Thanks to Batman and Robin, the word ‘Crusader’ seems inextricably tied to the adjective ‘Caped,’ but superheroic crusaders have an even deeper history that you may not have realized… That’s where we come in! Welcome to Ten Things!
Whooshman-Bicarbonate Films, in conjunction with ‘An Amateur Comics Historian’, and ‘Sean Connery as Richard The Lionheart’, Presents:
TEN CRUSADERS (CAPED OR OTHERWISE!)
10) THE CRUSADER
A seminary student who believed that paganism was undermining the world as we know it, Arthur Blackwood had a hallucination of an ancestor who fought in the original Crusades, who bequeathed him a sword and armor that he naturally used to attack Thor in Chicago. (Like ya do…) His powers are driven by his faith, and self-doubt can cause them to fluctuate wildly, leading to his defeat in most cases. Interestingly, no rational explanation for his abilities has ever been given, leading us to expect that he’s either a mutant with a great imagination, or that an actual ghost-knight wanted him to kill Thor and make the world a less secular sort of place. Either way, it’s a neat (if disturbingly violent and xenophobic) conceit for a villain…
9) THE AMERICAN CRUSADER
Professor Archibald Masters is a double-shot of Golden Age shorthand: A brilliant scientist who gained powers in a strange magical accident and also one of about fifty thousand patriotic-themed puncher-outers of badness in the 1940s. As the American Crusader, he had the usual Kryptonian combo platter of powers, as well as an undefined electromagnetic generation power. As one of the higher-profile characters from Nedor (also known as Better Comics, Standard Comics and Pines Publishing) he is now in the public domain, and has been revived four or five different times: By Alan Moore in ‘Tom Strong’; by Alex Ross in ‘Project Superpowers’; as part of Femforce and in the webcomic ‘Heroes, Inc.’ Not a bad showing for a guy who didn’t break 30 appearances in the Golden Age…
8) THE CRUSADERS
I tellya, Faithful Spoilerites, you have NO IDEA how much fun it is to read and talk about the comic-book output of Jack T. Chick. The fire and brimstone lunacy of the Chick Tracts pamphlets (still found in laundromats and bus stations across the Midwestern United States, I might mention) is nothing compared to their attempts to do straight comics in the form of ‘The Crusaders.’ Former Green Beret Tim Clark and former gang member Jim Carter had turned their lives around (at least from the JTC perspective) and walked the Earth saving good, normal folk from Satanists, demons and the worst villain of all (at least in any Chick comic) the Catholic Church. Later issues sunk into a different moral quagmire, telling the stories of alleged former Jesuit priest Alberto, whose activities and assertions were highly dubious at best, and the series never quite recovered. Given their aesthetic of “massive walls of text” combined with “proselytizing brickbats of ominous doom”, it’s probably for the best, and I don’t recommend that you read these works any way other than ironically…
The ‘Villains And Vigilantes’ roleplaying game had a lot of things going for it: Jeff Dee’s art, Bill Willingham writing in a couple of modules, and quite a few unique and entertaining characters, including Manta-Man. A technological superhero slash self-made millionaire, Carter Manning became the protector of Indianapolis with a number of sort-kinda marine-derived powers. But, why’s he on this list, you ask? Because, Faithful Spoilerites, Manta-Man was also the founder and leader of The Crusaders, the finest super-team in the Midwest, gathering an eclectic group of heroes to fight off the villainous Crushers. Their team was old-school, with a special citadel headquarters, corporate interests and even their own space-shuttle!
6) THE SPIRIT OF ’76
William Naslund is probably best remembered for being the man to put on the Captain America uniform immediately after Steve Rogers went into the frozen Atlantic back in WWII, but in his first appearance (ironically, in 1977), he was the leader of The Crusaders, bringing his heroic pals into conflict with the wartime super team known as the Invaders. With his partners (Dyna-Mite, Ghost Girl, Thunderfist, Captain Wings, and Tommy Lightning, all of whom seem oddly familiar) Naslund attacked the Invaders after being manipulated by fifth columnists (though published in the 70s, the book took place in the 40s) in a perfect example of the old “heroic misunderstanding leads to fight, then team-up” trope. If the idea of a patriotic fellow whose team consists of a tiny guy, a girl with a ghostly motif, an exploding dude, a flying dude and an energy being sounds familiar, that’s because…
…the Crusaders were analogues of Quality/DC Comics Freedom Fighters! In the other half of the story, published roughly concurrently, the actual Freedom Fighters (revived at DC Comics) crossed swords with thinly veiled analogues of The Invaders, including their star-spangled shield-slinging leader, The Americommando! Since their appearances were written by Roy Thomas, Americommando and his Crusaders team have a back story involving multiversal travel, in-universe versions of the creative team, and a disguised villain pretending to be a hero. He’s not the only Americommando in existence, but most of this Crusader’s distinctiveness comes from the weird not-quite-official crossover in which he originated.
4) THE WEEVIL
Rob Lowe may be the only actor around who can play America’s sweetheart and slimy jerkface equally perfectly, and sometimes even at the same time. Case in point: In the 2000 comedy super-duper film, ‘The Specials’, where he plays The Weevil, the most mainstream and marketable member of one of the lesser-known and even lesser-respected hero team in the world. At first, it seems like The Weevil is a straight-up Spider-Man type (indeed, his powers of weevil-strength and agility strongly evoke Pete Parker) but eventually he sleeps with his married teammate Ms. Indestructible and sells out his partners to join the much-more-highly-regarded Crusaders. It is eventually revealed that they only wanted him as a member so that they had a member with a primarily blue color scheme for marketing purposes, and Weevil ends up (deservedly) miserable in his new Crusadery guise.
3) THE AMERICAN SHIELD
Dating back to the Golden Age of comics, there have been a number of characters called The Shield. This one is Lieutenant Michael Barnes, who (in the !mpact Comics continuity) took over the armor and role of The Shield when original Shield Joe Higgins gave up his heroic identity. When !mpact Comics revamped their entire line with ‘The Crucible’ six-issue limited series, Michael Barnes returned to action as The American Shield, as part of a larger team of Crusaders including The Black Hood and others. Sadly, this series wasn’t the new beginning that !mpact wanted, instead serving as a swan-song for Barnes and all the !mpact versions of the heroes. Though Shields have reappeared since then, Lt. Barnes is probably hanging out in comics limbo with The Prankster and…
…actually, most everyone in this edition of Ten Things.
Comic book fan David Schenk was also a talented scientist, so talented that he was able to give himself electromagnetic powers in order to become one of the heroes he so idolized. As the leader of the Southern Knights, he teamed up with an immortal, shape-shifting Dragon, super-strong Kristin Austin, Connie Ronnin and her psychic sword aw well as ancient teenage sorcerer Aramis Merrow, protecting Atlanta and the rest of the South from menaces large and small (while also being very well-written stuff.) Why is he on this list, you ask? Because, dear friends, the team was only called The Southern Knights starting with issue #2. In issue #1, they were the Crusaders, a name that was changed (depending on you go with the in-universe or real-world explanations) due to confusion with the Crusaders led by The Shield or because David got a cease-and-desist from a comic book company. (Their new name is leagues better, anyway.)
Army private Jack Weston comes from Fawcett Comics, home of the ‘Shazam’ version of Captain Marvel, and has one of the single most wonderful flag-costumes in a virtual sea thereof. He also has the distinction of being one of the Crime Crusaders Club, a team of super-heroes who made a single appearance in the summer of 1943. Teaming up with Bulletman, Bulletgirl and Captain Marvel Jr., Minute-Man raised $100,000 dollars in bonds for the war effort in the team’s only chronicled adventure (though the story implies that they met regularly to discuss their adventures and hang out, which may imply other meetings that never got chronicled in the comics of Earth-S.) When last seen, Weston was working for the U.S. Government in the pages of ‘Starman,’ but like so many others, he has been in limbo since the Flashpoint retcon…
Feel free to follow along (@MightyKingCobra) for more Ten Things madness on Twitter! As with any set of like items, these aren’t meant to be hard and fast or absolutely complete, especially since there’s no Batman on this list, and there are enough Crusaders that I have inevitably missed at least one. Either way, the comments section is Below for just such an emergency, but, as always: Please, no wagering![signoff predefined=”PayPal Donation” icon=”icon-cog”][/signoff]