Armagideon Time

Most afficionados of bizarre funnybook trash are familiar with Spire Comics’ melding of hardcore evangelism with America’s favorite fictional teenagers…

…but were you aware that Marvel — publisher of such theologically important works as this and this — also entered a cross-promotional Christian comics covenant of its own?

Unlike the Spire’s Archie offerings, which were essentially youth-demo tracts with familiar licensed characters, the products of Marvel’s three-issue collaboration with Christian publisher Thomas M. Nelson were part of a related but different phenomenon. The rise of America’s current evangelical movements also saw the rise of a parallel (and quite profitable) realm populated by Jesu-fied iterations of popcultural trapping and trends. Name a medium or genre — no matter how obscure or associatively heathen — and there exists a “Christian” prefixed counterpart. While the quality of the material may leave a lot to be desired, ideological underpinnings and the din of the self-created echo chamber trump matters of marginal competency.

(Seriously, if you have a D-list band and want to play for AAA-sized crowds, use find-and-replace to swap out all sex and drug references in your lyrics in favor of “God,” “Jesus,” “worship,” and “pray.” You can keep the stuff about getting down on your knees, however.)

In a realm with Christian rap, metal, punk, romance novels, dating sites, kiddie cartoons, and detourned Joy Division t-shirts, it only stands to reason faith that someone would have hit upon the concept of a bona fide Christian superhero…

…which is how the Illuminator came to be.

Andy Prentiss was a unhip, be-mulleted teen attending summer camp in some Tennessee backwater when he was consumed by a shining light from the heavens. The whys and wherefores behind the mysterious radiance and its choice of victim beneficiary were not addressed — “mysterious ways,” and all that — but the experience changed Andy into a superhuman avatar with the ability to transform himself into a being of coherent light.

When the cigarette-smoking, fedora-sporting, collar-popping, drug-peddling, rat-tail wearing bad boy of Andy’s placid Nashville suburb became possessed by a demon, the virtuous teen attempted to use his powers to bring the agglomeration of parental nightmares down but was instead laid low by his own pride and cowardice. (Mostly cowardice.) He was rescued from infernal immolation by Gus, a church janitor who exchanged hawg-riding hellraising for extreme evangelism after losing a hand in a bad bike accident.

After giving Andy a tough love pep talk about what it means to be a true holy warrior, he offered the teen his old set of riding gear — a very 1993 ensemble which evoked both Star Brand’s and Cobra Commander’s (helmeted variant) fighting togs — and set him loose to slam spiritual evil…

Said spiritual evils took the form of dope peddlers, an evil secularist biology professor…

…whose plan to cure birth defects (“blessings in disguise” according to the devout Gus) by setting loose gator-human hybrids during the big football game, more dope peddlers, the fearsomely goateed Channel Master…

…who used his demonic new age crystals to transform Andy’s teenage crush into the supervillainous “Chakra,” and still more dope peddlers. (It was the 1990s, after all.)

No matter how grave the threat or how big the stakes were, Gus was there to provide the kind of spiritual advice which can only come from a middle aged, hook-handed former speed freak who lives in a boiler room and spontaneously raves about battling demons and God’s ultimate plan for the world.

Trapped between the realms of moral edification and disposable entertainment, Illuminator doesn’t really work as either a spiritual document or a superhero tale. It fails as most works (Christian or otherwise) do when agendas drive the work rather than subtly informing it. Its mix of tropes lifted from Marv Wolfman’s 1970s Nova stories, religious platitudes lifted from 1980s televangelists, and the “eh, close enough” visual aesthetics of the post-Image talent exodus of the 1990s result in a work that reads less like a superhero comic and more like an art therapy piece put together by a person struggling to reconcile the tenets of his faith with his love for the capes-and-spandex genre.

Neither staff nor snake, lamb nor lion, the radiantly religious Knight of Light exemplfies the qualities that make all but the most devout souls flinch when they hear “Christian” appended to a familiar format (especially when said format is “third wave ska”). May he find lasting peace in the Elysian Brownfields of Nobody’s Favorites.

8 Responses to “Nobody’s Favorites: Let there be cross-hatching”

  1. Skeeter

    There is a lot of terrible Christian sub-culture versions of pop culture phenomenons, but I sincerely hope you’re not including Five Iron Frenzy in your dismissal of Christian third-wave ska. That would make me sad.

  2. MrJM

    I had never heard of this before, so maybe there is a God.

    — MrJM

  3. Raz

    I had the first issue of this! I don’t remember it being TERRIBLE but it sounds like it only went downhill from there….

    Also re: his costume….kinda looks like they slapped a bike helmet on 80’s Dazzler

  4. Jeremy Patterson

    There is a bit in the first issue that mentions the X-Men’s ‘death’ in Texas, implying that ‘Illuminator’ is set in the ‘main’ Marvel Universe!

    J.A.P.

  5. Philip

    I call BS on a former outlaw biker dude having a full-face helmet. That should have tipped Andy off that this “Gus” was working a con.

  6. Nik

    Whoa. Usually the Nobody’s Favorites I’ve heard of and either secretly like or agree with the scorn, but this is the first time you’ve had one I’ve NEVER heard of, and even published by Marvel in the 1990s when I was a total fanboy. I hope the Illuminator comes back soon and takes Wolverine to the lord. Maybe the Punisher killed him when he was in the whole angel of death thing.

  7. Kris

    Hey any comic with a shout out to Conway Twitty on the cover can’t be all bad. …Just kidding, I’m sure it’s horrible.

  8. Reggie

    aw man, I was hoping this would be about the Spire Archie comics! But then, those are some of my favorites so I guess they wouldn’t fit.

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