CartooZine #8 © 2001
Over the course of the last several articles, we’ve explored the acquisitions that DC Comics made over thirty years of history, including Quality, Fawcett, and Charlton characters. Now let’s take a look at some of the more recent deals they’ve made with rival comic companies.
In the early 1990’s, alternate universes were all the rage in mainstream superhero comics. Marvel was working hard on its ‘New Universe’, a second universe full of characters, as well as preparing to launch its 2099 universe, a future universe complete with futuristic versions of some of its most popular characters. DC comics decided to get in on the game, but they did it in a truly unique way. Contacting rival publisher Archie comics, DC wanted to utilize a strategy that had worked well for them in the past. As reviewed in past articles, DC had become a master at reviving Golden age characters, as they had done with the Quality and Fawcett characters. They wanted to try it again, this time with some Golden Age characters that were owned by Archie.
The Mighty Crusaders, as they were collectively known, were a group of Golden Age characters that had originally been published by the company that would later become Archie comics. When the superhero craze of the 1940’s faded, the Mighty Crusaders faded with it, and they were mothballed for decades. In the early 1980’s Archie attempted a half-hearted revival, launching an imprint known as Red Circle comics, with mature, updated versions of the Fly, the Comet, the Shield, and others. Red Circle was poorly received, and only lasted a handful of issues. And so, in the early 1990’s, DC approached Archie with a plan to re-introduce the Mighty Crusaders with updated origins and stories, even giving them their own imprint, known as the Impact! Universe.
When DC got ready to launch Impact!, they had some decisions to make. There were several Mighty Crusaders to pick from, and they had to thin out the herd. Mainstays like The Mighty Shield, The Fly, and the Jaguar were approved, but some of the more obscure ones, like the Black Hood and Steel Sterling, would have to wait. The Jaguar, Shield, and Fly were loosely based on their Golden Age predecessors, having various ties to the past written in to their origins. Others, like the Comet and the Web, had little to do with their original namesakes. Finally, after a great deal of re-tooling, the following five titles were the first to bear the new Impact! imprint in the corner box: The Legend of the Shield, The Fly, The Jaguar, and the Web. DC took some shrewd risks with the production of the books, putting a mix of veterans and rising stars on the creative teams. Grant Miehm, fresh from ‘The American’ at Dark Horse, was given both the art and writing chores on Impact!’s patriotic mainstay, the Shield (who actually pre-dated Captain America as the first red, white, and blue hero of the 1940’s). The Fly was handled by frequent collaborators Len Strazewski and the late Mike Parobeck, while the Comet was written and drawn by then-newbies Mark Waid and Tom Lyle. These were just some of the examples of DC’s ability to mix veterans and newcomers to create an affordable blend of quality for this new enterprise.
After roughly a year of publication, DC decided it was time to expand the Impact! line. The Black Hood was added to the line, helped by the quality of creator Rick Burchett. Also, DC decided it was time to make the next big jump, bringing the characters together to form the new, modern version of the Mighty Crusaders. In the first Impact! mini-series, the Fly, the Shield, the Jaguar, and the Comet met to combat a threat larger than any one of them could handle. Again DC used a rising star, putting hot new artist Joe Quesada on the art chores for the mini-series. Following the conclusion of the mini, the Crusaders stayed together, getting their own monthly book. Sadly, these changes were not to last.
DC’s strategy of putting young new talent on the Impact! books backfired on them in the second year. As the creators were noticed and applauded for their talent, they began leaving Impact! for more lucrative and higher profile assignments. This would spell the end of Impact!. Most of the original Impact! titles didn’t last for more than eighteen to twenty-four issues, and the new ones launched in the second year didn’t even last ten issues. This was the end of DC’s short-lived experiment. With the cancellation of the Impact! line, ownership of the characters reverted back to Archie Comics, and they were subsequently put back into mothballs. As is usually the case, this was not the end of the Mighty Crusaders. They recently made a cameo appearance in Archie’s Weird Mysteries, one of the newest Archie titles. Nevertheless, they appeared in their old uniforms from the 1980’s, effectively putting to rest any hope that DC’s version of the Crusaders would be resurrected. DC’s attempt at licensing characters from another company had failed, and next time we’ll take a look at their next and most recent acquisition, where they have attempted yet another kind of merger, the purchase of Wildstorms studios.