‘Battle Pope’: When Robert Kirkman took on the pontificate

March 13, 2013 | 6:26 p.m.

The first "Battle Pope" trade paperback collected issues No. 1-4 of the series by writer Robert Kirkman, artist Tony Moore and colorist Val Staples. (Skybound / Image Comics)

"Battle Pope Vol. 2: Mayhem," by writer Robert Kirkman, artist Tony Moore and colorist Val Staples. The issue was penciled by Matt Roberts. (Skybound / Image Comics)

"Battle Pope Vol. 3: Pillow Talk," written by Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Tony Moore, Cory Walker and Val Staples. (Skybound / Image Comics)

The cover for "Battle Pope" issue No. 7, by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Val Staples. The issue was penciled by Matt Roberts. (Skybound / Image Comics)

The cover for "Battle Pope" issue No. 12, by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Val Staples. (Skybound / Image Comics)

The cover for "Battle Pope" issue No. 13, by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Val Staples. (Skybound / Image Comics)

The cover for "Battle Pope" issue No. 14, by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Val Staples. (Skybound / Image Comics)

With Wednesday’s announcement of the new Roman Catholic Pope and “The Walking Dead’s” recent record-breaking ratings, now might be the best time to revisit one of “Walking Dead” comic creator Robert Kirkman’s earlier (though not holier) enterprises: “Battle Pope.”

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, may have been named the 266th pontiff, but in the pages of Kirkman’s “Battle Pope,” the leader of the Roman Catholic church was Oswald Leopold II, a cigar-smoking, demon-slaying sinner tasked with saving humankind after the Rapture.

Battle Pope” was written by Kirkman and co-created and illustrated by Tony Moore, the “Walking Dead” comic artist who later sued Kirkman, alleging the writer tricked him into surrendering his rights to the franchise. (They settled out of court in September.) In 2000, the pair independently published the 14-issue series before it was picked up and reprinted in color — Val Staples served as colorist — by Image Comics in 2005. In 2008, the blasphemous tale was adapted for television with an eight-episode cartoon that aired on Spike.

In the comic, the pope is a foul-mouthed, womanizing barfly whose life since being named pontiff has been filled with debauchery. Come the Rapture, the pope doesn’t make the cut and is left to live in a demon-infested world, along with most of humanity.

But lucky for the pope, he trained with Bruce Lee as a youngster, and God recruits him to rescue St. Michael from Lucifer, who’s holding the halo-wearing hostage captive at his Earth headquarters, Hellcorp. The Pope is aided by sidekick Jesus H. Christ (yes, that’s his name in the comic) throughout the demon-fighting quest, and is promised a place in heaven should he succeed.

All things considered, the muscled pontiff could probably hold his own against a legion of walkers — the zombies in “The Walking Dead” — especially considering his experience surviving a post-apocalyptic world and the possibility of divine intervention on his behalf. And though it’s unlikely “Battle Pope” will find its way to a hit AMC series, the comic may prove fruitful instruction to Pope Francis, should he ever chance upon a zombie horde.

Click through the gallery above for a look at some of the comic covers for “Battle Pope.”

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark

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