Everyone is familiar with Marvel icons: Iron Man, Captain America, Spiderman – but did you know that Saint Francis is also part of their superhero pantheon?

Francis, Brother of the Universe was published in 1980 by Marvel Comics. At a total of 48 pages in length, it covers Saint Francis of Assisi’s “complete life’s story.” Out of print in 2006, it has sold over one million copies and has been translated into eight different languages: French, Chinese, Japanese, Swahili and two Spanish versions.

In the late 70’s, Campion Lally, OFM, spoke with Gene Pelc, then-head of Marvel Comics in Japan and frequent attendee to Mass at the Franciscan Chapel Center in Tokyo. Lally suggested they commemorate the 800th anniversary of Francis’ birth in 1982 by making him a superhero.

“Church – comics – Saint Francis – Superheroes? Well, why not? If we can call Superman and Captain America superheroes in our magazines, then how much more so is Saint Francis! He has shaped events and influenced millions of people’s minds, particularly the young, for centuries. So comics and the Church have joined hands. An unlikely couple? Maybe, but made possible by a few people who believe. And a man whose spirit continues to touch all of mankind 800 years after his birth. A man who truly can be called … Francis — Brother of the Universe!”

In a private audience with Pope Saint John Paul II in 1980, Pelc gave him a copy of the comic, highlighting it was the first ever saint to find their way onto the page by a major publisher. The late pontiff said in English: “So, why cannot John Paul II be number two?” Marvel published two years later: The Life of Pope John Paul II.

Marvel themselves estimate the comic and the story of the one of the Church’s greatest saints has reached over 15 million readers.

Look below at the comic’s covers and some inside pages.

Read below a synopsis of Francis, Brother of the Universe:

Francis is born in Assisi, Italy in the year 1181 or 1182, at the end of the Dark Ages. As he grows up he becomes friend to many nobles, even though he is a member of the middle class. A war with the nearby town Perugia sends Francis into battle. He is captured along with many of his noble friends and imprisoned. He offers comfort to his fellow inmates, but is affected by the imprisonment himself. After a year of being a prisoner the ransom is paid and they are freed. However just months later Francis takes ill and is sick for a very long time. Finally Francis, known as “King of the Feasts” amongst his friends, returns to full health. Francis feels a greater desire to be a noble, and be accepted and he creates bigger and better parties, all the while spending his fathers money.

Another war is about to start between the Pope and the Roman Emperor, and Francis sees this as a chance to redeem himself. Francis has a prophetic dream that he will be a great leader of men. However Francis hears the voice of God and is told to go back to Assisi even though it will cause his family great shame. The whole town talks about Francis and the voices he hears, his father is very upset with him. Every chance Francis gets he goes to the caves at Mount Subasio to try and communicate with God. Finally after a year of searching, Francis goes to the broken-down church of San Damiano to pray and once again is visited by the voice of God.

Francis takes bolts of fabric from his father to fund the restoration of the San Damiano church. His father is enraged and demands everything back, Francis gives back everything including the clothes off his back, he is a son of God.

Francis continues his work for God and is rewarded with supplies from the Pope in Rome.

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