I’ve always thought it must be tough being an atheist superhero in one of those big superhero universes. Think about it. Many heroes have firsthand knowledge of the presence of gods, angels, the afterlife, and demons. And while many superhero characters are rarely identified as belonging to any particular faith or lack thereof, the only atheist hero I can think of is the Michael Holt version of Mr. Terrific, and he was an atheist because he couldn’t believe God would let his wife die as opposed to the idea of just not believing in God. Holt was also as a member of the Justice Society, where he spent time with the Spectre, the embodiment of the Wrath of God, and probably had some encounters with Zauriel the angel on the Justice League.
But if we really want to see how not accepting something despite it being right in front of his face works, we really need to discuss Dr. Terrance Thirteen.
Dr. Thirteen was a DC Comics’ character known as the “Ghostbreaker”. First appearing in 1951, his backstory was he came from a long line of scientists and doctors who were often executed by superstitious idiots who believed they were practicing magic, not science. He swore an oath that he would prove all magic false and all supernatural things a load of hooey. Then he went off on adventures proving every ghost, demon, vampire, witch, curse, chupacabra, werewhatever, and pixie was in fact someone pulling a fast one.
Then something happened and around 1969, Dr. Thirteen became a supporting character to the Phantom Stranger, a mysterious, blatantly supernatural being. Though Dr. Thirteen was never a villain in these stories, and neither was the Stranger, that didn’t stop Thirteen from ending many of their team-ups loudly promising to expose the Phantom Stranger for the fraud he obviously was…to Dr. Thirteen.
Yes, no matter what happened, Dr. Thirteen refused to believe that the Phantom Stranger was anything other than a man pulling an elaborate con. Complete lack of clues or evidence to the contrary didn’t matter. Dr. Thirteen was convinced the Phantom Stranger, the Stranger’s frequent adversary Tala, and whatever other crazy stuff was going on, was in fact not the slightest bit magical.
Oh, and to make matters even screwier, in the post-Crisis period, Dr. Thirteen had a teenage daughter named Traci. Being a single dad (his wife having died at some point) was hard enough, but being a single dad who didn’t believe in magic to a girl sorcerer was much, much worse, which may be why Wikipedia tells me she was mostly raised by Ralph and Sue Dibney.
This was a guy who stuck to his guns. And while he didn’t believe in the supernatural, he was willing to believe in other things. While the Stranger held down his own series, Dr. Thirteen often got back-ups where he did his ghost-breaking, proving there was no magic involved in whatever was happening. One really memorable story showed that while Dr. Thirteen didn’t believe in ghosts, he had no trouble believing in aliens and managed to thwart an invasion of aliens pretending to be ghosts. I am not making this up.
In more recent years, Dr. Thirteen never actually went away. Neil Gaiman gave him a cameo in the Books of Magic mini-series where he explains to Tim Hunter how he doesn’t believe in magic, meaning magic doesn’t work for him and he even has a bit of immunity to the stuff without realizing it. He had a small roll in the Flashpoint event. He had an even smaller roll in the Seven Soldiers event by Grant Morrison, where he is shown dating Zatanna and offering quantum physics based explanations for a trip to another plain before he dies rather suddenly in a single issue. My favorite may be an out-of-continuity story in the pages of a Tales of the Unexpected mini-series, where Thirteen teamed up with various forgotten DC characters like Anthro, Captain Fear, the Primate Patrol, and the Haunted Tank to fight against a mysterious quartet who were deciding who got to continue to exist in the DCU post Infinite Crisis, the four being implied to be writers Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, and Greg Rucka, the four authors of the 52 mini-series. Dr. Thirteen essentially figured out he was a fictional character and as such, he couldn’t really die as long as the readers remembered him and his old stories still existed.
That more or less sums up a guy like him anyway.
Noteworthy Issues: The Amazing Spider-Man #52 (September, 1967)
Noteworthy Issues: Batman/Superman: World’s Finest #8 (October, 2022)
Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Characters Case File #423: The Green Team