American Jesus #3 Review - Overcoming the Problem of the Mary Sue
• Image Comics (Publisher)
In recent years the term "Mary Sue" has been used to describe a lot of modern female protagonists. The biggest and clearest and example of the trope would be "Rey" from the Star Wars. Another modern example would be Captain Marvel from the MCU. Modern mainstream comics are full of these characters.
The "Mary Sue" generally exists due to poor writing. They generally speaking aren't compelling characters and normally have everything they need at the outset of the story so there isn't much room for real character development.
What Mark Millar has done with American Jesus is to create an extremely overpowered female protagonist. The character technically fits the Mary Sue label but unlike most of the characters that fit the description, Mark has taken the time to establish the how and why the character is this powerful and has given her an actual purpose rather than being a walking plot device. He also sets up a compelling path forward for her and the setting.
The issue starts with Luciana revealing to the Cult that she has been in communication with the Angel Gabrielle and has found Catalina (New Messiah). This book then picks up with Catalina as she attempts to live a normal life with her new friends and boyfriend. This comes to a head fairly quickly when she is tracked down by her mother and informed that there has been a major tragedy back at the compound.
Anyone that came of age in the '90s can take a wild guess as to what happens to the cult in this issue. What Mark does next takes all of the disparate themes established in this series and blend them with the current state of how information is disseminated.
The underlying theme of this story is reality versus potential media distortion of facts. At face value, this entire story is insane and no one would believe it. What if it was true though?
As I write this review the United States has gone into lockdown due to the spread of the Covid-19 Virus. Based on media coverage one may assume that we may be on the verge of an apocalyptic scenario. In looking at the actual statistics related to illness and recovery its clear that the situation is not as dire as it's being made out to be. The problem is that the coverage is skewed to sensationalize the pandemic which has led to rampant panic from coast to coast.
The Cult in American Jesus is attacked in a similar fashion to the Branch Davidians of the early '90s. When you hear the word cult you immediately get images of Jim Jones, Marilyn Manson or David Koresh.
What sets the real world apart from the setting of American Jesus is that none of the members of this particular cult are portrayed as dangerous at all. The situation is fantastical due to the particular nature of this story but I remember being a kid and seeing the still images of David Koresh, followed by the images of the burning compound and after putting down this comic it makes you wonder, what if?
I haven't mentioned Peter Gross since issue #1's review. I'm not the biggest fan of his art style but It works really well with this series. He's a great storyteller and although his style is definitely different than my preference he gets the emotional beats of the story and his art never detracts from the narrative.
American Jesus #3 is a great issue and the series has been an interesting thought experiment. This is a book that makes you want to talk about it. This bodes well if the series is eventually adapted for Netflix. I ordered the original graphic novel and feel like the next installment will be even bigger now that we're out of origin territory. This is easily an early contender for the best mini-series of 2020.