EXCLUSIVE: "New Crusaders" Recruits Artist Alitha Martinez

While Archie Comics' digital-to-print superhero "New Crusaders" may still be assembling its full lineup of teen adventurers on the page, the creative roster behind the comic is looking to expand ahead of its Comic-Con International print debut. Starting with the third issue serialized at RedCircleComics.com, the series will welcome new regular penciler Alitha Martinez who takes over for Ben Bates. Bates will provide breakdowns for issue #3 before the book goes all-Martinez with #4.

"Alitha is a really versatile artist who's been around in mainstream superhero comics for a while," series Editor Paul Kaminski told CBR News. "I was a fan of hers coming into this, and we happened to connect at the MoCCA show this year in Manhattan. We hit it off, and looking at her work, I thought, 'Wow! There's the potential there to take what Ben has started to build on the title and redecorate it almost.' Ben designed the house, and now she's coming in and decorating it -- making the book feel like more of a cohesive universe."

"Ben leaving the book, by the way, is totally amicable, and he's still going to be involved in the project moving forward," the editor added. "Bringing Alitha in was, again, a world-building exercise, and it's something we're all really excited about. Ben will continue with the series covers, and we're excited to see more work from him as the series moves on."

Launching her comics career drawing a run of "Iron Man" written by Marvel CCO Joe Quesada, Martinez has since worked on a number of high profile gigs including NBC's "Heroes" webcomics and most recently several issues of DC's New 52 "Batgirl" series. However, stepping in to the world of "New Crusaders" presented a few unique challenges, both in terms of the style and format of the series.

"I remember hearing something about them, but I didn't read any of the stuff because I was working on 'Batgirl,'" Martinez said. "I hadn't really heard of these characters before, and I know Archie has a different style than mine. I never thought I'd be able to do anything like that because it's so exacting and different from what I'm doing. But when Paul e-mailed me, I went, 'Oh my God, I was just saying the other day how I don't think I'll ever be able to do this kind of work!' Luckily, with Ben providing breakdowns for my first issue, I got to practice over his style since he's an amazing penciler. I didn't know I could do it until I just drew it."

Kaminski noted, "She's really able to be a chameleon here -- starting right where Ben left off and then pushing it, nudging it into a really interesting, slightly more detail-oriented direction."

"It has that feeling of 'The Incredibles,' which I enjoyed so much," the artist said. "It's just a world I can plop in and try a different style. Every page I say to myself, 'I'm doing a departure from Marvel's way. I'm doing a departure from DC's way.' And now I'm in a whole new area."

The digital-first format of the comic holds challenges as well. "I knew I was getting six page chunks at a time and would be trying to get through them in a week, but I had experience with that kind of thing with the 'Heroes' work that I did. So that made this a little easier."

In terms of the "New Crusaders" cast, Martinez said that she's grown connected to the characters in a short while. "I like them all, but I think I like the Shield the most because with that beard he looks like the captain from the Titanic!"

"Her rendition of the Jaguar's teenage identity Yvette is really something special," Kaminski added. "Ben was able to create this messy but 'inside she wanted to burst forth' kind of character. Alitha has been able to change these expressions in the way the story plays out over the next few issues where you can see the character really come alive. When you look dead into Yvette's eyes, you can feel what she's going through. It's crazy, and issues #3, 4, 5 and 6 -- it's a cliche, but these issues really feel like a rollercoaster. So Yvette in particular she has a great grasp on, and she also get the obnoxiousness of Fireball in particular. She makes his expressions where you want to just smack him across the face because he's just dripping schoolyard bully in the best way. That character always reminds me of the red-headed freckled kid from 'A Christmas Story.' But deep down, he's a good guy."

Martinez herself noted that she was learning from characters like the Jaguar and her otherworldly benefactor in the exclusive preview pages Archie shared with CBR. "It's so different that I'm happy to be doing it because I'm learning so much with the characters and their body structures," she said. "It's not like I'm drawing this perfect anatomy or this same type of stuff. With that Jaguar god, I knew I had to hold it back a bit and find a different approach to doing this. You can't just go all-out like a giant Wolverine with his veins popping. You have to stay in that same style but still make it look cool, and I think it came out okay!"

Stay tuned for more on the future of "New Crusaders" ahead of Comic-Con International 2012.

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