New Crusaders: Legacy

Collecting parts of Mighty Crusaders #1, 8-9; The Fly #2, 4, 6; Blue Ribbon #3, 8, 14; The Comet #1; and Black Hood #2, all from 1983-84

Writers and artists: Various

Archie Comics, $16.99, color, 192 pages

Among the many revivals of the superheroes who began in the 1940s at MLJ (now called Archie), one of the best was when they were first published under the "Red Circle" banner in the 1980s. New Crusaders: Legacy is a happy reminder of that fact.

This trade paperback takes place after New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes, a miniseries that has taken another stab at reviving the superheroes that were pushed out of MLJ comics by Archie in the 1940s, then revived as the Mighty Heroes in the 1960s, the Red Circle heroes in the 1980s, the Impact! heroes at DC in the '90s, and again as part of the DCU in the 'oughts. For those who didn't read that series, Rise of the Heroes essentially wiped out the original Crusaders and passed on the torch to their children and proteges, in the form of new, teen-age versions of The Comet, Fireball, Fly-Girl, Jaguar, Steel Sterling and The Web (mentored by the original Shield, the only known survivor).

This book has framing sequences with those characters, by the Rise team of writer Ian Flynn and artist Ben Bates, wherein The Shield shows the youngsters what their parents and mentors had been like in their heyday, via reprints of the 1980s Red Circle revival.

As noted, this was one of the best of the Crusaders revivals, led by Rich Buckler at the height of his powers and distinguished by an eye-popping roster of creators. That's not to say they are great comics from today's perspective, as not much from the 1980s would be. Like much of the comics of the era, these books featured characters who chattered to themselves endlessly, super-villains with over-elaborate plans, and art replete with Neal Adams clones, the Filipino invasion and some aging Silver Age artists. And these stories being lifted piecemeal from various titles and presented out of order doesn't exactly enhance the book's coherence.

But it's inarguably a treat to see the likes of Dick Ayers, Ed Barreto, Buckler, Steve Ditko, Carmine Infantino, Gray Morrow and Alex Toth from 30 years ago. That's to be expected. What surprised me is how much my nostalgia sense was triggered by the non-marquee names, like the inking of Tony DeZuniga, Frank Giacoia and Chic Stone; plus all those Filipino artists, whose work for some reason all looks like that of Rudy Nebres. (Who I think did a cover in here, but it's hard to say.)

One oddity is the presence of The Fly; as far as I know, Joe Simon's estate still owns the rights to that character, which is why he's not buzzing through the revival.  But Fly-Girl was derivative of The Fly in that incarnation of the Crusaders (and the previous one), so it would be hard to show Fly-Girl without him. On the other hand, they certainly tried: I haven't dug back through my Red Circle comics to check, but I'd bet the two solo Fly-Girl stories included in this collection are probably the only two that exist. I hope the new revival corrects that situation, as I find Fly-Girl by herself much more interesting than as a mere spin-off.

I can't recommend this book wholeheartedly, as I'm not sure how much it will be enjoyed by those who don't get a kick of nostalgia out of it. But I suspect fans of today's Crusader series will enjoy a look at how the old characters were characterized (and probably get a laugh out of the melodrama of those Claremontian days). And I know older fans will find this book hard to resist, as it's like a time machine to when comics were simpler -- and much, much talkier!

GO HERE for the Archie Comics press release!

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