Welcome to Comics Are My Religion, a look at theology through the lens of comic books. There are some basic ground rules about engaging in respectful dialog about religion in this column. The column below may have spoilers for books you might not have read, so be warned!
It’s fun to think about what the end of the world is going to be like. Every culture has had some type of narrative about what might happen. It’s been the topic of a lot of scrutiny between religions, as well as a money-making-media-machine with every movie from Armageddon to the successful book series Left Behind. Comics are no stranger to apocalyptic literature, but no one has quite taken as humorous a viewpoint as James Asmus & Jim Festante’s The End Times of Bram & Ben.
The premise is quite simple. The end times are upon us and the good folks have been raptured, which is a Christian idea that some people will be taken to heaven while the unbelievers will remain on Earth to duke it out in an all-out war. One guy, Bram, gets raptured temporarily, despite his questionable ethics and life choices, but is returned due to a clerical error in Heaven. His roommate, Ben, gets left behind, despite feeling like he’s a pretty good guy. Thus, you have the set-up for a pretty hilarious situation.
I’ve been enjoying James Asmus’s work at Marvel on Generation Hope and now Gambit, and that’s how this book got on my radar screen. He and Festante have a great set-up for a really fun comedy story. In many reviews I’ve read for this book, many folks have said that perhaps the humor is not for the religious set. I think this might be a projection by folks who might not be very religious. But you know, religious people can have a sense of humor, too, and Asmus and Festante do a great job of making this book funny for both non-religious and religious types alike.
Nothing in this book is degrading to religion. Asmus and Festante are clearly laughing with, rather than at, religion. The concept of the rapture is pretty fantastical, as are many of the literal interpretations of the Bible. When taken in a context of “what if this really, literally happened,” it’s actually pretty hilarious. If someone like Bram was taken up, but then spit back down, how would he treat the situation? If someone like Ben, who really was trying to live a good and decent life, was left behind anyway, imagine the insecurity he must feel. Bram and Ben become avatars of what we all think about folks who are “good” and folks who aren’t.
To laugh at religion doesn’t mean to denigrate it. In fact, Asmus and Festante take a satirical yet poignant view on religion in this book. When you toss in Rem Broo’s highly stylized art, which has been compared to Rob Guillory’s work in Chew, then you have a recipe for a book that is actually pretty smart. Asmus and Festante seem to know their religious talking points, and are going to deal with them in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Their comedy timing with panel-placement is really well done.
As someone who is religious, I found this book to be right up my alley. My only nit-pick is that the book of Revelation has no “s” at the end, as it’s just one person’s revelation, the 1st century John of Patmos. However, the fact that most people get this wrong, especially someone like Bram, actually fits, so no harm, no foul. Perhaps Asmus and Festante knew this, too, and were doing that on purpose. If they were, then I say include a gag about that in a future issue.
Religion is funny, and I’m glad James Asmus, Jim Festante, and Rem Broo are brave and smart enough to uncover the humor in it in a respectful and honest way. For folks who like religious humor, you need to snatch this book up!