If you don’t think about it much, the Marvel and DC universes look like they have Christianity as their operating system.
If you do spend some time thinking about it, however, the theological framework collapses at once. Christianity is a monotheistic religion and the MU and DCU are definitely not monotheistic universes.
For starters, Islam and Judaism appear just as valid as Christianity. DC’s Seraph gets his powers from Yahweh; golems created by Jewish mysticism exist in both the DC and Marvel universes. We haven’t seen as much evidence of Islam being real but the Janissary, an Islamic superhero first seen in JLA Annual #4, battles Iblis, the Islamic counterpart to Satan.
Look beyond the Abrahamic faiths and things get even wilder. The Hindu gods are real, as are the loa of voodoo. Every pantheon of mythology — Norse, Greek, Aztec, Celtic — exists, even if they’re not exactly as mortal myths portray them. Pantheons we’ve never heard of in our world exist in comics. The gods of the Skrulls. The ancient deities who turned the young shepherd Shazam into the Champion. Crom. The Panther God of Wakanda and his ancient enemy the Lion God. Unlike the MCU’s portrayal of the Asgardians as an alien race worshipped as gods, in the comics these beings are apparently real deities, albeit with a “small case g” as they often say. We’ve seen time and again that they can welcome the souls of their worshippers into Valhalla, the Elysian Fields, etc.; as far as I’m concerned that makes them divine.
Even the Christian afterlife isn’t terribly Christian. In most forms of Christianity, getting into Heaven takes more than just being a swell person. You need baptism or membership in the Catholic church or belief in Jesus as the path to salvation. Hell is reserved for unbelievers; you can be good and still be damned, just as a rotten person can attain Heaven. In comics, by contrast, you get into Heaven by being a good person, or Purgatory if you’re a good person who did some bad stuff. If you’re a bad person, you go to Hell.
Case in point, Hal Jordan. He kicked off his Parallax career by becoming a mass murderer but he’s a hero at heart so he ends up in Purgatory. Jonah Hex’s foe El Papagayo, who killed far fewer people, ends up in Hell because he’s evil.
Nor is the afterlife a permanent thing. Ben Grimm and Ollie Queen have come back from Heaven. Physically escaping Hell is not only possible, it may be enough to un-damn you, particularly if you’re a basically decent person who’s learned their lesson.
From a Christian viewpoint none of that makes sense. But that’s not surprising.
As we all know, part of the fun of superhero universes is that they include everything but the kitchen sink (okay, obviously the DCU has kitchen sinks, but you know what I mean). Comics use elements originating in movies, novels,, reality, mythology, religion and folklore — whatever the writer thinks will make a story cool. Satan, of course, is cool. So are angels. And demons. And Greek gods. And Norse gods. And — well, you get the idea.
So why give up any of it? It’s all good storytelling material. The number of people who’ll be annoyed that Avengers can hang with the Son of Satan on Monday and Hercules on Tuesday is probably slim. And the afterlife in comics is not far from what we see in the pop-culture Christianity of countless TV shows. Good gets you into Heaven, bad gets you into Hell. It makes intuitive sense, even if it’s not theologically correct, and it probably pisses off fewer people than asserting that Catholic/Methodist/Suni doctrine holds the one true path to salvation.
As for the in-universe explanation, here’s my theory. Obviously God exists. And (s)he is, as several of the small-g deities say, above them all, supreme. So it’s safe to say God either creates the lesser pantheons or allows them to come into existence (e.g., by the power of the Godwave in the DCU or the Demiurge in the MU). Why? Put it down to those mysterious ways (s)he’s so fond of.
As for the co-existence of Christian, Jewish and Islamic powers, that’s simply God manifesting in different ways to different people. The idea that all three faiths worship the same god is not that radical, though it’s not universally accepted. Or rather than manifesting in different ways, the issue may be how we mortals see “the Presence” and interpret what we see. In Captain Atom #42, Death says that Cap’s arrival in Purgatory means he’s had some Catholic indoctrination: he expects Purgatory so that’s what he gets. Phil Foglio’s wonderful Stanley and His Monster miniseries made the same point, that when you die you see the Hell or Heaven you anticipate.
This explains why believers in the Norse gods wind up in Valhalla or Hela’s domain: they know that’s where they’re supposed to be, so there they are. It also explains why the supernatural universe looks so Christian. Most superheroes are American, and grow up inundated with Christian imagery, even if they don’t believe in it. Small wonder that’s the afterlife they find.
#SFWApro. Art top to bottom by Michael T. Gilbert, Mike Wieringo, Christopher Moeller, Rafael Kayanan, Ernie Chan, John Romita, Romita again and Phil Foglio