Some Thoughts on Zauriel – Part 1

So, where was I?

Oh, right — I was saying that the first time someone told me about Zauriel, back when he debuted in *JLA*, I thought it was just about the *worst* idea for a character I’d ever heard.

One of my reasons would probably have occurred to you immediately. I’m an agnostic. The introduction of a *real angel* from the *real Heaven* into the DC Universe could only be interpreted, I thought, as an endorsement of the Big Three brands of middle eastern monotheism. The political, social, and cultural repercussions of such an endorsement were troublesome enough, but they were the *least* of my concerns about Zauriel.

For any writer (okay, *this* writer) whose inclination might be to *expand* the scope of the DCU’s mystical and spiritual possibilities, Zauriel might easily have represented the ultimate dead end. How could any realm grander than Zauriel’s Heaven or a being more powerful than Zauriel’s God be portrayed in a DC comic without insulting every believer of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam? And if an all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent God is a character in a superhero book, why doesn’t He show up every time a supervillain robs a bank? Oh, and if there are guardian angels like Zauriel, why doesn’t every superhero *have* one?

Even *those* issues, however, weren’t what disturbed me most about the character.

Everyone reading this blog, much like the schmuck writing it, lives in a real-world universe full of mysteries. Little mysteries, like, “Why is all dryer lint purple?” and “Why can’t we all just get along?” Bigger mysteries, like, “Why is gravity so weak compared to the other forces of nature?” And humongous mysteries, like:

– Is humankind alone in the universe, or are there other allegedly-intelligent life forms?

– Does God exist?

– What happens after we die?

In terms of the DCU, the first question was answered in 1938, on the very first page of *Action Comics* #1. Superman was born on the planet Krypton. Thus, ipso facto, there was — at least until Krypton exploded — other intelligent life in the universe. In the almost 70 years since, hundreds if not thousands of extraterrestrial heroes and villains have appeared in the DCU, operating in public as often as not, and making no effort to disguise their origins.

Think about that for a moment. In the DC Universe, unlike ours, *every single person* on Earth *knows* beyond all doubt that life exists on other worlds. The DCU’s Joe Shmoes live in a universe where stories like, oh, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” or “Star Wars” or “Battlestar Galactica” or “Star Trek” would hold no special fascination, even for children.

(I’m not singling out DC, by the way. It’s equally true of the Marvel Universe. We got Skrulls in the second issue of *Fantastic Four*. So Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben haven’t had to ask the “alone?” question since 1961. Nor, today, does anyone else among the MU populace.)

In the DCU, the second question was answered unambiguously with the introduction of Zauriel.

Now think about *that* for a moment. Ever since Zauriel appeared on the scene, *every single person* in the DCU has *known* beyond all doubt that the God of Abraham exists and that His angels are watching over us. And, while the intricacies of the system have been left a bit fuzzy, *every single person* in the DCU *knows* that there’s a Heaven and a Hell. Not “believes” — *knows*!

In other words, with the advent of Zauriel, the DCU was, effectively, sucked dry of whatever mystery remained. With all the big questions answered, doubt vanishes; both spiritual and scientific inquiry are rendered obsolete; the exploration of outer — and inner — space becomes pointless. What’s left to search for? The meaning of life? Maybe we don’t know, but *we know God knows*, and, at least in a rudimentary sense, we know where God can be found — physically. We’ve got His home address.

So, naturally, when editor Joey Cavalieri suggested I write the *Zauriel* one-shot as one of the lead-ins to *Doctor Fate*, I hesitated — for a second, maybe two. Then I said “yes”.

What can say? I guess I like a challenge.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss what changed my mind about the character and how that affected the upcoming one-shot. I think you’ll find it interesting.

26 Responses to “Some Thoughts on Zauriel – Part 1”

  1. Bob Kennedy Says:

    I thought your trouble with the character might have been its Wings of Desire/City of Angels derivation. Morrison bent over backwards to make Zauriel’s deity something other than a big bearded patriarch on a pearly throne; more like a conceptual ball of energy with no gender, personality or physical features. “He” seemed more like Einstein’s conception of whatever incomprehensible force is inevitably out there.

    Do you find Hellblazer and Preacher likewise problematic?

  2. Bob Kennedy Says:

    Also: Wouldn’t the citizens of the DCU be skeptical of Zauriel’s claims? There’s at least one character–Dr. Thirteen–who rejects all claims of the supernatural. Couldn’t this view be more widely-held? In Gotham/Metropolis, after all, what’s one more guy with wings?

  3. Pearce Says:

    Steve, that’s amazing. I would never have thought of it like that. Plenty to chew on there. I’m curious to know if you had any thoughts along these lines back when you were writing the Son of Satan?

    Bob: The whole point of Preacher is to examine and criticize the concept of God and organized religion. The set-up is “God exists, and he’s like this, and then…” which is completely different from slapping God into a pre-existing fictional Universe. Besides which, there is no evidence of superheroes or aliens or the like in the world Jesse Custer inhabits.

    Hellblazer might be a bit more problematic in that it’s (sometimes) set in the DCU, but again when angels and demons are brought in it’s the whole point of the story and John Constantine doesn’t do much hob-nobbing with superheroes and aliens anyway.

  4. Richard Bensam Says:

    Steve, I can’t wait to find out what changed your mind about the character, because I’m hoping it’ll change my mind about the character.

    But as to the impact of gods/angels/aliens on the street in the DCU, there are some loopholes you don’t mention. The Buddhists say “If you meet the Buddha in the road, kill him!” because a tangible, perceptible manifestation of “the Buddha” is in direct opposition to the nature of the Buddha and must be a mistake or a delusion or a deception. Many Christians take the same view of “miracles” or other apparent manifestations of divine will, feeling that evidence is the enemy of faith and a deity who expects faith would never present actual proof, and the appearance of proof in matters of faith is a contradiction in terms…as Douglas Adams pointed out. And then there’s Kirk’s Dilemma, which asks “Excuse me…what would God need with a starship?”

    So: if Zauriel appears in the DCU, no matter what he did, large segments of the public would say “So what, he’s just another alien or whatever using hypnosis to make people think he’s an angel.” Quite possibly, many Christians would denounce him as an obvious demon, sent to delude the gullible and test the faith of the righteous.

    And for that matter, the call-in radio shows in Metropolis probably hear the following every day: “Yeah, they claim Superman is an alien from another world, but everybody knows he was created in a government project and passed off as an alien to keep us from realizing he’s under the control of the Trilateral Commission. All this stuff about aliens is a cover so we won’t suspect what they’re really doing at Area 51!”

  5. Mario Di Giacomo Says:

    Couldn’t you basically say the same thing about the Spectre, tho? And HE’S been floating around the DCU since WW2 (both in-universe and out).

    Zauriel is easy for a DCU skeptic to handwave. He’s an albino Hawkman with some sort of alien flaming sword. Just because he SAYS he’s an angel doesn’t make it so, right?

    For that matter, there’s a bit from JLA Secret Files #2 that always makes me chuckle.

    Zauriel is attacked by a nun (and called a blasphemer) because he told her God was without gender. And if he couldn’t convince a NUN…

  6. Steve Gerber Says:

    Okay, so let’s say *not* every person in the DCU believes that God definitely exists, that Heaven is a real place, and that Zauriel is a real angel.

    It doesn’t matter, because the *reader* knows it’s all true.

    (By the way, I didn’t know that Grant had ever actually “shown” God or about that scene with the nun.)

  7. Mario Di Giacomo Says:

    Grant never actually showed God.

    To be honest, his concept for Zauriel isn’t particularly Christian. Instead of Heaven, we have the angels (and just the angels, no mortals), hanging out in the Silver City. And instead of God, he always used the term “the Presence”, a very pantheistic concept.

    Indeed, in Zauriel’s mini (written by Mark Millar, not Morrison), there’s a scene where Asmodel, the rebel angel, charges into the Palace of the Presence… and finds it empty.

    Zauriel basically laughs at him for thinking that the Presence sits around all day on a big throne, when he exists in all things.

    There was also an arc in Wonder Woman where Kronos (Zeus’s father) invades the Silver City. He doesn’t find the Presence either.

    The only DC writer who ever really used the Judeo-Christian framework was John Ostrander, in his Spectre run. Zauriel wasn’t part of it.

  8. Starocotes Says:

    As a Christian myself I have to agree with Mario (and some of the other posters as well). “The presence” in the DCU doesn’t seems very christian to me, it’s more like a patchwork out of few christian, islamic, and jewish believes spiced with a lot of New Age stuff and mysticism.

  9. Steve Gerber Says:

    I’m about 99% sure the Millar miniseries makes use of the term “God” as well as “Presence” — and I’ve gone *’way* further even than that in this one-shot. But I’ll save that for the next post.

    I really liked the scene with Zauriel and Asmodel battling before the Throne of God, and reference is made to that story in the one-shot. But the scene does pose one huge question, akin to the aforementioned “Kirk’s Dilemma”:

    If Zauriel’s God is a universal “Presence”, always everywhere at once, why does the throne room even exist?

    Anyway, more to follow.

  10. Mario Di Giacomo Says:

    You may be right. I’d have to dig up my old copies to be sure.

    I actually did a column about this, years ago, for the Fanzing webzine. It’s probably still online, somewhere.

  11. Brian Spence Says:

    Well, you can always retcon his whole identity and say Zuariel only THINKS he’s from heaven.

    You made great points in your post. Great post indeed.

  12. Bart Lidofsky Says:

    Well, in modern occultism, there is a concept of beings who might be called “angels”, “devas”, “gods”, etc. who have more of a handle on the laws of the Universe than most; there is a belief, for example, that one of these beings was the personal God of the Hebrews in the Old Testament, who taught the Jews about the basic unity in the Universe, and the Jews got the two confused with each other. Given this, the Presence may be only one step up the ladder from the angels, and there are more steps up the ladder from that (not unlike Marvel’s Eternity, who is pretty high up, but certainly not God). BTW, if this has anything to do with what you are going to write, remember that this is just basic modern occultism, all public domain.

  13. George Hall Says:

    It can be a little tricky going from belief in God to actual acceptance of the existence of God.

    It’s like being in Jerusalem at the end of the 1991 Gulf War, when the war ended on the very day the Jewish Purim festival for that year started.

    Zauriel, as you’ve stated, does put paid to merely believing in the existence of God. Then again, that’s a good springboard for a whole set of stories.

    I don’t think Zauriel represents a dead end. Perhaps because I remember an Old Testament prophet who took on 400 pagan priests, won a battle, yet who still had a major lesson to learn from hearing his nemesis, Queen Jezebel, pop his confidence. Heck, if a major prophet had some character development to do, what’s so hard about finding a new approach on an Angel like Zauriel?

    And on the Big Three Monotheistic relgions question? Compare, contrast, figure out which of the three makes the most sense. Sit in Jerusalem a couple of years and it gets easy to work out.

  14. Tom Walker Says:

    I’m no subscriber to the Big Three, though I’m quite happy to go along with a neoplatonic viewpoint of a One, then Gods, then daemons, then “heroes” then humans.. some writers stick the angels between the gods and the daemons.. fair enough.. but that is synonymous with pagan ideas, not the exclusive domain of the Big Three.

    “If Zauriel’s God is a universal “Presence”, always everywhere at once, why does the throne room even exist?”

    that’s a bit like asking if the qabalistic idea of Daath is like an empty room, the top of a mountain, or an oasis in the desert..

  15. George Hall Says:

    I seem to remember a Judaic idea that Humans actually have greater potential than angels. That while the Angels serve God more directly, it’s actually Man who rises above them in the end scheme of things.

  16. Steve Gerber Says:

    Tom: “that’s a bit like asking if the qabalistic idea of Daath is like an empty room, the top of a mountain, or an oasis in the desert..”

    Yes, but this particular throne room isn’t an idea. It’s a *place*, and we’ve been there in at least one story.

    Everyone: Lots of interesting comments. Thank you. I’ll be back shortly with the rest of my thoughts on Zauriel. Warning: They’re a bit more prosaic than what you’re discussing here.

  17. George Hall Says:

    Tom, if you read the Old Testament, God didn’t necessarily need a Tabernacle or a Temple either, but there was a reason for the existence of one, then the other.

    Then again, over the last two millenia, the existence of the Temple hasn’t been an obsolute necessity.

    The existence of that throne room in at least one story doesn’t really mean any problems. It just means a bit of creativity in explaining its purpose.

  18. Forrest Says:

    (I would expect some angelic or otherwise administrative character to say that the emptiness is the point of having the throne.)

  19. Bart Lidofsky Says:

    Actually, the very fact that the Presence has a presence negates the idea of it being the Judeo-Christian God, who has no presence whatsoever (in both Jewish and most Christian theologies, angels have no free will; in modern occultism, it is a greater awareness of karma which creates many more limitations on their actions (by seeing more clearly the long-term results as well as the short-term results). And this means that in most Judeo-Christian theologies, even Satan has no free will, and is just another aspect of God (although many Christian theologies are multi-leveled). Given this, the Presence, as depicted, is just a higher being in the hierarchy. This would make Zauriel a bodhisatva (a being who has joined the Unity who accepts temporary separation from the Unity to help others achieve that state) for world with superheroes.

  20. George Hall Says:

    Here’s a little aside on the whole topic of God. It’s a personal perspective…no one has to agree with it.

    In real terms…the old Pagan pantheons were actually man-made gods. In one particular view, this was a deliberate thing. Rather than accepting the God which did exist, the ancient people decided to go off on their own and invent their own gods to suit themselves. OR, they started with the idea of a national angel and deified that angel.

    The ancient Israelites, though, got stuck with their God, who refused to conform to human ideas of what He should be.

    Worse, they got lumbered with having ALL to hear Him speak…though they could only handle His first syllable at Sinai and decided to let Moses handle all the rest of the speech.

    Then they got lumbered with a God who was harder on His adherents than He was on non-adherents.

    Personally, I’d stick with the Presence being the Judeo-Christian God. Or a plain Judaic God. It still fits, if you remember the Hebrew God didn’t necessarily get contained by a Temple, but had one anyway.

  21. Bill Willingham Says:


    As others here have already pointed out, the pressence of Zauriel among the mass of other super-powered folk in the DCU proves nothing by itself. In the DCU, Zauriel says he’s an angel and his power comes from God. Is it true? Who knows? Also in the DCU,Joe Baseball star says his 62 home-run record comes from God. Is it true? Who knows? So, there can still be skeptics in the DCU. And the second part of your premise, that at least the readers know he’s a real angel and that therefore the Judeo-Christian God is an established part of the DCU — well, I can argue against that too. In fact, having already read your fun and thought-provoking Zauriel one-shot, I could even use one or more scenes from it to bolster my argument that the Judeo-Christian God hasn’t been established in any way whatsoever in the DCU. But to do that I would have to spoil so much, so I’ll wait. I am though looking forward to when you can make it (and when I can make it) to one of our irregular Vegas funnybook writers lunches, so we can have this conversation in earnest.

  22. Steve Gerber Says:

    The next lunch — honest, Bill. I’ll be there.

    (For anyone who doesn’t know, Bill Willingham is the hugely talented writer of DC’s *Shadowpact* and the creator of *Fables*, one of Vertigo’s all-time best and most popular series.)

  23. Mario Di Giacomo Says:

    The easiest explanation for the throne room is that it’s like the Uni-Friend’s wall in the Fourth World books. It’s not where the Presence is located, it’s just the preferred interface.

    It’s like a wi-fi hotspot to the PresenceNet. 🙂

  24. Bart Lidofsky Says:

    Does Steven Grant attend those luncheons? He’s probably the biggest expert in modern occultism in the comic book field. Certainly in terms of modern occult history.

  25. haven o'terrorism Says:

    I should really read around, before posting comments willy-nilly…

    The more I think about the idea of Zauriel being connected to the real God-type God, the better I like the idea of it, by the way…

    But really I just wanted to point out: when you start seeing empty chairs, then you really know you’re dealing with the God of Abraham, in my opinion…he’s nutty for those empty chairs!

  26. Tomas Ruud Says:

    I sort of love the idea that God would build a giantic throne room as a practical joke on would-be usurpers.