The Mighty Crusaders are arguably the least commercially successful super heroes ever. They are also probably some of Max’s favorites. Thanks to Archie Comics, there are New Crusaders in town appearing first in New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes and then in New Crusaders: Legacy. It’s a pretty mighty legacy to live up to, but these kids (and these two books) live up to their past mostly, but maybe not perfectly. Believe me, in some cases that may be a good thing! It’s a RMLB Double Header!
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I’ll be the first to admit that even though some fans have never even heard of them, I am a BIG fan of the MLJ/Mighty/Red Circle/Impact! super heroes and they are probably some of my favorite characters ever. Again, it boils down to what I read as a lad, (and I’ve written about this before) and moreover what I loved as a lad that helped form what I still like today. Although I don’t think I’ve gotten into it on the blog before, my love of these characters started at a very young age indeed, back before Super-Fly Comics & Games existed when the comics store in Yellow Springs was Dark Star Books (and it’s still here, though they don’t sell new comics anymore). Dark Star has always had a HUGE back issue selection, which for me as a kid was like looking through a candy store, albeit candy in well filed, bagged and boarded form. One of the treasures I found in the back issue bins with a beat up, yet compelling cover was Fly-Man #31, where Fly-Man was on the cover, yes, but he looked beat, run down. All around him though, other heroes were springing to action, from the left, the Shield! From above, the Comet! And from the right, Black Hood! Now I had never seen any of these characters before, but I had to have that comic. So I hastily purchased it and read it with great pleasure, though…admittedly, while it was awesome to have all these great heroes, the writing, and particularly the villain, the Spider, were a little lame. Little did I know that it was being written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, who back in the Silver Age would go on to write the Mighty Crusaders ongoing until it was cancelled after only seven issues. Siegel’s style was apparently trying to be hokier than Stan Lee. He succeeded for the most part, as things were pretty camp. However, campy or not, those characters stuck with me for a lifetime.
Years later my Dad took me my very first comic convention, which was held at a local Holiday Inn in one of their ballrooms. It was nothing as nice or big as cons like C2E2 obviously, or even Gem City Con (except maybe in its first years!) but it was a lot of guys with long boxes on tables. I think I was maybe a little shy, or maybe a little unimpressed, or maybe overwhelmed. I can’t remember, but whatever the reason, I didn’t want to venture too far into the room or look around in excess. So I ended up looking through one of the sets of long boxes on the tables nearest to the ballroom’s entrance. In what at the time I totally considered fate, I found the first issue of the 1983 Red Circle Mighty Crusaders #1. I asked my Dad if we could get it (it couldn’t have been more than a buck or two) and we bought it, and for me, that was enough. I think I did a little wandering around, but not much, and I don’t remember looking in any other long boxes. I was happy and we soon left. On the way home, I perhaps felt a little bad about the ground not ventured, but overall I remember feeling quite satisfied with my find. I still was a prepubescent at this time, and read that book cover to cover. I LOVED it! However, I never found much more of these characters for many years.
There have been revivals, such as DC Comics taking a turn with the characters first with its Impact! line in the 90s (which saw the characters being worked on by the likes of Mark Waid, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Joe Quesada just to name a few) and just a couple years ago when they tried to incorporate them into the DCU proper, the latter of which I was really enthusiastic about, if only for the possibility of Red Circle and DC characters teaming up (I fantasized about an issue of Brave & the Bold teaming up Jack Cole’s two creations, Plastic Man and the Comet… It never happened, natch). These were short lived however, and moreover, commercially unsuccessful. Additionally, while I’ve been able to track down a number of back issues of various Mighty, Red Circle and Impact! back issues (as well as buying all the DCU Red Circle stuff as it came out), they’re still vastly hard to find and there’s a lot out there I haven’t read. Meanwhile, with DC’s latest attempt over, what’s left for these out of place characters?
Apparently, a lot, or at least a lot for their successors. Archie has regained control of the Mighty Crusaders franchise and is breathing new life into it, all the while honoring and reprinting the old stuff for new readers through Redcirclecomics.com and their Red Circle app, and now in print with trade paperbacks. I for one couldn’t be more excited. After recently picking up and reading New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes and receiving New Crusaders: Legacy for Xmas and reading it, I’m pretty impressed with Archie’s efforts. However, the New Crusaders aren’t exactly what I was expecting in new heroes, because in New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes, they’re not heroes at all!
The New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes trade paperback opens in the town of Red Circle, with a party at mayor Jack Sterling’s house where little known to the kids in attendance, their parents are all former members of the legendary crime fighting group, the Mighty Crusaders. Instead, we meet the kids, Greg Dickering, adoptive son of the original Comet; Kelly Brand, daughter of the original Flygirl; Johnny Sterling, son of the original Steel Sterling; Alex Tyler, nephew of the original Fireball, Ivette Velez student to the first Jaguar and Wyatt Raymond, grandson of the original Web, and son of the second Web and Powgirl. Again, the kids have NO IDEA about this, until their playful picnic is disrupted by the Brain Emperor, a longtime foe of the Crusaders. The kids’ parents jump into action to protect them…All except Mr. Joe Higgins, who orders them to flee the scene and make their way to his place on “Golden Age Ave” (nice!). There he reveals that he is the original Shield, and that this is part of a plan their parents and mentors had made years ago. He locks them in a safe room, then returns to fight. By that time, the Brain Emperor has seemingly evaporated every last member of the Crusaders, killing them, leaving the Shield alone to raise their children to avenge them.
Sound good so far? Naturally, it sounds great! However, New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes doesn’t force or rush the issue of making the kids heroes by hurrying them out the door as quickly as maybe other comics would. Instead, Archie seems to take a slow burn here. These are kids that have grown up together, but don’t necessarily have all hung out together, so there’s an interesting dynamic of them getting to know each other, and dealing with the situation at hand. I don’t know if it’s because it’s Archie or due to writer Ian Flynn (who also writes Sonic the Hedgehog for Archie), or what, but the book takes some real time for the kids to mourn, get mad at Shield for all the lying their parents did, and then even resist the ideas of getting super powers. This is another interesting aspect of the first series is how the super powers are gained: just about every original Crusader left a means for their offspring to inherit or obtain their powers or powers very similar to theirs—via whatever means necessary! Therefore, it’s not surprising to see the kids balk at some of these methods, or to suffer side effects that are scary and make them want to walk away from the hero game before they even enter it. It’s not like a lot of super hero books, and that may be for the better, or at least more original. Sure the Red Circle characters have always set themselves apart from other heroes in other ways, but it wasn’t always for the better (like the second Web being a hen pecked husband hero for instance).
The receiving of the powers is most interesting in the case of Kelly Brand, Flygirl, as it brings the most random cameo of all from the MLJ/Mighty/Red Circle Universe, Phantom Bob! P.B. has a cool costume, but the name Phantom Bob…Well, at least it’s original. The story ties Phantom Bob into a protective space force that knows all about the Fly people that grant the Fly/Fly-Man (who we won’t see much of since Joe Simon got the rights back to the character in 2011 shortly before his death) and Flygirl their powers. But there are other cameos from the Red Circle past as well such as Black Hood and the Hangman both of who are behind bars and help the New Crusaders out on their first mission as they try to stop a prison break orchestrated by Brain Emperor. It’s great to see old characters, albeit not in costume, but still the spirit is there and they contribute a fair amount to the fight. However, when Brain Emperor frees the deadly Eraser from custody, one of the New Crusaders doesn’t make it home.
New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes has a high amount of character establishment and a lesser amount of actual super heroing. I think this initially disappointed me, though I felt satisfied after reading the first volume as it establishes characters that will be great to follow. The exception to this is Shield’s helper, a hyper intelligent alien who looks like a chimp, named Dusty. While Dusty is amusing, and adds some much needed comic relief to the heavy atmosphere of the first arc, I’d almost rather he weren’t part of the series—though it looks like we’re stuck with him. New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes sets up a sense of loss, as the one character who didn’t make it back was building a budding romance with another member. It also really embraces its younger heroes and makes them accessible to younger readers. That’s not to say it’s not enjoyable to adults, but the art itself has somewhat of a toned down, almost “kid friendly” style. Apparently, the third volume of the series will have more sophisticated looking art, but in the meantime, the original style doesn’t detract too much from the story. It has almost an anime feel to it, and honestly, the Brain Emperor has never looked more threatening than he does here. So yeah, New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes is a great investment, if you have a history with these characters, are curious, or are willing to check out some young heroes on their ground floor and are willing to watch them grow.
Now if you don’t have a history with these characters, yet want to watch the New Crusaders grow anyway, the second volume, New Crusaders: Legacy is the perfect book for you. It’s also a great book if you want to try the New Crusaders but are maybe interested in the older stuff. It tells the next part of the New Crusaders’ story as they train and actually learn the heroic history of their parents and mentors, and this is a framing story for reprints of Red Circle material from their 1980s era of publication. For the most part it’s a great fit for new fans and old, despite some minor complaints here and there. One complaint is that the New Crusaders don’t seem to be mourning their fallen teammate too much, which may be due to some time passing between volumes, but if there was, it’s not clearly implied. The New Crusaders are still plenty unsure of themselves, especially in battle and aren’t communicating at all during training exercises.
So basically there’s some intro with the Shield and the New Crusaders and then a reprint; rinse, repeat. There are some exceptions, such as Johnny “Steel” Sterling playing basketball with Kelly “Flygirl” Brand, which is nice, since the X-Men don’t do things like that anymore apparently; or young Wyatt “Web” Raymond tapping into the Shield’s database after hours to learn about some of the heroes he met during the jailbreak. However, mostly, it’s Shield debriefing the New Crusaders, then a reprint, and hey! It works! First up is a great Shield story told almost like a news story or serial. Then comes a very ambiguous but OK Jaguar story. Worst (looking) of all, unfortunately, is a Comet story drawn by Carmine Infantino, and it’s not Carmine’s fault. It’s a pretty cool Comet retrospective, which makes me want to look up some of his public domain appearances I have in other books, but it’s clearly one of the stories that was “Digitally Remastered” as claimed by the back cover, but said remastering made it look like a over sized pixelated mess. It’s a shame. This is the only such offense of such distorted visuals in the book though, thankfully.
Reprints continue, and highlights include a Steve Ditko Flygirl story (one of two Flygirl stories, awesomely enough), one that even includes Tommy Troy, the secret identity of the Fly AKA Fly-Man! It was a surprise to see him at all in the volume, and he makes a sort of pin up appearance in the book, as well as appearing alongside the Mighty Crusaders in their appearances in the book. For another one of the first reprints of the book is the book that captured my interest at that first comic con all those years ago, Mighty Crusaders #1 from 1983, although not reprinted in full, it reprints the entire main story, and having that story in TPB form makes this volume a true treasure for me. Then there’s a Black Hood story by Gray Morrow, and a 2-3 page excerpt from a 80s Red Circle Mighty Crusaders issue where the original Black Hood from the 40s was killed. This was almost too short a taste! There’s a cool Web and Jaguar story that somehow feels only half finished, but still is pretty neat. By far my favorite of the book was a Fox story from 1983 by Alex Toth (I think both written and drawn by Toth) and it is maybe one of the coolest little eight page comic stories I have ever read, both for its story and its art. I haven’t read any Alex Toth other than the Question story he drew and Michael Uslan wrote that appears in The Action Heroes Archive Vol. 2 (that I mention briefly way back in RMLB Entry #6!) but this Fox story is far more standout. In fact, I’d almost recommend New Crusaders: Legacy for the Fox story alone—but I don’t want to oversell it or Legacy! The book ends with a later issue of Mighty Crusaders (#9 I think) “The Trial of the Shield” which deals with fallout from issue #1 reprinted earlier in the book. Since this issue has just about every Red Circle character in it, it’s a great way to close out the reprints.
In the end, we have the New Crusaders training with new vigor, working together, and communicating! (Anyone familiar with the old team’s usual group candor can say this is a far cry from the frequent arguments and squabbles seen in the 1960s version of the team!). The Shield is proud; and I’m proud too! Proud of Archie Comics for not only bringing back the Mighty Crusaders with the New Crusaders, but also for finding a way to reprint classic material from the line in trade paperback form for longtime fans like me! I’m tempted to add the upcoming New Crusaders: Dark Tomorrow to my pull list, but whether or not I do, I know I’ll pick up the trade of it. I’m also ordering the first The Fox TPB by Mark Waid, Dean Haspiel and J.M. DeMatteis from Archie in January’s Previews since I want to support this new Red Circle, and I certainly love Mark Waid’s and J.M. Dematteis’ work! So hats off Archie and Ian Flynn! You’ve made the New Crusaders exciting, and less of the sad sacks their parents were! I think that’s something any comics fan can be, if not excited about, at least grateful for.
Before I close out, I wanted to share a little artwork my wife Maureen made for me for Christmas that I thought was awesome. She likes to draw super heroes for me in a super deformed style and usually draws me something cool for Xmas or birthdays. Here’s what she gave me for Christmas, as well as my copy of New Crusaders Legacy. Enjoy!