Monday, April 9, 2018

The Mighty Crusaders

I've really let my writing slow down, so I thought I'd expound upon some things that I like that are on my mind lately.  One of these is The Mighty Crusaders.

My interest in the comic book team The Mighty Crusaders goes back not to the original team, but to the brief period when DC Comics re-envisioned the former Archie Comics characters as part of their Impact Comics line from 1991 to 1993.  Despite DC's goal of reading younger views with more kid-friendly story-lines and direct-to-newstand sales, as a college student I liked the Impact line for several reasons. (Side note: DC Comics also took another property they owned outright, Charleston Comics, and used those characters as the basis for the Watchmen.)

First, it was fun getting into an entire comic book universe on the ground floor, one which appeared to have little-to-no backstory and every character was just having its start.  Second, with the Iron Age in full swing, I appreciated the more Silver Age-style stories.  Even their "gun and claw" characters, the Black Hood and Jaguar, were decided toned down from the Punisher and Wolverine (and countless knock-offs) that were dominating the market.

Impact Comics suffered a lot of problems, from losing writing and art talent to other companies and projects, lackluster sales, and lukewarm support from new editorial direction at DC Comics (you can read more about Impact's woes here).  But I always enjoyed the titles I kept up with, including the excellent Black Hood comic up to its ending with the sudden universe-ending mini-series The Crucible.

A quick word about The Crucible.  Initially it was intended to allow DC Comics to overhaul the Impact characters in hopes of revitalizing sales.  The Crusaders were supposed to be launched into space, only to return to a new world with new challenges, etc. while a handful of heroes remained behind.  Instead, the Crusaders went to another dimension, and the six-issue series became the swan song of the entire publishing line.

But what a song it was.  The Comet, the most powerful of the Impact superheroes, was slowly going crazy and the Black Hood, a normal guy with limited skills aside from what he gained by wearing the eponymous black hood, had to try to keep him under control to avoid a major catastrophe that he had seen in a vision of the future.  A lot of focus was put on the stress and despair that the Black Hood faced until his final, inevitable confrontation with the Comet in a story that spanned years of narrative time.  While Batman vs. Superman stories are pretty common these days, The Crucible was a great take on the concept going back to 1993.

Anyways, I liked the Impact characters so much I actually wrote up several using the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying rules a while back.

In 2012, Archie Comics (now Red Circle Comics) decided to try to use the old Crusader characters in a new, similarly kid-friendly title called The New Crusaders.  The core story idea was that the original Crusaders--the Shield, the Fly, Steel Sterling, etc.--had all gone into retirement in the present day.  After being kidnapped by the Brain Emperor (a villain from the original pre-Impact period), their children were organized by the original Shield to help find them and defeat other supervillains.

I liked The New Crusaders a lot because it felt a lot like older teen superhero books like Teen Titans where you had a collection of heroes with different backgrounds and origins for their powers.  To get with modern day sentiments they also added an African-American character (the Comet, adopted by the original Comet) and retained the Impact idea of a female Hispanic Jaguar (also taken in by the Caucasian original superhero).  The Shield provided the role of the stereotypical grizzled veteran trying to make the teens grow into heroes.

Unfortunately the curse of the Crusaders continued, with older fans of the series wanting more realism and action.  The authors shockingly killed off Fireball, one of the most developed characters in the series, as a way to up the drama and maturity of the title, but it continued to struggle until finally it was cancelled in early 2013 on a cliffhanger ending.  The final battle was devastating for the team as it also killed off the teenage hero Steel Sterling and crippled both the Shield and the Jaguar.

Since then, Red Circle became Dark Circle, and content across the board, including the Archie titles, became more serious and mature in nature.  Dark Circle relaunched several of the Crusader characters in yet new iterations, including the Shield and the Black Mask.  Then just a few months ago, they launched the Crusaders yet again, this time under the original name The Mighty Crusaders.  Interestingly enough, the team actually bridges the three generations of the Archie Comics mythos: the original Mighty Crusaders, the New Crusaders, and the new Shield from the Dark Circle title.  Joining the new Shield is original Steel Sterling (whose wife and son, the teen Steel Sterling, were killed at the conclusion of the New Crusaders arc); and Jaguar, Comet, the Web, and the thankfully renamed Firefly from the New Crusaders.  Darkling, a character from the original Mighty Crusaders mythos, also has jonied the team.

Again providing leadership is the original Shield, now physically challenged by his injuries, making him the one constant figure in all iterations of the team.

I like the concept, not the least of which is because the team now resembles another favorite of mine, the Justice Society of America, with its sense of legacy.  They are three issues in and are already battling a villain tam from the original iteration.  Here's hoping that this version can actually make a serious go of it.

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