The story of Second Coming began months before the first issue of the series came out. Advertised as a satire featuring Jesus teaming up with a Superman analogue, the book drew fire from several religious organizations before it even came out, leading to delays and ultimately leading Vertigo to drop the book and give the rights back to the creators. Eventually, the book was picked up again by the up and coming Ahoy Comics, to finally be released nearly a year after it was first announced. With the epic saga of Second Coming‘s release cycle finally coming to a close, the issue itself can be judged on its contents rather than just its press release.
The book opens on a satirical take on the Bible, beginning with God’s creation of Adam and Eve. From the very beginning, Russell pokes fun at the events that take place within the Bible, questioning God’s motivations for doing illogical things such as putting a tree with forbidden fruit in the center of Eden. Every page has something to laugh at, most with more than one. As it speeds through the history of humanity as described in the Bible, the book reaches the day that Jesus came down from the heavens, and the start of the New Testament. This goes for a little bit until Jesus is arrested and crucified, and comes back to heaven. While Jesus wants to go back down to Earth, God decided to keep him in heaven, as he believed Jesus was not acting like a real God.
The book then flashes forward to the present day, as a superhero named Sunstar stops a bank robbery. Sunstar is a clear Superman analogue, although right from the start their differences are evident. Sunstar’s first action is to destroy the robots robbing the bank, rather than talk or reason with them. He is incredibly violent from the get-go, demolishing the robots while they beg for mercy. Of course, this violent action earns the notice of God, who sees Sunstar as the Godlike figure that he wants Jesus to be. God sends Jesus down to Earth to learn from Sunstar, presumably expecting Jesus to become far less peaceful and compassionate.
However, Jesus and Sunstar seem incompatible from the start. After Sunstar brutally beats down a slew of criminals, Jesus heals them all, enabling them to escape. Before anything else can happen, Jesus notices the symbol of Christianity, the cross. Horrified that he is best known for being nailed up to a cross and killed, Jesus laments the obsession with violence that the modern world has. Jesus recounts what he considers his most defining moment — not being crucified by the Romans, but choosing to forgive the man who made the cross upon which he died. The issue ends with Jesus telling Sunstar that it is not violence that should solve the world’s problems, but forgiveness.
While this issue could easily be disrespectful or blasphemous to the point of insult, it instead is a poignant look at the message behind Christianity compared to what the modern followers of the religion have taken from it. The book definitely makes fun of the Christian God, but only to point out how vengeful, cruel, and arbitrary he is. Jesus, on the other hand, is portrayed in an incredibly positive light — he may be the only character that isn’t portrayed in any negative light throughout the entire issue. Russell uses Jesus as a moral paragon with whom he can compare every other character to illustrate their failings.
Richard Pace’s art does an excellent job carrying the tone of the book. His art is incredibly distinctive and provides a biblical style for all the pages that take place in Heaven or in biblical times. This is juxtaposed incredibly well with Leonard Kirk and Andy Troy’s finishes and colors on the Earth pages, which look more like a standard superhero comic while still being distinctive in their own right. The art conveys the comedy and satire of the book incredibly well, especially during the Biblical scenes, to which Pace masterfully adds character expressions and body language to evoke the exact right amount of situational humor. The muted, brown color palette of the biblical scenes contrast strikingly with the bright, superheroic colors of the Earth scenes as well, providing a stark contrast between the eras.
The comedy of Second Coming is absolutely delightful from the start, and it remains laugh-out-loud hilarious through the final scene. Yet despite the satire, the book is clearly respectful of the teachings of peace and compassion that Christianity espouses. There is a streak of sincerity that cuts through the comedy to provide a book that questions the society we live in and its values, and considers a potential better way provided to us millennia ago. Russell, Pace, Kirk, Troy, and Steen have all done an excellent job crafting this book, with biting comedy and a poignant message delivered by superb artwork that was absolutely worth the wait for its release.