Next week, the first New Crusaders collection will come out just as readers of the ongoing comic are reeling from the volume's final pages.
No specific spoilers here, but New Crusaders just had a shocking turn of events as one character died, forcing the other characters to face the danger of the superhero world in which they've been thrust.
Written by Ian Flynn, New Crusaders is the digital-to-print series from Archie. The comic tells the story of a young group of heroes who inherit the mantles of their parents. Based in the world of the once-popular "Red Circle" comics, New Crusaders is released digitally each week and tells modern-style stories that build upon the old-school past. The comics are also released in collected print versions each month as New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes.While existing readers are now looking toward May's launch of the second volume, Archie is hoping the buzz about the shocking death might get new readers to pick up the first volume, Rise of the Heroes, in trade paperback when it comes out on March 20th.
In fact, they've timed the first issue of the second volume, New Crusaders: Dark Tomorrow, for the week of Free Comic Book Day.
Mike Pellerito, Archie president, said the company is trying to attract new readers because they've gotten such great feedback from the folks who are already reading the comic. "The reviews and the fan websites have been overwhelmingly positive, saying 'this is how comics are supposed to be done,'" he said. "It's been compared to Invincible a little bit, it's been compared to Wolfman/Pérez early Teen Titans stuff. We're really trying to find the perfect mix of action/adventure/character-driven stories.”
New Crusaders is an all-ages title, but the death at the end of Rise of the Heroes makes it clear the story isn't shying away from the heavier drama and realism found in today's superhero comics.
"It was sort of a Wizard of Oz moment where all of the sudden the kids realize this is real," Pellerito said, pointing out that the change at the end of Rise of the Heroes was reflected throughout the comic's final pages. "The art looks mature, the story has matured, they have matured. And we take that forward really strong and hard and heavy into [Volume 2,] Dark Tomorrow."
That strong move toward Dark Tomorrow will see a change in the art style that reflects the new mood of the comic, and the initial change actually took place in the midst of the last comic's ending. "We were thinking, how can we take the kids' loss at the end of Rise of the Heroes and really make that something that resonates visually with the fans?" said editor Paul Kaminski. "We changed the art style, literally, which is not done a whole lot in comics.
"We wanted these kids to feel the loss, we wanted these kids to feel like this is really happening to them — they just lost one of their friends," he said. "To make that reality sink in with the readers, the artwork now looks a little more real and tends to connect more on that level."
“But that doesn't mean there won't still be an all-ages tilt to the comic,” Flynn said. The writer is even taking the kids back to school.
"One of the things I want to balance in New Crusaders is this sense of the fantastic and the mundane," he said. "You can have psychic aliens and space monkeys, but it doesn't really feel big and exciting unless you have it juxtaposed with something you can relate to. So these kids have faced horrible, horrible trials. Their parents are dead. They've lost one of their best friends, and they've been thrust into this bizarre superhero world, but they also have to worry about the cliques at school and the fact that they have homework. Not because they want to go to school, but they have to maintain their normal lives just to keep their own sanity.
"So that's part of what we'll be exploring in Dark Tomorrow is the kids who have been thrust into this superhero world now having to go back to the regular life of a regular teenager and juggle both of those," he said.
Readers will also see more new and old characters showing up, as well as further development of the hints about the Blue Ribbon that were threaded into the first volume.
"Part of what makes Dark Tomorrow awesome to me is the expanding view of the entire universe," Pellerito said. "More characters start showing up, little bits and pieces and hints and clues of the Blue Ribbon and where do these powers come from?"
"We planted a lot of seeds in 'Rise of the Heroes' and we're starting to reap some of the benefits of that," Flynn said. "Brain Emperor busted a bunch of classic villains out of the prison in Rise of the Heroes, and we'll see what happens next with that. And while we're building on the seeds we planted in the first six issues, we're going to be building up more for the arcs that follow."Comic fans may remember that the Red Circle characters were featured only a few years ago in a DC Comics line. But DC's version of the comics sold poorly enough that not only did DC abandon the titles, but they let Archie have back the rights to publish the superheroes.
Pellerito emphasized that New Crusaders is a completely different animal from what DC did.
"DC did a couple of takes on the characters that... I liked them, and I enjoyed them as a reader, but I think we're putting a little more heart and soul behind it. I don't mean that as a dig at all. What they did was really cool and fun. But I think what we're doing is a lot better," he said.
The comic also features back-up stories fleshing out the continuity that came between the old heroes and the New Crusaders. Titled "Lost Crusade," the stories are released both digitally and in the collected print editions, giving different writers and artists the chance to work within the Crusaders universe.
Pellerito said readers will see even more familiar creators working on New Crusaders. "A lot of big-name writers are coming to us, wanting to work on these characters," he said. "Phil Jimenez did a couple of really awesome covers, and we have some more people you'll recognize. But we're also getting pitches from some of the best writers and artists in the business, who want to tackle Black Hood or a Fox story or something with the Shield or Jaguar, or do a villains special."
"It was shocking for me to have all these names pouring in that wanted to get involved," Kaminski said. "That was one of the reasons we started doing the Lost Crusades back-up stories, so we could start making sure that everybody could get a part of the action."
Readers will get even more stories about the history behind New Crusaders in July when Archie releases Legacy of the Crusaders. "It links the older Mighty Crusaders issues to the New Crusaders issues in an innovative way that you haven't seen before," Kaminski explained. "It will give readers a clearer picture of the history and legacy of these characters, utilizing a new script by Ian, but also featuring stories from the Red Circle past by legends like Carmine Infantino."
It all adds up to a major push by the publisher to revitalize their Red Circle characters for new audiences. And Pellerito thinks that even though there are a lot of superhero comics in the marketplace, Archie is offering something that's unique.
"Marvel and DC have these awesome superhero universes, but a lot of the time, you don't get the feeling of an entire universe in a single book anymore. With New Crusaders, you get a story that encompasses the whole universe in one comic, but with a focus on characters that you really care about," he said. "They're not perfect, but they're easy to love. And there's that intense link to the heroes that have done things in the past, and now there's this fun, new, vibrant, young group of superheroes that are kicking up trouble and trying to save the day."