Writer Ian Flynn wraps up the initial New Crusaders story arc in the final two issues of the Rise of the Heroes miniseries. “Trial by Fire” sees the nefarious Brain Emperor breaking into Z.I.P. Prison to liberate his inner circle of costumed criminals. To facilitate the escape, he lets loose the entire population of the penitentiary. When the New Crusaders arrive, the inexperienced teenage heroes, who would already have faced the daunting task of opposing the villain who defeated their parents, the original Mighty Crusaders, find themselves having to put down a full scale prison riot.
As the Brain Emperor goes about reviving his elite followers, the New Crusaders are quickly being overwhelmed by the dozens upon dozens of convicts who have been set free. Unexpected help does come from a trio of prisoners, though. Hangman, Black Hood and Deadly Force are all former superheroes who were sent to jail for excessive force and manslaughter. Now they’ve decided to side with the children of their former teammates in putting down the riot. But even with the aid of this threesome, and the veteran leadership of the Shield, the Crusaders face an almost impossible task.
Flynn does an excellent job showing how these neophyte crime fighters deal with their first mission. The Jaguar, who previously faced the challenge of being accepted by the ancient spirit inhabiting her helmet, has to now struggle to contain the cat god’s wish to drive her to savagery. Likewise, we also see Steel Sterling is attempting to take down the prisoners without resorting to lethal force, an approach that is challenged by Hangman as naïve. The other Crusaders also face similar obstacles.
In the end, unsurprisingly, things do not go well, to say the least, and the Crusaders’ first mission, despite succeeding, has a most bitter cost. And these dispirited young heroes still have to face a future encounter with the Brain Emperor himself. Their story continues in May with the next miniseries, Dark Tomorrow. I hope that that title doesn’t mean things will become all “grim and gritty.” But Flynn has certainly built up enough goodwill during Rise of the Heroes that I’ll be approaching this with an open mind.
The art team of Alitha Martinez & Gary Martin continued to turn in excellent work in these concluding issues of the first New Crusaders miniseries. They have an art style that at first glance may appear deceptively simple, in the vein of Mike Parobeck or Bruce Timm. But I imagine that there is a great deal of craftsmanship & storytelling to their work. They don’t have the luxury of hiding behind hyper-detailed renderings or excessive cross-hatching. I’m looking forward to their return a few months from now on Dark Tomorrow.
There is also a back-up story in Rise of the Heroes #6 that is illustrated by Sergio Cariello, a retrospective look back at the career of the original Fireball. I’ve enjoyed Cariello’s work at DC Comics in the past, so it’s nice to see him pop up here at Archie. Hopefully he’ll be asked to contribute more work on the Red Circle imprint in the future, either on New Crusaders or one of the tie-in books that Archie has planned.
All in all, New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes was a solid, entertaining introductory arc by Ian Flynn and the various other writers & artists involved. I’m looking forward to where these characters head next.