THE CRUSADERSMedium: Comic books
Published by: Chick Publications
First Appeared: 1974
Creator: Jack T. Chick
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To most Americans, the word "crusader" has traditionally meant a fighter in the cause of righteousness. That's why cartoon heroes from The American Crusader (from the publisher of Pyroman and Fighting Yank) to Crusader Rabbit have made the word part of their names, and why it seems such a natural for a superhero team such as The Mighty Crusaders (Archie Comics) or The Crime Crusaders Club (which Fawcett Publications used briefly for a
group containing Bulletman and Captain Marvel Jr.). It's only in recent years that many have become aware that in some parts of the world, where long historical remembrance is a part of everyday life, the word has less righteous connotations.
But for one pair of comic book heroes, "Crusaders" is exactly the correct word, no matter what the point of view of the readers. James Carter and Timothy Emerson Clark fought a never-ending battle to save souls from demons, devil worshipers, Darwinists and other enemies of their fundamentalist variety of Christianity. They were created by Jack T. Chick, publisher of a line of Christian comic books that stand in sharp contrast to those of America's other major publisher of comics devoted to that religion, Spire Christian Comics (Barney Bear, God's Smuggler). Whereas Spire's sweetness-and-light output can be compared favorably with Archie (whom Spire licensed from his publisher for several years), Chick's fire-and-brimstone approach can only be compared with Judge Dredd.
Tim had a pretty ordinary origin story, suitable for ordinary heroes like Super Green Beret. He was a Green Beret in Vietnam — no doubts or ambiguities for him! After being the only survivor of an extra-heroic mission, he staggered off into the jungle, severely wounded, and was nursed back to health by a local peasant who happened to be seriously Christian. (Other than villains — and even there, there are exceptions — everybody in this comic is either seriously Christian or ripe to be converted into one.) Tim, who hadn't given the matter much thought before, was saved, and became imbued with the Power of the Lord.
Jim's, however, was a bit more theme-oriented. His origin was the same as that of many early saints, including some that were only legends to begin with and never had a real, historical existence, such as St. Expedite. Jim was a particularly egregious sinner, in his case leader of a black street gang in an unspecified urban area, until an elderly preacher dared to approach him with words of enlightenment. To the surprise of onlookers, Jim didn't kill the old man as easily and thoughtlessly as he might swat a fly, but instead listened carefully to the preacher's powerful words. As often happens in fiction of this sort, he was instantly and thoroughly converted.
In the usual saint story of that type, the subject is later (but not too much later) martyred for the faith, thus assuming his rightful place in heaven. But Jim was needed alive, so he could perform comic book heroics. Presumably, his martyrdom came soon after the 17 issues of The Crusaders had run their course, which they did between 1974 and the early '80s. Before it did, tho, Tim and Jim performed many missions to further the earthly work of God. Their first was to smuggle a microfilmed Bible into Bucharest, so copies could be printed for the religion-starved people of Romania. The seductress the KGB had sent to foil them was converted to Christianity.
Chick himself is credited with writing the script, as he'd done for dozens if not hundreds of the tracts his followers distributed at laundromats, bus stations and other such gathering places over a period of decades. He also scripted many more substantial comic books, such as The Big Betrayal and The Last Generation. But he has no known credits outside his own operation. The artist was Chick's long-time associate, Fred Carter, who also lacks outside comics credits.
Like other Chick comics, The Crusaders tended to be more talky than most, because they had a lot of information to get across. The exciting action was there mostly to attract readers to the important message Chick had to impart. This tendency grew stronger with the 12th issue, which introduced a (real life) former Jesuit priest named Alberto Rivera, who informed Jim and Tim (as well as readers) about the iniquities of his former calling. (Among his other beliefs, Chick was convinced much of the world's evil was deliberately promoted by the Roman Catholic Church.)
Rivera, who remained a prominent part of the series, is cited by some as contributing to Chick's loss of credibility among evangelical Christians. His over-the-top rantings about Catholic sin, which include a special poison to induce cancer, attempted world conquest, orgies between priests and nuns after which the resulting babies were sacrificed to Satan and then eaten, and other such paranoid ravings, led to Chick's publications being excluded from many mainstream Christian bookstores.
Cartoonist Robert Crumb (Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural) is known to be a fan of Chick's work, citing its skillful manipulation of emotion, i.e., literally scaring the hell out of people, as among its virtues. On the other hand, Art Spiegelman, Pulitzer-winning author of Maus, once said, "It makes me despair about America that there are so many people who read these things."
The Crusaders series ended years ago. But all issues are in print, and available from Chick's Web site (updated to accommodate new technology). Chick, a recluse for most of his life (he hasn't been interviewed since the 1970s), is rumored to be long-dead. But his operation continues, and still distributes millions of tracts, warning people about Satanism, homosexuality, Freemasonry, and other human activity that he'd like to see vanish from the world.