Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Assignment

Jack Chick's The Assignment portrays the world as a spiritual battleground between the forces of God and Satan. The prize? Our souls. If this tract is to be believed, angels are constantly trying to convert the Lost, while demons scheme to keep the Word of God from them.

And how do these invisible forces achieve their goals? Easy. They use us. Like tools.

The story starts in Heaven, where a crack team of angel commandos have assembled to Save the soon-to-be-deceased Charles Bishop. They only have a couple of weeks before he'll have "a massive coronary," and they must get him right with the Lord "before his departure." That's right, his "departure." Like the guy's going on holiday.

The angels have two human resources to call upon: Charles' co-worker Tim (stop using my name, Jack!); and Charles' daughter's friend Cathy. Tim is "very weak in the word," but Cathy is devout. "I think we can use her!"

Meanwhile in Hell, a similar crack team of demon commandos have an identical meeting. Their mission? Keep Tim and Cathy away from Charles.

The angels try to shame Tim into preaching, but the demons go to work on Tim's wife Ethel. They convince her that Tim will lose his job and their home if he preaches, so she freaks on him and puts him off the idea. Round one goes to the demons.

I should point out that while people can hear the angels and demons, they can't see them, and they certainly aren't aware of their presence. They hear their voices in their minds, and think the angel/demon ideas are their own. This has disturbing implications; no doubt Jack wants his readers to think they are constantly surrounded by demons, whispering evil suggestions in their ears. The angels are depicted doing the same thing, however, and it is even more disturbing.

Let me illustrate why. The next part of the story shows the demons' attempt to deal with Cathy. Knowing that she is "Faithful," and therefore "very dangerous," they try to distract her with a hot dude named Buz. He lays on the charm, but when a guy trips and bumps into him, Buz's true colours emerge. He threatens the guy with violence, and Cathy sees him for who he truly is. A win for the angels? It would seem so. After all, the reason the guy tripped and fell into Buz was because an angel stuck out his foot and tripped him!

What's wrong with that? First, it calls into question exactly what angel and demon powers are. If angels can physically interfere with people, why don't they do it all the time? Why didn't the angel punch Buz out before he met Cathy? Or better yet, why didn't he take the innocent guy's place? If Buz had become violent, the poor guy would have paid a hefty price for the angel's cause. Are the angels really okay with putting someone in harm's way to achieve their ends?

I realize I'm making a big deal out of a couple of tract panels in what is a fairly minor part of the story. I just think it is telling that angels are depicted using immoral (or at least questionable) actions to get the outcome they want. Aren't they supposed to be holy and good?

And that's not the only time they do it. On the day before Charles Bishop's "departure," both the angels and demons get busy. The demons send an insurance salesman to keep Bishop occupied. The angels work to get Charles Bishop alone with Cathy and her Bible. To do so, one angel sends Cathy over to the Bishop's house while another sends Charles' daughter Sandy upstairs "to wash her hair." The demons are evil for manipulating an insurance agent, but the angels are somehow not evil for using the same tactics with Sandy and Cathy.

Charles invites Cathy in, notices she has a Bible, and insists that she "tell me about it." Cathy reads him the best bits, and Charles realizes he is a sinner bound for Hell unless he becomes a Christian. The angels win...

...or do they? Charles realizes that "this is what I need," but he decides to "wait a few years - there's plenty of time!" Naturally, since this is a Chick tract, he dies of that massive coronary in the very next panel. It's a common theme in Jack's work; don't put off conversion, because you could be "lost for all eternity" at any time.

Jack Chick manages to convey the battle for human souls that he believes is taking place all around us, all the time. In presenting that world, however, Jack reveals more about his god than he realizes. His deity has no problem with this situation HE has created, wherein souls are constantly in jeopardy. That, and the way the angels use humans like puppets, sends the message that life is just a game - whichever side scores the most souls before Judgment Day wins! And we're to look to this god and his angels for morality? At least with the demons, you know where you stand.

The disturbing nature of The Assignment doesn't completely cancel out its entertainment value, however. The art is some of Chick's best, and some of his gags are genuinely amusing. Even more amusing are the unintentional laughs I enjoyed in the scene between Charles and Cathy. As the devout teen reads the Bible to him, Charles tries to encourage her with dialogue that, if taken on its own, suggests something entirely different is going on: "Don't stop, Cathy!" "Go on, Cathy, you're getting through!" Of course, to see that humour, you have to be immature like me.

The Assignment is entertaining, and I'll grudgingly admit it could convert a few souls with its convert-now-don't-wait message of fear. It might also have an impact on those who, like Tim, are "very weak in the word." Tim is shamed for not witnessing; Jack no doubt hopes lukewarm Christian readers will feel the same.

Fear and shame. The best emotions to invoke when speaking of a god of infinite love. Is it possible to talk about such a deity without resorting to scare tactics?

Now there's an assignment for you, Jack Chick!

The Assignment
Likely to Convert - 4
Artwork - 9
Ability to Hold Interest - 7
Unintentional Hilarity - 7
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 6

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Mad Machine

This one is just plain batshit crazy. Sorry for the foul language, but no other words come close. In fact, I could probably stop this review right here.

But I won't.

The Mad Machine has a lot in common with The Beast, in that both reveal far too much about Jack Chick's paranoid state of mind. There's no mention of the End Times in Machine, however. Or, for that matter, a machine. Instead, this tract's purpose is to demonstrate how bad things are for the world, make fun of people who think they have the answers, and finally demonstrate how much better things would be if we'd only accept Jesus as our Saviour.

Out of all the topics of ridicule, therapy takes the most hits. Jack portrays mental health treatment as if it were still in the dark ages. "There's no peace or compassion in (group therapy)... only putdowns, anger and tears." Speaking as someone who has benefited from group therapy, I can truthfully say that Jack is full of crap.

All of his taunts come with blanket statements like: "New marriage problems are plaguing the home" and "Experts predict a world-wide depression." Where does he get this information? Who are these "experts" he speaks of? Another statement begins with: "It's been reported that..." Reported where? Jack does not say; he's become as lazy as every other tract writer!

The Mad Machine ends with a devout old lady. Jack loves devout old ladies, and has featured them as heroes in his tracts at least as often as Bible Bob and Li'l Susy. This tract's devout old lady tells a man in a suit that God will take care of all her problems. "I understand your husband is dead," the suited, bespectacled man says. "Your money is almost gone, you have no relatives and you have cancer, right?" The way anyone would raise such sensitive topics. She isn't phased in the slightest; "those problems are the Lord's responsibility... not mine!" The suited man (who he is and what he's doing there are never revealed) asks, "Do you really think this Jesus can help you?" Which is funny, because the old lady hasn't mentioned Jesus' name yet! She tells him what Jesus did to Save everybody, but neglects to inform the dude how to actually get Saved. And while Jesus is stated to be "the only way to Heaven," mo mention is made of Hell. It is not like Jack to take the soft approach.

The old lady sums up this tract's message by describing the knowledge of eternal life in Heaven as "real good therapy!" As if Almighty God was nothing more than a substitute for Prozac.

Jack Chick is at his absolute best when he's depicting Hell, damnation and terror. Nevertheless, The Mad Machine is still pretty entertaining. Only people paranoid enough to buy in to Jack's vision of our world are likely to be converted, if they haven't been already. Everyone else will either laugh or scratch their heads. Either way, they will likely agree with my opening statement:

The Mad Machine is batshit crazy!

The Mad Machine
Likely to Convert - 3
Artwork - 8
Ability to Hold Interest - 7
Unintentional Hilarity - 7
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 2