It's as if the good people at Red Circle Comics read my mind. After I read their previous New Crusaders graphic novel, I've been slightly obsessed with my desire to read some of the older Red Circle Comics stories from the 1970s and '80s.
Those stories featured art by some of the best cartoonists to ever lift a pencil in the mainstream comics field – artists who can have the name "legendary" attached to their careers without anyone contradicting you, creators with names like Toth and Infantino and Ditko and Gray Morrow, not to mention Rich Bucker, Dick Ayers, Alex Niño and about a dozen more creators whose names have brought thrills and chills for generations. And while the illustrations by most of these men at Red Circle wasn't exactly their absolute best work (there's a reason that the original line never took off, after all), it's a real delight to have art by these illustrious men come back into print.
It’s glorious to see Alex Toth's euphoric eight-page "Fox" story return to print. I'm a certified Toth fantatic, so the chance to see any of his art again between two covers is a reason for celebration. But more than that, this is nearly the perfect Toth comic book tale: set in an exotic past that only really appeared in the movies, with square-chinned heroes and nasty villains and scenes that seem suffused with black, this is prime late career Alex Toth in all his quirky, oddball, idiosyncratic glory.
The Carmine Infantino story here, inked by Alex Niño and written by Bill DuBay, is as dark as the Toth tale is light. But the tale is dark and gritty in an intriguing, early '80s way that adds to its intrigue. Under DuBay's guidance, the Comet is a dark avenger who will go to any lengths to exercise his vengeance against those who have hurt him or his family. This character is an early template for the reboot mania that's been rampant in comics since then – a great heroic figure is turned dark and tragic as a way of reflecting bleak times. The combination of Infantino and Niño on the art gives "The Comet" a strange grindhouse feel that makes it fascinating.
Other art is a mix between thrilling revelation and passable enjoyment. For instance, the "Jaguar" story by Filipino artist Vicatan is atmospheric and lovely, with a strong influence from his countryman Alfredo Alcala. I'd never been a fan of Vicatan's art in the past, but it looked lovely here.
The underappreciated Gray Morrow shows up with a delightful Black Hood tale that's unfortunately overwhelmed by his own very verbose writing. This piece has a great ground-level feel, like a terrific old crime b-movie from the 1980s that might have shown on old school Cinemax.
We also get a regrettably short eight-page piece by Steve Ditko that stirs the need in me to read more of his work on the '80s Crusaders revival. Ditko is one of the artists who created the most comics for the Red Circle line 30 years ago, and he deserves a collection of his own to celebrate his artwork on this line of characters.
I was lukewarm to the first volume of New Crusaders, but this latest volume makes it clear that the people behind this new super-team have set their targets high. I'm really looking forward to Mark Waid and Dean Haspiel's take on The Fox; if it's half as good as Toth's take on the character, we have a lot to be excited about.