Dec. 8, 2000 -- It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … Super Pope?
A new comic book hitting newsstands in Italy this week stars a new superhero, none other than John Paul II.
The new serial, which was approved by the Vatican, depicts the real life and true adventures of “Karol Wojtyla: Pope of the Third Millennium.”
A Cool Young Pope
It appears in The Little Paper, an illustrated magazine for Italian young people by the publisher of the Roman Catholic Church periodical Famiglia Christiana.
“Our commitment is rather grandiose, dear children: Telling the life of no one less than the pope,” The Little Paper tells its readers in Italian in an introduction for the first installment.
“It is an adventurous life, full of change, of interest, of tragedy, of missions, of travel,” the introduction promises.
The plot device is simple: Grandpa, the narrator, has a long, flashback-filled talk with his grandchildren when they ask why he isn’t pope himself — since he’s getting along in years.
Grandpa points out that the pope wasn’s always old.
And — “He really wasn’t a geek!” Grandpa assures the children at the outset.
Skiing… Dancing … Girls!
Installment No. 1 of the series deals with the boyhood in a small Polish town of young Karol, as the future pope was then known.
A key theme seems to be assuring kids that the 80-year-old pope — ”Look how old and tired he is!” a child exclaims in one segment — was once all boy.
“I got it!” a bony-kneed Karol exclaims in one bubble-dialogued box as he blocks a goal during a soccer game.
“Outa my way!” a teenage Karol shouts in another as he careensdown a snowy slope on skis.
“Crazy fanatic!” a bystanderdownslope shouts at the future pope.
John Paul’s teenage years as an amateur actor are also featured prominently. In one panel, a dashing, mustachioed Karol appears on stage alongside a beautiful girl in an overwrought costume drama.
“What? You want me to believe that he acted with girls?” agirl in a T-shirt asks Grandpa.
“Certainly. And danced the waltz, the mazurka and even thetango,” Grandpa replies.
The papal comics have their serious side as well. They show young Karol’s anguish at losing his mother when he was only 9 years old, and then his only brothertwo years later.
There are morals to this story, too. Grandpa points out Karol never felt the need to prove himself by smoking, drinking beer or staying out late as he grew up — “as some boys do.”
Using Different Media
The serial’s creators say sales have been strong in the first days. They are considering doing versions in other languages.
The comics are not the first time the pope’s message has gone out in an unconventional medium.
Previous innovations in the pontiff’s 23-year tenure have put the Vatican on the Internet and John Paul himself on a CD.
“We have to preach the gospel to all the people … so we have to use all the media,” said the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman.
“The comics are a good medium for the children.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.