New Crusaders is Archie Comics' latest relaunch of the Red Circle line of heroes. You might remember the most recent short-lived revival of the Red Circle heroes that appeared — geez, seriously, was it really almost five years ago? Anyway, do you remember the short-lived Red Circle revival at DC of some Grade Z super-heroes like the Web and the Jaguar and the actually pretty awesome Shield comic by Eric Trautmann and Marco Rudy?
If not, don't worry because you don't really need to know that history to read this book. For that matter, you don't need to know that these characters have been the subject of no less than four different revivals over the years, none of which have ever actually lasted very long or prompted any real loyalty in fans.
The world of comics is littered with long-forgotten characters who are full of potential. Archie Comics are trying to find a new spark now with the New Crusaders series. This first volume, Rise of the Heroes, isn't too bad — it's nothing innovative or incredibly thrilling, but the ideas at the core of this revival are pretty interesting. Of course, the real question is whether this revival will have any more impact in the comics market than any of the other revivals that failed.
The most important thing that writer Ian Flynn gets right with this book is that he fully embraces the idea of legacy heroes. We longtime comics fans love our legacy heroes. We loved legacy heroes in Starman, we loved them with JSA, and we miss them with the New 52. (Marvel, of course, has seldom embraced the idea of legacy heroes)
New Crusaders begins with the reintroduction of some of the original Red Circle heroes at a picnic. Parents and kids gather at a house that's filled with old pictures on the mantel and relics around the house — including one picture of the heroes that might remind you of the famous picture of the Minutemen from Watchmen — and toasts and playfulness about the now middle-aged Mighty Crusaders living the good life away from costumes.
But evil strikes, as it so often does, and all the old heroes but one are tossed aside. Great heroes like Steel Sterling and Fireball are killed and only the great Shield lives on. But the Shield has the mental fortitude to move on from his loss and train the children of his friends to become heroes as well.
As the story develops, new heroes take up some of the legendary names of the past, as the Shield trains the sons and daughters of the lost heroes. The young men and women don the costumes of their parents as the Comet, the Web, Fly Girl, the Jaguar and the rest of the Red Circle heroes. And the heroes re-form their team just in time, because some legacy villains are escaping from prison and must be stopped. Our heroes meet up with some older heroes — the Black Hood, the Hangman and Deadly Force, tough men all — and fight a no-holds-barred battle to win the day.
The battle has consequences, and (SPOILERS) victory doesn't come without its losses, but by the end of this book, our heroes have survived the fire and are ready to fight another day.
New Crusaders is professionally written by Ian Flynn and is drawn nicely by Ben Bates, Alitha Martinez and Gary Martin. Bates and Martinez share a light, fun, animated style that's occasionally stiff but also has real energy. My biggest complaint with the art is that Martinez (who you might know from her work on Batgirl last year) really only seems to break out when she draws the Jaguar, a fierce and exciting heroine who has the potential to be a major star for this series. The Jaguar has an angry, otherworldly panache and complexity that really works for the character and her alter ego, and the page seems to light up whenever she appears.
But I gotta ask who the audience is for this book. Heroes like these already failed to capture the public's imagination several years ago, even with some top-notch creators working on their adventures. It's pretty clear that comic fans just don't have much affinity for Fly Girl, the Shield and their compatriots. The comic market is even more crowded now than it was in 2007 and 2008, and Archie doesn't exactly have a major space on the shelves of your LCS. This graphic novel is a really competent piece of work, but it's not great or especially modern-feeling or in any way a project that can capture the zeitgeist of fans today. It's a fine, professional comic book, but in this marketplace, is professionalism enough to sell many copies of New Crusaders?
Find out more about New Crusaders and the Red Circle revival at the official Red Circle website.