Comic book reviews: New Crusaders #1

Archie Comics is, of course, very well known for publishing the fun, comedic adventures of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and the rest of the gang from Riverdale.  What is probably not as well known is that throughout their 73 year history is that they have, from time to time, dabbled in superhero comic books.

I first became aware of characters such as the Shield, the Fly, and the Comet back in the early 1990s.  DC Comics had licensed the Archie superheroes and created new interpretations of them under an imprint titled Impact Comics (or !mpact Comics with an exclamation point).  Impact only lasted about two years before being canceled due to low sales, but I tremendously enjoyed those books they put out during that brief time.  And I discovered a few of the earlier Archie-published comics in the back issue bins, including an issue of Mighty Crusaders from the early 1980s featuring artwork by comic book legends Rich Buckler, Dick Ayers, Tony DeZuniga, and Rudy Nebres.

A few years ago there was apparently a second, more recent attempt by DC to license the Archie superheroes, this time to integrate them directly into DC continuity, but for one reason or another this didn’t work out, and the properties are now back with their owners.  Archie has revived their old Red Circle Comics imprint and are publishing New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes.  The series actually made its debut in an online digital format a few months ago, but this past week it came out in print format with the release of New Crusaders #1 in comic book shops.

Yesterday, Midtown Comics did a signing featuring several of the creators involved with New Crusaders: writer Ian Flynn, cover artist Ryan Jampole, and artist Alitha Martinez, who takes over drawing the series with issue #3.  Since I was such a fan of the Impact incarnations of these characters, I went to the signing to purchase New Crusaders #1.  I had the chance to talk to Ian Flynn for a few minutes, and he seems to have a lot of enthusiasm and ideas for the series.  He mentioned doing a quite a bit of research into the various past incarnations of the Archie heroes in preparation for chronicling their new adventures.

New Crusaders #1, autographed by Ian Flynn and Ryan Jampole

New Crusaders #1, autographed by Ian Flynn and Ryan Jampole

New Crusaders #1 opens with a reunion of the members of the superhero team the Mighty Crusaders, who are now all retired to the town of Red Circle, living incognito and raising families, their arch-foes defeated years before under unrevealed circumstances.  Unfortunately, the aging heroes are attacked by a menace from the past that crashes the reunion.  While the majority of the adults try to hold back their old enemy, the Shield takes their teenage children to safety.

Flynn appears to be establishing a scenario wherein the children of the Mighty Crusaders have to step into the void left by their defeated parents, with the Shield serving as mentor to the new team.  The first issue of New Crusaders serves as a set-up for this by introducing the young cast and showing the fall of the original heroes.  It is always the hallmark of a good comic book that when you get to the end of the issue you cannot wait for the next to come out to see what happens next.  That was certainly the case here, and I am eagerly anticipating next month’s issue.

Writing for an all-ages audience is not an easy task.  A lot of the time, there is an awful temptation to talk down to children, to make things overly simple or safe.  It’s all too easy to underestimate younger readers.  But I guess I am young enough that I can still remember what it was like to be a kid and encounter material that felt like it was being condescending to me or underestimating me as a reader.  Flynn does not make that mistake here.  He writes a story that is truly appropriate for all ages, one that both children and adults can appreciate.  I have to give him major recognition for that and, as I said before, I am looking forward to what he does with this series next.

As to the artwork, Ben Bates & Gary Martin do a very lovely job, with an animated style.  I was very much reminded of the work of the late Mike Parobeck (who, incidentally, drew The Fly for Impact Comics).  I’m a big fan of that style, and it works perfectly here.  I think that it has a deceptively simple look to it, but that drawing in such a style can actually be much more difficult.  The artist cannot hide behind over-rendering, crosshatching, or any other embellishments, instead having to rely on good, solid storytelling.  Certainly the penciling by Bates is very good in this respect, very clear & concise.  The inking by Martin has a very neat, solid line to it, as well.

As I understand it, Alitha Martinez will be coming onboard with New Crusaders #3, working over Bates’ pencil layouts, before then taking over full art chores with the subsequent issue.  In the past, she’s done nice work on Iron Man and Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four.  Recently, she penciled a couple of fill-in issues of Batgirl that were stunning.  The previews of her work for New Crusaders #3 that I’ve seen online look very promising.

For those who have lamented that both DC and Marvel’s recent “renovations” or “reboots” of their superhero comic book lines were not reader friendly, I would recommend checking out New Crusaders, either in the comic shops, or on the Red Circle website.  If the first issue is any indication, it’s a very promising title, one that hopefully will bring in a lot of younger readers.  As for myself, I’m 36 years old, but I fully intend to see where it goes.

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