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Series overview - The Mighty Crusaders (vol. 2)

Reviews for the various Mighty Crusaders Comics.

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leonmallett User avatar

Posts: 523
Location: West Midlands, UK
The second volume of the Mighty Crusaders under the Red Circle/Archie Adventure imprint makes for an interesting read some 25 years or thereabouts later. Or make that an interesting and varied read. Interesting, not in the sense of captivating (although some of the issues really grabbed me), but interesting that in just 13 issues there seemed to be four distinct styles of writing and storytelling. And not all was equally strong. Looking at the first 3 issue arc, with the story very much driven by Rich Buckler, we see what amounts to a densely crafted tale that sets up the team, sees the return of arguably their primary foe, and moves the group of characters beyond their pretty camp teaming during the 1960's. I say densely crafted because Buckler seemingly employed a good number of panels to an average page. I have been trying my hand at comics scripting recently, and oddly it was reading those first 3 issues of the volume two that impressed upon me the effect of number of panels per page in terms of affecting the perceived pace of a tale. Compare the first arc with the second guided by the writing of Cary Burkett, and the difference is that in the latter the pace really seems to pick up. Outside of the series look at something like Watchmen, with typically 7, 8 or 9 panels per page, and it is a slow, but nonetheless absorbing read, especially compared with the typical 4 or 5 panels per page of the 60's Mighty Crusaders, or the early Image days that often saw 3, 4, or 5 panels per page and an abundance of splash pages (as brave as Savage Dragon 7 with its all-splash-pages approach was, it didn't take that long to read). So in consideration I enjoyed the first two arcs (no spoilers here), but found the second a technical improvement.

So what to say about those first two arcs? Well the cast grows and grows, and there is quite a lot of action, but I'd argue that characterisation is nominally present at best, and that it is overshadowed by the action that we see. Now in lettercols of the 1980's when I was reading many comics, characterisation was one of those terms that would come time and again. In the 1990's we saw all sorts of publishers favouring action and violence over characterisation, despite having seen both Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns demonstrably being character and philosophically driven pieces. So characterisation is lacking, but I would argue that little characterisation is in fact better than bad writing/characterisation. Some may disagree, but that is how I prefer my comics, and those first two phases of the second volume I found to be a satisfying read in that context. Whilst the first arc (issues 1-3) is a serviceable re-introduction and reframing of the Mighty Crusaders, and has one of my three favourite covers of the series (issue 3) it is with the second arc (issues 4-5, 7-8) that the book hits its stride in my view, replete with new super-villains, hokey mystical back-story, zombification, a character origin (and some of that characterisation malarkey to go with it) and more besides (including another great cover for issue 5) - in fact it is only a shame that we see a complete break or interlude with issue 6 completing an ongoing back-up story rather than featuring the stars of the book, the Mighty Crusaders. In this I am not considering immediately the back up story that ran as a serial featuring the original Shield, of that more later. The other flaw for the Burkett period was the variation of artists utilised, breaking some of the consistency set in earlier issues.

So on to the third phase then (issues 9 and 10). We have what amounts to a couple of standalone issues which excellently highlight that such stories can be great or poor. I loved issue 9 with the story of a hero on trial, a classic theme if ever there was one. We see a plethora of MLJ heroes helping out, we see court scenes (that don't necessarily bear the closest scrutiny in terms of accuracy, but we are dealing with a super-hero book rather than a law procedural book, so that is forgivable). We are treated to the notion of a man out of time (another classic super-hero theme that we still see today - witness Captain America in the Ultimates books), who because of his values and experience is out of touch with what is considered right or acceptable in contemporary times. We are also treated to a dangling plot thread from the beginning being resolved, all in all great stuff. I found that issue 10 was a real let-down by comparison, with plot (about the city being locked up to assist the perpetraion of crimes), tone, and dialogue that felt closer to the 60's books than the standard set in the earlier issues of this second volume. So mixed quality of issues here, then, fo me at least.

The final phase (issues 11-13) are a damp squib after the promise of the opening arc that stepped up with the arrival of Burkett. We see characters and concepts brought in under the Rich Buckler reign jettisoned, with seemingly little necessity to do so. This seeming pointlessness of change of cast and setting for the team sums up how I largely feel about events in this final phase - fairly pointless. The art isn’t up to the standard of those first two arcs, and the forced characterisation introduced in this period highlights my earlier point about bad characterisation being arguably worse than limited characterisation. For example we see a depiction of the Black Hood quite at odds with the portrayal we saw elsewhere in his own title and in the Mighty Crusaders. In whole the standard of plots and dialogue, as well as overall storytelling feels to be a pale echo of what had been done earlier with the title. There was promise I’ll admit, especially with the traitor in the ranks plot thread (left unresolved, although I have my theory as to who this was to be), but the book just didn’t seem ‘right’ in those last few issues. It may have been that the creative team was rushed in, (and with the disposal of some of the new concepts introduced in volume two compounded by ongoing and seemingly illogoical plot ideas of the team being government sponsored with little to no funding and a traitor working on behalf of their government overseer at the very same time) but who knows (well not me obviously)? For whatever reason, I just didn’t enjoy the end of the series in the way I enjoyed the beginning and middle.

As for the Shield back-up serial I mentioned earlier - well, I feel it was a metaphor for what was wrong with the line editorially. In essence the material is or was sound enough, but the presentation was lacking. Not in production quality, but in some of the ideas of cross-support (letters for a different book being featured until letters were available; the Shield serial effectively paving the way for his own series; the shorter length of Crusaders stories to allow space for the back-up story; unrelated mystery or humour back-up stories being used; and so on). A reader picking up a ‘Mighty Crusaders’ book expects just that - a book about the titular stars - not to have a backup story elevated to prominence at the cost of the main story, or other wholly unrealted materials seemingly squeezed in. I suspect that Rich Buckler, as evidently dedicated as he was, simply took on too much. We have seen this time and again with those who self-publish wearing so many hats that material is often delayed again and again. Whilst not selfpublishing, he was nonethless wearing the hats of writer, editor, pencilled and inker at various times (an sometimes concurrently), and this must have taken its toll. I think one price paid was in some of the decisions made as to what went into the books themselves.

In all, anyone unfamiliar with these books could do worse than pick up issues 1-9 in particular.
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