The CBR Scale

Many comic book characters (and other fictional characters) can be classified by their religious affiliation. Nightcrawler of the X-Men is Catholic, while his teammate Kitty Pryde is Jewish.

But are all characters who share the same religious affiliation necessarily identical in their religious beliefs, observance, etc., or in the significance their religion plays in their portayal? Not at all.

The CBR ("Comic Book Religion") Scale is used to categorize characters based on how important or prominent their religious affiliation is in their characterization. Additional notes about the meaning and use of the CBR Scale can be found below.

The "D" rank stands for a religious affiliation that is a character's "defining" characteristic. Characters categorized this way were often created specifically to "stand in" for a particular belief system in a story that pointedly addresses it as a topic. "D" characters often embody stereotypes or are intentionally stereotypical, sometimes for comedic or editorial effect. In real life, people are more complex than "D" characters. Thus, most major super-heroes are typically portrayed more generically and with a more nuanced, "well-rounded" portrayal than characters who are definied principally by adherence to a specific religious or philosophical belief. Examples of "D" characters would be "Catholic Girl" and "Catholic Man," who are largely one-note "joke characters" whose defining characteristic is (unsurprisingly) the religious affiliation denoted in by their names. The characters "Super Vegan" and "Vegan Man" were similarly created specifically to convey Vegan ideals, and were never really intended as psychologically realistic, well-rounded characters. They are categorized as "D" characters on the CBR Scale because their religious affiliation ("Veganism") is their defining characteristic. Most Vegans do not even identify Veganism as their "religion," but for these fictional characters, Veganism is obviously their religion and not simply an incidental aspect of their lifestyle. Villains are often created as "D" characters. For example, the Red Skull was created to embody the Nazi threat faced by the United States during World War II. Nazism was the Red Skull's defining characteristic.
The "M" rank means that a character's religious affiliation is a "major" characteristic. For "M" characters, the religious affiliation should noticeably inform their thoughts and actions, although it doesn't necessarily dictate everything they do. The religious affiliation for "M" characters is typically widely known and acknowledged. An "M" character's religious affiliation not the most important characteristic (as is the case with "D" characters), but it is likely something that would come up in a concise description of the character and it is something that any good writer would need to keep in mind in order to properly portray the character with any degree of depth and realism. "M" characters may be flawed representatives of their faith. Daredevil and the Huntress are both "M" characters for whom Catholicism is a "major" characteristic, despite the fact that they are deeply flawed in their observation of that faith. Wolfsbane, a founding member of the New Mutants who later became a member of X-Factor, is an excellent example of an "M" character. She is a devout Presbyterian whose devout, sincerely held faith has always been a major aspect of both her back story as well as her continuing characterization.
The "S" rank means that a character's religious affiliation is "significant," but not "major. The religious affiliation plays a small but still noticeable role in the character's life and persona, although it may be unnoticed by casual readers. With "S" characters, good writers keep the character's religious affiliation in mind, as it sometimes impacts story and charaterization. But lesser writers may forget about this characteristic without producing a noticeably "out of character" portrayal. Sometimes the religious affiliation of "S" characters only comes up in stories that pointedly address religious and ethical issues, or in a character's origin story. Magneto and Ben Grimm ("the Thing") are "S" characters because their Jewish religious affiliation is "significant," but falls short of being "major." Their Jewishness has been a major part of a few specific stories, but in general this is not an overtly portrayed or even noticeable aspect of their characterization. For long periods of these characters' histories, they were not even consciously regarded as Jewish. These two characters illustrate how CBR Scale categorization can change over time. A character's religious affiliation may become more or less significant as time goes on and as writers and editorial dictates change. The CBR Scale is best thought of as an attempt to summarize a character's overall status, giving preference to contemporary characterization without ignoring a character's rich history.
"R" is a special code that might be thought as standing a bit apart from the traditional D-M-S-I-U-A scale. "R" is used with characters who we have not specifically observed demonstrating their religious affiliation or beliefs, yet they belong to a fictional race or nationality or other significant group which is verifiably religious. This code may be commonly used with minor characters who belong to major fictional races, such as Atlanteans, Skrulls, Kree, Inhumans, Deviants, Eternals, Martians, Tamaranean, Thanagarians, Kryptonians, Oans, Manhunters, Wakandans, etc. It is common for major alien races, hidden races, and fictional nationalities in comics to be portrayed as having strong religious components. Wakandans, for example, are known to commonly worship in African traditional religion, centered on the Black Panther Cult, which is headed by their nation's king and national hero, T'Challa (the Black Panther). Skrulls are known to have a strong religious tradition, as seen most recently in the "Secret Invasion," in which devoutly religious Skrulls invaded Earth in order to fulfill prophesies in their scriptures. The Skrulls said they sought to bring peace and harmony to Earth and greeted both each other and Earthlings with the phrase "He Loves You." When asked who "He" was, they explained they were referring to God. Starfire of the Teen Titans has always been a devout believer in the Tamaranean goddess X'Hal, and other Tamaraneans have been portrayed as sharing her religious beliefs and practices. From available published material, it is easy to see that Wakandans, Skrulls and Tamaraneans have strong religious traditions associated with their race or nationality. The reasonable conclusion, unless published stories explicitly state otherwise, is to assume that other members of the same race or nationality share the predominant religion of the group to which they belong. In many cases, such affiliation has been explicitly shown in published comics, but our researchers have simply not personally read or catalogued the pertinent stories. Given any minor Wakandan warrior character, for example, chances are good that if we collected and carefully read every appearance of the character, we would see him expressing Wakandan/Black Panther cult religious beliefs or wearing Wakandan religious apparel or taking part in a Wakandan religious ritual. Given literary conventions, including the principle of the Limping Waiter, the minor Wakandan warrior character can be assumed to be an adherent of the predominant Wakandan religion, which is African traditional religion and the Black Panther Cult. It makes no sense to assume that there is just as good a chance that this minor character is Jewish or Deist or Congregationalist or Muslim or anything else. So, given a Wakandan character about whom we know very little, we are likely to classify them as an adherent of the predominant Wakandan religion, and given an Inhuman character about whom we know very little, we are likely to classify them as an adherent of Inhuman religion. The "R" code is used as a way of informing users of our database that the classification was done based on the character's race or nationality, and not based on our having actually read anything that pertains to this specific character's religious affiliation. If our researchers have observed a character being portrayed in a specifically religious way (for example, if an Atlantean tells Aquaman, "I'll pray to Neptune for your safe return!"), then we do not need to use the "R" code.
Incidental (Insignificant)
The "I" rank can stand for "incidental" or "insignificant." This CBR rank is used to denote a character who demonstrably has a certain religious affiliation, yet their religious affiliation seemingly plays little role in their life or portrayal. Elektra is an example of this. She is Greek Orthodox (as are most contemporary Greek nationals), and this religious affiliation has been overtly recognized in places such as at the funeral of her father in the Daredevil feature film. yet one would be hard-pressed to think of any way in which this deadly assassin ever observes Greek Orthodox practice and ritual, or even has conflicted thoughts about how killing people conflicts with her faith. Even as an assassin, she could be an "S" or even "M" character if she often thought about Greek Orthodoxy (perhaps feeling guilty about going against her church's teachings). But she doesn't do this, and her religious affiliation is categorized as only incidental, making her an "I" character. "I" characters are not necessarily "lapsed" in their faith. Susan Storm Richards ("Invisible Woman" of the Fantastic Four), for example, is demonstrably sincere and committed in her Episcopalian faith. Yet this fact has been portrayed so infrequently over the character's long history that she is also categorized with an "I" on the CBR Scale. Sometimes the religious affiliation of "I" characters only comes up in stories portray traditionally religious events such as weddings, christenings or funerals.
Unconfirmed (Uncertain)
The "U" rank is for characters whose religious affiliation is "unconfirmed" or "uncertain." For some characters, religious affiliation is so tangential a characteristic, or the religion taboo has been so strongly in effect, that a character's religious affiliation is debatable or only tenuously identified. Ray Palmer is typical of super-hero created during a time when generic white Anglo-Saxon male super-heroes were created who were largely interchangeable with each other except for their names, powers and costumes. The religion taboo was in force and little thought was given to the character's specific religious background and spiritual life. Characters were simply based on a WASP-y, typyically Episcopalian template or stock character type, in an attempt to appeal to the widest audience possible and minimize controversial content. Over time, attempts were made to deepen this character and give him some more nuanced, less generic ethnic, religious or philosophical characteristics. Thus, there are some stories which arguably reveal that the Atom is a lapsed Jew. But these stories are open to interpretation and do not unequivocally identify the Atom as Jewish. Furthermore, this aspect of the character is clearly "unimportant." A character whose religious affiliation is "unconformed" and "uncertain" is typically a character whose religious affiliation is "unimportant" in their portrayal. A character may even be written by writers who regard the character as a devout follower of a particular faith, but if the character's faith is written about so little that their faith remains "unknown" to the readers, the character is a "U" character. Of course, if a character's religious affiliation is completey unknown and can't even be reliably guessed at, the character is most likely completely uncategorized with regards to religious affiliation and will not even have a CBR Scale ranking.
Accidental (Adopted)
The "A" rank stands for "Accidental" or "Adopted," which is a level of categorization which should not be dismissed, but it is even less concrete than "U" (unconfirmed). A character whose religious affiliation is classifed with an "A" on the CBR Scale was probably not conceived as an adherent of that religious group by its original creators, but may have come to be identified as such by readers, fans and commentators. The identification of the Power Pack kids as Latter-day Saints is an example of this. Through a combination of the family structure, general portrayal and LDS/Utah-oriented apparel drawn by an Italian Latter-day Saint artist, the characters came to be thought of as LDS. A lack of canonical information overtly identifying the "official" religious affiliation of the characters allowed for this "accidental" identification to gain traction. Mary Marvel is another character whose consistent portrayal as a "Molly Mormon" character type has led to her "accidental" religious classification as a Latter-day Saint. The Captain America foe Flag-Smasher is currently classified with Baha'is (with a question mark), not because the character ever overtly identified himself as a member of the Baha'i Faith, but because his stated aims and beliefs so closely coincided with Baha'i teachings that a postulated Baha'i upbringing provides the most parsimonious explanation for his persona. But this identification merely has a ranking of "A" (accidental) - the lowest rung on the CBR Scale. On the other hand, the YouTube-spawned character "Super Baha'i Girl" has the highest ranking on the CBR Scale as a "D" character - her Baha'i religious affiliation is her defining characteristic. Dr. Cecilia Reyes, the force field-generating former member of the X-Men, is another example of an "A" character. Based both on her individual characteristics as well as the complete dearth of SDA super-heroes, Dr. Reyes has been "adopted" as a Seventh-Day Adventist. The character's creators may have "accidentally" created an SDA superheroine, but it is likely that this was not their intention. Characters classified with an "A" on the CBR Scale may eventually be more "officially" identified in published works as adherents of the faith they "seem" to belong to, in which case, their CBR Scale classification will change. Of course, any religious affiliation identification classified as "A" is superseded and overturned if anything is published by official sources which overtly identifies the character's religious affiliation. For example, if Mary Marvel were to be portrayed in comics published by DC (which owns the character) as a converting to recommitting to a specific denomination, all identification of her as a Latter-day Saint would be nullified, regardless of how "Mormonesque" she may seem. Well-developed characters who are portrayed with depth and realism are rarely classified as "A" characters because there is typically sufficient information available about their background, upbringing, beliefs, religious practices, etc. to accurately identify them based on published material.

The significance of a character's specific religious affiliation varies widely. For example, Nightcrawler's Catholicism is a major aspect of his character, but religious affiliation is far less central to the character of his fellow Catholic teammate, Havok (Alex Summers). Both Nightcrawler and Havok are demonstrably Catholic, based on canonical, published stories in which they appear. But Nightcrawler and Havok can be classified differently using the CBR Scale.

The CBR Scale sometimes correlates with how devout a character is, but this is not always the case. A character may be lapsed in active observance of their religion or even openly antagonistic toward it, yet still have a high CBR rating if these aspects are prominent in their portrayal. Conversely, a character may be quite devout in their faith, but if this religious devotion is never portrayed, never central to any stories about the character, and only known through a passing mention of the fact, the character would rank lower on the CBR scale.

The CBR Scale is not purely numerical. Each CBR rating is meant to be a category with discreet meaning. Naturally there is some degree of subjectivity involved in all CBR rankings. Where does one draw the line between categorizing a character's religious affiliation as a "Major" versus a "Significant" characteristic, for example? Readers of this site are welcome to write to suggest improved categorizations.

The CBR Scale is used primarily to categorize the significance of a character's religious affiliation in the traditionally recognized, social, organized sense. Of course every character has a "religion" in the psychological, sociological sense of categorizing a religion as "that which is most important to the character." In this sense, "religion" can be equivalent to "motivation." Thus, a comic book super-villain obsessed with clocks who plans elaborate crimes using a clock motif can accurately be categorized as a character whose religion is "clocks." Categorizing the overt "motivation" of all comic characters is often obvious, readily discernible, and not really the focus of this website. This site is more interested in identifying a character's religious affiliation in the more widly used sense of the word, referring to a more organized, socially shared system of belief, values, motivation, philosophy, etc.

For example, the clock-obsessed character may have been raised Jewish, a fact revealed in his origin story, yet no longer be an observant Jew. Suppose this hypothetical character's Jewishness is canonical, having been established in print on a few occassions, but essentially trivial because it has no bearing on the character's routine characterization or storylines featuring him. We might categorize this character with an "I" on the CBR Scale. By this we mean that his noted religious affiliation - Jewish - is relatively Incidental or Insignificant. Yet in a very real sense, we are thus ignoring the significance of the character's true religion: Clocks.

There are very simple reasons for doing so. This way, when a list of Jewish characters is perused, readers can readily pick out characters whose religious affiliation is particularly important in their portrayals, versus characters whose Jewishness is unimportant, incidental, or perhaps not even confirmed.

More importantly, it would essentially be meaningless and circular to apply the CBR Scale to a character's "true religion" or principle motivation. By definition, this would always be the character's defining, most important characteristic, and thus every character would have the same ranking on the CBR Scale. For example, it is well known that Eddie Brock, the Spider-Man villain known as "Venom", is Catholic. Brock's Catholicism played an important role in his origin in both the comic book and feature film portrayals of the character, but it is hardly his "defining characteristic." We could say that Brock's "true religion" is not Catholicism, but his desire for revenge against Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Then we would have to categorize him as "D" on the CBR Scale, meaning that his "religion" is his "defining characteristic." Rather than using the CBR Scale in this circular manner, it is generally used in reference to a character's more normatively recognized religious affiliation, whether or not that affiliation is the deepest, most important source of motivation for the character.

Another example is Lex Luthor, whose Episcopalian upbringing and Nietzschean atheism play only "incidental" or "insignificant" roles in the character's portrayal. It is these more normative religious identifications that Lex Luthor's CBR classification of "I" refer to rather than what might considered Luthor's "true religion,", his idiosyncratic obsession with world conquest and revenge against Superman.

Characters without CBR Scale classification

Characters without any information in the "religious affiliation" field should not have a CBR classification letter. A character whose religious affiliation is unknown is in a very different situation than a character who simply isn't devout in their faith, or is openly anti-religious, identifiably "non-religious" or identifies with belief systems traditionally regarded as "secular" such as atheism, agnosticism, Communism, etc. An atheist character, for example, should have a CBR Scale classification letter just as much as a Catholic or Jewish or Buddhist character. Atheism may a "defining" of a character just as much as Catholicism might be. Or it might be a characteristic which is "major", "significant", "incidental" or "unconfirmed", etc. Once again, the CBR Scale is a measure of how central or important an identified religious affiliation is to the portrayal of the character. It is not a measure of "how religious" the character is.

Ideally, all charcters with religious affiliation information recorded for them should have a CBR classification. If a religiously-identified characters does not have a CBR Scale letter by their religious affiliation it is not because CBR categorization is impossible. It is because the data compilers have simply not yet recorded a CBR value for the character. Please feel free to write with your own suggestions.