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Review: MIDNIGHT MASS masterfully turns religion into a matter of blood and devious faith

Midnight Mass

Religion and horror have never been known to be strange bedfellows. In fact, it can be argued they’re both cut from the same cloth, or at the very least that one can’t exist without the other. Mike Flanagan seems to find refuge in this idea as his latest Netflix series, Midnight Mass, turns to some of the Bible’s most terrifying passages to craft a 7-part story about how faith can turn the religiously devoted into desperate monsters trying to find meaning and purpose.

Midnight Mass is set in Crockett Island, a small piece of land separated from the mainland with a very reserved and quietly weary populace that has embraced their isolated experience. It’s the kind of place where despair and small-town politics breed a kind of people that can be easily manipulated by a charismatic enough figure. The island’s only saving grace is the common ground most of the inhabitants share on Sunday mornings: St. Patrick’s, a small catholic church.

Enter Father Paul (played by Hamish Linklater), a young and impassioned priest that’s ready to do whatever’s needed of him to bring more people into church, capital sins included. Problem is, Father Paul has brought something with him to the island, something monstruous, and it hungers.

While the series’ true north lies in the dangers of religious manipulation dressed as honest devotion, it isn’t content with just settling on the spiritual ailments plaguing the island’s residents. The story also explores grief, loss, the trials of being an outsider in a closed-off community, and alcoholism as problems religion can either alleviate or unintentionally replace with other addictions.

Midnight Mass
Hamish Linklater as Father Paul

Who says people can’t get intoxicated by the promise of receiving God’s most coveted blessings? The metaphor’s there and it’s expertly woven into the fabric of the horror at the series’ core.

Flanagan, who directs each episode and either fully scripts or co-writes them, is largely successful at turning religion into Midnight Mass’ primary source of terror by resorting to fiery Bible verses to create powerful connections between the horrible things that happen on the island and the contents of the holy book.

Father Paul’s sermons invite literal interpretations of some of Catholicism’s most potentially gruesome practices, if taken word for word. Deciphering this allows viewers to slowly piece together some of the story’s secrets and makes for some truly satisfying sequences where horror unfolds in new and inventive ways, especially when it comes to communion.

The setup and the character driven tempo of the story is where Midnight Mass excels. The island’s inhabitants only have themselves to contend with and it’s their willingness to either give in to the church or to question it that establishes the fear and tension surrounding Father Paul’s interest in turning Crockett Island’s inhabitants into fervent servers of God.

Midnight Mass
Samantha Sloyan as Bev Keane

One thing sometimes gets in the way of Midnight Mass’ already dialogue-heavy plot: individual character monologues. People familiar with Flanagan’s work, especially those that saw The Haunting of Hill House (2018), know that the director likes his horror to be sentimental, heavy-handedly so. To achieve that, Flanagan resorts far too often to long-winded monologues about faith, life after death, and the many philosophical meanings of life and they can grind the story to a halt.

In Midnight Mass, monologues surrounding Father Paul’s sermons or those of a particularly sinister character called Bev Keane (played by Samantha Sloyan), a zealous Catholic that can give the Old Testament a run for its money, are particularly interesting and intense. They’re some of the best parts of the story. Monologues relegated to what happens after death or about making amends are the opposite. They make their points early on and then they just keep going.

They open different avenues of conversation and feature some genuinely interesting ideas, but they’re too involved for their own good and they definitely overstay their welcome. Thankfully, the performances behind the characters delivering these monologues are excellent and they help sustain interest as the dialogue stretches on.

Rahul Kohli, who plays Sherrif Hassan, a practicing Muslim that has to navigate the town’s racism while also being the only resident that’s not Catholic in Crockett, does an admirable job of delivering each line with a force that commands attention. The rest of the cast follows suit, but they only alleviate some of the problems inherent in these monologues.

Midnight Mass
(From left to right) Annabeth Gish, Igby Rigney, Annarah Cymone, Kate Siegel, and Rahul Kohli

The story’s reveals, on the other hand, make each development feel monumental and prop up some of its most interesting characters for a series of profoundly heart-wrenching moments that are sure to stick around well after the credits have rolled on the final episode.

Taken in as a whole, Midnight Mass can more accurately be described as a work of horror drama. Flanagan isn’t afraid to spend time with his characters exploring themes that aren’t rooted in terror every step of the way. He prefers his horror slow-cooked, but once certain pieces have been set and the time comes to let the darkness take over, very few filmmakers can conjure up horror as unsettling or as disturbing as the kind in Midnight Mass.

Around the Tubes

Venom #22

It was new comic book day yesterday. What’d everyone get? What’d you like? What’d you dislike? Sound off in the comments below! While you think about that, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web in our morning roundup.

Church Times – Comic books used to inform faith in Exeter diocese – Interesting.

IGN – ABC Hopes to Discuss New Superhero Project with Marvel’s Kevin Feige – Since they have the same parent company… don’t think this will be too difficult to make happen.

The Beat – A Year of Free Comics: Chuck Collins’ Bounce! is hilarious & bizarreBounce! is amazing. Go check it out.

Reviews

Newsarama – Batman #86
Newsarama – Venom #22

Around the Tubes

Around the Tubes

Panels – Need More Colors in the Rainbow: Jessica Jones and LGBTQ Representation – Warning spoilers, but a good read.

Panels – Read Harder: Comics About a Religion Other Than Your Own – A cool read.

Panels – Jessica Jones and Toxic Masculinity – Another good read.

ICv2 – Barnes & Noble Closing Fewer Stores – Well that’s good news.

 

Around the Tubes Reviews

Comics Alliance – All-New X-Men #1

Panels – Daredevil #1

Comics Alliance – Daredevil #1

The Rainbow Hub – Gotham Academy #12

The Rainbow Hub – Harley Quinn’s Little Black Book #1

The Rainbow Hub – Robin War #1

Superman as God

I want to welcome our newest contributor Alex Wilson! This is the first, of many articles looking at comic books and religion. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @mralexwilson – The Management

Superman-godSome people find it odd I don’t believe in God but I can believe in Superman. I don’t mean believe the way you believe in aliens. I mean believe the way Gotham believed in Harvey Dent. God doesn’t seem calculated or judicious. God seems petty, jealous, wicked, and even demonic at times.

Superman is transparent. His choices are clean cut, understandable. If Superman sees evil he stops it and minimizes the amount of harm, even to those committing the crime. Superman wants to save everyone, give back to the world. God seems to want to destroy everyone who questions him. If God were in a Superman story arc I would guess God would be a villain and Superman would have to stop Him from flooding the Earth or destroying an entire city He deemed “sinful.”

People often speak of God as being “ineffable,” or beyond our comprehension. When an earthquake levels a small in South America or we can’t find a parking space at the movie theater for a film we’re already missing the previews for, we say God works in mysterious ways. We assume the choices and musing of God are far above our understanding. But humanity has a natural need to make sense even when sense seems vacant. We force square pegs into round holes or round pegs into holes that didn’t exist in the first place.

This is where Superman comes in. He’s super strong, super fast, has an array of powers, and the most important element of all, he can always be trusted to make the right choice.

Joshua Hale Fialkov, writer for DC and Marvel comics, once told me in an interview, “…DC characters are who you wish you could be…”

I find this to be especially true when it comes to Superman. The character, on our planet, is practically unstoppable. He can do anything he wishes as a being. If Superman decided one day to destroy the world, there would be nothing to stop him. Superman, when first discovering his powers, had this choice, to become absolutely evil or absolutely good. He chose to do “the right thing” and save lives instead of taking them.

Superman, unlike any god (biblical or otherwise,) is effable. I can see the thought process of Superman. He looks at situations with non-human eyes and makes choices based on who is being taken advantage of and who is taking advantage.

This makes me think of God as someone who is trying to dup the world. Super villains are mysterious, calculated, and most of all have little to no regard for human life. This is what the biblical god seems like to me, a being of unimaginable power who has little regard for human life, taking it at his fancy.

Superman seems to be this more human substitute for God, a more understandable and rational being with few to none of the petty human character flaws the biblical god seems to possess. He seems petty, jealous, and egotistical. If you cross God once, He brings the hammer of Thor down on you with no warning. Superman forgives. Superman has mercy. Superman won’t kill you but try to save you.

Superman is, in the end, God. The character may not have started out with the intent of being used for a savior but he has evolved into one over time.

Comic books have this odd reverse in identity. When most mediums begin they start out noble with artistic intent and integrity then slowly cascade into selling out and becoming more mainstream palatable. Comic books have done the opposite. They started off as this childlike medium, growing up with its readers instead of trying to collect new ones. Comic books now, over the past 30 years, have started to garner more and more respect and integrity. Have you read any Captain America from its early years? It’s almost strictly communist hunting. The book is practically a more palatable form of propaganda. Now Captain America is a character with dimension and more personality than simply the perfect American soldier.

This is no different than Superman. He started off as a character for children but has evolved into a symbol for not simply American but the world at large. One great example of Superman mythology is Red Son, an alternate universe story where Superman lands in communist Russia instead of capitalist America. In this universe Superman still rises to his level of God, making the right choices for the world he was born into.

Superman has become not simply an American symbol but an inadvertently religious symbol for many. He grew into a world where people put their faith in a God who can’t be seen and whose choices can’t always be rationalized. I feel many have taken solace in Superman and other heroes as a substitute for the world many of us cannot predict. We still have a desire to make the chaos into something understandable but we end up trying to put together a puzzle that wasn’t there in the first place.

 

Church Hands Out Disturbing Comic Books

It looks like there’s another report of a church handing out questionable comic books to children. WIVB of Buffalo, New York has a story they’re working on about some comics handed out in the area. The Evangelical Baptist Chuch in the Lovejoy neighborhood are the culprits.

The story was big enough to be a part of the channel’s Call 4 Action after an upset mother contacted them after she found her 7 year old reading one of the comics. The comic in question featured a dad killing mom while he’s drunk before being saved by the church. Showing where women stand in the eyes of this particular church.

We brought you a story earlier about questionable comics being handed out by a Evangelical Christian on Halloween.

Florida Mother Upset Over Halloween Comics

KTNV of Florida has a story about a mother who was upset over the comic books her kids received on Halloween. The comics by Chick Publications could only be described as comics for Evangelical Christians. The two comics the children received are The Sky Lighter about an Islamic boy who blows himself up in a crowd of people and The Visitors about a pair of Mormons who visit a home and deliver some controversial comments.

The company was created by Jack Chick, who has a history of controversy. His comics have been described by the Los Angeles Magazine as “equal parts hate literature and fire-and-brimstone sermonizing” For example the comics accuse Roman Catholics, Freemasons, Muslims and many other groups of murder and conspiracies.

Chick Publications says the comics are taken from scripture in the King James Bible and they are not meant to be offensive. The company is clearly anti-Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, and homosexual and promotes a pro-life stance.

So, was this appropriate to hand out to children trick-or-treating? Sound off below with your thoughts.

Comic Books and Religion in Atlanta (American Academy of Religion conference)


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If you’re in the Atlanta area this weekend….

Religion and Popular Culture Group

Monday 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Location: Marriott Marquis – M103-104
Comic books have long supplied popular culture with a colorful stream of serialized superhero adventure stories. Although originally targeted at adolescent audiences, contemporary comics and their kin command global audiences of fans from all ages, and offer a remarkable range of genres and subject matter. These include works of considerable artistry and narrative sophistication that often directly or indirectly address religious themes. This paper session will survey a range of recent scholarship on the religious content of comics, manga, anime and graphic novels. It will include presentations on the use of manga by new religious movements, the allegorization of religious debates, the use of religious language, emerging subgenres, and religiously-informed social criticism.

A. David Lewis, Boston University

Ever-ending Battle: The Superhero Afterlife Subgenre and the Rupture of Narrative Character

If superheroes form a narrative genre, they likely have their own subgenres, and there is sufficient material to argue for the constitution of a superhero afterlife subgenre—stories of superheroes taking place in Heaven, Hell, Sheol, Purgatory, and other hereafter existences. In reviewing the applicable comics, it appears that the superhero afterlife subgenre allows nearly any depiction of selfhood, thereby allowing for no unified understanding of it. Collectively, no form of selfhood is prohibited in this subgenre; likewise, no form is validated. The sum of all these characterizations results in no consensus concerning representations of selfhood. This is not a weakness of the subgenre or the medium. It is evidence of a larger conflict—a rupture. A chief strength of the comic book medium is its sensitivity for overt representation, as Hillary Chute (PMLA) called it, “its attention to its seams.” These comics visually portray the deceased self as indistinct from the living self. If genre is a space for negotiating selfhood, this consistent incoherence of self more likely reflects a difficulty in the reader, in one’s expectations for selfhood versus character’s embodiment of it.

WisCon Rescinds Invite to Elizabeth Moon


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WisCon which bills itself as a “feminist science fiction” convention has rescinded it’s Guest of Honor invitation to science fiction author Elizabeth Moon.  The reason for the cancellation of the invitation was due to a blog post where she covered 9/11, religion and remarks about the Islamic community center in lower Manhattan.  All pretty touchy subjects.

Organizers had expressed concern over the post but decided to rescind the invitation.

The convention will be held in Madison, Wisconsin in May, 2011.

Coalition Calls for Comedy Central Boycott


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Comedy CentralA group called the Citizens Against Religious Bigotry has called for a boycott of Comedy Central over what it calls a double standard when it comes to depictions of religion.  The group which includes leaders from the Media Research Center, the Catholic League and the Parents Television Council said a proposed series that satirizes Jesus Christ represents a double standard after the networks decision to censor an episode of South Park that mocked the Prophet Muhammad.

Comedy Central censored the April South Park episode that depicted Muhammad in a bear costume.  The show’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, were threatened for the depiction.

Comedy Central is reportedly developing a show called JC which would depict Jesus Christ living in modern day New York City.  The coalition has urged 250 prospective sponsors to boycott advertising on the planned Comedy Central animated series.

L. Brent Bozell, the president of the Media Research Center, has said:

There has been a glaring double standard at Comedy Central for quite some time where religious matters are concerned. On the one hand, it has a policy that it won’t do anything that in the slightest way might be offensive to Muslims….. For years it has shown a desire to mock and ridicule Jesus Christ and Christians and God the father while they’re at it.

Tony Fox, a press representative for Comedy Central, said:

JC is an idea and an idea only. Perhaps the Citizens Against Religious Bigotry should save their energy for the moment if and when this series ever makes air.

Choice Quotes


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Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #1

Logan – Rwanda to the west.  Genocide, corruptions, journalists being disappeared.  Burundi to the southwest.  Civil war, child soldiers, one of the poorest countries on Earth.  Uganda to the north.  A million-and-a-half people are refugees in their own country, the army abducts little girls for “wives.”  Tanzania to the east.  Massive drugs gateway, one in ten people have HIV.

and

Logan – African heads o’ state are all the same.  Put ’em in power and they all go nuts.

Emma Frost – Nelson Mandela?

Logan – Lemme tell you something about Nelson Mandela.  He ran a guerilla war — which means he ran kill teams.  Civilians died.  What do they call that kind o’person in the United States, kid?

Hisako – … a terrorist?

Logan – Don’t sound so surprised.  I mean, give the man credit, he copped to it himself.  “I do not deny that I planned sabotage.  I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation.”  Ain’t no saints in Africa, is all I’m saying.  Know how he got caught in the end?

Hisako – No, but you’re going to tell me…

Logan – The C.I.A. told the South African security forces where he was.

and

Ororo – Robert Mugabe.  “Let me be a Hitler tenfold,” he said, and then he actually grew himself a Hitler mustache.

New Mutants #13

Hank- And that’s the problem with faith… the stronger it gets the more people tend to die.

Siege #4

Steve Rogers – I want you people to promise me Osborn pays for his crimes.  In an American court.  He pays.  He goes to jail for this.

Almost American
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