By Kevin Andrew Murphy
Religion plays a significant role in the Wild Card series and nowhere more publicly and obviously than Our Lady of Perpetual Misery, the parish of the Church of Jesus Christ, Joker, in the heart of Jokertown. The life’s work of Father Squid, the tentacle-faced joker priest created by John Jos. Miller, the Church of Jesus Christ, Joker’s iconography is Catholic but decidedly non-standard, as witnessed by Wraith when she visits in Jokers Wild.
We see this first and foremost in the iconography for Jesus himself, or perhaps herself, or perhaps best themselves. We’ve yet to see the preferred pronoun for Jesus Christ, Joker, in the liturgy of Our Lady of Perpetual Misery in print, but since they are portrayed as a two-headed hermaphrodite with one male head, one female head, four arms (the lower two nonfunctional, the upper two crucified on the spiral of a DNA helix), multiple breasts of descending size, and tastefully shrouded (but presumably hermaphroditic) genitalia, likely best to go with them.
Father Squid obviously took some inspiration for the form of Jesus Christ, Joker, from the classic alchemical image of the divine hermaphrodite.
The next figure Wraith sees is an image of Dr. Tachyon, but two-faced, like the Roman god Janus, one faces smiling and benevolent, the other leering and demonic. The angelic side holds a sun, the demonic lightning.
As Father Squid explains in Fort Freak. “That is the creator who blesses with one hand and damns with another.”
Other figures are less clear to Wraith.
A smiling winged Madonna figure—presumably based off of Peregrine—nurses a two-headed baby Christ figure at each breast.
In Fort Freakit is established that Rick and Mick Dockstedder, conjoined twin jokers who share the same lower body, played the two-headed Christ Child, Joker, for Our Lady of Perpetual Misery’s Christmas pageant when they were babies, in 1978. Christmas at the Church of Jesus Christ, Joker, is revealed to be even more interesting some years later, since there’s an offhand mention in Deuces Downof Sister Mary Immaculate at the church who, while a virgin, has “given birth the last seven Christmases in a row.” It’s not mentioned whether this took place in the middle of church services or at the Jokertown clinic, but it does mean that from 1995 to 2001, there were seven possible baby Jesuses (Jesi?) born, any of whom could have played the Christ Child the next year, assuming there weren’t any two-headed joker babies available for better casting.
Next in Our Lady of Perpetual Misery’s iconography, a goat-legged man in a white lab coat dances while holding a microscope. (No goat-legged joker scientists have been seen yet in the series, but Devil-John Darlingfoot has one goatlike leg and Goathead, a member of the Myth Patrol in Deuces Down,has two goat hooves, and horns as well, so it’s possible Goathead may have gone into science, or it’s just some generic Devil figure.)
Next is “a man with golden skin and a look of perpetual shame and sorrow on his handsome features” juggling silver coins, an obvious reference to Jack Braun, Golden Boy, in his role as the Judas Ace.
As Father Squid explains himself in Fort Freak, “We are simply utilizing a strategy the Church has used over the centuries, over the millennia, to relate to indigenous communities around the world. The Virgin of Guadalupe. The legend of Noah and the Ark. Why the very placement of important events on the liturgical calendar as Christmas and Easter on commemorative days sacred to prior pagan beliefs of the people.”
Wraith knows that both the Church of Jesus Christ, Joker, and Father Squid, are held at some distance by the Catholic church, known as a heresy, but also not publicly referred to as one either. This is likely due to the influence of Father Squid’s good friend Archbishop Fitzmorris who accompanied him during the Wild Cards world tour in Aces Abroadon behalf of Catholic Charities. During their conversations it’s revealed that Father Squid has been petitioning the Holy Mother Church for the Church of Jesus Christ, Joker, to be accepted as an official parish. The Archbishop counsels patience and turns the conversation to which saint should be the patron saint of Wild Cards.
There are multiple candidates: St. Roch, St. Sebastian, St. Godebert, St. Camillus de Lillus, St. Jude, St. Eustachius and his Companions, St. Augustinian, St. Spyridon the Wonderworker, and St. Rita of Cascia, Rita of the Impossibles, the Archbishop’s personal favorite for the position.
Archbishop Fitzmorris chides Father Squid for being a heretic, but admits that it isn’t his place to complain about that, as he’s a Franciscan, whereas it’s the Dominican order who is in charge of rooting out heresy.
Of course the Church of Jesus Christ, Joker, had already come to the attention of the Dominicans when Cardinal Romulus Contarini, publicly the representative of the Vatican’s Office of Theological Purity and privately the leader of the Allumbrados, a secret Catholic sect pledged to rooting out heresy, comes to inspect the parish. He is horrified by what he sees and promises to have Father Squid excommunicated. This happened in 1978, as revealed in Fort Freak.
Of course, Cardinal Contarini dies in Death Draws Five which takes place in 2003, and Father Squid himself dies—horribly martyred as he’s turned into a church bench by the ace Baba Yaga—in High Stakes, published in 2016, leaving some question as to both the current status of the Church of Jesus Christ, Joker, with the Holy Mother Church and in regard to its future leadership.
I would suggest to readers to look to the moon—specifically Joker Moon—to find the answer to the second question. The first? Perhaps pray to Rita of the Impossibles, for nothing is impossible, especially in the world of Wild Cards.