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by Steve Ross
Seabury Press, 2005

review by John Tintera

Superman is the idealist who struggles to keep his inner passions in check. Batman is the dark knight driven by shadowy forces to root out evil. Spiderman is the misunderstood kid who tries to do good, but often misses the mark. And Jesus? According to Steve Ross, he’s the working-class dude who hangs out with losers and prostitutes, casts out demons, heals the sick, and breaks out of his tomb.

In creating Jesus-the-comic-book-hero, Ross clearly made his first priority that of producing a good comic book. He sets his retelling of Mark’s Gospel in a modern-day, Gotham-like city that has been taken over by a fascist regime. In the opening frames, Jesus is a tall and slender construction worker who sports a Willie Nelson-esque hairstyle, complete with beard and bandana. Hearing about John the Baptizer on the TV news, he goes to be baptized and afterwards shaves his hair and beard, making himself powerfully similar to Morpheus in The Matrix.

Readers of Mark, the earliest of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, will be familiar with the story of Marked. Basically, Ross gives us highlights from Mark’s Gospel drawn out frame-by-frame in a whimsical style that’s somewhere between “Doonesbury” and Mad magazine. Peter is a fishmonger who drives a panel truck and wears a trucker’s cap; Mary is a plain Jane in a flower-pattern dress and bob hairdo; and the high priest looks a lot like Jabba the Hut.

Parts of the story are told through live newscasts and reality shows, and many of the characters (especially the newscasters) are depicted in blindfolds representing their spiritual blindness.

I had expected something similar to the story bibles we read in Sunday school, but Ross’ translation takes the Gospel in a completely different direction. Marked is essentially a satire of modern life. Ross has a lot of fun sending up televangelists, the medical establishment, and even the packaged foods industry. The combination of the sometimes zany, sometimes dark and disturbing drawings, along with the super-cool character of Jesus creates an atmosphere whereby the power of Mark’s Gospel can be seen with fresh eyes. This book is worth 1,000 homilies and sermons.

Jesus was born into an age of heroes. On earth, the Roman emperor and his deputies were to be seen as gods, and in the heavens Jupiter and the pantheon reigned. In occupied Palestine, visionaries and messiahs sought to incite rebellion and overthrow the oppressive empire.

Marked reminds us that Jesus is a different kind of superhero. Like the others, he’s an idealist; he drives out demons, and fights for the underdog. But ultimately, his message is otherworldly. Hope lies in a kingdom-yet-to-come. So just as the Gospels subsume the hero story and transform it into something new, strange and ultimate, so Marked rectifies the materialist, earth-bound aspects of the superhero and gives fans of the comic book genre a superhero they can really believe in.

Copyright ©2006 John Tintera

To purchase a copy of MARKED, visit amazon.com. This link is provided as a service to explorefaith visitors and registered users.


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