THE COMING OF THE CRUSADERS! (OR AT LEAST THEIR LINE-UPS)
by Kevin Moorhead
And there came a day. Unlike any other! (wait, wrong company, lemme try again)
I can almost still remember the first time I went to our local comic shop, Fat Cats, and saw the Avengers right there on the shelf with Justice League. That I was used to. But this trip was different. Different because there was also another group title right there on the shelf with them. One that I’d never heard of before: the Mighty Crusaders. I still say that Rich Buckler’s 80s revival book was a thing of beauty. To this day I think it contained some of this best work. His pairing with Giacoia and Tony deZuniga as inkers gave the book the perfect Bronze Age look. It absolutely left me with some indelible memories. In fact, Rich’s cover to #1 remains for me -the- definitive line-up for the group. The original Golden Age Shield, the Black Hood, the Comet, the Web, Fly, Fly-Girl, Jaguar and the Lancelot Strong Shield. The Mighty Crusaders! I loved the three issues that came out! Loved them!
Only years later did I find out that more issues actually came out and even more years after that that I was able to pick them up. It was great to see that the series had continued but I found that how it ended, and the state of the team at that point, really bothered me. To see how they chose to write out Buckler’s new characters Darkling and Doc Reeves, it bothered me a lot in fact. To this day, I can not read their last issue without seeing Darkling being figuratively raped and dumped into a river by the Brain Emperor. Then how Doc Reeves, the only Black character, died from what amounted to random gun violence. Topping it off with the team deciding to burn his body to ashes on the spot before moving on. If there was a need, or even simply a desire to remove the pair from use then have them just leave the team. Or retire. But the way those scenes played out has bothered me ever since.
Flash forward a few years. I was lucky enough at this point to have a job that allowed me some extra cash. With my interest in comic art commissions, it took me a bit but I knew what I wanted to do – to “fix” what had been done to the Crusaders. To bring back Darkling and Reeves. I contacted some artists I knew to see if they would be interested in doing a series of 4 imaginary covers. In the end, I went with the magnificent Mitch Ballard as well as creative Chris Ivy who were both kind enough to agreed to handle the art and lettering. I worked up basic plots that would bring the Buckler team back together and give them a proper send-off.
So even though the first issue cover was an homage of Avengers #181 with its Too Many Heroes blurb and an all hands on deck feel I settled on the idea of an 8 member team going forward. I wish I say that I had some great grand plan of who I chose and why but, honestly, it really came down to who I thought would look good on the covers. Well, a little more thought than that went into it. I knew that having more women on the team was important and so that lead me to include the newly returned to life Darkling as well as Fly-Girl and She-Fox in the lineup. I feel there should always be a Shield on the team and rather than forcing myself to chose I went with including them both. Steel Sterling had been around since the Golden Age but never been a member and so finally putting him on the team felt like a nice touch. In a way, it was the same with She-Fox. She didn’t have a lot of screen time during the 80s run, only a couple of back up stories, so giving her membership seemed like a nice bit of promotion for her. Fly-Girl without the Fly would have been odd for the time but my desire for more representation in the team outweighed that so the Fly didn’t make the cut. Jaguar just had, and still does, have a great look for a cover. Classic early 60s costume design. I admit it wasn’t the most well thought out the lineup. My excuse is that this was the first attempt to “plot” out something like this. A (hopefully) noble first attempt that worked for these 4 covers.
After a short break, some positive feedback from fans who found the covers online came the decision to continue with the covers. I knew I needed to put a little more thought into who should be in the team going forward. I knew I wanted more women on the team as well as some minority members. It was also important to me to give the series a proper sense of being set into the wider world. So the first character I chose was an easy one. Because of my stated dislike for how she was written out the continued use Darkling made me feel good. To keep the original Shield on was a no-brainer. I do believe there much always be a Shield on the team. The continued inclusion of the Lancelot Strong Shield gave me some Kirby and I love me some Kirby. The Comet was another Buckler team member I went with. (I meant what I said about how important that #1 cover was) But to give him a little twist I chose a version of his costume that never appeared in the actual comics. In the later 80s, a promo piece had been done for a potential relaunch that gave the Comet a new look. I swiped that. O Vingador had started off as just a reworked and recolored Hangman for the South American Brazilian market. I decided to make him a completely separate character and brought him onto the team as their first Latino member. Captain Midnight came in via his teaser appearance in the back of Mighty Crusaders #2. I felt his inclusion on the team gave them a sense of the cosmic. Using the barbarian warrior woman version of CatGirl from the unpublished Blue Ribbon Comics #15 gave me a couple of things. Another woman on the team for one and also she was a cool obscure character. I enjoy it when writers will use that “out of left field” type character to round out a team. It felt like a nice balance overall. The original Shield as that steady character. CatGirl as the brash fighter. O Vingador as a new hero learning the ropes. I think they worked well for the 13 issues they appeared in. I do feel bad that Doc Reeves never made an appearance in these. It’s pulled him from the team meaning to use him in another imaginary cover series but that didn’t pan out. After being so upset that he was killed the way he was to bring him back and then sideline him annoys me. I should’ve done that better.
When I realized that the time seemed to have come for a shift in the line-up shift it made sense to do it in the Crusaders’ first annual. I’d always loved Chuck Patton’s cover for Justice League #2. The original League looking over the new League is classic. And even though the Buckler cover is the team for me I felt it was time for a bigger change to the team. More new faces even though it meant leaving many classic ones aside. Out were the Shields, Fly and Fly-Girl, the Black Hood and the Comet. None of the 1960s team would be in this new line up. With the Golden Age Shield having had the stuff kicked out of him in a previous story it made sense to call his son into action. And to give him a distinctive look from his father he got the trunks version of the Shield costume. Since the Fox had been around long before the Crusaders and yet he had never been a member it felt like a good time for him to join. Pow-Girl, the wife of the Web, had been bouncing around in various cameos in the 60s books. A fun look and a great name (I thought about reformatting her name as POW!-Girl but ended up deciding against it). Plus her inclusion got another woman on the team. Nebula came in from the Agents of Atlantis, a group whose one and only appearance was in Blue Ribbon Comics #9. She might have had more screen time on these covers than in her one comic appearance. The big addition, to me, came with a new version of the Golden Age hero the Wizard. While some characters can have a reason to stay young (the Fly’s magic or the scifi element to the Shield) I couldn’t see a reason for the Blain Whitney Wizard to still be young. So I came up with the idea of a generational hero. Or specifically heroine. His granddaughter, an African-American woman, would join the team as a true Wizard. I’m a sucker for the Jaguar’s classic 60s look with his jet belt and leopard print boots. I love it when he’s around. I wish I could say there was more thought that went into his inclusion but it really did stop with “cool”. And as the team had never had that all-powerful magician Doctor Fate type character Mister Justice was a nice final piece. A magical character to play off the earlier more cosmic Captain Midnight.
Going forward? Should the imaginary covers ever resume (I have many in various states of readiness) there are so many more characters that could join. Other members of the Agents of Atlantis? Could T.R.I.U.M.P.H. assign someone to the team? The Fly and Fly-Girl have been gone long enough now that their return is certainly called for. Something big would need to happen line-up wise for the upcoming 25th issue cover. Like the Wizard there are a number of Golden Age heroes who definitely have modern-day descendants that could join. So many other heroes and heroines and so many more villains from the Silver as well as the Golden Age who can return to cause our heroes troubles. But, for now, Excelsi… nope, wrong again. Until next time everyone!