It sounds like the type of high-profile comic book launch that would catch readers' attention:
- Multiple titles kicked off by a superstar writer.
- Character redesigns by one of the best artists in the business.
- A brand new take on a universe filled with colorful superpowered heroes.
Yet all the hoopla surrounding the introduction of the Red Circle characters into the DCU — which began only last year — comes to an end this week, as DC releases Mighty Crusaders #6, the final issue featuring the heroes.
The Red Circle characters began their comic book lives way back in the 1940s and '50s as part of Archie Comics. They later existed under DC's "Impact" imprint. But last year, DC announced the company would officially integrate the Red Circle characters into the DC Universe, putting them in the same world with powerhouse heroes like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.
"What I’m hoping for is that people get excited by them, and then we can grow out and tell more stories with these characters," said Dan DiDio at the time, acting then as executive editor before becoming the current DC co-publisher.
To lead the charge into the DCU, DiDio enlisted writer J. Michael Straczynski, who had just been recruited to write for DC after years of work at Marvel Comics. And character designs were done by Eisner Award-winning artist J.G. Jones.
The books launched as one-shots, and it was the type of character revamping that JMS loves. After all, he'd just done something similar at Marvel Comics with Thor.
"In terms of revitalizing dormant characters, yeah, I get a kick out of it," he told Newsarama. "That was also the impetus behind taking on Thor, a character who'd been off the grid for some time, and who had never really been a top seller in his own book. Since the relaunch, he's been in the top 10 for every issue but one. Sometimes in the top five. And there's something profoundly satisfying about that."
But that top level didn't quite work out for the Red Circle comics, despite the fact that two characters were given their own titles: The Shield and The Web. Both comics launched in 2009, just after Straczynski's one-shots finished, and included co-features on other Red Circle characters like Inferno and Hangman.
Those two Red Circle titles ended after 10 months, and the characters were instead featured in a team book, The Might Crusaders, which was announced as a new ongoing series. The title was co-authored by Eric Trautmann and Brandon Jerwa, who had written the revamped characters before in their feature titles, as well as the Mighty Crusaders Special.
By the time Mighty Crusaders #3 was announced, however, the ongoing had been shortened to a mini-series, which wraps up with this week's Issue #6.
Now that the Red Circle comics have come to an end, a little over a year after their grand introduction to readers, Newsarama contacted DC, offering the publisher a chance to clarify what happened with the Red Circle project. But the company declined to talk about it.
So as their last issue hit stores this week, we talked to the co-writers of The Mighty Crusaders to get their thoughts about the Red Circle as DC's spotlight on the characters comes to an end.
Newsarama: Eric and Brandon, first, let's talk about this week's issue. What can you tell us about the conclusion?
Eric Trautmann: At the end, we learn that J.R. had, in fact, not been shot. It was allllll a dreaaaaaam...
Nrama: That sounds oddly familiar. But seriously, this series has been nothing if not original, so you'd almost expect a surprise ending. Does the final issue still maintain the kind of wacky originality you guys have established?
Eric Trautmann: One of the goals I had for the series was to see how far we could push the general level of weirdness and very classic two-fisted superhero action; I think Brandon executed on that magnificently.
Brandon Jerwa: Always with the humility and compliments, this one. It was teamwork all the way. We had to take the classic idea and work it from both ends; we go big and go home, with alien invaders, pocket dimensions, family drama, crazy huge boom-boom, and the most important thing: resolution.
Nrama: As we come to the end of the comic that established the team in the DCU, do you have any indication that they'll still be around somewhere? Can you tell us about their status after this issue?
Jerwa: That answer is above our pay grade, ma'am. If these characters have a future in the DCU, we don't know about it.
Nrama: Looking back at what happened with the Red Circle characters since the two of you came on board, what do you think you've accomplished with their stories between their introduction into the DCU until now? Do you think the goals have been met?
Trautmann: I can't speak to higher-level goals; that's the province of the publishers. For me, I wanted to tell a certain kind of story, and I was fortunate enough to be able to do so, on The Shield, and then the Mighty Crusaders Special, and the mini-series. I wanted to take these fairly familiar archetypes and push them in directions that made sense, honored the source material and the work of creators who preceded us, and still deliver some surprises and shocks along the way. So, in that sense, yes, I think our goals have been met.
Jerwa: This is the end of the Mighty Crusaders story, but it's also the last chapter in the story we've been writing from Day One with The Shield and Inferno. We've tried our damnedest to offer some payoff for the folks who were with us when we started, and do right by the fine work of Matt Sturges, John Rozum and Angela Robinson with their own respective characters. I like to think that we managed to put a pretty bow on the package.
Did we get around to doing everything we originally wanted or intended to do? No. Did we manage to bring it all together with a story we love and take great pride in? You bet.
Nrama: What's your wish for what will happen with the Red Circle characters next?
Jerwa: My wish is pretty selfish, I have to admit. I'd love to see these characters stay in the DCU — maybe digitally, since the print numbers just haven't been there, sadly — and I'd love to continue building their universe alongside people I enjoy working with. Hey, I dream big.
Nrama: Do they fit into the DCU? And where do you see each of them fitting?
Jerwa: I think they're fantastic superheroes who have amazing adventures and emotional accessibility. They also truly stand for something. So I guess my answer would be a resounding "YES" to that one.
Trautmann: Certainly, at the outset of the various Red Circle stories, our group mandate was to wed these characters to the DCU. I think that the Crusaders fill a fairly empty niche in the DCU — a government-sponsored superteam, proactive and not mired in corruption, nor cookie cutter "super soldier" types. I'd love to see them continue on in the setting, as they each have interesting stories yet to be told.
Nrama: In general, knowing how other characters are being incorporated into the DCU, what's the key to having a character get the attention of readers of DC stories to the point that they're accepted as part of the DCU?
Jerwa: I think if there was an easy answer to that question, we wouldn't be discussing the final issue of Mighty Crusaders right now. That may seem like a flip answer, but I feel confident in saying that Eric and I both wish we could work out the hard math on that front. You always want the readers to love the characters as much as you do, but even getting those new books in people's hands can be difficult.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about this issue, or the Red Circle characters in general?
Jerwa: This is a labor of love, and it's no bull when I say that I've never had more fun working on a comic book. If you get a chance to spend a day reading our Mighty Crusaders series — or better yet, the entire "Red Circle" epic starting with the JMS one-shots and moving into The Shield and The Web — I hope you enjoy this universe we built for really nothing more than the sake of loving comic books.