Today we look at The Tithe, a criminal investigation comic that is framed within the pluralistic religious context of the contemporary USA. As such, religion is present throughout the stories as part of the settings the characters inhabit, but the focus of the story is on the interaction of the characters within that context.
The Tithe is a police procedure drama that derives its name from the first of its story arcs, The Tithe (Issues #1-4). In the opening story, a criminal group called The Samaritans are robbing a variety of mega-churches of millions of dollars (gifted through the religious tithing of the faithful), and then donating the stolen money to charities.
The story’s protagonists are the two FBI agents who have been set the task of capturing the Samaritans, albeit without the support of the wider public who are enjoying seeing the rich pastors and evangelists, who are often involved in dodgy dealings with the money, getting their comeuppance. Dwayne Campbell is the experienced investigator, an African-American evangelical Christian, while the younger Jimmy Miller, an atheist, is the technical expert. This leads to ongoing conversations about faith, church, what worship is, and so on as they pursue the Samaritans. Eventually, circumstances escalate, someone gets killed in a robbery, the group is taken down, and the brains behind the unit, Samantha Copeland, is co-opted into the FBI team.
The second story arc, Islamophobia (Issues #5-8), deals with places of worship – Christian cathedrals and churches, Jewish synagogues, Mormon temples – being the target of suspected Muslim suicide bombers. As the team investigate it becomes clear that the bombers are being blackmailed, and the entire thing is a set-up to make the President of the USA look weak in the face of homeland Islamic terrorism, and is connected to white supremacist groups being used by a hard-line senator angling for a run at the presidency.
Again, it is the characters who make the story work. Campbell is wrestling with his daughter converting to Islam to marry her husband, rejecting his Christian faith, while Jimmy and Samantha become romantically entangled. Added to that is the fact that they know who is responsible for the attacks, but cannot get to him and are themselves in jeopardy. The story gives an unsettling story of how people’s actions and perspectives, religious or otherwise, can be manipulated to a point where facts cannot change their opinions.
The story continues in the third instalment, The Tithe: Samaritan (Issues #1-3), along with a tie in to the series, Eden’s Fall, which connects it into a wider universe that includes Postal and Think Tank.
Apart from the fact that these comics are good stories, Hawkins adds in some nicely integrated biblical texts to frame the chapters, as well as including a section at the back of the comics that he calls his “Sunday School”. In the introduction to that, Hawkins gives some of his own journey from a Southern Baptist upbringing to his current atheism. The remainder of the “Sunday School” provides some information about the biblical text on tithing, how it’s often done in churches, as well as a bunch of links to similar scenarios around televangelist and mega-church scandals and various religious trivia. Hawkins’ also includes some letters, corrections to errors he made and this comment.
At the end of the day, the comic is a crime drama – it’s Call of Duty or Criminal Minds or Wallander – which happens to be framed in religious contexts in a way that makes you think again about how religion and spirituality can function both positively and negatively in the world.