It’s been more than a millennium since one of the oldest, goriest and most action-drenched comic books of all time was published.
So, it’s probably safe to reveal a spoiler.
In "Psychomachia" or "Contest of the Soul," the bad guys get it in the end. They really get it.
As in beheaded, bludgeoned and trampled.
Needless to say the book — an epic poem drawn by 10th century monks with a decidedly graphic novel flair — never fell under the ratings jurisdiction of the Comics Code Authority.
"Psychomachia," as noted in the British Library’s medieval manuscripts blog, answered to a considerably higher power.
The poem was originally written by Prudentius, a 5th century governor who increasingly devoted his life to ensuring there was sufficient God-fearing sentiment in his jurisdiction.
And its pages introduce us to the first female superhero team in recorded history, The Virtues.
They square off against a team of villains called The Vices — also women, another first.
Catching an allegorical whiff here?
Battling not for land or power, but for human souls
Indeed, for the monks who reproduced "Psychomachia," it was faith that leapt over tall turrets. Chastity was faster than a speeding, errr.. arrow. And they all battled in barn-burning fashion against the forces of sin over the fate of man’s eternal soul.
Another illustration from 'Psychomachia.' (Photo: British Library/Wikipedia)
Monks, you see were, the original true believers, and they certainly knew their target audience.
While it’s unclear how many issues were produced, an astonishing 300 original copies have survived the ages, according to Smithsonian.com.
A carving at the Monastery of Sant Cugat in Catalonia, Spain, depicting a scene from 'Psychomachia.' (Photo: Josep Renalias/Wikipedia)
Sure, it’s pretty much a symphony of smiting from end to end. But there’s that female cast — both Virtues and Vices are embodied as women — and the fact that it’s widely regarded as the first and most influential medieval allegory.
And did we mention all that smiting?
There are no hammer-wielding gods or rock-skinned brawlers among the "good" guys, but make no mistake, in this book, it’s clobbering time.
"Faith beheads Idolatry," Alison Ray points out in the British Library blog. “Chastity slays Lust with her sword, and Sobriety uses the cross of the Lord to sabotage Indulgence’s chariot before striking her with a flint stone.”
Away Indulgence, thou mouldy rogue!