Archie Comics' Red Circle imprint has established itself with digital readers with its "New Crusaders" series, and the print iteration is just around the corner at Comic-Con International in San Diego. But as that series is built on the foundation of a former line of superhero comic series, it was perhaps only a matter of time before the currents teen heroes saw their world expand. And that's exactly what's happening with "The Lost Crusade" -- a new regular series of short stories set within the Crusader's world that Archie revealed exclusively to CBR News which will feature talents including Ian Flynn, Chuck Dixon and Mike Norton.
"The response has been really great," series Editor Paul Kaminski said of the Red Circle initiative so far. "It's always great to hear feedback on the work since we've been pouring a lot of time and energy into this world. We love these characters, and I hope that's communicated in the pages. With the feedback, we heard some demands for seeing what the years in between the Red Circle Comics of the '80s and the story now were like. Those lost years form the basis of 'The Lost Crusade.'"
The Red Circle series of the '80s focused on titles like "The Mighty Crusaders" and "The Comet," and as new fans exploring those books through the Red Circle digital app are discovering, many of those titles ended abruptly. "It just sort of ended how it ended. 'Mighty Crusaders' went on the longest of the bunch, but there were still a lot of storylines that needed tying up. Ian Flynn wanted to tie all the stories together, but he couldn't figure out a good way to do it in 'New Crusaders' because we're focusing on new characters there and trying not to bog it down with a bunch of lore. So how we were going to treat those lingering plotlines was really important. 'The Lost Crusade' came from those discussions between Ian, Alex [Segura], Mike [Pellerito] and myself."
That "Red Circle Braintrust" of Archie employees decided to launch "Lost Crusade" not only due to fan interest but due to what is commonly referred to as the "Fifth Week" aspect of comic book publishing. "Since 'New Crusaders' ships regularly on Wednesdays, we have an odd Wednesday every couple of months, and the question became 'What do we fill that with?'" Kaminski said. "The perfect answer was that those weeks could fill in connections between the past and the present in the world of Red Circle. 'Lost Crusade' will do that in a very accessible way. And it will also take a little bit of a closer look at some of those characters and how they reacted to the fall of villainy, how that fall actually happened, how the founding of Red Circle the town came to be and more.
"We're also getting the opportunity to get some writers and artists on each story who can throw their own take on it, which is where Chuck Dixon comes in with 'Lost Crusade' #2. Ian is writing the first 'Lost Crusade' story along with penciler Mike Norton."
Dixon, of course, has had no small amount of history of working with superheroes like Batman and Robin at DC and the Punisher at Marvel, and his most recent serial comics work includes IDW's "G.I. Joe." "I worked with Chuck last year on a project that didn't end up panning out, but we really hit it off," the editor said. "He's a super nice and wildly talented fellow. I was a big fan of his before we worked together, and we just got a groove going. He's as interested in telling a cool story as we are, and there's not a lot of ego there. It's just a cool collaboration, and it was a natural fit to have him do superhero stories with us. There's going to be some unexpectedly touching moments in Chuck's story."
Like many a reader who's been around the industry for years, Dixon has a soft spot for the Red Circle Universe. "When I was a kid, they reprinted some of the Simon and Kirby stuff like 'The Fly' and 'Private Strong,' so I was familiar with that," the writer told CBR News. "I didn't read the 'Mighty Crusaders' comic in the '60s, but I did read the relaunch in the '80s, and I really liked those comics. They didn't run long, but what I read, I really liked -- particularly the Comet. I was excited when Paul told me the relaunch would come off of the '80s comics."
Of his new work with the team, Dixon said that he had to look across the Crusaders team history and pick his favorite hero to focus on. "This [series] explains why that era ended and why there weren't any Crusaders for 20 or more years. These are shorter stories that fill in the gaps. It tells some back story on the classic Red Circle heroes and shows their connection to the new, younger versions," he said. "I really like the Comet for some reason. He was like comics first really dark superhero, and his powers are kind of apocalyptic. He predates Cyclops of the X-Men in having these eye beams that come out of him that provide him with so much power and are dangerous to those around him -- particularly if he can't control them. I enjoy that 'blessing-and-a-curse' nature of the powers. I also liked the Black Hood a lot because he's a gun-totting vigilante -- the kind of character I've specialize over the last few years. But I picked the Comet when Paul gave me my choice."
The cosmic powered hero had many a strange twist in his heyday including radical costume changes and the death of his brother the Hangman. Though for now, Dixon's story will focus largely on his powers. "I deal with what happened to the Comet. We've got to reintroduce these characters to new readers in as short and sweet a way as possible. So my story is a bit of a flashback with a twist at the end. It tells what happened to him and why he isn't the Comet anymore."
Dixon spoke to Norton's work on "The Lost Crusade's" first installment setting the tone for the book, saying, "I like that look that focuses more on storytelling and clarity of the line rather than a ton of visualization. It really instantly separates this from a lot of the other superhero comics out there, which I think is a smart move."
Of course, questions still hang out there as to how the original Crusaders broke apart -- a mystery that's been hinted at involving ghostly hero Mr. Justice. However, Kaminski said that revelation will still be a ways off. "That question is one of the driving forces behind 'New Crusaders' and is something we'll see later in the series as time goes on. We don't want to give that away too soon, but you'll see more and more references to it throughout 'New Crusaders' as it become a kind of crux for the series. It will be touched on very briefly in the first issue of 'Lost Crusade,' but we won't have a Mr. Justice story just yet."
"The Lost Crusade" debuts later this year. Fans can pick up the first print iteration of "New Crusaders" this week at Comic-Con.