Review: ‘The Mighty Crusaders, Book One’
The Mighty Crusaders, Book One
Writer: Ian Flynn
Artists: Kelsey Shannon and Ryan Jampole
Archie Comics; $12.99
The Mighty Crusaders are back…again. The superhero team that began as Archie Comics’ mid-1960s answer to the Justice League and Avengers has made something of a career of returning with a big, splashy entrance, only to disappear rather quickly and then try again later. Will this latest turn of the cycle prove more successful than previous ones? Anything’s possible. This attempt at least has the advantage of being made in-house under the aegis of Archie Comics themselves (under their superhero “Dark Circle” imprint) at a time when the publisher is resurgent and Archie characters are permeating far deeper than usual into pop culture consciousness, and in a comics market that has grown to be far more attuned to fits and starts than ongoing monthly serial narratives.
Let’s start with a quick history lesson. The team first debuted in the pages of a 1965 issue of Fly-Man, and consisted of original Golden Age superheroes that appeared in MLJ comics, the company that became Archie. These included The Black Hood and patriotic Captain America precursor The Shield. The team received their own book, but it lasted only seven issues. In the early 1980s, they returned for adventures published under Archie’s Red Circle imprint, this time for 13 issues. In 1992, DC Comics licensed the characters and launched their Impact Comics line, producing all-ages super-comics with particularly solid talent attached. That lasted two years. DC tried again around 2008, integrating the heroes into their own shared-universe setting, but they gave up after two years.
And thus the Red Circle characters came full circle, returning to Archie for a six-issue 2012 revival under the title The New Crusaders. This team featured the original–and now elderly and bearded–Shield leading a new team consisting of the children of the original Crusaders, as written by Ian Flynn and drawn in a bold, exaggerated style suggesting video game and anime influence by pencil artist Ben Bates.
This latest incarnation, The Mighty Crusaders, picks up sometime after Flynn’s New Crusaders story ended, incorporating the new female Shield from a 2015 miniseries (the original is still around, but is more of a desk-bound, behind-the-scenes player). Flynn is again at the helm, now teamed with artist Kelsey Shannon, whose style seems to fall halfway between Bates’ open, animated-looking style and the more detailed and realistic art of the most recent Shield miniseries.
The new Shield, Victoria Adams, is leading a team featuring a mixture of characters from past generations and incarnations, including Steel Sterling, The Comet, The Jaguar, Firefly, Darkling and The Web…or, at least, she’s trying to. It’s a difficult task for her, given that she’s in the shadow of her namesake and is being questioned by members of a particularly ragtag group of heroes who seem to mostly be together because there’s a new Crusaders comic series for them to star in (Much of this first volume deals with the characters all trying to figure out how to work together).
Meanwhile, super-villains aren’t waiting for them to get their act together. There’s a new dinosaur man character named Dino Rex, a team of old villains who have reunited crash a Crusaders press conference and a particularly big and foreboding villain from the ancient past who is gradually awoken in series of portentous scenes spread throughout the volume.
Flynn’s scripting is somewhat dense, and quite old school in its presentation. There’s very little in the way of introduction to the characters and their world and history, and even less in the way of hand-holding. Readers are very much expected to jump in and keep up, as a handful of sub-plots unfold simultaneously. In that respect, it seems like the Crusaders comics are still an answer to DC and Marvel’s Justice League and Avengers comics of the mid-twentieth century, with greater emphasis on a Marvel-like soap opera narrative.
Unlike the Big Two’s super-comics of yesteryear, or today, however, the production values are both high and modern, and Shannon’s art is smooth, clean and brightly-colored by Matt Herms. Archie/Dark Circle has published a handful of Red Circle revival comics in the past few years, including Hangman, The Black Hood and the aforementioned The Shield, but this is by far the most accessible, the most engaging and the most traditional.
Archie Comics is in kind of a weird place now, thanks to the success of the Riverdale TV show, wherein some of their comics are geared towards older teens and young adults, and others are geared towards all-ages audiences. Nowhere is that more evident than in their superhero comics. If you look at the advertisement of their line of graphic novels on the inside back cover, you’ll see The Black Hood, Hangman and The Shield, all of which are for older readers, as well as New Crusaders, The Fox and Mighty Crusaders, all of which are for a more all-ages, PG to PG-13 audience. There’s some blood in this particular volume–the big, scary villain is resurrected via a sacrificial ritual–but a few panels of violence aside, this is probably appropriate for most kids.
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if it’s in a place that can sustain Crusaders comics longer than usual or not.
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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