The Catholic Telegraph has some history of a time in the early 80s when Marvel thought of the idea to develop a comics biography of Pope John Paul II, and some notable contributors for Marvel were involved:
…did you know that John Paul II’s life story was once the subject of a Marvel comic book?
Printed in full color and featuring dramatic, stylish visuals, the 1982 comic chronicles the pope’s life, from his childhood in Poland all the way up to the attempt on his life by a would-be assassin.
Marvel, which Disney purchased in a multi-billion dollar acquisition in 2009, is one of the largest entertainment companies in the world, and the purveyor of such iconic characters as Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Captain America.
So what persuaded the Marvel executives to green-light a comic book about the then newly-elected pope?
‘Marvel’s Man in Japan’
It all started with Gene Pelc— a New Yorker and Marvel representative living in Japan.
Pelc— whose wife is Japanese— had moved to Japan in the 1970s in order to report back to Marvel on how the comic book company could adapt its products for a Japanese audience.
Pelc was tasked with licensing Spider-Man to play on Japanese television, and was largely successful at what he did, earning the moniker “Marvel’s Man in Japan.”
Pelc told CNA that he and his family went— and still go— to Mass at the Franciscan Chapel Center, a community of English-speaking priests in Tokyo.
Reading this, I wonder if today’s Marvel would be willing to hire somebody that pious to serve as a representative anywhere? Like much of Hollywood, their staff and contributors alike today have become so secular, it’s an almost foregone conclusion they wouldn’t, or, if a guy like Pelc raised the idea today, he’d be fired. The article does strongly suggest even then, some of the higher echelons did have an aversion to religion:
One day, a priest named Father Campion Lally approached Pelc at the Franciscan Chapel Center with an unusual proposition. The eight-hundredth anniversary of St. Francis’ birth was coming up in 1982, Fr. Lally said…what if, to commemorate it, Marvel produced a comic book about the life of St. Francis?
Pelc liked the idea, and wondered whether it would prove popular amongst Catholics in the US. Fr. Lally was adamant, however, that the comic be marketed to non-Catholics as well.
“The real reason I want this done is to reach an audience the Church doesn’t normally reach,” Pelc remembers Fr. Lally saying.
“’I want to take St. Francis out of the birdbath’ was his exact comment.”
Pelc called up Stan Lee— a legendary Marvel comic book publisher— who apparently liked the idea. But when Pelc pitched the idea to the higher-ups at Marvel, they weren’t quite so supportive at first.
“They all said: Gene, you’ve been in Japan too long. No one wants to hear about that. They want to hear about superheroes,” Pelc remembers the executives telling him.
Pelc was able to appeal to the financial sensibilities of the executives to help his case, however— the Paulist Press, a U.S.-based Catholic publisher, had expressed interest in purchasing some 250,000 copies of the comic upon its release.
Needless to say, the prospect of a minimum of 250,000 copies sold— when a popular comic at the time could be expected to sell around 150,000 copies— was enough to sway the executives to approve the project.
Father Roy Gasnick, a Franciscan priest and director of communications based in New York, helped Marvel writer Mary Jo Duffy to write the story of St. Francis’ life for the comic. Fr. Gasnik was, by all accounts, a massive comic book fan himself.
Then the artists at Marvel did their magic, and produced the comic entitled “Francis: Brother of the Universe,” which hit stores in 1980.
Helped by the Paulist Press’ large order, “Brother of the Universe” proved to be a hit, both critically and commercially.
But today’s Marvel is so ideologically driven, that, even if financial prospects were very high, they still wouldn’t accept the project. It’s said the Star Wars license obtained in 1977 saved Marvel from potential money problems, and maybe it did, but here, even if a religious biography project could do the same, they wouldn’t take it, as Judeo-Christianity has since become anathema to their extreme left-wing beliefs.
A friend of Gene’s introduced him to Father Mieczyslaw Malinski, who was a friend of the pope’s back in Poland during the war. Fr. Malinski apparently consulted with the pope himself about what he thought about the idea of turning his story into a comic.
According to Pelc, John Paul II was supportive of the idea, as long as Fr. Malinski himself worked with the comic book team on the project.
So, the Marvel team was off to the races yet again. The first step? Research. And a lot of it.
Most of the information came from Fr. Malinski, but the story still had to be adapted to fit into the panels and speech bubbles.
That task fell to Steven Grant, a young freelance comic book artist who at the time was living in New York and working for Marvel. He had heard that Marvel was producing a second religious-themed comic, but he didn’t think much of it— he assumed that Mary Jo Duffy would be tasked with writing this one, too.
Instead, Marvel’s editor-in-chief called Grant into his office and asked him to take on the task of writing the John Paul II comic book.
“I got involved because I was expendable at the time,” Grant told CNA.
“I wasn’t one of the artists they particularly wanted writing the Fantastic Four that month,” he laughed.
“And they knew I was Catholic— that was my big credential.”
But today’s writers and artists are largely secular, and no matter how politically correct Grant might be by today’s standards, chances are they still wouldn’t consider him acceptable company.
Finally, in 1982, the comic book hit the shelves. Thanks in large part to Catholic agencies buying up the edition, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 million copies made their way into the world.
Well how about that? For something coming from Marvel back in the day, this would surely be one of the precious few items they ever published to cross the million copy threshold. You have to wonder, based on this, why they never made any effort to make it more financially viable to publish more superhero fare proper that could sell as much?
The success of the first two religious-themed comic books led to a third, this time about another future saint— and friend of John Paul’s— Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Although Pelc was not able to assist with that project, that comic also proved successful, though it was the last of the major religious-themed comics that Marvel produced. That comic even won a Catholic Press Association award in 1984. […]
For his part, Pelc says he thinks it unlikely that a company like Marvel would produce something like this again. But he’s glad that by means of the “Pope book,” he and Grant and the entire team were able to tell a good story, in a world inundated by bad stories.
Well, congratulations to them on getting a challenging project greenlit, and it certainly said something that they had Stan Lee’s approval. But as I said, and Pelc confirms, modern Marvel’s overseers are so far gone, you could not expect them to produce such a biography any longer, and they likely never tried to produce any based on the lives of notable Judaist rabbis and Buddhist priests either. But look at what they do produce now: Islamic propaganda in the form of the Muslim Ms. Marvel book, which to date is deliberately kept in print just to push propaganda, no matter how much money it loses in contrast to the Christian biography material they published back in the early 1980s.
The situation today demonstrates how much the entertainment industry as a whole has lost respect for Judeo-Christianity, and chances are high they don’t have much respect anymore for Buddhism either. This is probably another of several reasons why they’re floundering.
Originally published here.