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 on…)

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 come about?

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 website.

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 1989?

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 changed).

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 company.

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 super-hero style?)

Can you guess based on my answers to the previous two questions?

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 own series?

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) POSSIBLEtrade 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 Crusaders list.

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 exciting.

Your mention of “other characters” from the MLJ past. Might that include such favorites as Red Rube? Roy the SuperBoy?  Dusty the Boy Detective?

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 reprinted first.ogo