Digital comics readers curious about the Archie Comics superhero stories on the Red Circle Comics app are experiencing a blast from the past from the world of "New Crusaders" with today's debut of "Lost Crusade: Prelude." The first story in a line of shorts delving into the lives of the original Mighty Crusaders, "Lost Crusade" kicks off with a totally free offering to entice new fans into the Red Circle experience. CBR spoke with writer Chuck Dixon about his contribution to the digital anthology covering those "lost" years when it was announced in July. Now, we speak with franchise lead writer Ian Flynn about his plans to expand out the Red Circle world.
"It was one part obsession, one part serendipity," the writer said about what led to his first story with artist Mike Norton. "When doing all my research for the series, I was really excited by all the prospective stories to be told between the end of the '80s series and our relaunch. But 'New Crusaders' is focusing on the next generation and about moving forward, not filling in the blanks of the past.
"Since I can't pass up a story opportunity, I pitched an idea for a miniseries that would gloss over everything -- give the old plot points some closure. Editor Paul Kaminski took the idea and made it better: since every so often we'll have a fifth week in the month, we'll need material for our subscribers. What would be better than filling that block with new material that enriched the backstory? And thus 'Lost Crusade' was born."
While future installments of the digital series will welcome a diverse array of writers and artists to tell stories of solo Crusaders like the Comet and the Black Hood, this week's prelude issue frames the entire concept with a modern day appearance of some of the first teen heroes in the Red Circle universe. "The first story takes place in the past and the present," Flynn explained. "We see Dustin and Roy -- the boy heroes of the classic books -- reuniting as grown men to catch up. This will tie in nicely with an appearance Roy will be making in the main book later on, and it helps establish who Dustin is now as an agent of the M.L.J."
Of course, longtime comic readers know the letters M.L.J. as the original name of Red Circle owner Archie Comics, but in the world of "New Crusaders," it's also the name of a super powerful organization that helps protect the world from alien threats and more. "M.L.J. covers more than just space -- they've got a hand in every form of protection around the world (and beyond it). The man in the dapper suit [in the preview pages released] is Dustin Simmons, top-ranking M.L.J. agent and formerly Dusty, Shield's kid sidekick. The other is Roy Rossman, formerly Roy the Wonder Boy, another kid hero. Through them, we'll be getting to know a little bit more of what the M.L.J. is and what it does, as well as what's happened to these two and the heroes in their lives."
The core "New Crusaders" series has also teased a reason why the last iteration of the team fell apart -- something to do with the disappearance of spectral superhero Mr. Justice -- though Flynn noted those answers won't be revealed right away. "'Lost Crusade' will touch upon it some, but that's a story we'll be gradually revealing more and more of in 'New Crusaders.' It's kind of a huge deal," he said, adding that readers can expect appearances in the new series from a wide range of former Archie heroes, like the Golden Age Wizard and '80s magician Darkling who apparently faced an awful end after the last Crusaders comic -- which is still available on the Red Circle app. "'All of them' [appearing] is kind of a cop-out, isn't it? There were so many open endings when the '80s era series wrapped up that it's hard to choose. What happened to Darkling? Who was the traitor? Did Black Hood figure it out, or just make things worse? Did anyone mourn Doc Reeves? There's tons of stories and characters to explore, and it's honestly hard to choose."
As for how other writers like Chuck Dixon will play into his larger plans for the project, the writer was quick to welcome their contributions to the world. "I've got my plate full with 'Sonic the Hedgehog,' 'Sonic Universe,' 'Mega Man' and the regular 'New Crusaders.' I'm happy to let other writers play around in the sandbox and add to the mythos on their own terms. As for over-arching, I haven't set a long-term goal for myself yet. It's a rich period for mining new stories and playing with old characters. I want to be able to do that for as long as possible, and to see what everyone else does with it, too."
In the meantime, there's plenty happening in "New Crusaders" when it returns to new digital adventures next week. The series is about to kick off its second major arc as the kids who have just formed a team attempt to stop the Brain Emperor from opening up a prison Flynn described as full of "classic villains and heroes. I can say no more." What he could say is that the story "really shows [the team's] strengths and weaknesses. Just because they wear the costumes and fling the powers doesn't mean they're heroes. Their actions will dictate that. And whether or not they succeed, fail, or even survive hinges on that."
The writer remains acutely aware that there are plenty of readers out there waiting to check out "New Crusaders" when it makes its print debut in comic shops this fall. "It's only going to get bigger," he said of the expansion into a traditional format. "The digital readership has been very positive and impressive, given it's digital-only release in a market already crammed full of super heroes. Reaching out through the direct market on September 5 just means even more readers, and I can't wait for that. The approach won't change, though. The issues have always been written with a printed format in mind, which was then refined for weekly consumption. Like I said in all those interviews way back when we first launched: the format will be familiar to comic readers, regardless of whether they read it online or in print."
"Lost Crusade: Prelude" is available through the Red Circle Comics app today at RedCircleComics.com