American Jesus: The New Messiah #1

This comic has been a long time coming. And I mean a looong time. In 2004, Dark Horse Comics published a 3-part creator-owned miniseries by writer Mark Millar and artist Peter Gross. It was called CHOSEN. At this point in his career, Millar was riding high as the writer of Marvel’s Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates, which were some of the hottest comics in the industry. And this title was some of his earliest creator-owned work, released along the same time as his other title WANTED. I got this book and enjoyed it, let me give it a brief review.

Set in a small town in the midwest in the 1970’s, 12-year-old Jodie Christenson comes to discover that he is actually the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ. This is something his parents have known and prepared for. This news reverberates throughout his small town and Jodie gains followers as he performs minor miracles. Only the local priest disbelieves Jodie’s status until Jodie is faced with the challenge of providing the ultimate miracle: raising the dead.

By itself it was a rather understated but well-written slice-of-life tale, which lacked any of the “shock and awe” story tactics that Millar was known for at the time. But it did have a pretty dramatic PLOT TWIST at the end:

Jodie discovers that he’s not actually the second coming of Christ, he is, in fact, the Anti-Christ. The film flashes towards the present, where Jodie is now the American President (for Life, thanks to a Constitutional Amendment) and is preparing with his close followers to take a flight to Isreal, where the real Christ has returned, and they’re about to spark the battle of Revelations.

That was pretty cool, and made the preceding story even more interesting, as you could go back through it and see the various hints that Millar left throughout about Jodie’s true nature.

Millar claimed at the time that there would be a sequel in which we’d see the story of the real second coming of Jesus. And then that would be followed by a third and final miniseries which would show the final battle between Christ and the Anti-Christ. But no further information came in the following years. In 2009, Chosen was recollected on Image Comics, which had by then become the de facto home for Millar’s creator-owned titles, and under the new name American Jesus vol. 1: Chosen. But still, no info on the sequel was forthcoming. Then, in 2017, Mark Millar sold the rights to most of his creator-owned work to Netflix, to develop as TV shows and films, and a year later American Jesus was formally named as one of the properties slated for development. Still no word on the new comic-book series, though.

Well, last Christmas, Millar surprised the industry by releasing the first issue of this sequel. So it’s finally here? And is it worth the wait? Read on.

I’ll admit, when Millar announced the original plans for a sequel, I wondered how interesting it could be. Would it just basically be a retread of the first series, but without the twist at the end? I should have given the man more credit. Instead of modernizing Christ’s story again, this time he focuses on the modern versions of Mary and Joseph.

Once again, this story opens in the 1970’s, this time in East Harlem. We meet 14-year-old Luciana Cortez, who lives with her parents. She’s dating a 16-year-old Black boy named Eddie whom her father doesn’t approve of, although they have a chaste relationship, as Luciana is still a virgin. One night she has a dream where a man who claims to be an angel who tells her that she is to give birth to the new Christ. And sure enough, Luciana soon turns up pregnant. Her mother naturally doesn’t believe Luciana’s story about being a virgin, and neither does Eddie who initially dumps her. Wanting to hide the pregnancy from Luciana’s father, her mother takes her to get an abortion. But strange events happen which prevent the abortion from taking place.

But then Eddie comes back to Luciana, telling her that he believes her story about the dream and that she’s still a virgin. Soon, the man from the dream appears in real life, he explains to her what’s happening and what will happen in the decades to come (he even predicts 9/11). He says that she and Eddie were both chosen for this, and yet they need to go into hiding now, because forces preparing for the Anti-Christ will be after them, trying to prevent the birth of the real Messiah. He gives them bus tickets and other supplies to leave town and establish new identities elsewhere. The book ends with the two scared but committed teenagers heading off towards their uncertain future together.

The only part of this story that felt unrealistic was Luciana’s mother taking her to get an abortion. Devout Italian Catholics, in 1974? More likely they’d try to send her away for a few months to have the baby in secret and give it up for adoption. Then again, racism does cause many people to forget their principles, so I guess the idea of her daughter giving birth to a half-Black baby was just too unforgivable. And was abortion even that relatively easy to obtain, as it appears to be in this comic, in 1974?

Other than that, I have no real complaints about the story. Both Luciana and Eddie come off as decent kids, although we could have used a little more background on Eddie. Still, for the most part, the story flows pretty well. And Peter Gross’ artwork fits the tone of the story perfectly. And the story doesn’t require you to have read the first miniseries in order to follow this one, although some familiarity with the New Testament would probably be helpful.

American Jesus: The New Messiah is off to a good start, and I’m interested to see where Millar and Gross take this.

American Jesus: The New Messiah #1

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