Most people know Jack Chick from Jack T. Chick Tracts, the tiny rectangular comic books left at bus-stops and in laundrymats by well-meaning zealots. Less well-known, but perhaps more interesting, are Chick's full-size Crusader Comics. Originally published between 1974 and 1985, they relate the adventures of a beefy salt-and-pepper pair of ass-kicking Fundamentalist Christians in a world dominated by Satanic conspiracies, witch-blessed pop songs, and Jesuit assassins. In short, the world they inhabit is probably the world as Chick really sees it. The Crusaders' adventures appear in the following 17 titles:

Operation Bucharest
The Broken Cross
Scar Face
The Exorcists
Primal Man?
The Ark
The Gift
Angel of Light

The Godfathers
The Force
Four Horsemen
The Prophet

Although one-shot characters often dominate the stories, our square-jawed Christian heroes tie together the loose ends. Timothy Emerson Clark is a multi-lingual former Green Beret who was converted by a missionary while serving in Vietnam. James Carter was the head of a ghetto narcotics ring and a black militant, with training in karate and experience with street-fighting. A brave preacher converted him on a streetcorner by baldly stating the Christian gospel. Tim and Jim already seem to know each other when they're hired in issue #1 to smuggle the Holy Bible on microfilm to a location behind the Iron Curtain. Along the way they convert a communist spy and narrowly escape with their lives. For the next 10 issues, they travel the world, convert heathens, kick satanic ass, and spread Christianity and homoeroticism wherever they go. Actually, Chick's artists liberally sprinkle the panels with barely-veiled eroticism of various sorts. For example, we see evil ritualsTM performed by robed witches-- and a helpful footnote informs us that, in real life, they would be nude, or "skyclad."

Pleasure may be found in watching Jim and Tim disprove evolution and convert Hindus, or in witnessing their girlfriends give each other mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The most remarkable adventures, however, may be found in The Broken Cross, The Exorcists, and Spellbound?. Years before Michelle Remembers, Satanic Ritual Abuse trials, fear-mongering talk shows, and the West Memphis Three, these comics outlined the basic beliefs that would gain currency during the Satanic Panic.

Spellbound? also features a much-reproduced page 7 which explains how much of today's jewelry contains satanic symbols. I first saw this work of art at university, when a fundamentalist friend showed me a photocopy. Someone at his church had passed it along; he thought it was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever seen, an embodiment of why so many people laugh at Christian Fundamentalism. Still, I had to pause and reflect on how that same page might look to someone who took it seriously; nearly every popular icon, apparently, indicates its wearer is a card-carrying devil-worshipper.

The early issues posit several different conspiratorial forces tearing at the fabric of Christianity. Of course, all ultimately were controlled by Satan, but the comics make no suggestion that the Satanic cults, religious heretics, and godless commies had any formal, earthly connection. Indeed, a character from Spellbound? has to explain how the Crusaders broke up his operation back in The Broken Cross. That issue featured what surely must have been a source of pride among Satanists, an entire town gone to the Devil. The mayor, the Chief of Police, the local Minister (a Common Bible on his desk-- the apostate!), and the freaking town librarian all held rank in the local Church of Satan, while a teenage witch informed our heroes that "about 80%" of her school practise the craft. But only a few years later, the special-guest villain Satanists of Spellbound? remain unaware of these events.

Then Jack Chick met Alberto Rivera, a fake ex-Jesuit who gained fame in evangelical circles by preaching a Roman Catholic conspiracy so paranoid that arguably only Cathy O'Brien's claim to have been a CIA-programmed sex-slave to Illuminati lizard-people bests it for sheer lunacy. Chick took Rivera's views to heart, and ended The Crusaders with six issues in which the conspiracy theorist explains to Jim and Tim how everything Chick doesn't like has been orchestrated by the Vatican in one vast and interconnected conspiracy.

Of course, page after page of overlapping conspiracy theories becomes tedious. The original comics were already featuring more preachy text and less butt-kicking action. During the final issues, the born-again Dynamic Duo do nothing except sit upon their own butts and listen to Rivera, occasionally tossing in the occasionally "man, these guys are deadly!" (Double-Cross 13) as he explains how a Catholic dentist tried to assassinate him or how the Vatican founded Islam.

Alberto and Double Cross were declared hate literature in Canada back in 1981, and many Christian booksellers refuse to carry them. Nevertheless, in the early twenty- first century, it isn't hard to find these comics somewhere near you, and Chick's website continus to peddle them.

Chick also has published three large-size comic books without the Crusaders: Jonah, King of Kings, and The Big Betrayal, the last one yet more anti-Catholic propaganda. His comics provide a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a religious paranoic-- but to give the preacher his due, they often prove more entertaining than many mainstream comic books.

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