How powerful must a story of gangland salvation be to inspire not one, not two, but three different comic book versions, and books and films, some of which star Eric Estrada? And how difficult is it for these different versions to keep their stories consistent? The answer to these questions is "very" and we're going to show you how and why!
The explosive true story of Nicky Cruz was so impressive that it was rendered into several different graphic story iterations, all with their own unique takes on the material. One's by competent if anonymous Logos International/"Bible-In-Life-Pix" illustrators, one comes from well-known Archie and Christian and Archie Christian comic artist Al Hartley, and one's by the man who made Dracula an easy-to-draw bat silhouette superhero, Tony "Sinbad Jr" Tallarico.
I bet you didn't think this NYC juvenile delinquent story was going to start out with voodoo and devil worship! Think of it as a bonus. Wow, did Nicky Cruz really have seventeen brothers and one sister?
Or maybe it was twelve brothers and one sister. Voodoo makes it hard to count.
"That's right! Run, baby, run! That's your title right there!" What thoughtful parents - giving their child a terrible abusive upbringing AND an awesome title for his future autobiography.
"One day I'll escape Puerto Rico and go to New York City, where I'll be free from these horrible pigeons! I'll never see a pigeon again!" Nicky, I have some bad news for you.
And yes, a crucial part of this story is Voodoo Mom flat out telling Nicky he's the child of the devil. Mom is really trying to get that 70s "Exorcist" craze started by any means necessary.
Both the Logos and the Tallarico versions emphasize this scene where the parents, aware their son is posessed by the Devil, send him to the bucolic, sin-free land of New York City, well known for its lack of crime and friendly, church-going citizenry.
One thing about those New York City gangs, they're up front about what they're going to do to you and why they're going to do it. The changing needs of the text and the changing skill levels of the artists involved are evident as we contrast these two versions, one of which has angry JDs of all ethnicities, and the other, which apparently features gangs of middle-aged truck drivers.
A classroom fight leads Nicky to utter his first death threat and gives the school principal the opportunity to really drive home the underlying theme of Nicky's life, which is to start running. Running! The track team! That's the way to reach these wayward youth.
Man, like, we want you to join our gang, except not if you're a chicken because we hate chickens! We cut chickens open and kill them! Even if they're in jail! We cut 'em up and roll them in a mix of flour, breadcrumbs and spices and then we bake in the oven for about a half hour! Because we hate chickens!
Nicky survives the initiation and it's proven once and for all that he's no chicken, which is great, but also awful, because the Mau Maus were getting pretty hungry by that time.
All this violence and hate leads to one inescapable fate - getting a solid wall o'text lecture from what appears to be Judge Old Ron Swanson.
Here's where the Tallarico version goes off on its own and gives us an exciting interlude with a court-ordered psychologist who isn't taking any smart mouth from punks like you!
And the texts reconverge with the clinical psychological diagnosis of being on a one way street to jail, the electric chair, and hell. It's right there in the DSM-IV!
Now I know what you're wondering. Where, oh where, is the Al Hartley version of the David Wilkerson version of the Nicky Cruz story that we were promised back at the beginning?
It's right here! The incredible story that started yesterday and continues today as David Wilkerson leaves his tiny Pennsylvania town to go to New York City and set things right and inspire a Pat Boone film! And if there's one thing New Yorkers love, it's hayseed tourists telling them how they're doing things wrong.
Just look at this crazy lunatic bringing a bible into the courtroom. Doesn't he know there's a bible already in the courtroom? You know, the one witnesses swear in on? Hasn't this guy ever seen "Perry Mason?"
Turns out getting thrown out of a courtroom for waving a bible around is a great way to meet stoned Puerto Rican chicks.
God's ability to cure heroin addiction might not be reproducible in a laboratory, but it's freaking Maria out anyways!
And here the Rev. Wilkerson meets a not-very-Latino-appearing Nicky Cruz, the leader of the Mau Maus, who isn't gonna stand for any of this love jazz. Is this really how Nicky and David meet?
Or, as is indicated by prior texts, did they meet in front of a school? Was there a guy playing trumpet? Did David Wilkerson appear puny and weak and skinny, and not the handsome milk-fed-hunk Pat Boone of "The Cross And The Switchblade" movie?
While at seminary, Rev. Wilkerson minored in "Reverse Psychology."
In the Hartleyverse, Wilkerson wanders through Brooklyn until he finds the stoop Nicky hangs out at, maybe get into a good game of stoop ball, that's a way to reach these kids.
Meanwhile, in the ECTU (Expanded Cinematic Tallarico Universe), the Rev corners Nicky in the Mau Mau's clubhouse and gets slapped. Don't knock it, preach - some guys pay big money for this kind of thing!
Nicky says he'll come to the revival rally just for the laughs, and Wilkerson, always obliging, delivers. Anything to reach these poor kids!
Trumpet solos, handshakes, getting laughed at by teen hoodlums - nothing seems to be reaching Nicky!
And here, in a scene Nicky somehow left out of his own autobiography, is where Nicky challenges God Himself to prove himself by giving Wilkerson a son instead of a daughter. Come on God. What are You, chicken?
God took the bait and now Rev. Wilkerson has to paint the baby room blue instead of pink. You'd think Nicky'd mention this himself instead of leaving it to Wilkerson's version, but then again I don't know how comfortable he was describing his shirtless boxer-shorts-sporting self lying in bed wondering about his strange new feelings.
And we reach the climax of our Run Cross Baby Switchblade Run story as the Mau Maus take their reserved seats at the revival and Wilkerson shocks the crowd by asking Nicky's gang to take up the collection. Is asking the Mau Maus to take up the money like giving Jesse James the keys to the bank?
Why yes indeed it IS like giving Jesse James the keys to the bank. Or maybe you're too chicken. Chicken? I'll be there!
Here's the three versions of the Mau Mau Miracle, as they resist their larcenous impulses and instead hand the cash over to the skinny preacher. Check out the Hartley Nicky all bug-eyed with the Holy Ghost!
It wouldn't be a Christian comic without the scene where the weepy sinner begs forgiveness for all his amazing sins. What's that, Nicky, you're the dirtiest sinner in New York? I dunno, Nicky, NYC is a big down. I don't think you're in the top one HUNDRED of New York sinners. I mean, Al Goldstein lives there, man.
Remember that warm feeling when you gave the minister a lot of cash? Isn't that a great feeling? Don't you want to keep giving the ministers lots and lots of money? Just dial us toll-free and one of our prayer partners will take down your credit card number. Praise Jesus. Hallelujah!
So Nicky Cruz has been saved and is no longer whatever they called "gangbangers" in 1962, and instead has given his life to Jesus and love and peace. Does this mean he's now some kind of wuss?
No, according to Hartley he's still a total bad ass whom you do NOT want to mess with.
And in the Logos version, or, you know, real life, he went to a bible institute and got married and started a ministry himself.
Tallarico's big finish goes for the one tear of joy, the floating words indicating various emotions, and, of course the most important part, the order form where we can order various Nicky Cruz books, cassettes, and LP records. Are you going to be one of God's Guerillas, or will you be joining the Soul Patrol? Whichever you choose, remember to run baby run!
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