Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Antichrist

Every end of the world tale needs the antichrist. It’s not really the end of the world without him.

For those of you that may not know, the antichrist is kind of the evil mirror image of Christ, as the name suggests. The antichrist is mentioned in the Bible several times, along with other antichrists, who are connected to him. It’s not strictly stated what the antichrist(s) relationship is to Satan. We only know that the antichrist is a bad person who will do many bad things.

In our pop culture, however, the antichrist is always directly tied to Satan. This isn’t a complete invention of pop culture; though no explicit relationship is stated in the Bible, the relationship between Satan and the antichrist is in many Christian traditions. Some think the antichrist is Satan incarnated in human form, much like Jesus was God incarnated in human form. Others think the antichrist is autonomous from Satan, but rather is Satan’s son following after his father in the ways of evil. However, this leads to an interesting theme that’s been popping up in our pop culture. Let’s take a look!

There are a lot of movies with adult antichrists, but I don’t want to talk about those. Why? Because they’re boring. Adult antichrists are always evil, mustache-twirling villains with little to no personality. Who wants to read a post about that? No one, that’s who. I would like to talk about the antichrist’s evolution in pop culture though. You see, somewhere along the line someone realized that if the antichrist was in human form and was supposed to be this mirror image to Christ, well then, he had to grow up like Christ, right?

The Omen:

The Omen is one of my all-time favorite horror movies. It takes that basic idea that people sometimes speculate on: if you met someone who you knew would grow up to be evil could/would you kill them when they were an innocent child? Damian, our little antichrist, is not an innocent child, I don’t even think any part of him is human, but to most of the adults around him he appears to be, thus dealing with the moral debate of the above question.

Some brief background information: Robert Thorn, the U.S. ambassador to England, and his wife Katherine suffer a tragedy when Katherine’s baby is born dead, but a “kind” priest points out that another baby lost its mother. He convinces Robert to switch the babies and spare his wife the sorrow of losing their baby. Thorn agrees and begins raising Damien. Many creepy deaths happen around Damien, along with having a creepy nanny, and acting violently when he’s near churches. Eventually, after much convincing from priests and a photographer, and after the death of his wife, Thorn finally realizes that Damien is the antichrist and tries to kill him. He fails and is shot by police and Damien is taken to live with the president of the United States who was conveniently a close friend of Thorns.

Though the main characters in The Omen are unsure and often deny that Damien is the antichrist, it’s only done to build the suspense of the audience. The evidence the viewer is presented with makes it extremely clear that Damien is the antichrist. The audience even sees moments when Damien is simply alone with his nanny that more than reveal his evil nature. There is never a moment where one feels that Thorn is hallucinating things.

In this way, the character of the antichrist doesn’t develop much from the adult version. He is still pure evil, but he’s a little kid. This did have one major development however, the idea that the antichrist could grow up with a human family and maybe even have a human mother. This idea allowed for many interesting changes in the character of the antichrist.

Supernatural:

I like to think that people are good people and that human beings are somehow special. I think this comes, in many ways, with the territory of being a Christian. Humans (also everything ever) was created by God and thus basically good, and since humans were created in God’s image and likeness we have a special place in creation. To me this naturally evokes many humanist concepts. All people regardless of religion tend to believe there is something special about humanity (of course we’re also all humans, so I guess we’re kind of bias).

Humanism is a major theme in Supernatural. Pitting the very human Sam and Dean against monsters, demons, and angels. Humanity, despite all its flaws and weaknesses, is what makes Sam and Dean so strong.

Another major theme is free will. Humans have the distinct ability to make choices that these other beings don’t, at least not without consequences.

These two themes come into play in the evolution of the antichrist. If the antichrist is not evil incarnate but simply born of an evil being and a human than the antichrist has to have that same spark of humanity and the same free will. In the same way that Christ could have chosen not to start his ministry and die on a cross, the antichrist could choose not to bring about the reign of the evil one.

In Supernatural, Sam and Dean come to a town where lies children believe (the tooth fairy, your face will freeze that way, etc) begin coming true. They discover this is because of a boy named Jesse, who is the product of a demon (notably not Satan) and a human woman the demon was possessing. Jesse doesn’t know any of this. Nor does he know he has powers. Castiel, the angel, realizing the boy is the antichrist tries to kill him despite Sam believing that Jesse could choose not to be evil. Castiel fails and is followed by Sam and Dean, who want Jesse to choose to fight with them, and then Jesse’s demon father who is trying to convince Jesse to join the devil. After the truth is revealed to Jesse, the boy makes a decision. He gets rid of the demon, puts the town back to normal, and uses his powers to disappear. Choosing not to fight for either side but remain out of the war all together.

Again this shows the unique development of a young innocent antichrist who is half human and thus, basically good, using his free will to make the correct decision. A decision not to fight all together. In this way Jesse removes himself entirely from the script both Heaven and Hell have placed on him, which is perhaps his greatest power of all.

But Supernatural isn’t the first to write a humanistic tale involving the antichrist.

Good Omens:

How much do I love Good Omens? So much! Good Omens, written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, tells the story of the end of the world. The story focuses primarily on an angel and a demon who have grown attached to the world, and a young antichrist who has grown up with a normal middle class family in England. The story clearly is at least partly satirizing The Omen. Adam, the antichrist, is meant to grow up with a wealthy American family in America, but a mix up in the hospital (run by Satanic nuns) causes little Adam to grow up in a completely average family and environment.

Adam realizes he has powers and at first is tempted to use them. In an otherwise hilarious book one scene comes off as actually being pretty spooky. Adam uses his powers to control his friend’s will. This only lasts a minute or two before he realizes how wrong what he’s doing is. Adam’s powers allow him to figure out how the world will end, and he and his young friends leave to try and stop the apocalypse. Adam faces down the four horsemen (including Death himself), Beelzebub, and the Metatron. Adam, when faced with these supernatural beings, seems genuinely annoyed with them and determined to defend earth and humanity.

“I don’t see what’s so t’riffic about creating people as people and then gettin’ upset ‘cos they act like people,” said Adam severely. “Anyway, if you stopped tellin’ people it’s all sorted out after they’re dead, they might try sorting it all out while they’re alive.”

Good Omens really focuses on humanistic ideals. Adam, despite being the literal son of Satan, grows up a normal human child with good parents, friends, and a great life. He sees the virtue of humanity and is annoyed by Heaven and Hell for trying to make humanity into something it isn’t. Adam himself shows the virtues of being human by living just a normal life and being able to make choices, and the right choices at that.

The end of the world focuses a lot on good people and bad people, the Saved and the Damed, but these more humanist versions of the antichrist ask a fundamental question: What is the real sin? Perhaps it’s not being human. People are created as people, but then try not to act like people because they think that what they are is flawed and wrong.

The fun thing about shows like Supernatural and books like Good Omens is that they explore what really makes humanity what it is what makes them good, using the narrative of the end of days to show how great people can be and important humanity really is.

Next time on Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Humanity at the End of the World

Tune in next time and get some religion!

 

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Evil Woman or the Whore of Babylon

So here we go, the first of my End of World posts. Let me start with this disclaimer: I am not, in any way, shape, or form a Biblical literalist. I find taking the Bible literally impossible. I don’t know nor do I understand how people are able to take the Bible at face value. That being said, most Americans tend to take the Bible literally, and that’s reflected in our pop culture, especially when we talk about the apocalypse.

To say that the Bible is problematic when it comes to the portrayal of women is like saying that Jack Donaghy is awesome. In other words, it’s an understatement. Now don’t get me wrong; there are many good women in the Bible, but there are many more evil ones. These evil women are often instruments of the devil and, of course, key parts of the apocalypse, so they make their appearance a lot in these types movies, TV shows, and books.

In the Bible, the Whore of Babylon is representative of the Roman Empire’s powerful but decadent and morally bankrupt ways. In Supernatural, the Whore of Babylon is an evil demon that takes the form of a woman. She, as Castiel, puts it, “‘…shall come, bearing false prophecy.’ This creature has the power to take a human’s form, read minds. Book of Revelation calls her ‘the Whore of Babylon.’” In Supernatural the Whore’s main job is to condemn as many souls as possible. How does she do this? She turns people to religious fundamentalists.

In this way Supernatural invites its viewers to see the harm in blindly flowing something they don’t understand. Those being manipulated by the Whore do so out for fear for salvation. They are so scared of not being saved they are willing to kill people in order to do it. In this way, the show uses the Whore to point out the real sin that is condemning them to hell. It’s not drinking or premarital sex, but hypocrisy and judgment. In the end, Dean kills the Whore and those following her ask the question, “How will we be saved now?” The answer is they have to figure it out for themselves and that the path of righteousness is a hard one filled with difficulty and questioning, not blind faith.

Supernatural managed to take what could have been a very sexist trope (the evil woman) and turned it into a more complex message about religion, allowing them to elegantly side step some of these gender issues that show up in the Bible. There are many other evil women we could talk about in Supernatural, but they pretty much all die before the apocalypse, so we’ll limit it to this one evil lady.

Stephen King’s The Stand is another great apocalyptic story. For the purposes of this article, though, we are going to stick with the TV miniseries. Why? Because I have yet to read the book, and because the miniseries is awesome.

In The Stand, Larry Underwood meets the young, beautiful, and mysterious Nadine Cross. Both Larry and Nadine are attracted to each other, maybe even in love with each other, but Nadine refuses to engage in any sort of sexual activity with Larry, because she keeps on having visions of Randall Flagg. Randall is actually Satan in human form. Through his seduction, Nadine makes terrible choices, which leads to the death of several of the protagonists. Randall Flagg tempts Nadine and draws her too him, eventually they have sex and Nadine becomes pregnant with, presumably, the antichrist. Nadine repents of her actions and rebels against the devil in the only way that is left to her—she kills herself and the baby.

From a feminist perspective, this could potentially be a terrible portrayal of a woman. Nadine is a strong woman that wants great things for herself, but in her pursuit of those great things she ends up getting in over her head and destroying herself… yep. On the other hand, however, Nadine’s character is very human and compelling. Nadine struggles with whether or not she should pursue her own goals or help other people. She does ultimately fail and chooses the wrong thing, but she realizes what she did wrong at the end.

The only problem I really have with Nadine’s character is that at the end when she realizes what she did was wrong she kills herself. This isn’t exactly the type of message I think we need in our pop culture, especially in one with religious overtones. The harder path, the better one, would be for Nadine to live and try to work against the devil, to actively make amends for what she has done. By having Nadine commit suicide, her story becomes completely tragic, which I’m guessing is what Stephen King was going for, but personally I think the story would be more complex and interesting had Nadine lived.

Nadine, like many evil apocalyptic women, is there for one reason: to bring one of the most important apocalyptic figures into the world.

Next time on Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Antichrist.

Tune in next time and get some religion!

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The End is Here

The end it nigh! The end is nigh! There have been signs in the stars! War, famine, DEATH! Repent! Repent… are you bored yet?

If you haven’t heard something along these lines from street preachers, televangelists, or crappy magazines, then you have probably heard it from a crap ton of movies. The apocalypse, according to these people, is always happening. Every generation has said that the end was coming soon and that’s reflected in our movies, books, and TV shows.

There are all kinds of apocalypses. Environmental, zombie, and religious, just to name a few of the many different apocalypse motifs. Obviously, we are not going to be talking about the nonreligious ones for the purposes of this series. So if you were hoping I would talk about Wallie, The Day After Tomorrow, 28 Days Later, or Resident Evil: Apocalypse, then I apologize because I’m not.

What will I be talking about? Well, religious apocalypse stories are usually based on one thing, the Book of Revelation, found in the Christian Bible. In order to talk about the differences in how the Judeo-Christian apocalypse is portrayed, it needs to be broken down into certain elements that seem to appear in every apocalyptic story. There are certain characters and themes that always pop up.

So over the next couple of weeks I will explore the apocalypse and all it entails. So what’s up first…?

Next time on Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Evil Woman or the Whore of Babylon.

Tune in next time and find some religion!

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: O Death!

Do I really need to explain why death is important to religion? Life, death, and the afterlife are key parts of any religion. That mysterious force that is death has perplexed humanity for… well, ever. Why do some people die while others live? And what part does God have in it all? Well, let’s look at my three favorite examples of Death as he/she is often personified in pop culture.

Check out the first appearance of Supernatural’s Death.

Man, doesn’t that video just give you chills.

The portrayal of Death in Supernatural is one of my favorites. Despite looking completely normal, if a bit skeletal, Death is clearly a wholly other being of great power. When Dean Winchester first meets Death it becomes very clear fighting Death will not be plausible. That becomes even more obvious when Dean actually talks to Death. Death describes how he is so powerful that to him Dean appears like nothing more than an ameba and even describes Lucifer, arguably one of the most powerful angels in exist as “a bratty child.” But Death’s power becomes even more obvious when he talks about God. He describes himself as being as old as God, maybe even older. He furthermore explains how in the end even God will die and he’ll reap God. And though it’s never shown in the TV series, it is implied that Death talks to God and knows where God is—God has been notably absent in the show. Death, like God, sees the big picture and understands how the world works. Because of his power and his ability to understand seemingly everything, Death appears as this indifferent larger-than-life figure.

Death spares Chicago because he likes the pizza, he pulls Sam’s soul from hell, but refuses to do the same for Adam, and seems to only do this because he wants something from Dean. The only person that Death seems particularly fond is actually God. When Dean, Sam, and Bobby bind Death to them in order to kill Castiel, who proclaimed himself god, Death doesn’t understand that they want him to kill the Castiel god and thinks that they want him to kill the God. Death tries to stall. He lies and says that he can’t, and when Castiel shows up calling himself god Death makes fun of him, calling him a “mutated angel” and says, “I know God, and you sir, are no God.”

I think the Death of Supernatural is portrayed as he is because he is based on humanity’s own feelings about death. Death is the awe-inspiring, impartial, unfeeling force in the universe, but for those of us with some spirituality we also have a sense that Death is part of something greater and more important. In this respect, Death in Supernatural is portrayed extremely well.

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

I’m not ashamed to say that Good Omens is perhaps my all-time favorite novels with one of my all-time favorite portrayals of Death, or I guess for these purposes we should call him DEATH. In this portrayal, DEATH is not impartial. DEATH is excited for the end of the world. It is described by him and the other horseman as waiting for Christmas or your birthday. At the end of the novel, the antichrist Adam faces down DEATH because he doesn’t want the world to end. DEATH wants the world to end and tries to convince Adam to follow along with his nature, but when Adam and his friends defeat the other horseman, DEATH grudgingly concedes that the apocalypse cannot continue, but makes of point of saying that he is not defeated.

BUT I, he said, AM NOT LIKE THEM. I AM AZRAEL, CREATED TO BE CREATION’S SHADOW. YOU CANNOT DESTROY ME. THAT WOULD DESTROY THE WORLD.

The heat of their stare faded. Adam scratched his nose.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “There might be a way.” He grinned back.

DEATH himself cannot be defeated and even the other horsemen seem to continue to exist in some form, but Adam implies that perhaps there is a way. I think this might be implying the idea that Christ defeats it in the act of his crucifixion and resurrection, or even the obvious fact that if DEATH does go through with the apocalypse there will either be Hell on earth or Heaven on earth, meaning that DEATH would no longer need to exist. In enacting the apocalypse, DEATH would actually be killing himself.

Neil Gaiman apparently owns my soul because he has another portrayal of Death that is my absolute favorite. Death in the Sandman Comics is very different for several reasons. First, unlike most portrayals of Death, this Death is a woman, shown as being a young attractive goth chick. She is also very different in the way that she functions. This Death is not distant, impartial, uncaring; she is invested in the world. She adds the spark of life to all babies when they are born and remembers them all, calling them by name when they die. She enjoys life and enjoys humanity and the many other creatures that inhabit the Sandman universe. She is often seen giving advice to her brother Dream and genuinely seems to care about everyone.

This Death is clearly a benevolent and caring one who understands the importance of Death, while understanding the fear and misunderstanding of Death that comes from those finite beings that can’t see the larger picture.

I hope all this talk about Death hasn’t depressed anyone. Personally, I find it extremely hopeful. This makes me think that though we humans fear our own death, we fear the death of everything just as much, while at the same time many people long for the end of days. Weird, right?

Next time on Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The End is Here

Tune in next time and find some religion!

 

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Divine Feminine

Women often get screwed when it comes to being a Christ figure. Sure, if I was watching a movie about the actual historical person of Christ I would be a bit confused if Jesus was cast as a woman, but a Christ figure is just that, a figure. I don’t think anyone but perhaps crazed religious extremists would protest Aslan being a lioness instead of a lion, but alas, Christ was a man so I don’t blame anyone for constantly casting Christ figures as male. There is no harm in that and completely understandable. It does, however, leave another divine role open to women, one that doesn’t have a gender.

It’s been said that portrayals of God are often a white male. While this may be true in religious iconography, I don’t know if it’s fair to say the same about pop culture. In recent years, God has on occasion been black and even a woman once or twice; so pop culture has been branching out. Before that, while God was occasionally a white male, for the most part God was a disembodied voice or hand (think Monty Python or The Ten Commandments). Many times, God wouldn’t appear at all but would be an unseen, unknowable force, seemingly moving the events of the story (think Good Omens).

Women have been portrayed as God a few times, but for the most part we get what I call “a taste of the divine.” Women get an opportunity to touch or commune with the divine, but they don’t stay that way and often return to their normal human states after.

Rose Tyler of Dr. Who goes through one such touch with the divine in the season finale of Dr. Who in 2005 when she absorbs the heart of the Tardis.

To give you a bit of background I have only just finished watching the episodes of Dr. Who with the 9th Doctor. So if there is later information that I do not mention it’s because I’m not aware of it.

Anyway, Rose absorbs the heart of the Tardis and promptly becomes a conduit for God. Rose looks into the time vortex, which the Doctor explains that no one is supposed to see. He further tells her that if she doesn’t stop she’ll burn. This is very reflected of instances in the Old Testament where someone encounters God and is changed by or even dies by it. In this way, the Tardis appears much like the Arc of the Covenant, which the ancient Jews believed was the seat of the God. God is physically present in the Arc and anyone who looks upon or touches it that is not supposed to dies. The Doctor warns Rose that she is not meant to see the time vortex and is worried that Rose will burn up, but Rose manages to hold on long enough to destroy false gods (the Dalek emperor) and resurrect the dead.

Rose Tyler: I want you safe, my Doctor. Protected from the false God.

Emperor Dalek: You cannot hurt me. I am immortal.

Rose Tyler: You are tiny. I can see the whole of time and space, every single atom of your existence, and I divide them. Everything must come to dust. All things, everything dies.

This quote 1) shows Rose’s ability to see all things the way many imagine God. She sees the big picture. 2) Rose destroys a false God, which is a theme often depicted in the Bible. In the final line, Rose actually discusses the creation of all things reflecting Genesis 3:19. “…for you are dust and to dust you will return.”

Finally, Rose restores life to those who have died and, despite the Doctor’s begging, seems unwilling to let the power go. Though it doesn’t seem to be because she is power hungry, but rather she doesn’t want to let go of this connection. Many Catholic and Orthodox saints who have claimed to experience the power of God describe it as touching ecstasy. Rose seems only able to let go after the Doctor describes his own experience feeling what Rose does. (And for those of you wondering, yes, the Doctor is something of a God figure too. I’ll get to him later.)

In the end, Rose let’s go of the power and remembers nothing, again implying that the power and awe of this divinity is too great for human Rose to comprehend. Well, not without dying anyway.

Buffy is another character that touches the divine and is even something of a Christ figure. Yes, Buffy dies to save the whole world and then rises from the dead, but I hope that last week’s talk on Christ figures has made you realize there is more to Christ figures then simple resurrection. After all, Spike died and rose again, but we’d hardly call him a Christ figure. Let’s call Buffy a pseudo-Christ figure, though Buffy does have her own touches with the divine. In the finale of season four, Buffy faces off against the Frankenstein-like monster Adam. Adam may be my absolute least favorite Buffy villain, but how Buffy defeats him is probably the coolest. Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles realize that the only way to stop him is to use a Sumerian enjoining spell to combine their power.

It’s worth mentioning here that Buffy, unlike most other fantasy/horror shows, draws on the Judeo-Christian tradition notably less. But let’s break this little spell down. It’s Sumerian, one of the first and greatest human civilizations. One could argue humanity started there—creation started there. Who creates? That’s right, God. Buffy does combine with Willow, Xander, and Giles, and Joss Whedon has even mentioned that this was to show the power and closeness of their relationship. One tradition in ancient Jewish and Christian culture was that God’s body was comprised of all people. In this way, God was all races, all genders. In other words, God was everything and humans were all just a tiny piece of God. Buffy and her Scooby Gang enjoining, in their combined strength, could be viewed as a larger piece of God.

In fact, the same things happen to Buffy as they did Rose. Buffy glows, especially her eyes, she turns death to life by turning Adam’s bullets into doves (Holy Spirit symbolism… maybe?), and seems to see the same bigger picture that Rose did.

Adam: How can you…?

UberBuffy: You can never hope to grasp the source of our power. But yours is right here.

She then proceeds to destroy the false god Adam, who was going to destroy humans by creating a new race of composite monsters, by removing his power source.

So these are some women who have communed with God and been a part of God, but hey, sometimes those women don’t need to commune with God, because they are God.

In the movie The Fifth Element, Leeloo is created by the Mondoshawns, a race of aliens, to defeat evil when combined with four elemental stones, thus obviously, making Leeloo the fifth one. Leeloo is created perfect and often called the Supreme Being. As a feminist, I always got a kick out of this movie, because of the constant assertion from people that don’t know Leeloo assuming the Supreme Being was a man. There is definitely a very obvious commentary here about female empowerment and God as feminine by the creators.

From a theological perspective, however, as much as I love this movie it can be damn well confusing. The religion in this movie is all over the place. Leeloo is created by these other aliens, yet she is the Supreme Being. Are those aliens gods? To create a Supreme Being you would assume they’d have to be. Or are they creating a body for God to inhabit in the same way that the Virgin Mary said yes and allowed God to be born through her. Furthermore, the idea that Leeloo could not defeat evil (evil here being this giant intelligent dark planet which only has the intent to destroy) without the stones (the four elements) limits her Godlike powers. If she is the Supreme Being couldn’t she just defeat the evil anyway? She doesn’t seem that powerful either. She has one fight scene in the whole movie, is later saved by Bruce Willis’s character, and then after realizing he loves her, saves the world, because love is worth protecting even if humanity tends to screw up. She defeats evil with the light of creation, but seems to have little to no control over it and it takes everything out of her.

The priest who is with Leeloo seems like he is part of another sect of Christianity. He makes the sign of the cross and still refers to a God or Lord throughout the movie, but calls Leeloo the Supreme Being and guides her through our world. Leeloo never has a big picture moment. In fact, she seems to know nothing about the world and spends a large chunking of the movie going through human history on the computer.

At this point, I have to conclude, that despite Leeloo and others constant assertions that Leeloo is the Supreme Being, she’s not, not really. I’m guessing more a super-powered human used, once again, as a conduit for the divine with the help of the stones. She may be perfect, but really she’s a perfect vessel, not God. This does not make me think this movie is any less awesome or any less a feminist narrative. It has its problems, but doesn’t everything. Leeloo may not be God, but she is still worth watching.

There is one female character that I know with absolute certainty is God.

God in Dogma is a woman. That’s just fact. It’s clear this God can take other vessels, but God’s actual gender in this movie is spelled out as being female. While that’s not theologically accurate because God has no gender and every gender at the same time, it is a refreshing change of pace. This God is completely and utterly powerful, awe-inspiring, but yet funny and relatable. She has a sense of humor about Her creations and Her plans, while still being powerful enough to see the bigger and to have greater plans in the first place.

It endlessly annoys me that a movie most Christian groups heavily criticized actually has an awesome portrayal of the feminine God and asks good theological questions. Dogma was a great movie about God and faith. You should keep an open mind and watch it.

I suppose now you all want me to talk about the male portrayals of God. Well, I need a break from God right now. What? Talking about God is hard. God is unknowable, after all. So what can we talk about next week if not God? It has to be something big, something that connects all people no matter what religion or philosophy. Hmm… oh, I know! The one thing all people fear to some extent.

Next time on Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: O Death!

Tune in next week and—die! Uh… I mean get some religion…

Manga Mondays: Blue Exorcist

I’m currently retreiving myself from the depths of post-con depression, having had a ball cosplaying it up at Ohayocon this weekend with Lady Geek Girl herself.  However, weekly regulars wait for no geek, so here’s my Manga Mondays recommendation for all of you lovely people.

I want to talk about one of my current favorite (or favorite current, as you like it) manga, Blue Exorcist (also called Ao no Exorcist because, well, ao means blue).

Yay exorcists! (They sure are a common topic for manga…)

The story of Blue Exorcist follows Rin, a teenage boy with an unusual heritage – the father of him and his twin brother Yukio is none other than Satan himself.  Their demonic natures were sealed at birth and the two were raised as normal boys, but when good ol’ Dad (evil ol’ Dad?)  attacks the boys’ Exorcist foster father, Rin chooses to unlock his powers (sealed inside a holy sword) in order to stop Lucifer.  In order to control his newfound abilities, he is whisked away to True Cross Academy, a prestigious school that also acts as a base and training ground for Exorcists in Japan. There he must face all sorts of challenges – winning the trust of his classmates while simultaneously hiding his heritage

(not easy, considering that he lights up in blue flames whenever he draws his sword), learning to control his powers (which are more of a giant bludgeon than a finely tuned weapon), maneuvering through the political world of the exorcists (difficult when they all remember that time Satan massacred most of the Japanese branch), and trying to reach his ultimate goal – to become an exorcist and kick Satan’s ass.

Hooked yet? If not, it’s probably my sleep-deprived brain failing at description. This is really a great manga.  If you’re looking for a finished series, I’d tell you to watch the anime, which lasted only one season.  But the manga (a monthly series, and ongoing) is far better than the anime – the current big villain is better, the character development is more believable, and it’s generally just pretty to look at and exciting in general.

There are many awesome things about Blue Exorcist besides the story, as well.  The characters are for the most part really cool, and they don’t fit the standard shounen mold as much as you’d expect.  The headmaster of True Cross Academy, for example, is a flamboyant demon king named Mephisto Pheles whose motivations are known only to himself, but who has been helping the Exorcists’ side against his father (a.k.a. Satan) for nigh on 200 years. Rin’s eventual teacher Shura is a girl who hits almost every anime Mary Sue stereotype ever and is still likeable and badass nonetheless (not kidding – multicolored hair, former student of Rin’s foster father, magic sword-summoning powers, and a bikini top, Daisy Dukes, and thigh-highs is her normal attire).  The only real nod to the helpless Sue-like females of other series is Shiemi, a girl who is a total pushover, sort of hopeless at everything, is not cut out for exorcist work at all, is crushing hard on Rin’s brother while Rin crushes hard on her, and who despite all this saves the day with her magical plant-summoning powers at least once.  (She annoys me, but I think it’s because her character is not developing enough alongside everyone elses’, because they’re all growing by leaps and bounds.)

Another cool thing about the story is that each exorcist has their own way of fighting demons, drawn from different religious traditions or fighting styles.  Among the main characters, there is one who chants holy verses (be they Christian, Buddhist, or otherwise), one who summons Shinto spirits; Rin, who fights with his enchanted sword, and his brother Yukio, who is a crack shot with a handgun that fires holy-water-filled rounds.

I strongly recommend this series – it’s got a cool blend of theology, action, comedy, and drama that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and characters that you will come to care about (whether you want them to succeed or die in a fire is totally up to you).    Hell, my friends and I liked the series enough to cosplay as Mephisto, Rin, and another character at Ohayocon on Saturday. Check it out! I promise you won’t be disappointed.