Chronicles of Wormwood #4, 5, and 6
By Garth Ennis (writer) and Jacen Burrows (artist)
The second half of Garth Ennis' miniseries about the Antichrist starts strong. The "afterlife road trip" announced on the last page of #3 ends up being the best bit of the whole series. It culminates with a heartbreaking scene in which Jesus (who would be the true Second Coming if he weren't brain-damaged) expresses his sorrow at the world's pain. Of all the things I expected from this series, a moment of honest to goodness Christology wasn't on the list, and it's a pleasant surprise.
Elsewhere in the issue, there's a clever take on church history as Satan reveals that he was the inspiration behind the conversion of Constantine:
"By that point, you see, the Christians were obviously here to stay. Crucify them, boil them, throw them to the lions—for every one you did away with, a hundred signed up to take his place. People love the idea of martyrs. The idea of something grand, something spiritual inspiring sacrifice—which is the point I made to Constantine. Adapt and survive, I told him. If you can't beat them, join them. Or lead them. Declare Rome Christian. Take the whole empire over to Jesus. Re-brand: once the taxes are tithes and the wars are crusades, you'll get away with more than you ever did."
Add a hilarious scene involving the Beast of Revelation and you've got the makings of what I wish this series had been for all six issues: a clever critique of religion that doesn't descend into nastiness for its own sake.
A pity, then, that Ennis spoils it in the last pages of #5. When God finally shows up, he's an idiot who can neither speak nor keep his hand out of his robe. The thing that irritates me isn't the ugliness of the image (though it is more than a little ugly)—it's the unoriginality of it. Ennis is retreading old ground with this caricature, which is essentially the same thing as the inbred heir of Jesus that appeared in the pages of Preacher. It doesn't bother me overly much if Ennis wants to say nasty things about God—that's what I expected from page 1 of this series. But I hoped it would be much, much more clever than this. (Not to mention the fact that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, logically. If this is what God is like in this universe, how could he have devised any kind of plan for Wormwood to oppose? But I digress.)
Anyway, the conclusion mostly makes up for it, with Jesus and Wormwood refusing to give into their parents' plans. In spite of everything, Wormwood ends up delivering a message of hope. He gives an inspiring speech to Jesus that concludes:
"You have to hope things'll get better. D'you know why? Because it's eactly the kind of hope in the face of unimaginable despair that you've always asked of everybody.
Though Ennis paints a truly ugly picture of God, he obviously has a great deal of affection for Jesus. The dual defeat of God and Satan at the book's conclusion is presented as a victory for humankind. Despite its intention to blasphemy, Chronicles of Wormwood ends up delivering a moral message that's almost... well... Christian.
Exasperated, nitpicking note: Dear comics industry, Hollywood, etc. The Book of Revelation IS NOT PLURAL. Please leave out the final "s" from now on.