Trading comics as a kid was an art form. In a sense it was the earliest form of childhood poker, you had to know when to hold em and know when to fold em. In my own mind I felt I was a pretty good shark in this game.I was one of a few of my friends that had a coveted Overstreet Price Guide which allowed me a savants wisdom when giving the true value of my comics and of that of the individuals of which I was about to trade with.My trading selection was my usual fare of 80s DC titles but in the opposite corner my cousin who I was trading with had an unusual treasure on his side of the bed which doubled as our trading stand. It was an issue of The Fly a title I had never heard of! The publisher was Archie of all things but how could this be, this was a Superhero Title!! I glanced over the cover trying not to look directly at the book or even look interested in it but it was screaming to me..I had to have this book! So as the trades went on the regular fare was exchanging hands I swapped some Batman for some Firestorm, and Blue Devil but I still wanted that Fly issue. Not wanting to show my hand I asked him was there any other title in my pile he was interested in and fortunately there was. So I went for the kill…his selection was valued at meager 5 bucks in the Overstreet bible so I told him I would trade it for a Green Lantern Book …and throw in that Fly book just to even out the dollar amount!
I tossed his requested book to his side of the bed and collected The Green Lantern issue and reached to get the issue of The Fly only to be shut down..His hand stopped cold over the top of the issue blocking my collecting hand from making it officially mine. My cousin told me a story of his recent vacation in Maine to which he picked up this “Rare” book and that book was not going up for trade! I internally panicked…then it dawned on me I could use the Overstreet Guide to show that the trade was a good value. As I thumbed through the pages I found the Fly #1 and it was worth $1 …Cover Price!! Practically worthless in 1984! Surely he would bend knowing that this book was a lump of coal in his collection but to me it secretly was a diamond! He didnt budge…he was on to me. This book was from the U.S.A.!! This wasnt available in small town Clarenville Newfoundland..this was from the United States Of America which carried a great deal of cache back in the day! I came out on the losing end of the trade that day as I gave up one of my coveted Blue Devil issues and god knows what else to claim this issue of the Fly..I know I had been duped but in the end I came away with what I wanted so it was short term pain.
The glorious Steranko cover art and beautiful interiors this issue of The Fly was a revelation! My god there existed life outside of Marvel and DC!! Now I felt relatively in sync with the comics industry and bought many publishers like Charlton, Harvey, and Archie I thought I knew it all there was to know. How did I miss the existence of The Red Circle imprint Aka The Archie Adventure Series I began sifting through the ads inside and my Overstreet Price Guide to find out what titles existed and there were a ton of them. I eventually discovered that these characters were around since the Golden Age!! This was prior to the era of the internet kids..it was not as simple as a google search!!
The characters were pure Golden Age! Names like The Shield, The Fly, The Comet, The Black Hood, The Jaguar, and The Web were fascinating to me! Not only was this my first introduction to them but they seemed like an elusive mystery to me and the fact that their recent (80s!!) adventures could not be purchased on the comic spinner racks in my home town only heightened my interest! In fact the characters were so steeped in comics lore that their first appearances dated back as far as 1940!
In the pages of Pep Comics #1 exploded a very familiar looking character The Shield!! This United States patriotic character was one of the first of his kind and pre-dated our generations super patriot Captain America! Created by Irv Novick (Artist) and Harry Shorten (Writer) The Shield was born of the times and World War 2 fascination. Amazingly this would also be the first appearance of another one of the soon to be Mighty Crusaders The Comet in a single issue!!
Around the same time in Oct 1940 also debuted The Black Hood in Top Notch Comics #9. The Black Hood was an interesting character. The character would be played by a number of individuals who would take up the notion of vigilante justice after each previous Hood would either die.. or pass on the mantel of the hood to the next individual. The Hood itself would be “cursed” as nearly all its wearers would die passing it like a proverbial torch to another bearer. The “hood ” itself went from a stereotypical heroic cowl style of mask to a full on executioners hood. The Hood was the one character in the Crusaders who would “Cross The Line” into killing his opponents in the name of justice. Interestingly when the Red Circle brand resurfaced in the early 80s the Black Hood would be the character that would regress the most costume wise while other Crusaders sported updated flashy modern costumes. The Black Hood would debut on a Motorcycle in biker leathers and a tight leather “Mugger” mask.
Later that year in 1940 creators Joe Simon and Jack “King” Kirby famously created a character strikingly similar to The Shield, the one and only Captain America. Fortunately this was not the era of expensive lawsuits so Cap would go on to mega fame unscathed by class action lawsuits! Clearly they had an eye on what MLJ was doing as they went on to create a Crusader themselves.. The Fly!! He 1st appeared in the late 50s making his full debut in Adventures Of The Fly #1 in 1959.
The Fly had a very appealing design that in no coincidence looked very much like Blue Beetle in design. The individual that would wear the Fly suit was Capital Cities crack lawyer Tommy Troy. Tommy was able to fly, communicate with insects via his telepathic abilities, use size manipulation among others. By night Tommy became the Fly, fighting the criminal underbelly of Capital City! He also frequently had his own female counterpart like many in the day.. Fly-Girl! He was also a hero similar to the Blue Beetle (Charlton’s Steve Ditko version of Beetle… Ted Kord) in that he has sizable Eye bubbles and they share a gun which many heroes did not during the 70’s and 80’s especially. The Archie run of the Fly is one of the best MLJ hero books they pubished as Ditko took the reigns in the titles last half (Issues 5-8) of publication for Archie and made The Fly a damaged defamed Hero on the run! Great stuff kids you need to track down the 9 issue run which was a lot of fun under Archie’s Red Circle imprint!!
They were then joined by The Web in 1942 created by John Cassone for MLJ. This college criminology professor turned superhero turned his investigative skills into a crime fighting career. Using his College smarts he was able to profile and defeat criminals for the sheer enjoyment of one upping the criminal element. The Web was a character whose creators gave the unusual spin of being one of the first comic characters who essentially was a domesticated superhero that was for all intents and purposes was “Whipped”. The key trait to this and following versions would be his married life impacting the way he performed as a hero. Upon discovering that her husband was running around stopping crime in spandex John finally succumbs to the marital pressures and retires leaving a life of crime fighting to deal with the battles of home life!
The next incarnation of The Web is the one I am most familiar with as the original webs son John Raymond Jr. returned to comics in Fly-Man #36 under most famously Superman’s Co-Creator Jerry Siegel. Humourously the concept of the steroetypical “Nagging Wife” would return but went a step further. As John took on the criminal underbelly as the Web his wife would unbeknownst to him would don a super suit as Pow-Girl and join him on his exploits without revealing her identity to him!! Fortunately this version of the Web would drop all the silver age silliness and this Web would re-debut in the 80s under Archie’s Red Circle banner and would become my favorite of all the Mighty Crusaders!
The Shield, The Web, The Fly, Fly Girl , The Comet, The Jaguar, and The Black Hood and many others during various incarnations of the group would all Unite under one collective Super Powered group known as The Mighty Crusaders! Archie seemed to have nailed the Superhero concept or at least had great clay to work from with the MLJ Characters! I loved every issue I uncovered. It didnt matter the condition wether they were torn, stained, or even coverless I just wanted my Red Circle comics!!
Mighty Crusaders Cover Gallery?? Okay..we got you covered!! Computer…load Archie Adventure Series Red Circle Mighty Crusaders!!
Its no secret that I was a fan of action figures as is well documented on this blog..when my old nemesis Remco would adapt the Crusaders into Action figure form. Check out my previous article on DC’s Warlord figures also notoriously by Remco. The company did not have a history of making “Quality” toys instead they relied on working from established concepts popular at the time and doing something “Similar”. Yes if He-man was popular Remco created the line of “Conan” or “Warlord” figures which were not coincidentally clones of the He-Man toyline. LJN Struck gold with their WWF license to create Professional Wrestling figures and Remco went with AWA Mat Mania figures. This time Mego was red hot with this Worlds Greatest Heroes SuperHero figure line and low and behold… Remco grabbed the semi obscure Mighty Crusaders action figures!
Remco created eight figures in total and had an equal roster of good guys and bad guys..4 on each side to be exact! the line up were as below!
- The Comet. Prior to Marvels X-Man, Cyclops there was the Comet..that visor is something multiple characters would come to rip off!!
- The Fox. A cool design and character. The Fox was always one of the coolest heroes from the Archie Adventure line and was their answer to Black Panther / Batman..but not as interesting as either.
- The Shield. Its Captain Ameri…no wait..its the Shield. Even though this character may have influenced multiple American based heroes later in comics history he is still the single greatest design of the Crusaders!
- The Web. Always loved the Web!! Loved the color scheme and Web cape! I gurantee you , One year soon on Halloween you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be the Web..
- The Brain Emperor. The bad guys were very uninspired as is the case with the poorly designed Brain Emperor. Alan Moore himself would not have been able to save this Mort and his goons!
- The Buzzard. Every universe has their “Bird” villain..they also managed to snatch all the cool bird names. With The Falcon and The Vulture we get the sinister Buzzard!! Doesnt work at all does it??
- The Eraser. Despite the very cool double bandolier, the only thing the Eraser “erased” were several plates of cheeseburgers..That said.. he is the happiest villain I have ever seen!
- The Sting. By god Remco loved their skull faced villains!! In the era of Masters Of The Universe and the patriarch of the Skull Face.. Skeletor…is the reason why we allow jabronies like Sting to exist. That said..as a kid, Skull faces ruled and chances are this would have been my first bad-guy if I had a choice If I know “kid me” well enough!
The comic ads got me so excited to get my hands on these great looking toys. Remco to their defense always got some of the best artists to design their comic book ads as well as their packaging! With Remco’s Sgt. Rock for example Remco scored the legendary Joe Kubert to draft their in comic ads as well as figure packaging!!
They would score again with the great Steve Ditko taking the reigns with the Crusaders!! Ditko drew the wonderful ads that baited me originally and scored the packaging on the toys as well!! The problem however was the product that was delivered. The figures themselves had a certain charm but upon further inspection they were woefully impractical. There was something very weird about their hip structure. Their legs appeared shorter, almost baby like on some figures giving them a very odd look visually. As well, Remco..stealing a page out of Marvels Secret Wars toys, each toy came with a shield? I am still wondering what the fascination with the shield as a accessory was in the day?? That said with all their quirks and 80s weirdness The Crusaders were a win for this Hero!!
The Heroes themselves were pretty well designed. I would kill for a Web figure! The Shield looked great with vibrant colors and I even gave his shield a pass.I had no idea who the Fox was but the figure was excellent. The Comet however was a comedy of errors. Not only did he come with a Shield but he also came with a bandolier and gun!!? This Comet was packin heat folks!! These toys were amazingly rare in my hometown. The odd figure would appear in a toy box or two in my travels to friends houses but no one I knew had the “set” or even a significant amount enough to say the collected them.
The amount of Mighty Crusaders merchandise on the market though small by today’s standards, was surprising for a franchise many people today outside of retro fanatics (Like myself and many of the folks reading this post!) whom may never had heard of the property. One of the coolest items was the rare Mighty Crusaders Board Game! It sported a very heroic box art! The fun didnt stop there as the Crusaders were splashed all over the typical fare of the era such as water guns, disc saucer guns, walkie talkies, things that today would be considered dollar store toys! *Merchandise photos are all compliments of our friends at one of my all time favorite Retro sites Plaid Stallions visit them and enjoy their absolute wealth of nostalgic riches!!
I was however disappointed to find that there was no Mighty Crusaders Doctor Kit which was a trope in the dollar toy industry that every franchise took advantage of. Missed opportunity? However not to be disappointed we did get very cool Crusader stunt cycles and parachute figures!
With a property that seemed so viable with several comics series, and plenty of merchandise to go with it how is it that the majority of the World do not remember the MLJ characters? How is it that these characters are not household names? Well as fond of memories as I have for these characters , comics and merchandise the fact is that the line did not get over with the masses. The direct market format for Archie’s Adventure line went against the mass media publication market like they did with their digests and floppys sold at anywhere magazines were sold to a more niche distribution which hurt the line. Would we be telling a different story had the Archie Adventure Line been as readily available as Archie’s Digest series on every Supermarket Shelf? I feel they would have. The same goes for the toyline. Remco was a decent toymaker that sadly did not have the deep international penetration of Kenner or Mattel as a result many never even knew The Crusaders ever existed on a toy shelf. So both the comics and the toys suffered from limits on distribution but still manged to deliver a competitive product certainly comparable with the toyfare of the time.
The Archie Adventure Series came out of the gate roaring. Many forget that Archie Comics lured some of the industries most acclaimed artists in the business including Jack “King” Kirby, Steve Ditko , Jim Steranko just to name a few to work on these books!Would it be enough with the comics industry on the verge of the big comics boom of the 1990s?? Archie brought multiple titles to comics shelves and the world opened their doors once again to the classic MLJ hero universe!!
My personal favorite of the lot was The All New Adventures Of The Mighty Crusaders that lasted 13 issues. See The Cover Gallery above kids for this one! This title came second place for the longest run of issues in the line and was probably the most action packed of all the titles as it featured all Crusaders and even some new ones in a full on team book.
Blue Ribbon Comics 1-14 This one was a rehash of the old MLJ series from 1939 of the same name which was essentially a anthology series which told new stories from alternating characters in the universe. This edition from the Archie Adventure series was the longest lasting title in the line! It alternated stories of the Mighty Crusaders individual exploits. Mostly it featured The Fly and The Black Hood. The Art was probably the best of all series in the line and featured purposely an alternating roster of creative talent including Kirby, Ditko, Buckler, to name a few!
The Fly 1-9 My favorite of the solo books! The Fly featured beautiful Steranko Covers as featured above as well as interior art from one of comics masters Steve Ditko for the last issues of the series. The adventures of the fly were very standard comics fare with one and done villain of the week stories that were wrapped up in a neat bow by the end of twenty something pages just how I loved it as a kid!
Lancelot Strong: The Shield. This book had an identity crisis. It began as Lancelot Strong the Shield for issues 1-2 , Then changed into The Shield Steel Sterling for issue 3 before switching altogether into just simply Steel Sterling for its final 4 issues of its existence beginning with issue 5. It also had the dubious distinction of sharing two brands as well. It began under the imprint Red Circle before switching out to just the Archie Adventure Series on the 5th issue that also marked the final title change.Steel Sterling was a basic solo Adventure series which served a a bridge between the old MLJ universe and the new Archiverse.
Steel Sterling (Previously Lancelot Strong for issues 1-3) Switches to Steel Sterling with issues 4-7.This title was the ugly step-child of the group in that it was the one title that seemed to change every issue and lacked direction and consistency. As individual issues this title was okay ..as a collected work Steel Sterling was a tough road to hoe!
The Original Shield was another short lived title that ran 4 issues that served as the origin story of the Original Shield. This title mirrored closest early era Captain America as The Shield battled Nazi’s all the while being a super patriot.Ironically he did NOT have a shield when it counted!! The title was much better than the newer incarnation of the Shield as well had so great Dick Ayres artwork. Worth a look!
As it would come to pass.. The Archie Adventure line was a failure and all things Mighty Crusaders disappeared from comic spinner racks, and toy shelves. By 1985 the MLJ Heroes were resigned to long boxes in the quarter bins of the 80s basement dwelling comics shops and the bottoms of toy-boxes…and that was the final breathe for this classic group of heroes…UNTIL..
In 1991…The Archie Adventure Series Heroes were all re-imagined under comics super power DC Comics to form their brand new imprint IMPACT!
But THAT friends..is a story for another day…TO BE CONTINUED…