Wednesday, March 22, 2017

THE CRUSADERS : OPERATION BUCHAREST

The end.


Jack Chick couldn't possibly be more famous, particularly in the world of comic book aficionados, despite never having developed a beloved character. The version of Satan who's really into role-playing games doesn't count.

It's not that he didn't try, though. The creator of countless little evangelical tracts with names like "Apes, Lies and Miss Hen," "The Poor Little Witch," "There Go The Dinosaurs" and so on -- basically titles that seem to imply that you're watching an off-brand animated short from 1965 -- focused primarily on anti-everyone polemics at the expense of character. Except ... The Crusaders!

Their boss looks like Donald Trump.
"The Crusaders" became the overall group title of an ongoing, 22-issue run of original full-size comics from Chick Publications. Naturally, they still focused on the essential messages of Chick's tracts -- Muslims suck, Catholics suck, what even is a Freemason (PS they suck), Jesuits suck, sin sucks and most everything is a sin, et cetera. Its first issue, however, was given over to the adventures of the eponymous duo, commie-crushing born-agains Timothy Emerson Clark, former Green Beret, and James Carter, reformed drug kingpin and much-maligned 39th president of the United States of America.

The Crusaders are assembled by some almost incriminatingly typical fat cat power brokers, both of whom would have been the villains in pretty much any other comic ever published. Rather, these fellas love God and hate Communism -- again, I don't see why they're not the villains here -- and they're putting together a team to fight the godlessness of Godlessness!

As mentioned before, Tim Clark is an ex-Green Beret. He'd barely survived am abush which wiped out the entirety of his ... platoon? Division? I don't know what Green Berets travel in. Possibly a "pod." Anyway, he's rescued by a "Christian native" and nursed back to health by missionaries, and then is offered a job by the mafia as a hit man. This last piece of information is a big positive for his employers. They love that their Christian troubleshooter was also on the mob's short list for paid murderer. Religion is weird.

James Carter is described as a pusher, black militant and black belt. He's the king of a drug empire, but he's also one of those guys in a Chick comic who has simply never heard of anything related to the Bible before, so he can be stunned into amazement by the simplest and most unlikely bits of information. "Jesus cast bread and fishes into the water and had it returned to him a thousandfold!" "WHOA, REALLY? NO ONE EVER MENTIONED THAT TO ME!" and, boom, they're converted.

Those little asterix-laden asides make it seem like the Bible is a collection of important back issues.

(As an aside, I've met folks who seem to think that this tactic works, and I always wonder what they must think when they find out that their target has already heard of the biblical event, quote or concept and didn't convert immediately. If it didn't blow their mind into abject faith the first time, is the second gonna do it? I dunno. I'm a Cargo Cultist, myself)

In any case, whatever the peculiarities of their backstory, the duo are assembled and being sent behind the Iron Curtain to deliver bibles to beleaguered Christians. They do not have Amazon Prime in the Soviet Bloc or, for that matter, anywhere because this book came out like fifty years ago. I'm just making a rhetorical point.

To be fair, he doesn't not sound crazy.

On the story's most entertaining note, the Crusader's immediate boss expresses his delight that the prosletyzing pair should be able to slip into Romania with no one noticing. They both enter using traditional channels, one of them is an enormous inner city drugord, and the other one turns out to be the nephew of the French Ambassador whom the head of the KGB hates with a passion. Sli-i-i-i-i-ide right on into Bucharest, those two do...

A femme fatale is set onto Tim, so as to catch him in a compromising position which can be captured on camera and used to discredit the ambassador. By the end of the story, Tim naturally converts his affectionate spy to Christianity but, in my favorite moment in any Chick tract or comic, inadverdantly also converts the cameraman who's hiding behind a pane of one-way glass. There's a blast radius for evangelicism, I never knew!
He'll need to file a form for that.

As for James, his primary role in the comic is to not do anything except go "Right On!" whenever Tim quotes something from the Bible. Glad he's here.

The weird thing about Chick's tracts in general is that they're meant to be excoriations of the grimy, carnal world of sin and excess which makes up secular society. However, they themselves are gritty, greasy and unpleasant as hell. That is to say, not only are the books themselves drawn and written in a skeevy, unpleasant patois of sermon and sensationalism (Fred Carter's art has its charms, though), but the heroes of these stories always express themselves in the awkward, claustrophobic inanity of the genuine zealot.

The villains in this world are almost always ethnic (a Jewish double agent, also a "typical bureaucrat," serves the double purpose of implying that all government employees are traitorous scum), the punishment for exercising faith is always gruesome, and there's no happy ending for anyone but the very handsome, clean cut Christian in these books. At the end of the story, having been converted to Christianity, Tim's temptress Sofia is imprisoned for her faith, a victim of the KGB director whom she derided as a pig, a beast and an animal, and whom she betrayed for Tim's sake. That was her reward for letting herself be swayed by his faith -- punishment for the rest of her life, while Tim and James get to fly back to America without a hassle. Oh, but Tim reminds us that her suffering will be over when she dies and comes back when the Rapture happens, so that's good. That's actually good now.

The Crusaders! They're literally awful human beings, except not literally because they're made up! But they would be!*

*G&F 2017.02.20

John 14:1 And sayeth the Lord, you're all under arrest.
And also with you.



6 comments:

Reno Maniquis said...

An aunt gave me all the issues of this series back when I was in grade school. Even then, I wasn't swayed one bit by them (I'm Catholic, by the way). Reading this post made me laugh at how spot on you analysis is. Kinda wished I had saved them, now.

neofishboy said...

I had a friend in junior high school whose family, unbeknownst to me, were devout Baptists. I found this out the first time I went over to his house to hang out. "Hey, comic books! Oh ... ".

Also, the only pocket-sized Chick tracts I even encountered in the wild were left in gas station bathrooms, which definitely adds to their overall "gritty, greasy and unpleasant as hell" vibe.

Ferb Morgendorffer said...

Someone was leaving them around the grocery store I work at for a while, think I ended up with four or five distinct ones.

Calamity Jon said...

For my part, I had a friend whose father was a minister at an evangelical church and he'd keep forcing these things on me. "You like comic books, right Jon? Well here's a comic book ... about the Lord!" He should have asked me if I liked the Lord too ...

Steve funderburg said...

As a 47 yr old boy who has always found the medium of comics to be the most compelling,pleasing and rewarding artistic platform ever created, I remember my first exposure to Chick & Carter (the crazy Christian Lee & Kirby) very clearly. After reading this blog entry and the four subsequent comments (Really? FOUR comments? C'mon people!), I am compelled to Chuck my two cents in the form of a few observations, some words of encouragement and maybe a loaded question... So when I saw that Jim was not only tackling Chick , but the full sized, full color Crusaders as the focus I was pretty spazz giddy, which is a much more refined and disciplined cousin to merely geeking out ;-). My reaction upon actually reading it is mostly favorable. Why heck, Jim (May I call you Jim?),the very fact that you summoned the effort,time and enthusiasm to take a public look at The Crusaders basically get' s you 2 and 1/2 Stars out of 4 right off the bat. I mean,I have a serious, borderline junkie (The only sort of junkie Tim & Jim might approve of)level of fascination for The Crusaders as a sub cultural phenomena within an already semi marginalized (in the 70s) pop culture medium. In other words, I already had a big hard on for the topic, so you would have honestly had to write one suck ass, indefensibly useless blog to really fuck this up for me. Thank you for not doing that. However, I have a couple observational complaints and you have already guessed the first: More. Bigger portions next time. Next time? Well, you and I both know you have only skimmed the tip of a massive, crazy cool ice berg here,Jim. So I assume ( you can't see it, but I'm softly but threateningly punching my fist into my palm in an effort to appear intimidating) you will revisit the subject more comprehensively in the future, at least as a sequel blog to this one or maybe a book. My other petty,hair splitting complaint/critique is the fact that you didn't give an explicit and obligatory wry nod to the fact that The Crusaders are, in terms of technical semantics and common sense, neither gone nor forgotten. There has been a slowly building and smoldering interest in Chicks wacky comics for a while now. In fact , back in 1992, a strangely brilliant punk rock band called Alice Donut released an album on Alternative Tentacles (Dead Kennedys label) called "Bucketfulls of Sickness and Horror in an Otherwise Meaningless Life" whose last song "Lisa's Father" is something ALL people...well, okay,maybe all secular people,with a serious fetish for Chicks bizzare shtick need to hear. This song was a direct reference and harrowing yet hilarious description of the infamous tract about poor Lisa and her sexually abusive alcoholic dad and it was well over twenty years ago. Since then,the release of "God's Cartoonist..." in 2008 and a quick look at You Tube show us that many hip/sad/weird people sharcoincidence) will only cause his slowly simmering ironic cool cred with the hipsters even more urgency and on top of that, it's likely that literally millions of people worldwide from all walks of life have been exposed to Chicks hostile and often baffling message of love, suffering and forgiveness, so there! LOL! Look at me getting all defensive of an old eccentric whose agenda should raise the hackles on my atheist punk rock back. That is all part of the uniqueness of the cult of Chick experience and it's possibly one of the most oddly beautiful experience one can have in our beloved medium of comics. Which accounts for my distress at being only the 5th guy to comment. Yes, smart asses, I realize I've traveled far beyond comment territory ;-) Also, a sequ blog (which,essentially I'm doing for you myself at this point,thus inventing "Fan Non-Fiction") will give you the opportunity to properly give it up for Fred Smith's stirring artwork,evoking every nightmare image to ever plague a square or child. So, my question: Will God move you to visit the Crusaders in a sequel blog?

Calamity Jon said...

Personally, I've never seen the appeal of cocaine.

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