Comics Collector, Spring 1983

by Derek G. Bishop

A superhero revival has taken place once again at the company that publishes one of the most popular no adventure comic book line of titles ever, Archie Comics. With their newly revamped Red Circle line, which during its short lived tenure in the early 1970’s produced solely mystery/sorcery comics, they intend to return to contemporary superheroes last seen by the company in the later 1960’s, made for the collectors.

While their names may not sound readily recognizable to the newer fans and collectors, the more knowledgeable among them can tell you that the Comet (who has changed over the years), Black Hood, Mr. Justice, The Fox, and The Shield began their crime fighting careers at MLJ Publications in the Thirties and Forties during what is referred to as the “Golden Age of Comics.” MLJ even- became Archie Publications, named after the character that was introduced in the mid-1940’s. So popular was he, in fact, that he helped to phase out their entire superhero/adventure line altogether. It wasn’t until the year 1959 that the company would again set costumed heroes. They began slowly with newer characters, which included an altogether different version of the Shield, followed by the Fly, the Jaguar, the Web and Fly Girl. Suddenly, the superhero was “in” again, and it wasn’t long before this company thawed out their Golden Age characters as well. Both the newer heroes and the older heroes, as well, were featured in a team comic, The Mighty Crusaders, published by Archie Comics’ adventure line, Mighty Comics. All this came to an end in 1967 and the heroes have been in limbo ever since.

In the summer of 1982, however, plans were underway to revive the heroes once again. The new Red Circle group has already published the first issue of the Mighty Crusaders title. As for plans for other titles, Rich Buckler, editor of the Red Circle line explained it this way.

“Right now,” Buckler stated, “we have six titles, and they’re all bimonthly books: Mighty Crusaders, The Fly, The Shield, The Black Hood, The Comet, and then a new title which was formerly the Web, Blue Ribbon Comics, which will be scheduled soon.”

Since the company realizes that the fan and collector markets are very important, they have taken steps initially to try to make their new line of comics more impressive, attractive and hopefully, more worthy of their attention and purchase. Two of these improvements are a heavier type of coloring process, and a much heavier stock of paper than used on the average comic book.

“I had asked specifically on a little bit heavier coloring on the paper,” Buckler stated on this. “I don’t want pages that first of all look like they’ve been printed on toilet paper. That’s why I went with the Mando stock. And I thought we were doing something innovative until I found out that just about everybody was just about to gear up for Mando stock. We had decided this six months ago. Unfortunately, others came out on Mando stock before we did, but whether we’re the first on it or not makes no difference to me. I wanted to put out a pretty package and one that would last, too, so the collectors put their buck down for it and they have something they feel worth keeping, and that will increase in value that won’t fall apart in a couple of years.”

Red Circle hopes that the creative people who are involved on the new titles will also help to draw attention to their publications. Using artists and writers who are well known and are favorites among fans and collectors in the readership is just another step they’ve taken to insure their continued interest and hopeful lasting success. Buckler, who has illustrated comics in the past for such companies as Marvel, DC, and Warren, will continue to do so at Red Circle, as well as tackle writing chores occasionally. And, as far as other talent and what they’ll be involved in, Buckler relates, “So far Alan Weiss has penciled the first issue of The Shield, and the cover to that book is penciled by Weiss and it’s inked by John Severin. Al McWilliams is going to be doing some work for us as well as Gary Morrow, Alex Toth, Lee Elias, and (Jim) Steranko. Steranko will do all the covers for The Fly, and he may do some other material for us. I’d be thrilled if he did a story for us, but I don’t know how much time he has. But if he can work it out, we’re open. I’d love to see an original Black Hood story by him, which he’s asked me about. It’s just a matter of things coming together; they have to come together for something like that.

“Jack Harris, Cary Burkett – two of my favorite writers and Rich Margopoulos who has written exceptionally for Warren, will be working with us. We may be doing a new team book, a second team book, some time near the middle end of 1983. There are other artists that I can’t say we have yet that are available, but I just haven’t given them assignments yet. We’re still putting this thing together. The people I’ve worked with over the years, and I’ve made friends with a lot of people, who will probably be popping up. Not because I’m somebody special, but I ‘do know the guys, and I do know how to work with them. And I’m talking about the guys, and I’m not naming names specifically, but the guys that are really interested in good comics. And so I think the fans will be surprised at the people we come up with.

And how exactly will the characters be approached as far as characterization is concerned? Will they have a more dramatic tone and atmosphere, or will they re-adapt the camp attitude of their sixties comic publications?

“That question has come up a lot,” says Buckler. “Why would we be deliberately immature? What they were twenty years ago, there’s no reason to assume that they’d be the same today. We’d have to be kind of dumb to pick up where they left off. I’m not sure exactly what audience those comics were aimed at, but I would not hazard a guess as to what the fans’ tastes are in particular. I can only go by what I enjoy and what I look for, and by what few people I am close to, and a few collectors. But I don’t think any of them are looking for the camp type stuff that came out from Mighty Comics in the 1960’s.” Adding to the subject, Rich Buckler also mentions, “I would prefer, really, that the readers look at the characters as new characters, and then will give them a history. And for those that are able to keep track of who’s who and who are fans of those characters, well, all the better. You see, we don’t already want to ignore what’s gone before, but we do want to do what amounts to new versions of the characters.”

Plans for Red Circle’s first title, The Mighty Crusaders, include a change in the membership in as far as the group’s members and size are concerned.

“The line-up as it is in the first issue is not the permanent line-up,” says Buckler. “That will change very soon as we will cut down the number of the group members, although it won’t look like it in the second issue where on the cover we’ll feature virtually every one of the characters. The other characters have cameo appearances until we will be bringing them back in various strips of their own in different titles, but not necessarily in the Crusaders.”

Buckler also is keen on the idea of making that particular title the flag ship publication at Red Circle as well.

“I would like for that book to be the main book here,” he explains. “It may prove to be not the most popular of the types we bring out, but I would like to see it be that. Not just because I’m writing it and drawing it, because I may not always write and draw it, but because it features all the characters, at least right now. But I’ll trim that down and it’ll feature eventually the most popular characters. I need some reader response about that. I need some feedback about that.”

When Red Circle revived the MLJ/Mighty Comics heroes, they brought back both the Shield characters. The two are featured in Mighty Crusaders #1, but in an effort not to totally confuse the readers that too will change.

On this subject, Buckler has this to say.

“In the second issue, the two Shields will be separated. The original Shield is going to leave the group, but he’ll have his own solo adventures; he’s too good a character to throw away.” Also leaving the group in the near future will be The Comet, who will eventually return to his forties type style version.

Other features the fan/collector market will enjoy are things such as wraparound covers featuring all art and no advertisements or UPC box. And, at present, the distribution of the Red Circle books are specifically for direct sales and no news stands.”

“Presently, that’s it,” says Buckler. “But very soon, we can expect to go to the news stand distribution? It’s my feeling that whether the code symbol is on there or not, it doesn’t tend to affect the collector market in any way. But we wouldn’t do comics any other way if they had the seal on them or not. We may decide to go with them at that point or we may go with our own seal of approval that Archie Comics had awhile back. It doesn’t mean that the Code is keeping their eye on us and keeping us in line. It just means that we’re keeping our eye on us and we’re doing what we feel is top material that doesn’t need to sink in any kind of sensationalism or exploiting violence or sex or whatever seems to be the big fad at the moment. We don’t have to ride on those trends. Actually, what I’m hoping is that we set trends, at least in comics. Hopefully, the elements of one of those trends will be good or great art and storytelling.”

Working in his capacity as editor of their Red Circle line, Buckler is doing his best to insure the publications are not just your average comic books. For example, many standard comic books will consist of a lead feature, followed by a short “backup strip.”

Asked whether the Red Circle books would cohere to this type of format, Buckler stated, “Most of them will not have to have back ups, but each of the books will have a lead feature which is what you’ll be buying that particular book for. But we’re hoping to use the remainder of the book to turn the readers onto other stuff. Either they’re strips that will hopefully merit their own books, or just good solid strips. Not just back up strips, per se, not just filler type material that you put into the rest of the book to solve a deadline problem, or just to fill up the book, as you couldn’t figure out what you wanted in it. We’re being a lot more deliberate about that as we’re actually going to be using that space very creatively because we’re going through all that trouble of printing all those .books on mando stock.”

Also his duties in that editorial position include taking great pains to make sure the continuity doesn’t get out of hand, something which tends to happen to companies that publish titles with singular characters who have their own title and appear in a group book as well.

On this, Buckler said, “I work with my writers on plots; I don’t force feed them, but we talk things over. But I like to keep track of the continuity, and I have each of the books interrelated in some way. They cross over, and they all meet in the Crusaders, not necessarily continuity wise, but there are situations that kind of cross over, similar to what happened back at Marvel Comics back in the 1960’s, where plot lines would sort of spill over into other books, but not in a confusing way.

“There are connections so that all of these heroes don’t have necessarily totally, separate realities when they’re not having a Crusaders adventure. I’m hoping that each of the books turn the readers on to the other books.”

As with any character or group of characters that was previously published, cancelled and picked up at a later date, research also plays an important part when characters are revived in this way. How much research was involved with the Red Circle line?

“All we had to do,” Buckler states, “was more or less really just pick up where the Crusaders left off when Mighty Comics brought out the Crusaders. And I might mention for the readers who don’t know, that Mighty Comics was still Archie Comics, or Radio Comics, or whatever you want to call them. And, of course, I researched that stuff, but I delved into the forties stuff researching. So we’ll be pulling things here and there on specific events that I feel should have affected the characters in a way that would’ve changed their lives. There has to be something that happened in these characters’ lives that were significant like there are in real people’s lives. So we’ll refer to events like that. I’m also going to give them some adventures where they feel they’ve been through something. The way a character develops and changes is a result of what they’ve gone through. Not every adventure is a throw away; you’ll get tired of that after a while and you’ll wonder when anything significant is going to happen to this guy.”

Also, of special note to the collector and fan is the special project Red Circle has in the works as well. This consists of a special edition reprinting of material illustrated by fan and collector favorite illustrator Jack Kirby. The proposed editions will reprint the best of his material previously published in The Fly, as well as the Double Life of Private Strong Shield material. All on Baxter paper and between wraparound covers. How’s that for helping to win the audience over?

Red Circles’ new line of revived heroes need strong support from the fans and collectors. The books are definitely more geared towards them, to make their titles successful. Red Circle has taken the first steps to try to make them that, but they are counting on strong fan reaction in order to help these titles further in change and more towards that particular market readership. Taking this point up, Buckler had this to say, “We’re trying to get a handle on what the fan market is opened for and what they’re looking for. I would hope that we’re going to put out some of the books that everybody’s been looking for. You see, the fans may assume that the companies know just what they want, but they don’t necessarily. We’re really trying to figure it out, but we could use a lot of help. It really wouldn’t hurt to send us lots and lots of letters, telling us, `Hey, you know we love the Shield, but we hate the Comet’ or whatever. But not just that but also, what do you like about him, and what don’t you like about him. I want to hear this stuff. And also, taking it a little further, I’d like to hear from the fans what books they’d like to see. What kind of stories do they like to read? I know that there’s a lot that hasn’t been done, and certainly we’re trying to break some new ground.”

And so, in closing, it is apparent that the new Red Circle line is off to a good start. It is comforting to see that this company does consider the fan and collector markets strong and important enough to try and impress them from the start and listen to them in the way of their comments and criticisms in order to make the books even more approved and supported by them.

“The fan should be alerted to expect a lot,” concludes Rich Buckler. “And I think they will be pleased and very pleasantly surprised. Let’s hope so.”

Copyright © 1983 Comics Collector