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November 07, 2008



It does seem a little odd that the Watcher is Christian. I mean, come on. "Oh yeah. Non-Christians? The all-knowing guy says you're wrong." That does seem kind of borderline offensive to me. Nothing I'd really lose sleep over, though.

As for Cap, I can definitely see him being religious, but that mini-sermon thing while beating up people and looking for a bomb seemed really... weird. It's not really offensive. It's just bad writing.

John Nowak

I'm pretty much in agreement with Zach.

I do not consider myself a believing Christian. I have absolutely no problem with the idea that Captain America is Christian, and that in bad situations he gets inspiration from his faith. Facing an ethical question with "What Would Jesus Do?" is excellent advice.

It sounds a little weird coming from the Watcher, especially out of context. It would have been amusing if his next line was "I speak of Quirdilan of Repto-7."

Mark Engblom

"It does seem a little odd that the Watcher is Christian."

The Watcher's comments seem pretty generic to me. I'm not getting an explicitly Christian implication there.

De Baisch

I'm not getting an explicitly Christian implication there.

Me neither.

Mark Engblom

Something else to keep in mind, despite the dialogue coming across a bit ham-handed by today's standards, is just how unprecedented this kind of stuff was in superhero comics.

As a truly groundbreaking comic book company, Marvel not only featured superheroes who occasionally quarrelled with one another, or who experienced personal problems, but also those who expressed personal opinions or (in this case) a spiritual side.

Over at DC, there was absolutely nothing close the introspective and philosophical angles introduced by Stan Lee. I'm not saying it's a good policy for characters to wear their political or religious philosophies on their sleeve, but at the same time, it's pretty amazing to see what kind of new territory Stan and the gang were willing to explore (regardless of the discomfort it would occasionally cause). I think that willingness to go beyond the accepted "comfort zones" of both comic book publishers and readers was one of the many reasons that made Silver Age Marvel so special.

Wes C

I don't see it as pro-Christian either, it was the 60's - "and his only weapon is love" seems like a generic feel good religious platitude of the day.

"I speak of Quirdilan of Repto-7." - Yeah that would have been too funny.

Mark Engblom

"...a generic feel good religious platitude of the day."

That's an important point I'd overlooked, Wes. In 1968, there was a sub-section of the youthful counterculture called "The Jesus Movement", so that could have been a factor in Stan's decision to incorporate spiritual language into several of his stories. Like I said, Stan was/is Jewish (though I suspect more culturally Jewish than observant/religious), so I think Stan brushed up against Christian language in a pop cultural/zeitgeist sense and not out of evangelical zeal to smuggle Christian themes into his comics (as Paul the letter writer may have assumed).


Gosh, I wonder what all these readers thought of the Silver Surfer? He must've given them fits! (:

Seriously, I don't have a problem with what Stan/Jack did in the books. Whatever their own beliefs, they're writing in character-- and it makes sense to me that Cap might be Christian, or at least raised in a tradition where he might think about problems through such a philosophical/religious tradition. Of all Marvel's books (except maybe the aforementioned Silver Surfer), Cap's has always been the one to raise knotty philosophical issues, and explorations of faith, patriotism, duty, responsibility, etc. in an explicit way-- in fact, some of the best stories come from Cap's wrestling with these ideals, and the gap between the man and the symbol he represents (to think of a more liberal take on this, there's the Englehart SECRET EMPIRE arc). I may or may not agree with everything Cap (and his real-life writers) says, but it's part of the book (just as it is, in a radically different way, in titles like SANDMAN or PREACHER), and I'm free to not read it if I like. As long as I don't feel like it violates the established Cap character, I'm cool with it.

Anyway, cool letters reproduced here, Mark-- thanks for the reminder of a fascinating exchange.

Pat Curley

The Jesus Freaks became a phenomenon a little later; more like 1970 or so, so I don't think Stan was doing any Christ-sploitation (yet). The Marvel comic that actually had the most directly religious references was probably Thor; in one issue Goldilocks actually moans, "Father! Why has thou forsaken me!"

DC consciously abandoned any association with religious imagery a few years after World War II, even to the point of eliminating the Christmas covers which had become something of a tradition for many of DC's mags. About the only mention of Christmas in DC mags from 1948-1970 were the annual "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" issues.


Pat - Really? That seems kind of remarkable, surprised I'd never heard of it. Guess the so-called "War on Christmas" has deep roots!

As for the Watcher, I'd say he shows himself to be monotheistic, but nothing more than that.

Actually, now that I think about it, he's probably not even talking about a "god" per se. Who would the Watcher see as all-powerful and full of love? Obviously, he's referring to "Stan the Man" himself! :)

Pat Curley

Given the timing DC may have felt that by mentioning Christmas they were promoting one religion over another. And if you look at the bigwigs at DC during that era, they were almost all Jewish--Weisinger, Schwartz, Liebowitz, Donenfeld etc., and so the discomfort that caused may have been greater, especially coming out of WWII with the revelations of the death camps.

I suspect, but can't be certain, that DC may have gotten burned by pushing the envelope on tolerance a little too hard (along the lines of the Superman Radio Series), and gotten burned in sales. As a reaction, they dropped the stories dealing with prejudice, but also dropped the Christmas mentions.

You did bring up earlier in the year a Perry White Easter dinner, and there are a few Thanksgiving-related stories, so some religious mentions did slip in, but mostly DC pursued a strictly secular line until about 1970.

Mark Engblom

"And if you look at the bigwigs at DC during that era, they were almost all Jewish--Weisinger, Schwartz, Liebowitz, Donenfeld etc., and so the discomfort that caused may have been greater, especially coming out of WWII with the revelations of the death camps."

You're right, Pat...the Holocaust may very well have had an influence...but there's another angle to consider as well. Considering Schwartz and Weisinger both had heavy ties to science fiction publishing (at various times fans, agents, and editors), I wonder if they also shared the non (or even anti)-religious/humanistic leanings that have always characterized that genre. If that was the case, perhaps the religious holiday imagery of earlier DC comics was something they (as some of DC's top editors) had no interest in promoting.

Just a guess, of course...maybe there's no real reason behind any of it...but it's certainly an intriguing contrast with Stan Lee's more inclusive, experiemental approach.

That said, remember that cover from DC Super-Star Holiday Special (1980), which featured several characters following the star into Bethlehem?

You can see it here in one of my Christmas Cover to Cover posts from a few years back (it's the fourth cover down):

Now that image seemed to go much farther than even Stan "Billy Graham" Lee dared to go!

Pat Curley

Good point on their Sci-Fi backgrounds possibly influencing the decision to deemphasize religion. As I have said in the past, if DC promoted anything with a quasi-religious fervor in the Silver Age, it was "Science", with Jor-El as the high priest. Oddly, they were much more ambivalent about technology (perhaps reflecting the shoddy workmanship that was common at the time in newer products).

Mark Engblom

"...if DC promoted anything with a quasi-religious fervor in the Silver Age, it was "Science", with Jor-El as the high priest."

The notion of "scientist as high priest" was definitely one of the cross-currents swirling around the nascent science fiction field of the early 1930's, along with plenty of Utopianism, Humanism, Marxism, and a more than passing interest in radical concepts like Eugenics and pseudo-scientific religious cults (like L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics).

So, yeah, if this was the world guys like Julius Schwartz and Mort Weisinger marinated in during their young adulthood in the 1930's, a possible apathy (or even hostility) toward conventional religious imagery or traditions would make a certain amount of sense. Again, this is all conjecture on my part, but still...one can definitely sense a "science above all" vibe from many of the comic titles they supervised.

John Nowak

>The Watcher's comments seem pretty generic to me. I'm not getting an explicitly Christian implication there.

Yeah, point taken.


There's nothing remotely "exclusively Christian" whatsoever about the Watcher's comments. I'm surprised to see such hyper-sensitivity directed at the panel from so far back in time. The PC Age only really took off in the late 80s.


Exclusively Christian? Maybe not. But "love" is the major tenant around which Jesus's teachings revolve. Other religions of course have caring deities, but Christianity is the only one that teaches "God is Love."

And, to be honest, I can't think of any God besides the God of Abraham that this could apply to.

Ivan Wolfe

Zach -


For Hindus, try googling Sri Ramakrishna and "God is love" or Bhakthi Yoga and "god is love."

Sure, their conception of God is quite different, but the phrasing is there.

Also, Google Wicca and "God is love."

Your statement only reveals you need to think a little wider. Stan Lee's response was quite correct.

John Nowak

Yeah, my first reaction was off. Sure, I reflexively associate "God is Love" with Christianity, but that's really not valid. It's sort of like hearing "Fizzy Drink" and thinking "Coca-Cola," if you'll excuse the possibly unserious connotations.

Curiously, I've been watching a 2002 Indian TV series adapting the "Ramayana", and they did just have an Enlightened Sage explain that pure, unselfish love outweighs Dharma.

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