Thursday, September 15, 2011

Just Plain Strange: In His Steps (Spire Christian Comics, 1977)


Spire Christian Comics have always been somewhat of an enigma among collectors in the comic world, and are sought after regardless of individual belief. That could be due to Al Hartley's eye-appealing artwork, or the strange fact that sex, drugs and violence are interwoven into Hartley's vision of the biblical parables he is portraying here. After all...this was the seventies.

Hartley made a name for himself drawing Patsy Walker "the prettiest girl in town!", a collaboration with Stan Lee in the late 50's in the hopes that more teenage girls would buy Marvel titles. Patsy would go on to become the heroine Hellcat in the 70's, and would also end up marrying the Son of Satan. I find this particularly interesting in that Hartley grew discontent with the material he was drawing for (like the Pussycat series), and became a born again Christian around this time.

With his newfound faith, Hartley looked for a publisher to create a new Christian comic series which would become Spire Christian Comics. Hartley was also working for Archie at the time, which allowed him to integrate Archie characters into the Spire line.

And in 1977 Hartley adapted In His Steps, a parable about a transient who walks into a church and dies while pleading to the Pastor about the lack of local Christian's good will, causing that Pastor to ask..."What Would Jesus Do?". The message hits church-goer Ed, who decides to end sexual advertisements in the local paper he runs.




Similar occurrences happen as other fellow church-goers begin to make their decisions based on the "What Would Jesus Do?" phrase. The pastor decides to spread his message at "the strip" which is full of XXX nude bars, drugs and strippers. A "tramp" attends one of the meetings and is prayed for, but runs out while a Christian pleads God's love for her. The stripper declares she is "Hooked on sex and drugs!" and "Let me go to Hell...the devil's waiting for me!". Surely every stripper must be thinking this...




But somehow the Christian woman is able to talk the stripper girl into coming home with her, and begins on a path to become a child of God. But at the next meeting out at the strip, an angry crowd (tired of the pastor's preaching) assembles and begins to throw bottles at him. A bottle hits the stripper girl and somehow she is killed. We never learn if she was saved in time, or if she went to hell!




The story skips on to the Christian followers continuing to follow the pastor's message, and as the years go by some are able to change for the better while others forget about the message and fall back into their evil ways. The story ends as one of the fallen Christian's tries to rob the pastor...then realizes who he is robbing and quickly regrets his actions and asks for forgiveness, causing the pastor to lead  him back to the strip where he now runs a Church conveniently located right next to the local peep shows.




Al Hartley's artwork has always been consistently good in each Spire comic, and that hasn't changed here. He draws a hilarious contrast between rich people driving Rolls Royce's and yachts while others are living in van's and whacked out on pills, beer and pot. While Hartley's artwork has good intentions, there is no denying the ironic plot points he instills within these parables.

I believe ultimately Hartley was attempting a scare-tactic in the hopes that the kids that read these comics would listen and become followers of God. And as said earlier, this was the seventies...so the content was a little more extreme based on what kids were being exposed to back then. Today, opinions on the Spire series vary...some readers are creeped out by them, while others feel they are a fun remembrance of their childhood. Regardless of opinion, they remain a little strange as far as Christian comics are concerned.


1 comments:

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