Comic book reviews: New Crusaders #2-4

The first issue of New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes, published by Archie / Red Circle Comics, saw the original, retired Mighty Crusaders attacked and seemingly killed by their arch enemy, the sinister Brain Emperor. The sole survivor of the carnage was Joe Higgins, the Shield, who rushed the teenage children of the Crusaders to his underground safe haven.

As the second issue of New Crusaders opens, the six children of the fallen heroes are coming to grips with the apparent deaths of their parents & guardians. The Shield, who isn’t certain how to console them, instead takes on the role of mentor & drill sergeant and begins to prepare them to take over as the successors to the fallen Mighty Crusaders. This was something their parents had intended them to eventually do when the time was right. But now the Shield has to give his trainees a crash course. Emphasis on “crash.”

Writer Ian Flynn does excellent work scripting New Crusaders #s 2-4. All the shocked teenagers want to do is take the time to mourn their parents. Instead of being given the opportunity to adjust to the massive upheaval in their lives, through, the Shield chucks them in the deep end. And, not unexpectedly, they flounder, and their grief is now compounded with resentment at the Shield for attempting to turn them into soldiers at this most vulnerable moment. In the process, Flynn really gives us the opportunity to get to know these kids. After all, there was so much going on in the first issue that at the end they were still ciphers. So it was a wise decision on Flynn’s part to take the time to gradually develop them over the course of these next three issues of the series. I really felt I got to know who these six people were.

At the end of New Crusaders #4, the teens have embraced their legacies and adopted their parents’ costumed identities. They have begun training to use their new powers & abilities. And then the news comes: the Brain Emperor has struck again. Which presumably means that these new costumed heroes are about to endure a baptism of fire. This could be really messy!

New Crusaders #4 page 17, by Alitha Martinez & Gary Martin
New Crusaders #4 page 17, by Alitha Martinez & Gary Martin

As I mentioned in my review of issue #1, I really enjoyed the artwork on New Crusaders. The quality of the artwork continued with issue #s 2-4. Ben Bates returns to pencil the second issue, and he does an excellent job with this crucial story, really helping to get across the grief and anger of the teenagers. Bates also provides layouts for issue #3, with incoming artist Alitha Martinez doing the finished pencils. Martinez takes over full penciling chores with #4, and she turns in some exemplary work. Inking all three issues is Gary Martin.

I also wanted to point out the contributions of John Workman. He is one of the all time greatest letterers in the comic book biz. As I’ve mentioned in the past, he is probably best known for lettering Walter Simonson on numerous books over the years. It’s really great to see Workman on New Crusaders. He really has a dynamic style to his work that makes the dialogue, captions, and sound effects come alive.

Another veteran comic book pro who also contributes to New Crusaders is Rich Buckler. I’ve always enjoyed his work, especially his groundbreaking Deathlok series. Buckler was one of the artists who worked on Archie’s Mighty Crusaders title in the early 1980s. It was great that he was asked to contribute a cover to New Crusaders #4. I really hope that Archie will have him do more work for them. Issue #3 included a reprint of a 1980s back-up story he worked on featuring Fly-Girl. I’d like to see him be able to draw some brand new material for the back-up slot in New Crusaders.

New Crusaders #4 cover by Rich Buckler
New Crusaders #4 cover by Rich Buckler

Speaking of the back-up stories, issue #s 2 and 4 had original material. It was cool to see Chuck Dixon write a Comet back-up story. And my absolute favorite inker/finisher, the legendary Terry Austin, was also on hand. He inked the prelude to The Lost Crusade, an upcoming series written by Flynn and Dixon that is going to explore the original team’s missing years. I knew that Austin had been working for Archie the last few years, but it was great to see him on New Crusaders. As with Buckler, I hope Austin is asked back again.

As I understand it, New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes has two more issues to go. After wrapping up, the next miniseries is going to be titled Dark Tomorrow. So far, I’ve really been enjoying this book. It’s an exciting series with really thoughtful writing, interesting characters, and superb artwork. I am definitely looking forward to seeing what happens next. For me, it’s much more engaging that the majority of the material currently being release by DC or Marvel. So I highly recommend giving New Crusaders a try.

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.