Warrior Nun apt comic for refined NCR tastes
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Its not every day that NCR reviews a comic book. Indeed, in the storied annals of this publication, its possible that Warrior Nun is the first comic book to grace NCRs pages -- and not just any pages, mind you, but the hallowed precincts of the books supplement, where more refined volumes are the normal fare.
But then, any comic book upon which a spokesperson for the U.S. bishops conference renders an opinion (ambiguous though it may be) calls for a look. As it happens, the Warrior Nun series is worth far more than just a look. If the National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company were to launch a comic book line, I suspect it would strongly resemble Warrior Nun.
The comic is put out by little-known Antarctic Press of San Antonio, Texas. It is set in a fantasy universe where nuns adept in the martial arts, with names such as Areala and Shotgun Mary, clash with demons and the corrupt ecclesiastical minions who do their bidding.
Warrior Nun sells well, usually 20,000 to 30,000 copies per issue -- good figures in the comics market. Sales have been helped by media interest; USA Today has written about it, as has Entertainment Weekly. Unsurprisingly, its the kinky angle that caught their attention. The warrior nuns, you see, are clad in thigh-high leather boots, skirts with daring side splits, and are -- well -- buxom.
Sr. Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Catholic Conference has called the sisters outfits offensive. On the other hand, Walsh moderated her censorious tone with a bit of professional pride about the Warrior Nun series. Nuns are superheroes, she said.
In fairness, some religious women do find the series offensive on other grounds. Ben Dunn, the series creator, said that a group of Franciscan sisters had written him, arguing that nuns should not be depicted using violence to solve problems. His answer?
The comic book nuns live in a fantasy world populated by beings of gigantic evil, he said. I think you have to approach it on that level. When youre dealing with a huge, fanged demon, using a sword isnt so out of line.
That seems a reasonable position. In truth, however, the appeal to NCR readers would probably lie less in the seductive physiques or fantastic exploits of the warrior nuns -- though I confess to enjoying both myself -- and more in what I can only call the comic books theology.
The Warrior Nun series argues (implicitly, in the good guy vs. bad guy style of comics) for a spirituality that is tolerant and inclusive. Moreover, it suggests that the enemies of Godliness lurk just as often inside church walls as outside.
Take, as a case in point, issue #4 of the 15 so far published by Antarctic. In it, Sr. Hildegard has been brought back to life by contact with her orders founder, the legendary Sr. Areala -- and has now assumed Arealas identity. She teams up with a gypsy named Scorpio Rose to thwart the evil designs of an antipope named Sixtus VI (the folks at Antarctic did their homework; the last Sixtus was V, reigning from 1585-1590 -- he put the dome on St. Peters).
During an early scene, Areala wishes to pray but is stymied by the absence of a sanctuary. Rose encourages her to pray outside, something Areala is reluctant to do. Says Rose, Whateer the awe and majesty of thy Catholic keeps, they do pale beside the perfection of nature. Did not thy savior find his God in the wilderness?
Was there ever a more succinct statement of eco-theology? Thomas Berry has nothing on Scorpio Rose.
Areala is a true daughter of the church, and despite her loathing for the antipope, she desires his repentance rather than his annihilation.
I hope he can be brought back to the fold, she says, since schisms have wracked the church before. Quite right, and here Areala could be speaking on behalf of the Catholic Common Ground Project.
Rose at one point looks wistfully at Areala, thinking to herself I now feel comfortable with this warrior nun, despite her odd faith in an anti-woman creed. Herein the sentiments of many a feminist critic of Catholicism.
In the climax of this installment, Areala confronts a corrupt bishop. The evil in yon cathedral could not exist without thy complicity, bishop! she yells, and how many Catholics, burned by the apathy or incompetence of chancery types, might join her in belting out those words!
Dunn denies having an explicit theological agenda in the book, though he concedes that the years he spent in Catholic middle school, high school and college have inevitably seeped into the series.
Whatever the motivation, we have in the Warrior Nuns an admirable band of female religious superheroes who do not fear to tread in unfamiliar territory. Even the pages of NCR.
John Allen is NCRs opinion editor.
National Catholic Reporter, November 7, 1997