A young woman wakes up in a morgue and finds she now carries an embedded divine object in her back in Warrior Nun, a forthcoming fantasy drama from Netflix, based on the comic series by Ben Dunn. Not only has the divine brought her back from the dead, but she now has superpowers and a new mission to fight hell on Earth.
The first issue in the manga-style comic book series, “Warrior Nun Areala,” debuted in 1994. The series features Sister Shannon Masters, a modern-day crusader for the Catholic Church’s (fictional) Order of the Cruciform Sword. In the series mythology, the Order dates back to 1066, when a young Valkyrie woman named Auria converted to Christianity. Renamed Areala, she selects a new avatar every generation to carry on her mission of battling the agents of hell. Sister Shannon is the Chosen One. It’s like Buffy the Vampire Slayer got religion.
Dunn has said he was inspired to create the series after learning, via a New York Times article, about the Fraternity of Our Lady, which established a chapter in Harlem in 1991 to run a soup kitchen. One of the nuns (the fraternity has both nuns and priests), Sister Marie Chantel, trained in the martial arts (judo and tae kwon do), and many of her fellow nuns also practiced self-defense, albeit mostly for sport. Dunn envisioned a world with nuns as superheroes, where heaven and hell are real dimensions. It’s a fun series, because it’s not Catholic proselytizing, despite the Christian themes and the nuns’ sincere faith—unlike those infamous Jack Chick tracts and comic books. (I grew up reading the Crusader series, which honestly explains a lot about my rather warped psyche.)
There had been some preliminary work on a possible film, updated for the modern world, but then Netflix acquired the TV rights, and those plans were shelved. Simon Barry (Continuum, Van Helsing) signed on as series creator and showrunner, while Counterpart producer Amy Berg serves as a consulting producer and penned two of the S1 episodes. Oh, and all the episode titles are Bible verses, because why not?
Sister Shannon isn’t dominant in this adaptation—per IMDb, she only appears in a couple of episodes, played by Melina Matthews. Instead, the show focuses on a young woman named Ava (Alba Baptista). Tristan Ulloa plays Father Vincent, Sylvia De Fanti plays Mother Superior, and Joaquim de Almeida plays Cardinal Duretti.
Per the official synopsis:
Caught in the middle of an ancient war between good and evil, a young girl wakes up in a morgue with inexplicable powers. Her search for answers brings her to The Order of the Cruciform Sword, a secret society of warrior nuns sworn to protect the world from evil. While juggling her responsibilities as the chosen one with the normal obstacles of a teenage girl, this mysterious fantasy drama is full of mystery, action, adventure, and teenage romance, proving our main character might fight in the name of good, but she’s no angel.
The trailer opens with Ava’s voiceover, explaining how she’s dreamt of being dead for her entire life, leaving her body and viewing it from above, relieved that she looks like a normal girl. “Until I wake up and realize I’m still the freak I’ve been my whole life.” But life, as she observes, “has a really effed-up way of making your dreams come true.” She is dead—at least until the Order revives her as the new Chosen One. It looks like she slays a demon pretty soon after being revived, too. Buffy would be so proud.
Father Vincent gives her a rundown of the Order’s history: it’s a group of “devout women who have dedicated their lives to fighting an ancient evil. Whoever bears the halo is the champion.” That halo has been absorbed into Ava’s back, giving her superpowers—apparently enhancing whatever natural abilities she already possesses. There’s just one problem: Ava isn’t particularly devout, something that rankles the cardinal: “How did our greatest weapon against evil end up in an unbeliever?”
But perhaps the halo knows best. Plot details remain appropriately vague, but we do see a woman named Jillian Salvius (Thekla Reuten) announce the dawn of a new Age of Enlightenment: “Heaven exists, and I discovered a gateway to it.” And we meet Ava’s sisters-in-arms: Sister Beatrice (Kristina Tonteri-Young), Shotgun Mary (Toya Turner), Sister Lilith (Lorena Andrea), and Sister Camila (inexplicably not listed among the cast).
So, mystical portals to heaven (and/or hell)? Check. Badass nuns steeped in the martial arts? Check. A hot young love interest for Ava? Check. Lots of demon slaying and a bit of comic relief? Check. Warrior Nun debuts on Netflix on July 2, 2020. It could make for an entertaining holiday-weekend binge.
Listing image by Netflix