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Cheap? Exploitive? Hypocritcal? Nun of the Above

(This  Stripped column originally appeared in the August 6-13, 1998 Long Island Voice. Click on the artwork for a larger image.)

by Beth Hannan Rimmels


"Kinda late for church, ain't it?"

— Cab driver

"It's never too late, brother."

— Mary in Shotgun Mary: Blood Lore #1, a Warrior Nun Areala spin-off

Don't assume Warrior Nun Areala is a joke or a piece of quick exploitation. You know the old saying about assuming things. Assumptions about a comic-book celebration of swashbuckling Catholic nuns has caused WNA quite a bit of trouble lately.

Created by Ben Dunn and published by Antarctic Press, Warrior Nun Areala debuted in 1994 as a miniseries. It began with the founding of the order, with a young nun trying to escape pillaging Vikings. She was saved when a Valkyrie, who had converted to Christianity, gave a piece of herself to the young nun as well as a holy sword. The nun, named Areala, realized that sometimes serving the Lord requires fighting evil by hand. The story then skips to today's sisters in Areala's order.

In this version of Earth, demons regularly use our world as their battleground against Heaven. To counter that, the Vatican has also created an order of "magic priests" in addition to the normal clergy. That's cool enough by itself, but one of the things that has distinguished the book is how the idea is used to comment on real-life church issues.

For instance, complaints about the magic priests having more money even though the warrior nuns, not the magic priests, are on the front lines against demons ring true after seeing the stories last year about people "adopting" elderly nuns to help a convent stay afloat or articles about burial costs for nuns being subsidized by the state. I have never heard a similar story about priests.

WNA takes literally the idea of women devoting their lives to fight evil for God. But rather than being praised by conservative groups, WNA is tagged as controversial due to stories in USA Today and other papers that labeled it a "bad girl" book.

Monthly series writer Barry Lyga counters, "Issue #2 had not a single punch thrown. When was the last time anyone saw a so-called 'bad girl' comic without a fight scene?"

But people who haven't actually read the book hear about a nun with a sword in an old-time habit except for the two slits in the long skirt and over-the-knee boots and assume it's exploitation. Well, how else can a sister fight in a long skirt? The boots are to cover her legs though I would have added leggings under the habit as well as boots.

The other problem is that some of the early work had the nuns showing some cleavage. Ben, what were you thinking? I can buy the "I like large-breasted women so I draw large-breasted women" argument, but cleavage on nuns?

The monthly WNA series, written by Lyga and drawn by Brian Denham, has better sense than the prior miniseries and is off to a great start with "The Holocaust and the Hammer," a three-issue storyline inspired by recent historical revelations. Finding out about the church's questionable dealings with the Nazis sparks a crisis of conscience in Sister Shannon even while she must protect the church from a man seeking revenge.

That's what makes WNA so special. At its core, it portrays people who have unshakable faith in God and their religion. How they reconcile that faith with doubts about the organized church is very relevant. Its affection for nuns is also evident and sometimes returned. One real nun asked about WNA noted that she and her colleagues give poor children college prep-level educations — that they are superheroes. Amen, sister.


1998 Long Island Voice.