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FAITH IN ACTION

Super sister fights evil

By Leslie Miller
USA TODAY
5.5.97

In the defiant world of bad-girl comic books, one holy heroine is drawing a crowd.

The Warrior Nun -- a cross between Xena and Joan of Arc -- has attracted both male and female fans who now follow the character, well, religiously.

"Other superheroes, you never know what their faith is," says creator Ben Dunn, publisher of Antarctic Press, San Antonio. "Batman or Spider-Man or Superman, they do all these great things, but what do they believe in?"

Dunn, 33, who attended Catholic schools, got the idea two years ago after seeing a story about an order of nuns in New York who study judo and tae kwon do.

His focus is Sister Shannon Masters (a.k.a. Areala), one of an elite corps of 13 Warrior Nuns who "provide the thin line of defense between Earth and the power of Hell."

After losing an arm battling demons, Sister Shannon received a mechanical replacement and "suddenly became imbued with the spirit of Areala," the first Warrior Nun in the year 1066. From then on, Shannon adopted Areala's name.

After good sales in comic book stores of a few initial story lines and a Warrior Nun Areala action figure, Dunn is about to launch the first issue of an ongoing comic book series, due in June. He also is producing a half-hour animated video to be sold in comic book stores next year.

Several spinoff comics also are in the works: the Crimson Nun, a Warrior Nun from the 1930s (due in early May); group leader Mother Superion (in July); and Shotgun Mary, a former nun whose unorthodox methods forced her to leave the church.

Action figures of both Shotgun Mary (with removable sunglasses) and Areala in a "Holy White" habit will be out in June ($9.95, sold at comic book stores only).

Although Warrior Nun has somethings in common with other buxom, scantily clad comic heroines, Dunn says he holds her to a higher moral code: "I made it a very strong point that she doesn't kill people, only demons," he says. "She believes everybody -- no matter how bad they've been -- can be saved."

While predominantly young male fans might find Sister Areala's tight-fitting bodice and thigh-revealing costume quite divine (the side slits are "for mobility," Dunn insists), the church would surely consider the portrayal less than chaste.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Catholic Conference in Washington, D.C., says the costume as described is "offensive. The habit is something sacred."

But she adds it sounds like the idea for the character "is coming from a positive feeling toward sisters," and she's not at all surprised. "Nuns are superheroes," she says.