EXCLUSIVE: DeMatteis, Cavallaro Prep Archie's "The Shield" for Deployment

In 2012, Archie Comics' Red Circle heroes got a relaunch with "The New Crusaders," and while the series about the next generation of superheroes continues with "New Crusaders: Dark Tomorrow," the publisher has even more to come. Archie previously announced Mark Waid and Dean Haspiel will team up on "The Fox," and today it reveals that the new take on the legacy hero will be accompanied by "The Shield" backups by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Cavallaro.

The creative team responsible for "The Life and Times of Savior 28" has crafted a story centered on The Shield's reminiscences about a World War II mission in an old-fashioned superhero adventure. CBR News spoke exclusively with DeMatteis and Cavallaro about the backup features, what fans of the current "New Crusaders" run can expect from the story, how it links up to Waid and Haspiel's "The Fox" series, the joy in taking on a superhero tale based on characters from yesteryear and more.

CBR News: J.M., what's the general idea of the story you have planned for "The Shield?" Where and how does the story take place in relation to "The New Crusaders?"

J.M. DeMatteis: The story begins in the present, with the Shield looking back on a particular mission he had during WW II, when he was sent to investigate a strange phenomenon in Antarctica. We meet two new characters -- mirror-images of the Shield, super-soldiers created in both Japan and Germany -- and the story explores issues of hatred and prejudice against the backdrop of a good old-fashioned (and, by the end, fairly cosmic) superhero adventure.

How does your story relate to what Mark Waid and Dean Haspiel have planned for the recently announced "The Fox" series? How closely will the two connect?

DeMatteis: At first it will seem as if there's no relation between the two, but, by the end, they will dovetail in a surprising way. The Fox will be important to the resolution of the Shield's story -- and vice-versa. And that's all I can say without spoiling it!

What other players are involved in "The Shield?" Will readers get a chance to see more of the original Crusaders?

DeMatteis: Not in this story. As noted, though, we will see two new characters -- Hachiman and Master Race -- and we'll encounter an established villain from the Red Circle universe who evolves into something... formidable.

"The New Crusaders" core series by Ian Flynn has done an excellent job so far of reintroducing the Red Circle characters to a new audience. With a character like The Shield, what do you hope to add to that equation?

DeMatteis: The great fun of the Red Circle universe is that it goes back to the earliest days of superhero comics -- and yet much, if not most, of it hasn't been developed in the same way the Marvel and DC universes have. We haven't seen seventy years of continual world building, so we're free to tap into the rich histories of the characters and yet bring something fresh to the table.

The Shield is the founding father of this universe, he's been around since the beginning. Mike Cavallaro and I are having a great time playing with that history and, we hope, adding some new layers and levels to the character. What's most interesting to me is that the man he was in the 1940's isn't the man he is today -- and our story highlights that contrast.

I have to add that Mike and I have done several projects together -- including one of my all-time favorites, "The Life and Times of Savior 28" -- and it's been great fun working with him again. The guy can write, pencil, ink, letter, color. An amazing talent.

Mike, how did you come at the character from a design perspective? What was the artistic challenge in bringing your own spin to The Shield?

Mike Cavallaro: Whenever I start a new project, I try to design a visual vocabulary that reflects that particular story. My approach on "The Life and Times of Savior 28" came from being really excited by Jack Kirby's work on "Thor" and John Romita's "Spider-Man." Looking back, some of what I did was successful and some wasn't.

With "The Shield," I'm sort of returning to that and trying to bring it forward and improve on it. The Shield is a formidable and focused character, so the linework is absolutely straightforward -- virtually a dead-weight line, no Silver-Age thick-and-thin brushwork this time. I want the finished art to be a little more on the raw side, because I don't want to lose the energy and vitality that's frequently present in the initial sketches but seems to vanish as the images get refined and finalized. Our inker, Terry Austin, seemed to zero-in on this idea and even amped it up in a few places, a really crucial detail. After all, it's Terry's linework you see on the page. That's one of the cool things about this project for me; normally, I'm a solo performer. I almost never get to collaborate like this. It's really fun to just be part of the band, and let the final product be a little bit of everyone involved.

You're also no stranger to sequential storytelling, with work on everything from all-ages books like "Foiled" to "The Life and Times of Savior 28." Why do you think "The Shield" is a good fit for your art?

Cavallaro: I didn't previously know anything about The Shield. It only took about six pages of J.M.'s script to make me fall in love with the character. Getting to draw a character like The Shield and working with creators like J.M. and Terry Austin are exactly what I hoped for when I was kid dreaming about being a real cartoonist someday. What more could I ask for?

J.M., do you find it refreshing to take on a character like "The Shield?" Considering the character's origins during a time when comics were aimed at all readers, does it stretch different muscles for you?

JDeMatteis: I've done a variety of comics -- including all-ages books like "Abadazad" to the recent "Adventures of Augusta Wind" (collected edition out now from IDW! Sorry: couldn't resist). Writing stories that can appeal to a kid of ten and his dad or mom is a wonderful creative exercise. It allows you to tackle big ideas and big themes in a unique way. (Madeline L'Engle, author of the "Wrinkle in Time" series, had a great line: "If the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.")

All of those projects were kid-friendly fantasies. This, of course, is a superhero story. But if you look back at some of the greatest superhero tales ever told -- the Marvel comics of the sixties -- you'll see that they were all-ages books. They appealed across the board, without sacrificing intelligence, imagination or wit. When you're talking about all-ages superhero sagas, those are the gold standard -- and something I certainly had in mind while I worked on these stories.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of putting together a book like this?

DeMatteis: Mike and I are doing short stories -- six pages a chapter -- so working that territory, making sure there's enough story, characterization, action, movement and yet not crowding things has been perhaps the greatest challenge. Given the decompressed nature of some comics these days, it's really astonishing how much story you can pack into six pages.

When I started in the business, my first jobs were writing for the DC anthology books -- "House of Mystery," "Weird War Tales," etc. -- and all of those stories were six to eight pages long. You had to deliver a full story -- with a complete plot, character arcs, themes -- in a short space. It was a wonderful way to learn the craft and it was great to work those muscles again.

Another challenge, if you could even call it that, was to forget about the burdens of decades-old continuity, relax and just have fun. In all the conversations I've had with Mike C and Dean Haspiel and our editor, Paul Kaminski, we've all talked about how much fun this has been. We're creating these stories for the sheer joy of it, the creative rush. The Red Circle universe is a great sandbox and we've had a blast playing in it.

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