[w] Falling Out of Love with the God Shot III: I Know This Guy...

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[It's... Bob.]The thing with Bob Williams is, he knows everybody. Or, if he doesn't know them yet, he will. The hero of Jack Chick's Bible Series is just cool like that.

Some people are blessed with divine gifts. Prophesy. Tongues. Masses of flaming red hair draped over cleavage that a man would go to jail for. Bob? Bob has the gift of always being around when someone needs the savin'. (Or, occasionally, the wrath of God tough lovin'. But mostly the savin', 'cause Bob's not willing that anyone should perish. Much.)

When you're on tour of the Holy Land and some guy blows up a bus down the road from you? Bob is there to explain to you why you need Jesus straight away. When your best friend died right in front of you and you're lying around a burn ward in agony? Bob's right there to tell you how much execution by fire sucks. When you're cussing up a storm to pass the time because you're twelve and you're badass? Bob's totally going to tell you who Jesus is. @*!!

Here's the thing with Bob: he's who every script evangelist wishes he could be. Placed at the right spot, at the right time, Bob will lead any man to Christ, or curse him to death in the process. (Not, you understand, with curses -- that's the job of the witches. Of the witch, precisely, but we'll get to Holly in a bit.) He has the power, and the skill, and the blessing. Also, he's a tool.

[Oh, brother. Bob.]No. I mean that in the secular sense. Bob is such a tool.

You see, Bob Williams is a Mary Sue on a scale not seen since Chick and Carter's Crusaders universe comics. (Yep, that includes Alberto, even though Alberto Rivera himself is a completely different proposition... but I digress, and Eric's already touched on him.) Although Bob hasn't the Crusaders' campy charm, let alone their bullet-deflection or outing skills, he trumps them in many ways.

Many depressing, ill-rendered ways.

Continuity isn't particularly good for the standard Chick tract distribution model. The idea with Bob's series is that you pass the tracts to your target someone that you will see on a regular basis, in order; when these were coming out, you were presumably intended to pass them along as and when you got them, or to pass the URLs along as they went online (more or less at the start of each month, sometimes accompanied by the restoration or featuring of a "classic" tract -- it's slower than most webcomics, but Chick does understand the power of regular updates.) No longer merely content to hook the collector through the usual distribution mechanism, Chick was looking to get people interested in the adventures of Bob, the community of people around him, and the cancerous evangelism of everyone he knew.

The problem is, Bob isn't actually very interesting.

He's not interesting as a character, for the same reason that few Sues are intriguing to those who aren't the writer, or the writer's intimates. Bob doesn't have much of a personality on his own; he's just alarmingly competent (for some derivation of "competent," anyhow) and well-connected. Those of God love him, and those not of God ... don't.

In fact, there are relatively few characters here who have any real sense of definition or power to them. Chick tracts are arguably not the greatest things to be asking for character development from, but older pieces were quite good at conveying a very bold, strong impression in a very few strokes. Yeah, we can chalk it up to Chick recovering slowly from the stroke, or being distracted by The Light of the World's near-completion, but the whole point is for us to be intrigued by this universe. This is meant to be a serial, told in snapshots; continuing characters should engage us.

5012_04.gifI can only really call two individuals to mind, even after having read this series over about a couple dozen times since its completion, who stand out. That's pretty depressing. Even more depressing, only one of them recurs, and that's to get run over by a truck and fall into Hell with the other one.

Holly was never really a target of Bob's preaching, merely his smugness. She's a witch with a demon, and she likes it that way. Holly was probably intended to represent a contemporary neopagan, visible and proud. She ends up a harsh, vitriolic caricature. She makes some amount of sense, though; on his own and with the help of hat-talker William Schnoebelen, Chick has published a considerable amount of ridiculous antipagan literature. Not everyone who's going to respond to Schnoebelen or Chick about this sort of thing is utterly reasonable; I imagine Chick's gotten plenty of half-cocked mail about his quarter-cocked work over the years. Holly strikes me as the natural result of that cascade effect.

She's still ridiculous. She stands out because she actually gets to go off and have a grudge against Bob for a fashion, and doesn't immediately end up in Hell like most Chick-victims who reject or put off the salvation thing. When she does go, it's while driving sitcom-reject medium Gladys to a hotel so that she can get away from Bob. (Gladys is, incidentally, the other notable character. She's an egotist; she's a false prophetess. Woo. This is hell of depressing.) You'd think, after all that buildup, the Hell Toss would have been glorious, but we barely get a zig worth moving.

I've frequently heard Chick tracts and comics compared to bad pornography, and with good reason. You get broad characterizations (or archetypes, or even stereotypes), you get character interaction which hits fairly predictable points along an assigned/expected spectrum, and you get some version of the climactic outcome you were expecting when you went in. Some climaxes are, of course, better than others.

[Kneeling witch. Bad, dirty witch.]Either you get the God Shot or the Hell Toss. In the latter, the victim turns up in front of God's throne and gets found wanting, then gets pitched into the flames. In the former, we get orgasmic salvation and conversion: made new and clean, freed by her submission, the victim pretty much explodes with the Holy Spirit. Viscous tears of joy course down her face as she rises, slowly, from her knees. This is what you really want to see, right? Souls won to Christ. This is what you really want to have happen to you, or to others, right?

Not that many of us are passing pornography to people we're interested in in order to explain to them that we'd like them to... yeah, okay, the analogy just broke down. But you see my point.

The problem is, really, is not that it's porn. That sort of thing has its place in all kinds of storytelling. We watch He-Man, Sailor Moon, and other magical girl shows for the stock footage and the monster smiting. We read C-list shoujo manga to watch the plucky, plain heroine eventually land the appealing, but irritating rogue. We go to blockbusters for the explosions. That's fine. The problem is, here, this is workmanlike porn. This is shoddy porn; this is not particularly well-considered, poorly constructed, and -- though Chick might claim otherwise -- not desperately respectful or cognizant of its audience. It just gets the job done, and cynically so at that. This is why Soul Story was such a magnificent piece of work by comparison; it may have been exploitative and formulaic, but damned if it didn't try to make a connection, to appeal, and to work. It did the job out of love; this does the job out of goalmaking.

To be fair, the Bible Series does set the stage for further plot and continuity in Chick's tracts, particularly once Fred Carter was freed up from the film to draw them. Unfortunately, it backfired. In the next installment, we look at Officer Carter, Li'l Susy, and one of the most disappointingly potential-laden Chick antagonists yet written: Ms. Henn.

12 Comments

What Chick needs is a "life in hell" series. It will focus on the day to day experiences of the damned. The first tract will consist of people describing the constant burning.

I for one would be grateful if there were people distributing porn tracts. Or better yet, if the Vice Guide to Drugs, Sex, and Rock 'n Roll were made in tract form.

As for Life in Hell, its been done, though not the way you're thinking. I just think that one of the big problems with Chick is that he's way too Old Testament. I mean sure, you've gotta have your fire and brimstone if you're going to do this, but it seems to be his favorite way of getting the message across.

It's the Tijuana Bible of...um, Bibles.

I forgot about Matt Groening, I suppose the tracts would have to be called "Death in Hell" or something like that.

I've never heard of He-Man referred to as a magical girl show before.

You make a good point. A lot of Chick tracts I find readable either due to their abject cheesiness (Soul Story being the prime example. I'm a sucker for blaxploitation) or sheer ridiculousness (The infamous Dark Dungeons or the utterly hilarious Angels?, which taught me to ROCK ROCK ROCK ROCK WITH THE ROCK!). Ones like the Bible series, though? No. Whenever Chick starts becoming preachy (well, OK, all of his tracts are preachy. I mean when the preaching becomes primary and the art/entertainment secondary or tertiary), I immediately become bored (possibly due to my religious sensibilities but mostly due to the fact that preaching does not equal entertaining).

I find it funny that in the second tract (cussing twelve year olds), Bob berates the kids for taking Jesus' name in vain ... despite the fact that they have not used his name. Unless @!!!**! is 12-year-old for Jesus.

I have to say, I find the very concept of actually giving a serious review to Chick pretty amusing.

Why not give him a serious review? He's a comic-artist trying to convey something... his use of the medium is just as worthy for debate as any other. Maybe even more-so, since his is... unusual.

Holly was probably intended to represent a contemporary neopagan, visible and proud. She ends up a harsh, vitriolic cariacture.

Hey, harsh, vitriolic caricatures are a staple of Chick's work. ;) The GM in Dark Dungions? (And Debbie while she's in the GM's thrall, for that matter...) Ms. Henn in Birds and the Bees (who recurs in The Little Bride, for essentially no reason...)? Yeeeeeeah......

AH, somebody else who has realized the true nature of He-Man! Come on, he starts out as a wussy, ineffectual kid, gets a talking animal and a "wand" that turns him into an idealized version of himself, complete with magic words and a transformation sequence, uses them to fight amusingly ineffectual villains AND there was always a lesson learned at the end! TOTALLY a Magical Girl series!

As for the actual subject at hand, I've never actually had one of these handed to me, which is too bad, since they seem hilarious.

You know, the idea of He-Man being a magical girl fits in perfectly with all the jokes I made about him and Man-At-Arms sharing a "special relationship." Or the BDSM potential of Ram-Man.

Now I'm bitter that I hadn't thought of it first.

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