When did you first discover
the Mighty Crusaders?
I graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 1988. It
took me a good year-plus to get work in the comic book industry,
which was highly competitive at the time. I received my
first freelance work in the fall of 1989 writing puzzle pages for
Looney Tunes Magazine which was published by DC Comics.
While I was thrilled to become a professional, I realized that
freelance checks alone would not pay the bills. So I
started to do research on all the New York based publishers, and
this included buying several Archie comics and digests, which I
previously never did except for the occasional impulse purchase
as a child. At that time, the Mighty Crusaders were
appearing in Archie digests in public service announcements
promoting literacy. Just the sight of these heroes made me
curious. From there, I tracked down back issues from the
Red Circle period and cemented my fascination for these
characters. In January of 1990 I got a full-time job at
Archie Comics as the assistant editor to Scott Fulop and my first
task was to do research for the Archie Americana Best of the
1940s volume. The goal was to compile the earliest stories
with the cast of Archie teenage characters, especially first
appearances and any stories that really exemplified the decade of
the 1940s. As I pored through classic issues of PEP and
LAUGH Comics in search of these stories, I was treated to many
superhero stories which were backup stories to the main Archie
feature. These stories featured The Shield, The Comet, The
Fox, Blackjack, Hangman, Mr. Justice and others and getting a
glimpse of how these characters began made me even more
interested in them.
How long have you been
planning their return?
That's a tough question to answer-- I'd say I've probably
always held the notion of doing something with them from the time
I walked through the front door at Archie in January, 1990.
But the idea of revamping the characters to fit the Batman
animated series mold really took fruition for me in 1998.
At that time, it was decided to create public service
announcements that would enable us to show the characters in
print, which is a requirement for keeping trademarks
active. We chose to have the characters rendered primarily
in the Batman animated style, although some of the artists that
did the public service announcements veered slightly from the
look. Within the next few months, the Archie's
Weird Mysteries animated series was greenlighted and I campaigned
for the job of writer for the comic book adaptation of the
animated series. From the time I set my sights on Weird
Mysteries, I intended to get the Crusaders involved, if only for
a story or two...
Were the Crusaders
appearances well-received by the normal AWM readers?
The AWM fans are very open-minded and vocal and thus far have
unanimously embraced all the supporting and guest-characters that
have appeared in the series, including The Mighty Crusaders.
Did you study up on the MLJ
character's histories before doing their appearances? And
if yes, how much study did you do?
By the time I had an opportunity to write stories with the
characters, I had already digested much of their history both in
my pre-interview research of the Archie company as well as during
my search for early Archie stories for the Americana project.
Opinion question: Which era
of the Crusaders do you think was the best: MLJ, Mighty, Red
Circle, Impact or Archie 2000?
I cannot lay claim to one particular era being the best-- they
all have aspects to recommend them. That plus the fact that
some of the characters excelled in eras that others did not
(let's face it, characters like Black Jack and Mr. Justice had
the opportunity to shine in the 1940s but were virtually ignored
in the 1960s; meanwhile, The Web was more clearly defined in the
1960s and less developed in the 1940s... and I can go on and
Another opinion question:
Which character do you think holds up the best over the years?
Again, I don't think that one easily pinpoint a character who
exemplifies the Archie heroes. If you're talking about the
ones who are remembered the fondest, however, I'd say those
honors go to The Shield, The Comet, The Fly and perhaps The
Jaguar. The Fly and The Jaguar especially made an impact
having their own series in the 1960s which predated and in no
small part precipitated the Mighty Crusaders series.
I know there has not been
very many appearances yet, but do you find it harder to write one
Crusader more than another?
Strangely enough, I find it a little easier to write those
which are secondary because I have more leeway to create my own
mythology with those characters. I think Black Jack was all
about attitude-- the flippant persona-- and I'm having fun with
him because he clearly fights crime as much for kicks, thrills
and fun as he does because it is the right thing to do. The
big guns-- The Shield, Comet, Jaguar, Web-- they have great
histories that practically enable the characters to write
themselves. I'd put Mr. Justice in the same camp. I
think Steel Sterling is a character who can be fleshed out more,
and some of the characters (like the Fire-powered trio of
Fireball, Inferno and Firefly) either have such convoluted
histories or barely histories at all that writing them is like
starting from a clean slate.
Your thoughts/opinions on
the Impact versions of the Crusaders + Co?
I was a big fan of the late, great Mike Parobeck's artwork,
and in fact I feel that the blueprint for the Batman animated
series is not only found in the style of the Max Fleischer
Superman cartoons of the 1940s and the character designs Alex
Toth created for such Hanna-Barbera cartoons as "Space
Ghost," "Birdman" and "Superfriends,"
but that Parobeck's art style on series such as Justice Society,
El Diablo and the Impact Fly series also provided a large
influence. I think that his style was able to flourish more
on the Impact Comics because the editors weren't as restrictive
as they most likely were with the top DC characters at the time,
so he had room to stretch. So his art brought a vitality to
the characters. I've also always admired writers like Mark
Waid and Len Strazewski who can tip their hats to the past and
honor it by creating something new that has the same feel.
What part did you have in
the visual redesigning of the Crusaders (such as the C on the
Comet's chest instead of the arrow)?
My main role in the art department was as a champion (and
cheerleader) of the Batman animated style (yes, I'm sounding like
a broken record, but I find that style highly dynamic-- it is
deceptively simple looking graphic design). As far as
costume changes go, some of those were requested by editor Justin
Gabrie, editor of Archie's Sonic the Hedgehog comics as well as
the public service announcements and the first few issues of
AWM. Also, some of the artists who worked on the PSA's as
well as AWM artist Fernando Ruiz would make various modifications
to update the characters slightly. Of course, such changes
for lower profile characters like Black Jack made the most
sense-- the biggest change for him being the bandana-style mask
similar to 1970s Spider-Man villain, the Tarantula.
How did the mini-origins
Archie has periodically done public service announcements over
the years to perpetuate the trademarks of various
characters. Since we were launching the archiecomics.com
website, it was felt that the public service announcements would
serve a double-purpose as the heroes were also part of the
There were Crusaders PSA's
in the late 80s/early 90s. Can you give us any specifics?
I'm only going on memory which is probably faulty, but I
believe there were at least 3 different PSA's showing all or most
of the Crusaders in a line-up. The message was
pro-literacy-- something "you can be a hero too by
reading." The art may have been done by Dick Ayers...
I'd have to double-check that...
Do you know anything of the
Spectrum Comics imprint that Archie canceled around the middle of
Well, what you and your friends reported is pretty
accurate. There is no real mystery concerning the line--
the simple truth is, the original concept was to take the heroes
in a more violent, dark and gritty direction as was the norm at
time (Frank Miller's takes on Batman and Daredevil had a lot to
do with that). But ultimately, Archie reconsidered because
they felt being connected to such material could tarnish their
reputation as upholders of wholesome family entertainment.
If the Crusaders DID make a
comeback, as more than "guest stars" in AWM, what kind
of continuity would you like to see used on them?
I don't believe there is only one way to do the
Crusaders. I believe each writer brings their own approach
to the characters. The approach I prefer is to respect the
past of these characters, keep as many of the elements or at
least the tone of things that did work in the past and work to
improve on things that didn't, while creating something new and
fresh that can be expanded upon.
How did Jim Valentino become
involved with the Crusaders mini-origins?
Jim was involved in Sonic Super Special #7, which featured
Sonic the Hedgehog in his friends meeting up with the heroes from
Image Comics in a sanctioned team-up. It turns out Jim was
a longtime Crusaders fan and let this be known to Sonic editor
Justin Gabrie (and if memory serves, the original story idea that
writer Ken Penders had was to team Sonic with the Crusaders, but
the opportunity arose for a crossover with Image, so plans
Jim Valentino gave a brief
rundown of some ideas you two had discussed regarding a
Crusaders revival (such as Comet being the original's daughter).
Did you have any actual story ideas to revolve around this
new take on the heroes?
It was all very, very preliminary... primarily, it involved
the characters and their powers, personalities and
motivations. No real story had yet been worked out.
Where did Justin (editor of
Sonic) fit into all this?
Justin was the editor on the public service announcements,
however, he wasn't as directly involved in the planning and prep
work Jim and I were doing-- he was up to his neck in Sonic work
and also was being courted by Sega at the time to join their
How did Scott Rosema come
into the picture?
At that time, Archie had the license to do Hanna-Barbera comic
books. One of the "Hanna-Barbera Presents" issues
featured an all-new adventure with intergalactic hero, Space
Ghost. Scott was doing some autographs at comic shops and I
helped get comics shipped out to him for those signings.
Over phone conversations, he mentioned his love for the
Crusaders, and since the public service announcements were
underway, naturally we tapped the all-too-willing Rosema as one
of the artists to render the spots.
What style would you like to
see the new Crusaders series be drawn in, given that it
happens? (normal Archie style, AWM style, traditional
Can you guess based on my answers to the previous two
Do you think there is a
possibility of reprinting the Archie Super-Hero Digest
issues? This seems like it could be a good jumping-on point
for many people.
At this point, the best chances to see the older stories would
probably be any paperbacks we decide to do.
Is Black Jack now considered
the leader of the Crusaders? He seems to be such in both
their ARCHIE'S WEIRD MYSTERIES appearances.
Black Jack is not the leader of the Crusaders. In the
proposal I have been working on for several years now, The Shield
is the leader. This is following the form of teams like JLA
and Avengers, where strong characters with great presence (ie:
Superman and Capt. America) preside. Not to mention the
red, white and blue patriotic factor (appropriately enough, this
being Independence Day). There seems to be something
inherently powerful about that. As has been the case with
JLA as of late, the "leader" does have strong back-up
from others who can lead just as well. I see The Jaguar and
The Comet as possessing the leadership qualities necessary to
substitute for The Shield if need be.
Are there any plans for
further Mighty Crusaders appearances, whether in AWM or in their
I have very specific ideas for a Crusaders relaunch, some I'm
sure fans will love and others they won't. But the
blueprint for the basic team is in the latest "Archie's
Weird Mysteries" appearance of the team (AWM #14, for those
of you who haven't seen it yet--I hope I haven't disappointed
you-- I tried to write a story that would remain reverent to the
characters while also incorporating Archie's Super Teens into the
mix in a logical-- for AWM at least-- way; not to mention having
to keep pleasing fans of that team in mind as well). The
core of the team will be The Shield, The Jaguar, The Comet, The
Web, Steel Sterling, Black Jack and Black Hood. In my
proposed relaunch, one of these members won't last for long, and
will start a splinter group, the nature of which I won't reveal
at this time...
You'll also notice the phrase "alternate crusaders"
in AWM #14. This refers to those characters not on the
"first string" of the team. In my vision of The
Crusaders, these characters will befall various fates,
potentially creating even more splinter groups, and some may even
turn bad. In fact, I have plans for three characters in
particular that would probably keep your message boards buzzing
for months! Last but not least, I also plan to resurrect
some unlikely characters from Archie/MLJ's adventure past that
will serve as Crusaders members as well as villains.
Now, all of this means nothing if I can't convince the
powers-that-be at Archie to take a chance. But I think the
current atmosphere is such that I may have a 50/50 chance.
I am about to have meetings with them regarding a possible
(italicized, underlined and bolded) POSSIBLE
trade paperback (most likely in the format of the ARCHIE
AMERICANA SERIES and BEST OF JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS books)
reprinting some of the 1960s Mighty Comics stories. THIS IS
NOT A DEFINITE YET. Please respect this information.
I will let everyone know if this becomes a "go" and
will give details on the contents and release date when
appropriate (which is another way of saying, you'll know when I
know)! The bottom line is, a trade paperback could be
another catalyst towards a regular Crusaders series. I
don't want to get anyone's hopes up, because Archie is a business
that is very bottom line conscious and while it has a support
mechanism in place (namely, the ongoing success of the Archie
characters, particularly in the digest format) it tends to take a
leisurely, measured approach to making decisions on new
projects. Which is a long-winded way of saying they are not
known for rushing into anything.
I suppose the best thing you can do is wish me luck. I
have great perseverance, as well as the wisdom to know when to
strike. My upcoming meeting on a possible Crusaders reprint
paperback should provide the perfect opportunity to once again
propose a new Crusaders comic series.
There are no immediate plans for the Crusaders to return,
however, in the AWM universe, anything can happen. We've
batted around the idea of creating Crusaders back-up stories in
AWM, but there are space and tone issues to consider, so it's
very iffy. However, there is a very real possibility that
The Jaguar will be making a guest-appearance in a future Sabrina
story. Again, this is not confirmed yet, however, should it
become a reality I will forward the information to the Mighty
You said you've been working
on a Crusaders proposal for "years". What caused
you to decide to do this?
I think that the appeal of the characters to all comics
creators are that they are an alternative group to the more well
known JLA and Avengers teams, and that there is more leeway to
expand upon, revise and in some way create a mythology with the
Crusaders. Most creators I've spoken with about the
characters agree that the challenge is to maintain a reverence
for what has come before while creating something fresh and
Your mention of "other
characters" from the MLJ past. Might that include such
favorites as Red Rube? Roy the SuperBoy? Dusty the Boy
I can't really go into any details on that as of yet.
Hope you understand.
Are there no current plans
for The Fly because of Joe Simon co-owning the character?
The Fly characters are co-owned by Archie and Joe Simon.
Therefore, any projects must be done jointly, and Archie would
rather wait to do anything with the characters until such time as
a Fly-specific project was feasible. Specifically, the
"Fly" has been optioned by a film producer. If a
"Fly" movie were to be made (and as with all movies,
that's a big "if"-- comic book characters are optioned
all the time for movies and most of those proposed movies never
see the dimmed lights of a movie theater), a "Fly"
paperback collection would probably come out from Archie, and
then they would go from there...
You mentioned POSSIBLE trade
paperback collections of various titles. Would this be
Mighty Comics, Red Circle, Impact, or MLJ?
That's something we have to give some thought to. We
actually have a great deal of reproduction materials for both the
Mighty Comics and Red Circle/Archie Adventure Series issues
(namely, black and white proofs of the original artwork and
printed comics to use as color guides in creating new color
separations). There seems to be more of a call for the
Mighty Comics stories, and while there is no guarantee, I'd say
if a series of reprint volumes was greenlighted, the Mighty
Comics stories would probably have the best shot at being