Writer: Mark Russell
Artist: Richard Pace
Finisher: Leonard Kirk (Sunstar solo pages)
Colorist: Andy Troy (Sunstar solo pages)
Letters: Rob Steen
Issue #5 got the main conflict together, and Satan’s motivations were made clear. He is jealous of Jesus and wants back into heaven, and receives God’s love again. Sunstar finally accepts that he cannot have a child but still asks for Sheila’s hand in marriage. Jesus is no longer seen as a threat from the police and has started to gain some followers. Everything was perfectly placed for the big finale (of this season of books).
The book opens with Sunstar explaining how he has taken out one of his archenemies and is planning for his honeymoon (which he admits will leave people in danger while he is on vacation). Jesus and Satan’s relationship is explained further through the exploration of Bible passages and his temptations. Again, Jesus is shown as an enlightened figure that truly has the best motivations and goals. More parables are given context in the story that addresses themes of greed and power and neatly tie the story of Judas into it. God’s arc is probably the one that is given the most growth in this issue. Sunstar has already matured as a character in the last issue and simply continues on his righteous path. While there is an actual physical conflict between Christ and the forces of evil, this book is far more about the importance of Jesus’ teachings and faith. The comic ends (no spoilers) with a nice setup for season 2 (please don’t make us wait as long).
This book is the perfect ending to a “season.” Everything is nicely wrapped up, with just enough new threads teased for season 2. While I could praise this book on many fronts, I want to focus on how it handles Jesus. While every issue seemed to highlight one or two of the teachings from the Bible, this comic hit some important messages home. This series was subject to backlash and controversy from the start. DC Comics dropped the book, and certain Christian groups immediately hated the title. However, if they picked up the book, they would see that Mark Russell constructed a story that was not just respectful of Jesus but one of the best representations of his teachings in any media. This issue alone deals with the complex issues of greed, power, and faith using direct examples from the bible, and it delivers this message is a clearer and more effective way than any Catholic priest I listened to growing up. The lesson on greed is tied closely to Judas’ story. His betrayal is shown not as betraying Jesus as much as Judas betraying his own heart. The common story of Jesus telling people to pay their taxes (Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s Matthew 22:21) is given a clearer context. Jesus explains to the reader that looking for power and wealth is betraying your heart. Neither of those things makes you a better person or helps your community. You could see this part of the book being used in Sunday School. The more controversial aspect, but far more important lesson, is one on faith. Here we learn this version of Jesus’ real message. Faith is shown as a falsehood. If you are just doing something because God wants it, then you can’t really believe it. It is similar to an earlier issue that covered kindness (you should be kind to someone because it is the right thing not because they were kind to you). You need conviction in your actions and not faith. It is why this version of Jesus does not go around causing miracles and solving problems (expect to give advice). For a book that is supposedly anti-christian, it does a good job of making you believe in Jesus. Even if you are an atheist Mark Russell at least outlines that Christ’s teachings are a valid moral philosophy. The “action” in the book is also extremely well done. The driving conflict is resolved in a satisfying and complex way, and this book is far from just “preaching” at you. However, I want to avoid discussing how these aspects play out as it should be experienced directly by the reader. Jesus’ ultimate action has a lot of weight that should not be robbed. Mark Russell should be commended for his writing and handling an extremely touchy subject. He was able to critique and analyze the teachings of the Christian faith in a way that is as challenging as it is respectful.
Russell and Kirk again handle the main pencils and finish here. The same split as always occurs with Kirk finishing the Sunstar work and Pace handling Jesus’ work. However, in this issue, the switching between each is far more rapid and drastic. Yet, they avoid the same jarring experience that many art teams face. Since this method has been consistent since issue #1, it just works. There is a nice balance between Kirk’s more “cartoony” look (which plays well with superhero Sunstar) and Pace’s more “sketched” look with Jesus. Not much more can be said that hasn’t already been discussed. But Jesus’ pivotal moment at the end of the book is one of the best pages Pace has constructed for the entire series. The weight of the decision at hand is felt on every square inch of the page. I look forward to seeing more from this team.