There’s a (possibly apocryphal) story of a mid-60’s DC Comics staff meeting where editors passed around Marvel Comics and tried to figure out why the books were selling better than their own stalwart titles. One puzzled old guard editor looked at the Marvels, and purportedly suggested, “Maybe it’s the terrible art?” Heh. The dawn of the Marvel age was a time when EVERYONE wanted to know how exactly Stan, Jack, Steve, Don, and the much-fabled Bullpen managed to pull off what they did. Some companies revamped everything, some stayed their course, and both paths led at least one well-established company down the road to oblivion. But when Archie Comics launched their Mighty Comics Group imprint, two things were clear: They didn’t know what in the hell made Marvels sell, either, but they were quite willing to try and duplicate it anyway…
Mighty Crusaders #4
Script: Jerry Siegel
Pencils: Paul Reinman
Inks: Paul Reinman
Colors: Victor Gorelick
Letters: Sam Rosen
Published by “The Mighty Comics Group” aka MLJ Publications aka Archie Comics
Previously, on Mighty Crusaders: There used to be more than two major comic book publishing houses in the United States. In fact, during the superhero salad days of the Second World War, dozens of companies, big and small, put out four color adventures of heroes ranging from the sublime to the utterly ridiculous. Though you and I know them now as the guys who make a living off a teenager who can’t commit, Archie Comics was once a powerhouse of superhero publishing. Notably, they created the first red-white-and-blue patriotic hero in The Shield, several months before Marvel’s similar Captain America debuted. (It might be noted that Cap’s original shield bears a most striking resemblance to The Shield’s own garb, making me wonder if Marvel didn’t try and capture a little bit of someone else’s lightning their own damn self…) Though that kid from Riverdale quickly overshadowed everything else (they named the company after him in 1946, after all) MLJ/Archie’s heroes are fondly remembered by Golden Age aficionados, and The Comet is often cited as the first superhero ever to be killed in the line of duty. Slowly reviving their heroes in the late 1950s (The Shield was brought back by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby himself) Archie eventually created the Mighty Comics imprint (also known as Radio Comics) to showcase their own revived characters for a new era. To say that it was influenced by early Marvel is somewhat of an understatement. After a couple of issues of success with the character mix they chose for the Crusaders (The Black Hood, The Comet, The Fly, Flygirl ((IN LIVING COLOR!)) and a new Shield) the minds behind the book decided it was time to up the ante a bit…
“About a zillion superheroes” might be hyperbole from some companies, but the Crusaders have the wherewithal to pull it off, apparently. We go from this splash page to quick vignettes of what the Mighty Crusaders are doing in their downtime, with Black Hood being decorated for bravery, Fly Girl no-showing an awards ceremony, The Fly racing away from another successful trial, The Shield getting fired (again!) and The Comet suddenly remembering his meeting just as the girl of his dreams comes on to him. It’s all very wacky and familiar to fans of early Avengers comics, as the members arrive for a meeting only to get interrupted another costumed clown: MLJ’s Fireball, who oddly wears powder blue short-shorts. Because that is fiery as all hell… FB wants to join in the happy Crusading crew, demonstrating his powers and showing himself to be a bigger hot-head (no pun intended) than the group’s designated loose cannon, Black Hood. But before the team decides on his bid, things get wackier…
“Here’s an experimental multi-million dollar airship. Have fun!” I am entertained by the fact that joining the Crusaders is apparently only done by entertaining the active membership with your exploits, and poor Inferno and Firefly get dragged along as part of Fireball’s retinue because of similar names & powers. As hazing rituals go, it’s a lot more honest than Legion tryouts, to be frank… But wait, there’s more! The Web, The Fox, Blackjack and Bob Phantom appear out of the woodwork as well, all gunning for membership in the Crusaders, but end up getting into a mindless brawl among themselves instead of doing any good deeds. It’s like writer Jerry Siegel (Yes, THAT Jerry Siegel) saw how well bickering played in Fantastic Four and such, and decided to up the ante a thousandfold. The villainous Dragon confronts the first batch of recruits, only to unmask himself as YET ANOTHER old-school super-type, The Hangman! It’s getting a bit thick in here, and I’m not just talking about the crowding. As for the actual STARS of the book, they’re under attack by robot exposition bombs!
Two nearly identical Mandrake The Magician knockoffs appear at once! Abrakadoppelgangers! Every single panel is literally crammed with words to explain who these people are and explain what the art doesn’t actually show in it’s pseudo-Kirby gyrations. “Suddenly, the balloons are bursting! Costumed men who wear the insignia of the Wizard and the Hangman are jetting out! They’re up to no good, that’s for sure!” Oy. Freakin‘. Vey.
Luckily for humanity, Steel Sterling arrives, then Mr. Justice, then Captain Flag, each trying to outdo the last with his kitschy appeal and Stan Lee-style dialogue. Suddenly, we cut to the Hangman, breaking into a government installation!
“Ooh! Lemon curry flavor!” Captain Flag’s knuckles are always so flavorful! The Shield’s 40’s partner arrives on the scene, causing the NEW Shield (son of the original) to angst about his paralyzed father and how he is afraid that the boy will figure out his charade in daddy’s clothes. The heroes gang up on the poor Hangman, but he easily outwits and outpowers them to make his escape…
The sidekick (named Dusty, if you believe that) does, but they only worry about it for a panel before we’re off again! Hangman and The Wizard (appearing on panel for the first time, I might add) arrive to take down the heroes, but suddenly The Jaguar bursts onto the scene! Wizard’s powers create a terrible “Doom Claw” which begins draining the very life out of the Mighty Crusaders and assorted hangers-on, but Zamboni and Cardshark Zimbabwe and Karnak Zoot Sputnik and Cambot Zambini and Kardak combine their mystical might to draw the most powerful hero of them all out of the past. Who is this paragon of mystical might? None other than the past self of THE WIZARD himself! (And his sidekick Roy, to boot.) Given the sheer number of heroes on the scene, certainly they’re going to combine their forces old-school and wipe up the bad guys together, right?
If you agreed, you obviously haven’t been paying attention…
With the heroes-cum-villains vanquished, the members of the Crusaders are outnumbered about three to one by their wannabee members, but obvsiously, they’re all grown-ups and they’ll be able to shake hands and come to terms with whatever membership decisions the core team makes, right?
Of course not… That wouldn’t be quirky or mod at all, now would it? Next issue brings back most of these guys, forming their own short-lived teams (Jaguar, Mr. Justice and Steel Sterling as The Terrific Three, and Fox, Web and Captain Flag as the Ultra-Men.) Of course, the Mighty Crusaders own book, and most of the Mighty Comics line went down in flames by late 1966 anyway. In this post-ironic age, there will always be those who champion the films of Ed Wood or the works of Sherwood Schwartz, assuring you that the works are “so bad, they’re good.” As a comics fan, books that fit that criteria end up being keys of my collection, and this one certainly qualifies. The entire issue, right down to the logo & trade dress, are designed to be ersatz Marvel, and the sight of a dozen guys who were probably passe in the ’40s trying to make it in the swingin’ ’60s makes for a fun issue to cringe at. Little matters of continuity (like the fact that the Hangman is the Comet’s brother, who became a superhero when his sibling “died”) are tossed aside in search of a better distillation of Snapper Carr and Ben Grimm, and the nominal heroes of the book are completely sidelined, and apparently brain-dead. Though many of the laughs are at the expense of the characters or the creators themselves (remember, the CREATOR OF SUPERMAN wrote this!) the Mighty Crusaders at least entertains me in its blatancy. Not a lot of original thought, but as revivals go, it may be the most successful run for these characters to date. Given that their DC limited series ended not too long ago, we may be in for the standard 8 to 10 year gap in the Crusaders comic book history. Mighty Crusaders #4 ain’t good, and it ain’t original, but it’s at least kind of fun for pure schadenfreude, earning 2.5 out of 5 stars overall. And who knows, Fly-Girl may become the next Wolverine!
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: What’s Wolverine got that Fly-Girl doesn’t, besides a cadre of dead wives?