Sunday

Religious Comics 2

Fundamentalist Christian cartoonist Jack T. Chick continues to stretch the definition of “comic book” in the next installment of The Crusaders, a series of 32-page full-size, full-color comic magazines. Issue number 16 (copyright 1985) presents the fifth chapter of the earth-shaking “Alberto” storyline, written by Chick and illustrated by the same talented artist who brought us the Chick mini-tracts The Visitors, The Only Hope, Hi There!, and Miss Universe -- most likely Chick’s longtime associate Fred Carter. Here, in “Four Horsemen,” the self-professed ex-Jesuit priest Dr. Alberto Rivera continues to reveal to our heroes, Tim Clark and Jim Carter, the astonishing truth about the evils of Roman Catholicism, focusing largely on an exegesis of the notoriously cryptic Book of Revelations.

Like the preceding chapter, “Four Horsemen” begins promisingly, bringing us a scene rife with dramatic tension. It is the year 60 A.D., and a shopkeeper in Rome greets a nervous little man who claims to have just arrived from Jerusalem. Wanting to hear the latest news from that city, the shopkeeper invites the man to a private area in the back of the shop, unaware that a steely-eyed centurion has them under surveillance. After establishing that his guest is a believer in Christ, the shopkeeper invites him to a secret meeting to be held after dark. And so, later that night, the pair enters the labyrinthine catacombs where the Christians meet, thinking themselves safe from persecution. However, Roman soldiers suddenly appear and place them all under arrest, announcing that their lives are forfeit. The nervous little man, it turns out, was a spy for the authorities and left a trail of small white stones for them to follow. The centurion returns the now-grinning spy’s bag of stones with a villainous chuckle -- “HAW HAW.” This tale is meant to serve as an example of betrayal during the early days of Christianity, to be followed by an explication of the form betrayal takes in modern times.

Unfortunately, the story quickly wanders into very abstract territory, with Alberto Rivera making only occasional appearances. In fact, for the first several pages, it is not even clear if the captions are supposed to be voiced by Dr. Rivera or some omniscient narrator. For their part, Tim and Jim are seen only twice, and never speak. The illustrations, though often skillfully rendered, lose much of the narrative force they had in the last issue, and barely qualify as ‘sequential art.’ Also, the drawings are often supplemented with half-tone photographs, apparently appropriated from books or newspapers. In all, there are 29 such photographs, most of which show Pope John Paul II engaged in various papal duties. These photos, coupled with the non-narrative nature of the illustrations and the unprecedented amount of text on every page, serve to reduce the art to the most perfunctory level, in spite of the issue’s stunning painted cover. This is a shame because the Chick / Rivera conspiracy theory is here at its most speculative.

Following a quick overview of the Vatican II Council of the early 1960s, which was portrayed to the public at large as a glorious attempt to change and modernize the Catholic Church in a spirit of love, healing and progress, we are informed that it was all just a smoke screen to deflect attention away from the papal plans for world domination. Dr. Rivera describes a meeting he attended along with other high-ranking Jesuits. After a special midnight mass administered by the Superior General of the Society of Jesus -- otherwise known as “The Black Pope” -- the assembled priests reaffirmed their sacred oath to make war on all heretics, especially Protestants, in the spirit of the Council of Trent. We see the Jesuit leader deliver his chilling announcement that the time had come for the Final Inquisition, during which all those who were unfaithful to the Pope would be exterminated.

The first step in the new inquisition was for Dr. Rivera to lead a select group of Jesuit agents into the secret underground complex of tunnels beneath the Vatican, which serves as the nerve center of their worldwide intelligence network, in order to study the espionage tactics of the Holy Mother Church. The intelligence branch of the Vatican is described as “second to none,” because well-placed Roman Catholics in the FBI, CIA, KGB, and all the world’s agencies provide a steady stream of classified information. Catholics are willing to betray their country’s secrets to the Vatican, Rivera explains, because their loyalty to the Church trumps any allegiance to a secular nation. Additionally, intelligence is gathered in confessionals around the globe and funneled back to Rome. Thus, as Dr. Rivera discovered, “information has been stored in their underground tunnels for centuries, from the darkest secrets of history up to the secrets of the most sophisticated weapons of the 20th century.”

It was here in the Vatican vaults that Alberto Rivera discovered the shocking truth behind the worldwide conspiracy of Roman Catholicism. He learned that the Emperor Nero ordered undercover agents in the Christian community to start the Great Fire of Rome in order to justify the persecutions of the true believers, and that Nero threw his spies to the lions to cover up his deception. He learned that the Emperor Constantine, centuries later, set up counterfeit churches to entrap true Christians, and even fraudulently claimed to be converted to Christianity himself, then becoming the first pope of the religious system that would evolve into Roman Catholicism. He learned that the Bishops of Rome took advantage of Constantine’s removal to Constantinople to seize the plundered gold that the Caesars had collected from all over the known world, using this vast wealth to take over the empire. Then, these “religious Caesars” bought up all the land they could, soon becoming the largest landowners in Europe.

Rivera learned of how, when the Muslim armies conquered many of the Church’s lands in the eighth century and threatened to sack Rome itself, the Pope and his subordinates hatched a wild, desperate plan to dupe King Pepin of the Franks into sending his mighty army to fight on their behalf. A letter was written in gold ink on the finest parchment that purported to be from Saint Peter himself up in heaven, personally asking King Pepin to save Rome. Of course, Pepin swallowed it hook, line, and sinker, and his troops swept into Italy and crushed the Muslim invaders. Afterwards, King Pepin gave the city and some of the surrounding land to the Pope, never suspecting the incalculable fortune hidden underneath it.

Rivera learned that after Pepin’s death, his successor, Charlemagne, was likewise swindled by the Pope, who forged a document saying that Pepin had in fact given the Church all of Italy, not just Rome. Since Charlemagne fell for that one, they forged yet another document claiming that Constantine had officially made the popes heir to the entire Roman Empire. Charlemagne was fooled again, as were all the kings and emperors of Europe. Soon, the megalomaniacal popes even claimed to be the successors of Saint Peter himself, representing the Kingdom of God here on earth. No claim, it seemed, was too grandiose for the emergent Roman Catholic Church.

Rivera learned that when the Church’s dominion was eventually challenged centuries later, they instituted a reign of terror to bring Europe back in line. Thus began the fearsome Inquisitions, run through the so-called “Holy Office” and led by the sadistic priests of the Dominican Order. In a mile-long row of shelving in the tunnels beneath the Vatican, Dr. Rivera browsed detailed files on each and every victim of the Inquisition throughout history. Here, we are treated to detailed renderings of the blood-soaked torments of one Doña Maria de Bohorques and her sister Juana, of Seville, Spain, both arrested as heretics and imprisoned in a secret dungeon. Maria is beaten bloody and burned at the stake. Juana has her arms and legs dislocated as the monks swing her body from ropes and pulleys. They then tie a weighted cord around her breasts to inflict greater pain, but succeed only in cracking her rib cage. As Rivera describes it, “Her ribs cracked inwardly, and blood flowed from her mouth and nostrils. They took her to her cell and she died a week later. In the files of the Dominicans, everything was recorded in detail… Even the curses the Dominicans uttered in response to the Scriptures quoted by the Christians under torture and questioning. Even as an unsaved man, the contrast shook me as I read those accounts.”

Rivera learned of the origins of the Protestant Reformation, and how the early leaders of that movement had openly condemned the Pope as the Anti-Christ, a teaching sadly ignored by the modern-day leaders of their respective denominations. He also learned of the Church’s subsequent recruitment of the brilliant military strategist Ignatius Loyola, who had a cunning plan to secure for the Pope absolute control over the earth’s political leaders and their military might, as well as establishing an invincible one-world church. In pursuit of this aim, Loyola developed his secret organization, the Illuminati, into the “militia of the popes,” the Society of Jesus -- better known as the Jesuits. It was the Jesuits, Rivera discovered, who were the driving force behind the Council of Trent, where the Church officially adopted the tenets of Loyola’s scheme. Rivera says, “Those opposing the plans of the Jesuits were threatened. Many were murdered. Laws were passed at this time to put Catholics deeper into bondage and destroy all opposition.”

Next, Dr. Rivera knocks down the two metaphorical pillars that Loyola established as the basis for the religious authority of the Vatican. He asserts that the doctrine of apostolic succession -- the claim that the apostle Peter was the first in an unbroken line of popes -- is based on an intentional misinterpretation of the famous quote from Jesus in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” According to Rivera’s interpretation, when Jesus says “this rock,” he is not referring to Peter himself, but to Peter’s preceding affirmation that Jesus is the Christ, son of the living God. Jesus’ statement is a play on words, Rivera says, which actually means something akin to “Peter, you are a pebble, but upon the bedrock of my divinity, I will build my church.” Thus, Jesus Christ is the true rock, and poor Peter has merely been used by the Popes to further their unholy cause. Furthermore, Rivera counters Catholic claims that Peter was the head of the church in Rome by pointing out that Paul never mentioned Peter in any of his epistles to the Romans -- and why would he have written such letters in the first place if Peter was already there to run things? Also, in the Book of Acts, we see that Peter was not even in charge of the church in Jerusalem. That honor fell to James, and when Peter misspoke, the other apostles were ready to tell him he didn’t know what he was talking about. Finally, the clincher: “Peter wasn’t a pope. He even had a wife.” Rivera concludes this diatribe by proclaiming, “The Roman Catholic system is simply religious show biz, and their public relations has sold the world a big lie.”

Dr. Rivera wastes no time debunking the second of Loyola’s pillars, “Temporal Power,” the claim that the pope has authority over the kings of the earth, which is based entirely on the forged “Donations of Constantine,” which the Church used to swindle Charlemagne, as detailed earlier. Furthermore, when the Pope kisses the ground upon his arrival in another country, it is not an act of humility, as many believe, but a sign that the Pope claims that land as his own through the doctrine of temporal power. Rivera goes on to reveal that when the Pope holds up two fingers, also a common trope in Roman Catholic depictions of Jesus, it is a sign of the two pillars herein described. Likewise, the very similar peace symbol, favored by hippies and their ilk, was originally a coded message saying that “peace and victory could only come through world acceptance of apostolic succession and temporal power.” For good measure, Rivera throws in the following quote from Revelations: “…and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”

Now, Dr. Rivera turns to his analysis of the Book of Revelations in order to prove his contention that the one true and final Anti-Christ at the time of the Second Coming will be the pope who is in power at that time, a man whose body, soul, and spirit will be completely possessed by supernatural forces of evil. To do this, Rivera focuses his attention on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Bible describes Jesus’ opening of the first of the famous seven seals, causing the Anti-Christ to burst forth on his white horse (here, of course, he is dressed in the raiment of the pope), and goes on to list some of this horseman’s peculiar attributes. As Rivera explains, the rider on the white horse has no title of his own, just as the pope assumes a pontifical title in place of the name he was born with. The rider on the white horse is “given” a crown, just as the chosen pope is given a crown and a kingdom that are not his by birth, as with a royal dynasty. The rider on the white horse has a bow with no arrows, just as the pope has no weapons or armies but relies on his followers to fight for him, as seen in the fact that popes have been orchestrating wars from behind the scenes for more than a thousand years.

For example, Rivera asserts, World War II was really yet another brutal Roman Catholic inquisition, started when three faithful Catholics -- Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco -- tried to conquer the world for the Pope to set up his millennial kingdom. Each of the three governments signed concordats with the Vatican -- contracts of mutual support. As evidence, Adolf Hitler is quoted as saying, “…as for the Jews, I am just carrying on with the same policy which the Catholic Church has adopted for fifteen hundred years, when it has regarded the Jews as dangerous and pushed them into ghettos, et cetera, because it knew what the Jews were like. I don’t put race above religion, but I do see the danger in the representatives of the race for church and state, and perhaps I am doing Christianity a great service.” The quote is attributed to the book The Nazi Persecution of the Churches by historian John S. Conway.

Furthermore, Rivera contends that the Holocaust was perfectly legal under Roman Catholic law as established by the Council of Trent, for the Jews were considered heretics and thus enemies of God. Then, to get a further dig in at the Catholic Church, the text notes that the Vatican has not yet recognized Israel as a nation, though it was the only sovereign government to officially recognize the Confederate States of America. Since World War II, the Catholic Church has been on the move, according to Rivera, polishing its tarnished image through feel-good shams like the Vatican II Council and a relentless blitzkrieg of pro-Catholic propaganda in the mainstream media, fooling even Bible-believing Christians into thinking the Pope is a man of peace.

Returning to his textual analysis, Dr. Rivera makes the obvious assumption that, since the horse released by the opening of the second seal is red, he must represent Communism, and indeed, the second horseman is dressed in the long overcoat, fur hat, and bushy moustache of a Russian soldier, and is wielding a large scimitar. Rivera claims that the communist nations are unwitting pawns of the Vatican, and John Paul II, “the Communist pope from Poland,” has concordats prepared for the Soviet Union and China, offering political and financial support in exchange for guarantees that Roman Catholicism will be the only recognized religion behind the Iron Curtain. Meanwhile, priests and bishops in the U.S. lead protests advocating total disarmament to ensure that the United States loses World War III. Worse, as Rivera adds cryptically, “legislation is now being pushed through our judicial system which will make it possible for our freedoms to be taken from us.” The accompanying illustration shows the nightmare scenario of armed police stormtroopers, egged on by a crucifix-brandishing priest, arresting congregants at a Baptist church.

When the third seal is opened, the black horse issues forth, here ridden by a priest holding up a pair of balances. Rivera explains that this represents the Catholic Church’s control over the world’s economy and food production -- hence the black horse’s traditional association with famine. More to the point, however, is the third horseman’s grip on the oil and liquor industries of the earth, and the color black clearly represents the Jesuit order. At this point, a helpful flow chart appears, showing the means by which the Jesuits seek to dominate the world economy using a number of front organizations. An icon representing the Vatican connects to a box labeled “Jesuits,” and underneath that are eight boxes, labeled “The Illuminati,” “The Club of Rome,” “The C.F.R.,” “The Opus Dei,” “International Bankers,” “The Masons,” “New Age Movement, etc.,” and, of course, “The Mafia: Criminal Arm of the Vatican.” After all, anyone familiar with media portrayals of organized crime knows that all mobsters are Roman Catholics, so it makes perfect sense that they are actually working for the Pope. The true mission of the rider on the black horse, we are told, is to use his power to control, manipulate, and legally destroy Protestant America.

Next, the fourth seal is opened, leading to one of my personal favorite quotes from the Bible: “Behold a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” Death here appears in the traditional guise of the Grim Reaper, a cloaked skeleton holding a scythe, while Hell is represented by a grinning mass of flame sitting behind the Reaper. Without further explanation, they set off on their mission of murder and destruction.

Then, following a brief note about the Rapture and the opening of the fifth seal, we are treated to a scene of black-robed priests going about their inquisitional duties against those poor souls left behind. Aside from the classic “burning-at-the-stake” technique, we see an ingenious set-up of a small guillotine on a steel cart with inflatable rubber tires. A fish tank sits next to the guillotine, ready to catch the severed head after the blade drops. Truly, a dark day for the human race.

On the final page, the end comes quickly. The Vatican is utterly annihilated, reduced to smoldering rubble, since, naturally, Satan always double-crosses his followers. However, the Anti-Christ escapes to Jerusalem, the text informs us, where he comes under attack by the Russian communists and the Arab armies. This is the far-famed Battle of Armageddon, which ends in a blinding flash as Christ returns to earth and wipes out his enemies. We see the Pope and a priest both flung into “a lake of fire burning with brimstone.”

The last panel, however, shows the Four Horsemen tearing across the landscape, the Pope leading the charge, as the boldface text shouts to us: “Tremendous events are ahead! The four horsemen are riding today across the earth. Jesus is coming soon to take His bride (the true believers) to heaven. The antichrist is helping Satan prepare his bride… for the lake of fire. The showdown is coming fast. Only those who commit their lives to Christ and make Him Lord of their lives will be saved from God’s awful coming judgment.”

It is disappointing that the spectacular events of the Apocalypse are dealt with in such an abbreviated fashion, shown in small, cramped panels with captions containing mostly long passages from the Bible. Also, Dr. Rivera’s unique point of view fades to the point of invisibility, especially since he does not even appear in the last nine pages of the book. The case against the Catholic Church might have been made more compelling if the events had been dramatized. As the success of the recent series of Left Behind novels shows, the Second Coming of Christ offers a wealth of dramatic potential, and it would have been interesting to see it presented in the visual medium of comics. Jack Chick seemed more interested in merely hitting the main points of Alberto Rivera’s anti-papist interpretation of the scriptures, however, and so squandered his artist’s evident talents. Thus, we are left with more of an illustrated treatise, one so broad in scope and arcane in subject matter that the emotional impact of Dr. Rivera’s fight against a worldwide satanic conspiracy is lost.


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