COMICS REWIND: ‘Battle Pope’

(Welcome to Comics Rewind, a weekly column devoted to discovering – or re-discovering – great comics published some time in the past. Here you will find looks back at comics published in every era, from the Golden Age to the Modern Age, as well as retrospectives on the work of important comics writers, lists of “essential” comics, and evaluations of important works, as well as works worthy of a second look or a wider audience. Enjoy!)

There’s something a little nuts about the entire superhero comic genre. There’s really no way around it. Those of us who love to read about muscled men and women in tights beating the hell out of stuff simply take this truth for granted most of the time, but that doesn’t make it any less obvious. It’s an endlessly adaptable, powerful genre where you can tell a lot of very relevant stories, but at the end of the day we’re still always taking about larger than life, mostly implausible characters who dress up in crazy outfits and fight equally implausible threats. Battle Pope never stops being aware of this. It knows it’s a crazy-ass kick-you-in-the-teeth adventure, and it’s that kind of tongue-in-cheek zaniness (combined with lots of good old fashioned blasphemy) that helps make it so damn fun.

Back before Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore launched the ridiculously popular The Walking Dead at Image, they were crafting one of the wildest rides the often-insane field of creator-owned comics has ever produced. Battle Pope is a superhero comic in the most basic sense, but it’s also obviously a rather unmasked raspberry blown in the direction of Catholicism. There’s nothing subtle about it, but if you’re going to go this far with a concept, subtlety was probably never on your mind.

The Pope worked hard to get to the top of the church, but once he got there he wasn’t exactly a paragon of righteousness. Therefore when the Rapture happened, God decided to leave him behind. A war between humans and demons erupted, and now an uneasy truce keeps Pope constantly on edge. It seems like his life is heading nowhere, until God appears with his incompetent son Jesus and sends the Pope on a mission to rescue Saint Michael from Lucifer. To help him achieve this, God takes Pope’s flabby physique and imbues him with all the badassery of a superhero. But, you know, with a cool hat. The rest is a bloody, monster-laden romp that takes you straight toHhell.

Though plotting is often the last thing on your mind when you read something this crazy, it’s clear that Kirkman’s knack for unpredictable storytelling was already in place when he wrote Battle Pope. It’s not done with the long-term mindset of The Walking Dead, and the cast isn’t nearly that large, but it does have the same feel of a story unfolding with earnestness and a very natural sense of chaos. It’s also a place for him to showcase the same kind of humor that he brought out in books like Invincible, except, you know, much filthier. The result is an addictive, ridiculously fast-paced book that has a re-read value few other comics of its kind can muster.

If you’ve seen his work in the early issues of The Walking Dead or in Rick Remender’s excellent Fear Agent, you know Moore is one of the best artists in the business at creative ultraviolence. In Battle Pope, he proves he had that kind of game all along, but this is also a place for him to showcase a sense of humor that those books don’t offer. Take a close look at Jesus while you read. There’s a lot more going on than just a guy in a crown of thorns. Look at Pope’s costume. It’s a wild mesh of traditional superhero and cigar chomping maniac in a funny hat. And then there are the big bells and whistles, like a giant monster made of hundreds of zombies. Yeah, not every artist can pull this stuff off.

Like I said before, Battle Pope isn’t subtle, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s not that kind of comic. It’s the kind of comic that leaps down your throat and lights a fire in your gut, embracing the true insanity of the superhero genre with gusto and endless imagination.

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