Mark Russell Talks Second Coming

After a long and difficult road to publication, Second Coming #1 hits the stands today from AHOY [...]

After a long and difficult road to publication, Second Coming #1 hits the stands today from AHOY Comics, who rescued the series from writer Mark Russell and artists Richard Pace, Leonard Kirk, and Andy Troy after it was cancelled by Vertigo. The title, originally pitched as part of Vertigo's 2018 relaunch, was targeted by religious interests, who objected to how (they had heard) the series would charcterize Jesus and God.

The title was originally delayed, and then cancelled altogether, with Russell and Pace almost immediately saying that they were shopping it around to other publishers. Perhaps AHOY, home to High Heaven by Tom Peyer, Greg Scott, and Troy, was an obvious choice...and that is where it ultimately landed.

Russell joined to discuss the series, which debuted its first issue today. You can pick up a copy at your local comic shop, or wherever digital comics are sold.

Was there more or less pressure to differentiate Sunstar from Superman once you weren't publishing at DC?

It was pretty much the same. A woman contacted me saying she had already created a superhero called Sun-Man, who was supposed to be an inspirational figure for children in the black community and she (understandably) didn't want her character to be confused with mine, so I agreed to change the character's name to Sunstar, which is a name that Richard came up with. That's about as much as the character changed after leaving Vertigo.

After that initial flood of hate and support, how has launching Second Coming compared to other launches you've done since you started becoming a household name for comic fans?

It's a lot crazier. More media interviews, more blocking cranks on Twitter, a lot more trying to correct perceptions about what this comic is and is not. There's a lot more baggage that comes with this comic than anything I've done previously, obviously.

What inspired your take on Heaven as a kind of bureaucratic nightmare?

I remember having these questions when I was a kid. Everyone told me that when you died, you'd be greeted by God and all your dead loved ones and I thought, "Really? He does that for everyone?" I imagined God going about his business, people in Heaven eating at cafes and singing and whatever, then suddenly having to stop whatever they were doing every thirty seconds to welcome every single person who died. That only made sense to me if the dead souls went to a sort of waiting room until there was enough of them that God could get it all over with in a stadium show. A sort of orientation for new arrivals, which of course, necessitates bureaucracy. You've got to have angels in charge of the holding room, of filling the stadium, of notifying God when he was due on stage, and handling people's housing assignments after the ceremony. This will be dealt with more in later issues.

When you sit down for a project, do you either research, or specifically avoid, other books that are simlarly themed?

No, not really. I just write it in a way that seems right to me. I've written two books about the Bible (God Is Disappointed in You and Apocrypha Now) so mostly I went back to the research I did in writing those books to create my Heavenscape and to revisit Christ's first visit to Earth.

How did you guys come up with the personality you were going to give God?

I wrote God from the Jahwist perspective, which is the perspective much of the Old Testament was written from. The Jahwist tradition sees God as being much like a man, having the same temperament and emotional outbursts that we do, but with the powers we associate with God. This is the version of God who floods the Earth but then feels bad about it, who makes impetuous bets with Satan, who gives the Israelites free bread in the desert and then sends a plague of snakes when they complain about it. I thought this version of God would really relate to Sunstar, who is himself an all-powerful being terrifyingly stuck with the mind of a normal person.

Jesus himself is pretty true to scripture, personality-wise. Is some of the comedy going to come from how badly that clashes with contemporary life?

Yes. And how badly Christianity clashes with Christ.

More than a "blasphemy," some of this feels like an indictment of the quiet fascism of superhero comics. Is that fair or am I reaching?

It's really a meditation on power, as all superhero comics are. But the fundamental question posed by superhero comics is "Who should we beat up?" The question posed by this comic is really whether that's the only solution we have to offer the world? We have institutionalized violence as our go-to solution. Especially in this country where we don't seem to think there's a problem that can't be solved by invading another country, throwing more people in prison, or buying another gun.

...So can we assume this is a shared universe with High Heaven?

According to the Jewish Midrash, there are actually seven Heavens, each performing its own celestial function, i.e. one where new types of weather are created, one where the angels live when they aren't working, etc. I like to think that High Heaven and Second Coming occupy separate layers in this departmentalized etherium.