If you haven’t followed the news this week, Pope Francis is in the United States this week, making his first ever trip to America. Pope Francis is the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, the largest single Christian denomination of the world. Many Catholics in America trace their roots back to immigrant families from Europe, who moved to the United States from countries like Germany, Italy or Ireland in the 19th century. There is also a growing number of Hispanic and Latino Catholics in America, which especially identify with Pope Francis, who is Argentinian.
So what does a (relatively) ancient religion have to do with comics and geek culture? Due to its rich imagery and strong cultural identity, many comics have explored Catholic beliefs, culture and the church’s impact on its believers. Marvel Comics even published one-shot biographies about several major Catholic figures, like Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa and St. Francis of Assisi (the man from whom Pope Francis took his name). In addition, several superheroes have a strong faith in rooted in the Catholic Church, which comes into conflict with their violent vigilante lifestyle.
To commemorate Pope Francis’s visit to America, here’s five of ComicBook.com’s favorite Catholic superheroes and comic book characters.
Though there’s many superheroes who identify as Catholic, Daredevil's identity and motivations are heavily tied to his faith. Born to an Irish Catholic family, Matthew Murdock attended Mass regularly and lived in a Catholic orphanage after his father passed away. Frank Miller notably explored Daredevil’s Catholicism and used Catholic imagery heavily throughout his iconic run. Murdock’s faith also inspired his strong sense of social justice, which influenced Matt’s law firm to take clients who had nowhere else to turn. Both the comics and television show have explored Daredevil’s “Catholic guilt” and his feelings of remorse knowing that his violent brand of justice directly contradicts his faith, with the character regularly attending confession and asking for forgiveness for his sins. The 2003 Daredevil movie also used Daredevil’s church as the setting for a brutal climactic battle between Daredevil and Bullseye, one of the movie’s few highlights.
Despite being a literal prince of Hell, Hellboy grew up a devout Catholic under the tutelage of his adopted father, Professor Bruttenholm. One of the major themes of Hellboy is the struggle between predestination and free will, a popular theological debate among Catholics. Many Hellboy stories also draw heavily from Catholic folklore, with Hellboy fighting demonic monsters in ancient church ruins. Hellboy uses several Catholic talismans to fight demons and other monsters, including holy water and a rosary that he almost always carries in his pocket. Several of Hellboy’s friends and mentors were Catholic clergy and his half-brother and sister (Hellboy’s mother was actually human) were a priest and a nun.
Now that we’ve talked about a dude who dresses like the devil and the actual son of the devil, let’s talk about a third superhero with a connection to demons! Nightcrawler, the furry blue mutant whose unique look often draws comparisons to demons, is also a devout Catholic. While his Catholicism wasn’t emphasized during early Marvel comics, Nightcrawler’s faith grew throughout the years to the point where he joined the novitiate and became a Catholic priest. (Marvel would later retcon Nightcrawler’s priesthood as part of an elaborate ruse by a group of villains.) In addition to his demonic looks, Nightcrawler also shares another similarity to the Dark Horse hero Hellboy. In “The Draco”, Nighcrawler discovered that the demon Azazel, who at various times claimed to have inspired the stories of Satan, was his father and that he was part of a demonic race of mutants banished from Earth in pre-history by a group of angelic mutants (of which his fellow X-Men Archangel was also a member). While Marvel quickly forgot about “The Draco”, writer Jason Aaron would use Azazel to bring Nightcrawler back from the dead during his Amazing X-Men run.
Like several other character mentioned in the article, Blue Devil is a devout Catholic with a demonic outer appearance. A Hollywood stunt actor and special effects technician, Daniel Cassidy designed a specialized “blue devil” suit for an upcoming movie role. A chance encounter with a demon left the devil suit fused to his body, inadvertently granting him a unique set of powers. Later on, another demon forcibly transformed Cassidy into a real blue devil, which gave the superhero a unique weakness to holy objects. Stepping on holy ground or touching holy water would instantly cause his skin to burn. The supervillain Mist used this weakness against him, dousing his entire body with holy water during a fight with several Justice League members, killing him and sending his soul to hell. However, a good demon never really dies and Blue Devil returned to life a few years later.
Hey, it’s a Catholic superhero who ISN’T a devil! The modern era Huntress, Helena Bertinelli, grew up in an Italian Catholic family…who just happened to be mobsters. After a rival mob family killed the rest of her family, Huntress grew up seeking justice and became the Huntress to get vengeance against the mobsters who killed her family. Although Huntress’s costume features a Christian cross prominently, Huntress has a complicated relationship with the Church. Earlier comics depict Huntress as a lapsed Catholic with a skeptical and angry view on religion. Huntress believed that she had no place in the Catholic Church due to her vigilante crusade. However, as Helena matured and grew more in peace with herself, she reconnected with her faith and started attending Mass again.