In the United States, Christianity is regarded as the societal norm. If you don’t believe us, just walk around anywhere during the month of December and try NOT to see Christmas decorations. Yes, the United States is full of many wonderful faith traditions. But not all of them are equally represented. Nor are they equally represented in comic books. Religion seems to be entirely ignored in the early years of comic books. Most characters are given a background that may include a generic Protestant upbringing. And many Jewish writers in the early comic book industry hid their Jewish heritage. So religion remained an unspoken facet of our favorite heroes and villains. This article will focus on Non-Christian minorities in comics.
To be included in our description of “Non-Christian” we do not include comic book characters who are represented as gods. For instance, no matter how much the author of this article’s partner begged, Thor does not make the cut. Though the Norse perceived Thor to be a god (and yeah, he’s cocky enough to believe them) the truth is he is just a powerful alien. We don’t know that Thor actually believes he is the god of thunder. So he really wouldn’t qualify as a follower of traditional Norse faith. We also included “atheist/agnostic” as a religious minority status. Credit should be extended to the website adherents.com/lit/comics for information regarding comics and religion.
10. Janissary (Muslim)
Appears in Justice League of America
First Appearance: 2008
It should come as no surprise that finding a Muslim superhero proved to be difficult for the author of this article. Oh sure. There were plenty of villains stemming from both the eras of blaxploitation and post-9/11 Islamophobia. But to find a Muslim SUPERHERO was much more difficult. And we couldn’t let you guys down. So here she is! Janissary is a fairly new member of the Justice League of America. While serving as a doctor for the Red Crescent in her native Turkey she discovers Merlin’s Book of Eternity. She uses its power to defend Turkey and works alongside heroes like Wonder Woman.
9. Green Arrow (Agnostic)
Appears in Green Arrow, Justice League of America
First Appearance: 1941
Oliver Queen has always been portrayed as fairly left wing in his philosophy and ambivalent about religion. Most would consider him to be agnostic given that religion seems to play no important part in his life. Experiencing death and heaven does little to spark the Green Arrow’s interest in spiritual realms. What is interesting is that the Green Arrow is truly agnostic. He doesn’t deny the existence of a higher power like the atheists on our lists do. And the Green Arrow is one of the few mainstream comic book characters who can best be described as agnostic.
8. Thing (Jewish)
Appears in Fantastic Four
First Appearance: 1961
As opposed to Green Arrow, who appears to be uninfluenced by religion, Thing’s faith and culture are very much a part of his backstory. He grew up in New York’s Lower East Side in a Jewish family. This part of his origin story wasn’t revealed until 2002. This is partly due to the general avoidance of religious talk in comic books and partly due to the rampant Anti-Semitism found in the early days of comics. So the Thing remained a closeted Jew for forty-one years, though many people (especially Jewish fans) suspected. When his religious upbringing and beliefs were finally revealed there was a great outpouring of support. Since being “outted” as Jewish, the Thing has been more open and was even Bar Mitzvah’d! Go Thing!
7. Brother Voodoo (Voodoo)
Appears in Dr. Strange, Ghost Rider, Strange Tales
First Appearance: 1973
Brother Voodoo is the first Non-Christian on our list who is also a faith leader. Brother Voodoo serves as a houngan (Voodoo priest). He was created in the era of blaxploitation when people of African ancestry and Caribbean ancestry were often stereotyped as practicing Voodoo. Brother Voodoo does have supernatural powers which, in his origin story, are said to come from Loa, the spirit-gods of Voodoo. He is able to put trances on both plants and animals and to hold a strange power over others. For some, religion is of secondary concern. For Brother Voodoo, his religion makes up a great deal of who he is as a character. Seeing Non-Christians in comics is a rarity and Brother Voodoo, as a polytheist, is even rarer.
6. Ms. Marvel (Atheist)
Appears in X-Men, The Avengers, Ms. Marvel
First Appearance: 1977
It may not come as a surprise to many that atheism doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation in the United States. Americans consider atheists to be one of the most distrusted groups (very close in ranking to child molesters). In that spirit, most atheist characters are villains (Lex Luthor, The Joker, etc). But, there are rare occurrences that break this stereotype. And Ms. Marvel just may be one of them. Though it is highly disputed whether or not Ms. Marvel is atheist, religion doesn’t seem to play a large role in her life. Even her sobriety and participation in AA seems to be more secular than spiritual in nature. She seems to be fairly left wing politically and is a strong feminist. While neither of those things prove Ms. Marvel is an atheist, it does add to the belief that she may subscribe to more secular philosophy (either agnostic or atheist in nature).
5. Raven (Satanism)
Appears in Teen Titans
First Appearance: 1980
Many of us find ourselves following the faith traditions of our parents. And Raven has often chosen that path. It gets a little complicated once you realize that her father is a Satan-like demon and her mother is an Azarathian (a pacifist religion). See, Raven’s mother converted to Satanism and that is how Raven was conceived. And Raven has wavered between the two faiths, following many aspects of Azarathian faith but rejecting some of the more Orthodox practices. And yet, there are times were she is compelled by the darkness and dives more into Satanism. She is an interesting character as she is sometimes a Satanist but she is also a hero. An intriguing combination that makes Raven’s religious journey so interesting to watch.
4. Maya (Hindu)
Appears in Justice League Europe
First Appearance: 1993
In terms of diversity, DC Comics is having a very good run on this list. And here we have another very cool Non-Christian woman. Maya escaped a cult in India that attempted to sacrifice her, thinking she was the reincarnation of Shiva. That is where she joins Justice League Europe. We flinch at the “human sacrifice” stereotype attributed to Hinduism, but she is a wonderful representation of a Hindu woman. Maya is tough, shoots fire from a mystical bow and mostly kicks ass. We would love to see more of Maya in the future!
3. Colossus (Atheist)
Appears in X-Men, Excalibur, Ultimate X-Men
First Appearance: 1975
Colossus is an unusual character for a number of reasons. He is a Soviet character who was introduced during the Cold War. And while the 1970s did show a softening of the hatred between the United States and the USSR, tensions were still high. But here was Colossus. A Soviet superhero and an atheist and not a quiet atheist. But one who asserted time and time again that he was glad to be raised an atheist and often feels somewhat different and separated from religious people. And that it is ok. And he is still heroic.
2. Dust (Muslim)
Appears in New X-Men
First Appearance: 2002
Remember when we said it was difficult to find a strong Muslim superhero? Now try finding one who wears a burqa. Well that’s exactly what we did. Dust is a member of the X-Men straight from war torn Afghanistan. She chooses to wear the burqa because she feels that it protects her modesty. And there are many arguments and discussions with her fellow X-Men about her decisions. But she stands by them, even to the point of including her burqa in her X-Men uniform. Some people have complained that while Dust may dress like a conservative Sunni Muslim she doesn’t necessarily ACT like one. Of course, just because a person is devoted to a faith doesn’t mean they are conservative. It is interesting to look at the development of her character and how fans have reacted to seeing a strong Muslim woman wear the burqa.
1. Magneto (Jewish)
Appears in X-Men, Excalibur, Alpha Flight
First Appearance: 1963
Before we researched this article, we had no idea that Magneto’s Jewish identity was controversial. Some people argue that he is ethnically Roma. For the purposes of this article we will go with the mainstream notion that Magneto is Jewish. Magneto survived the Holocaust and this great trauma influenced his philosophy and actions towards humans. While Professor X had the luxury of assuming the best of humanity, Magneto could only assume the worst, because that is what he has seen and experienced. It is ironic that Magneto believes that mutants are the master race – very much mimicking the Nazis. It adds to the rich and deep complexity of his character. He is a walking contradiction. And that seems to be ok. Like many early comic characters, Magneto’s Jewish identity wasn’t revealed until much later. But it certainly adds to his background and to his character.