The biggest difference between tracts like Have You Heard the Good News? (from Christian Light Publications) and more idiosyncratic, affable publications like The Way to God is the way personal relationships to the divine are shared. More specifically, the way Have You Heard refuses to. Credited only to the publisher, Have You Heard utilizes a lazy structure and literalism in images and words, sprinkled with an indifference to engaging the reader bordering on the smug.
Caught somewhere between a low-rent version of Adi Granov’s digitized paintings from Iron Man: Extremis and a PowerPoint presentation, the artwork relies on static representations of God and men: He always an outstretched (white) hand from the glow of Heaven, they silhouettes in two poses, seeking to get to Heaven. These stat images are about as effective at drawing attention to the tract’s artifice as those in Brian Bendis’ equally self-satisfied New Avengers comics, offering only the barest manipulations to suggest progression or movement, if at all. Most embarrassingly, when the tract tries to change up its pattern by showing three men try to reach God and fail (“Every way people have tried falls short,” says the narrator), two of them end up being the same recycled model. The gentrified nature of these silhouettes–one can make out the square-jaws and combed-back hairline of a nuclear family father figure–is underwhelming in the face of the all-inclusive salvation offered up in the rich, playful artwork of Way to God‘s Meryl Esenwein.
Where Way to God powered through its logical fallacies on personality and charm, Have You Heard the Good News? would rather roll in its own. Esenwein and writer Rose Stair Goodman fixated on Christianity’s duality between Good/Evil, Right/Wrong, and Love/Hate (which remained unresolved), imparting some understanding of their faith’s ancient roots in Hebrew and Zoroastrian principles; the uncredited, uncaring person(s) responsible for Have You Heard takes an arbitrary, fatalistic stance, assuring readers their actions have no merit at every point. Quoting Titus 3:5, he/she/they assert, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us,” a bowdlerized context insinuating that, rather than Jesus Christ having saved all mankind indiscriminately, nothing you or I or anyone does matters. Have You Heard confirms this with the most literalist interpretation of “I am the way” possible: a cross bearing the name “Jesus” used as the (only successful) bridge for man to enter heaven. Where Esenwein and Goodman offered a robust, somewhat-troubled, but well-meaning, examination of what it means to be Christian, Have You Heard.. would rather not think about it.
Even at its single dimension, Have You Heard can’t keep its lines straight: insisting churchgoing, giving, and good deeds are actually failed means towards salvation, the author(s) contradict their own edicts of embracing Christ and obeying his words (after all, wouldn’t going to church mean one’s already accepted Jesus of Nazareth as their savior?). This goes beyond Esenwein/Goodman’s conservatism, or even the bile of Jack Chick, into the social apathy and antipathy of modern, right-wing fundamentalism, which would rather starve its fellow man than extend even the most basic courtesy. Such hatred eschews ethos for navel-gazing selfishness.
In this manner, Christian Light Publications reveals itself as the worst aspects of both the status quo-loving Christians and the secular Marvel and DC institutions: Have You Heard‘s indifference to people is akin to that of Bendis’ Avengers in the Age of Ultron crossover or the reactionary bloodletting of Geoff Johns’ New 52 comics Justice League and Forever Evil. All three would rather the poor and the downtrodden did not exist–and if they must be around, it’s simply for cannon fodder. Heternormative males are, for all intents and purposes, Christian Light’s IP. And like all IP, it must be sterilized and sanded off, then removed from what is not “theirs”–Rapture, trademarked and copyrighted.