Mark Millar has never shied away from being open about his Catholicism and the ways in which it has informed both his writing and his socialist beliefs. Christian themes and motifs, specifically, have made their way into books like Superior, American Jesus, Ultimates 2, and even, I would argue, Superman: Red Son (for my money one of the all-time best Superman stories), and more generalized spiritual themes as well as ideas from other religious traditions form a core part of recent books like Huck and Reborn.
All of the aforementioned titles happen to be among my personal favorites from Millar’s oeuvre, and I have no problem admitting that a big reason for this is the overt spiritual and religious themes explored in them, though in fairness I don’t think I’d love these books if they weren’t fundamentally good stories, which they are. This is why, during one of Mark’s panels at C2E2 in 2018, I was thrilled to learn that there was a sequel to American Jesus that would be arriving in the not-too-distant future.
And arrive it now has, appropriately in time for Christmas since American Jesus: The New Messiah is essentially a modern (or 1970s, to be more precise) nativity myth, which the gorgeous cover by Jodie Muir of a Mary-like female figure decked out in blue—a color traditionally associated with the Virgin Mary—immediately hints at. This was the surprise comic for Christmas that Mark, Netflix, and Image Comics had promised earlier in September.
American Jesus was originally published in 2004 by Dark Horse as a three-issue miniseries called Chosen and then later compiled and republished as American Jesus, Vol. 1: Chosen by Image Comics. Fans of this first volume may be glad to hear that Millar has reunited with artist Peter Gross and colorist Jeanne McGee for the sequel. I for one certainly welcomed the return of the first volume’s visual aesthetic in which the world comes across as a drab, lifeless mural of grey, while the hero, clad in her blue Mets jacket (again, the symbolism), is a vessel bringing color, hope, and life (literally) into a world needing more of all of the above.
New Messiah begins with a dreamt version of the Annunciation in which what appears to be a dapper version of the angel Gabriel informs a teenager named Luciana Cortez that God made human flesh is growing inside her. But what first appears to be a feverish, bed-wetting dream turns out to indeed have been divine visitation when Luciana begins experiencing morning sickness—this, despite having never even gone to second base with her boyfriend Eddie.
From the opening panels it’s immediately apparent that New Messiah will be a direct counterpoint to Chosen, though I don’t wish to go into details about that so as to not spoil the first volume for those who haven’t read it. For the purposes of this review, it’s enough to simply say that American Jesus: The New Messiah #1 is a highly enjoyable first issue exploring what it might be like for modern teenage versions of Mary and Joseph to deal with their, um… highly unusual situation in 1970s New York. People, including family and close friends, react to their quandary as any rational person would and our two protagonists try to navigate the skepticism, and even the overt aggression and hostility, that surrounds them with only their intuition and mystical visions to guide them.
The conspiratorial element of the plot so far isn’t the most compelling part of the book, partly because Millar has explored them previously, and in similar ways, in books like The Ultimates and more recently in Prodigy, but it’s also quite in line with certain Christian eschatological ideas and therefore feels integral to the story. I suspect that the ways in which the conspiratorial elements unfold will prove interesting, and if the surprising nature of how Chosen played out was any indication, and if Millar is up to his usual storytelling shenanigans, the journey that Luciana and Eddie embark on in American Jesus: The New Messiah will be anything but conventional and predictable. I am fully on board to witness this Second Coming, and while, like the poor drummer boy, I have no gift to bring, I can “play my best for him” (or will it be, as I suspect, a “her”?) through this humble review.
Joy to the world. The New Messiah has come. Let every comics store prepare shelf room!