone to considerable effort to find comic book characters representing as many different religious groups as possible, and the majority of people will find that their own religion (or faith group, spiritual category, belief classification, etc.) is represented by comic book characters.
But this isn't true for everybody. Which leads to the second part of our answer to why there are no superheroes of religion X?
For many religious groups (particularly smaller groups), there simply aren't any superheroes from that religion or denomination.
Here are some religious groups that we have no characters listed for, and which we have seen complaints posted about the lack of representation:
- Unitarian-Universalist (or "UUs", or Unitarians or Universalists)
- Jehovah's Witnesses
- Congregationalist/United Church of Christ
- Church of Christ (Stone-Campbell)
- Quaker (Society of Friends)
Of course, there are other significant religions and denominations which have no known representation among comic book superheroes or even comic book characters generally. These are simply the groups represented by specific blog or forum discussion postings.
I don't blame visitors to our site from these (and other non-represented) groups if they feel frustrated, or even if they feel this is something of a slap in the face. These aren't completely obscure groups! We've had presidents of the United States of America from these groups (Hoover and Nixon were Quakers; Eisenhower was raised as a Jehovah's Witness; John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Taft were all Unitarians; Coolidge and John Adams were Congregationalists). These groups are well-known to students of history and society, and are even represented in science ficiton, film and other media. We can have a few Presbyterian and Methodist superheroes, but no Quaker superheroes? Of course there is no "anti-Quaker" agenda at play here, but the lack of this type of diversity strikes me as a real missed opportunity.
Yes, I realize that it is "harder to draw" a Congregationalist than a Jew (yarmulke) or Catholic (crucifix, confessional, collar). But is it easy to draw an atheist or a Lutheran? Yet characters have been identified for these groups.
So if you didn't find the religious group you were looking for, I feel a little bad about that, but out website is just the messenger. We didn't create (or not create) these characters.
But, for a moment, let me address those who do create and tell the stories of comic book characters: Comic book writers, artists and editors, let me here ask for just a little bit more diversity and creativity in the backgrounds of comic book characters.
I don't believe comics should have any particular social agenda. Certainly nobody is calling for widescale affirmative action. We don't need Marvel to say, "Okay, 1% of Americans are members of the Assemblies of God and 2% are Latter-day Saints, so 1% of U.S.-born superheroes should belong AoG and 2% of U.S.-born superheroes should be LDS." We don't want that.
But... Why not throw the under-represented and totally un-represented groups a few bones? How hard would it be? The major publishers have thousands of characters. Can't you take a B-list (or even C-list) superhero, or even a recurring villain and give him an overtly recognized religious affiliation? Was any harm done when Speedball of the New Warriors told people he's Presbyterian? When an early issue of The New Mutants announced that Sam Guthrie ("Cannonball") is a Baptist, did sales go down or did Marvel receive complaints? No, of course not. Conversely, there are countless Presbyterian comic book readers who may not make a big deal about it, but they appreciate the fact that the overtly-identified Presbyterian Wolfsbane is out there representing them, just as Jewish, Catholic, Buddhist, atheist, Muslim, etc., readers appreciate the characters who share their backgrounds.
We know that Venom (Eddie Brock) is Catholic. People love that. It's a great part of his story. It made it into Spider-Man 3. How many characters would be more interesting, have added depth, and simply be better than they are if we knew a little bit about their religious affiliation - whether they tend toward belief or disbelief, orthodoxy or apostasy. Relativey minor characters could obtain a whole new fan base, or at least be more memorable and allow writers an additional tool to play with when portraying the character.
It doesn't have to be a huge thing. A passing mention in dialog can convey the idea. In X-Factor #16 (April 2007), a single panel with an establishing shot showing the sign outside the Episcopalian church where Jamie Madrox's renegade dupe was a preacher told us all we need to know about the character's precise religious affiliation. This put the rest of the story into context. We don't need a lengthy theological treatise.
Start small. A minor character was simply raised in a certain faith, for example. A 6-issue arc doesn't need to be built around it. But add some diversity to the mix. There are countless Jewish and Catholic comic book characters, and "generically Christian" or "de facto Protestant" isn't what we're talking about here. There is an endless supply of real-world religious affilations that have never been used in your comic universe. Find one and use it. Your story and your character will never be forgotten. Didn't Daredevil and Nightcrawler become more interesting since becoming overtly Catholic? Isn't the overtly Jewish Kitty Pryde one of comicdom's most interesting and popular heroines? What if it was revealed that Fred Myers ("Boomerang") was a member of the United Church of Christ (the same denomination that Barak Obama) belongs to? Why couldn't Drew Daniels ("Texas Twister") be a Pentecostal? Not hard to do, no harm done. Yet there are great potential rewards. If nothing else, there will be a whole group of people who feel they have a comic book character of particular interest to them.
Comic book creators: Don't do any of this out of any feeling of social responsibility, or because you feel you need to promote respect for diversity, or even because you feel an obligation to fans. Do it for yourself. Here is the simple truth of the matter: The comic book writers who are the most poupular writers with fans and the writers who are most respected by critics and peers are those who are most likely to include overtly religious characters and themes in their work. This doesn't mean that these writers all have the same viewpoint. Successful writers run the gamut from devoutly religious to ardently secular. But the best writers acknowledge the existence of religiously diverse characters, and utilize the inherent dramatic interest that such diversity creates.
Some of the best comic book writing of the past twenty years has been stories about openly religious characters, written by atheist writers, and stories about openly atheist characters written by devoutly religious writers. Good writing doesn't always mean only writing about people like yourself.
It may be easier and more comfortable to shy away from uncommon philosophical, ethical, moral and religious themes. It may be easier and more comfortable to write every character as if he or she largely shares the same worldview that you do. But eventually it gets boring.
So you noticed this, too? You tell me. It's the strangest thing. Sikhism is one of twelve classical world religions. More people practice Sikhism than Judaism. Perhaps best of all (for comics), Sikhs are easy to draw and they're very visual. Sikhs have their own visually distinctive ethnicity (although non-ethnic Sikhs can convert), their style, religiously significant apparel such as bracelets and, most of all, the turban. Now, many people who aren't Sikhs wear turbans (including Muslims, Hindus, etc.) But when you couple the turban with a surname such as "Singh" or "Kaur", and there you go, instant Sikh. How difficult is that?
Apparently not too difficult, because there are scores of Sikh comic book characters. Hadji Singh (from "Johnny Quest"), Punjab (from "Little Orphan Annie"), Randu Singh (ally of Jason Blood/Demon) and Tabu Jaswinder Singh (best friend of Thunderbolt/Peter Cannon) are some of the better known Sikhs from comics. Newer Sikhs include Omar, the Escapist's assistant (from Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and the comics that came after it), Ajeet Patel (from Stormwatch: Team Achilles, and Lauren Singh (the girlfriend of new Marvel superhero Gravity).
But these Sikhs are always the buddy or friend or helper. They're supporting characters. They don't get the super powers, they don't get to dress up in colorful spandex costumes. They're not superheroes themselves. Why is that?
I even thought I found a Sikh superhero: Non-Stop wears a turban and runs a convenience store in the superhero parody "Minoriteam" on Cartoon Network. But then I found out that Non-Stop worships Krishna. He's a Hindu, not a Sikh.
So even teams that go out of their way to include ethnically diverse, racially diverse and regionally diverse stereotype characters> - teams like Minoriteam, Global Guardians, Cadre of the Immortal, Young Gods... even the "Super Best Friends" from South Park... none of these have a Sikh member on the team.
You know what it is? Partially, the problem is that Sikhs don't have their own state. Their homeland is Punjab, which is a province in India. So while every "international" superhero team anywhere has a Japanese superhero who can eventually be identified as a Buddhist or Shintoist or something, nobody has a Sikh superhero because once they added the Hindu superhero from India, they figured they were done.
So Sikhs are the world's largest religion that doesn't have it's own superhero. But at least they've got all these loyal supporting characters. That's better than Baha'is or Jains have, isn't it?
Still, whenever I see the list of comic book Sikhs I always think, "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride." Sorry, Sikhs.