This May, one of the oldest superhero universes in comic books is reborn with a 21st Century twist as Archie Comics rolls out its digital-first series "New Crusaders" as a dedicated app for Apple's iOS. And while many modern comic readers may be familiar with the Red Circle franchise characters from their recent run at DC Comics, the "New Crusaders" launch will be the first to bring back the original continuity of the superteam in nearly 30 years. With a history that stretches back to he Golden Age, CBR News is checking in with writer Ian Flynn and members of Archie's Red Circle brain trust to see what stories, concepts and creative twists will prove most important for fans to know come spring. And we start our series today with an exclusive first look at artist Ben Bates take on the Crusaders original leader: the Shield.
"Each superhero line has their stand-out characters -- the one people can pick out of a line-up and go, 'Oh, yeah! I remember that one!'" said Flynn. "Shield is that for the Red Circle line. We have a ton of characters to choose from, and a lot of new ideas, but Shield is the cornerstone to it all. He is the Red Circle brand."
"The Shield is the centerpiece of the Red Circle, really," editor Paul Kaminski added of the hero's role in the new comic. "He was the first, the best and the most dedicated to the cause, all the way through, and it's up to him to train the next generation of heroes. In the comic world, Shield represents the greatest generation of Americans, that 'can-do' fighting spirit. Without the Shield paving the way, you have no Captain America. Captain America wishes he was as cool as the Shield!"
The comparison is apt since the patriotic hero debuted in January 1940 -Â 14 months before his Marvelous counterpart. From there, the super G-Man known as Joe Higgins carried two titles through the War years, made a comeback in the 1960s as part of the Jerry Siegel-written Mighty Comics line which first introduced the Crusaders team and then returned again in his own book in the '80s as part of Archie's last Red Circle relaunch. Over the years, the history of the character found many new wrinkles (the '60s version in the Crusaders was actually Higgins' son), but the core of who the Shield is has remained the same.
"This Shield is Joe Higgins, the man who completed his father's work to become the original superhero," Flynn said. "What happened to the other Shields is something to be investigated later." And all the history of the character will come to bear in "New Crusaders" in one way or another.
"As the principle foundation, we're spinning out of the 1980s run, which was the last time the heroes were updated," the writer said. "That period did a lot of work to consolidate the various versions of the heroes. That said, we'll be pulling from all eras of the book." Kaminski added, "I really admire what was done with that '80s Red Circle line -- 'The Original Shield' series in particular. It's that take on the Shield we'll be targeting, with an eye on the Golden age stuff as well."
Of course, the Shield debuting in May will be a bit older than some of the other heroes in "New Crusaders" who will be teens picking up the superhero mantles of their parents once the town of Red Circle is attacked by long lost supervillains. "Joe has been preparing for the worst since the age of supervillains came to a close," Kaminski noted. "He's ready for anything, and that is going to be a big point of contrast to the jaded young people he'll have to teach and inspire. Joe is also a G-Man through and through, which means you drop what you're doing and defend your country and everything you believe in, no questions asked. Shield was never really ready for retirement; the idea of it was just thrust upon him by the times he lived in. The heroes are retired, sure, but Joe has been spending his time getting ready for disaster. His former teammates thought he was crazy for doing so, that he was living in the past. Well, who's crazy now?"
"Shield is the original Crusader," Flynn said. "He's a 1940s G-Man, and his transition into the modern age was rough. When we pick up his story again, time has helped mellow him a little -- he's adjusted -- but there's still that old, traditional core to him that won't immediately mesh with the new heroes. He's the foundation for the new team, and to make this team work he's going to have to be hard and uncompromising but fair. A part of him has been itching to get back to slugging the bad guys and righting wrongs. But how he's forced back -- and why he's the caretaker of the new team -- isn't anything like he'd hoped for. Shield will have a lot of responsibility -- and guilt -- weighing on his mind as he tries to restart the team with a group of novices."
Physically, the hero will still have the power of super strength even as he's aged over decades of battle, and the creative team noted how all those ideas influenced Bates take on the hero. "Ben has been taking these character ideas and bringing them to the next level," Kaminski said. "We knew we had a great story together, but it wasn't until we saw Ben's initial teaser image for the series that the project really began to take shape. His Shield looks like he's got some mileage on him, but he also looks like an old muscle car that can take anything you're dishing out, plus find time to explain to you how you dished it out wrong."
Archie Publicity Manager, writer and Red Circle brain trust member Alex Segura added, "Ben's hit the perfect tonality for the series with his art -- welcoming, clean linework with a really modern, kinetic energy. It's a treat to see his designs and promo images come in. Just yesterday, Paul showed off some of Ben's thumbnails for the first issue and it was a real treat to behold."
"I love working with Ben," said Flynn who's worked with the artist as part of Archie's Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. "He has his perfect blend of cartoony and mature design that makes the world fun to dive into and still take seriously. Ben's rendition of Shield shows him as both aged and powerful, classic and modern. He's a timeless hero, and Ben rendered that to a 'T.'"
As the "New Crusaders" app will also give readers access to the past comics starring the heroes, the creators reminisced about their own history with the hero and how it came to bear on the modern Shield. "My first introduction to The Shield was in the Archie digests a while back, before the launch of the 80s Red Circle line," Segura said. "There was a double-page spread that featured all the characters as kind of an intro to readers. I thought the costumes were awesome, so I was really intrigued. Then I followed the Impact line [which reinvented the hero in the '90s] -- I really liked that entire run of titles."
"My first introduction was the Impact Comics version of the character, which was a pretty good iteration of him," Kaminski said. "They kinda lost me with that blonde version later on. My favorite Shield stories by far are the 80's Red Circle stories, the ones that directly pre-date our new stuff. You have a character very much used to knowing what was right and what was wrong, dropped into the nebulous 1980's which lead to a lot of great drama."
"My first introduction was the toys, honestly," said Flynn of the '80s Remco action figures. "I saw the figures and asked, 'Who is that?' I'm a child of the 80's -- I was reared on the Afterschool Extended Commercial Animation Block. My favorite stories involved the dynamic between Shield and Dusty during a lot of their early adventures."
Ultimately, that character history working with a teen sidekick will have an impact on "New Crusaders," both on the page and in spirit. "Shield is trying to teach what the Red Circle comics themselves are trying to express -- that you need to acknowledge, defend and respect your legacy in life," Kaminski concluded. "Some of the kids will be more ready to listen to the Shield than others. Teaching anything about responsibility to a teenager is near-impossible as it is -- try teaching it to teenagers with super-powers!"
"It's hard to boil [the series] down to a single truth, but I guess it would be that they are heroes and that they can make a difference," Flynn said. "They just don't have the time to organically grow into that confidence. Some of them are going to feel overwhelmed, and others will answer the call. But just because one of the new heroes feels capable from the get-go will mean they can make the cut in the long run. Likewise, the most frightened or unfit might prove to be the best hero of the mix."
And who will prove to be the most frightening villain in the series? The writer let out one hint of what's to come. "I don't want to spoil too much, but let's just say the Eraser was probably Shield's most dangerous and successful enemy. If we were to bring him back and pit him against our new, untested heroes, it would certainly put Shield in an interesting predicament."
Stay tuned in the days ahead for more character reveals from "New Crusaders" on CBR!