During a panel moderated executive Director of Publicity and Marketing Alex Segura, who has himself written a number comics for the publisher, Archie Comics discussed upcoming plans for its recently resurrected digital-first superhero line at Comic Con International in San Diego. For a 99-cents a week subscription price, the Red Circle Comics App grants readers access to a new chapter of the "New Crusaders" comic, plus a growing library of classic comics from the past 70 years. Written by Ian Flynn and featuring art by Ben Bates and Alitha Martinez, "New Crusaders" tells the story of a young group of heroes who are brought together by original Crusader member The Shield. The heroes in "New Crusaders" are mostly legacy versions of classic heroes, some debuting as much as 70 years ago.
Paul Kaminski, Executive Director of Editorial, described the "Red Circle Comics" app as "Netflix for comics. You get access to the backlog of these characters, which is so important to the future of these characters."
"Not everybody knows 70 years of comic book history," explained President of Archie Comics Mike Pellerito. Older issues that are added to the app backlog are "curated so it helps the new material," meaning if a new chapter features The Comet, the classic issues for the week will be ones that featured past versions of the hero.
Jim "Ski" Sokolowski, Senior VP Sales and Marketing, stressed that even though Red Circle Comics will always have a digital home, they are also "working with Diamond now to really make sure [the print version] has a really deep reach in [comic] shops and everybody gets an opportunity to get it… It's refreshing to see the marketplace embrace a new take on historical stuff and really get behind it. We're really looking forward to that."
Kaminski then gave the audience a brief rundown of the characters in "New Crusaders," explaining how the idea of legacy is important to each.
The Comet is the adopted son of the original Comet, who, like the majority of the original Crusaders, was seemingly killed in the first chapter by returning villain Brain Emporer.
Fireball is "kind of the hot head of the team. Literally. He's the one who is a little more unhinged -- he has a bit of a mean streak in him but he has a heart of gold anyways."
Describing Fly-Girl as "one of my favorite characters," Kaminski described her as "one of those kids who just really loves super powers. She was the popular kid in school and she gets this news [that her mother was killed] and she's given these cool new powers."
The new Jaguar is the apprentice to the original Jaguar, Ralph Hardy. "She's so interesting because she's really, really, really shy. Having a shy girl like that put in to a superhero situation, you'd think wouldn't quite fit."
The Shield, who is the mentor and leader of the team, "is in charge of molding this new team of superheroes which is, obviously, kind of crazy. It's been about 80 years since he's been a teenager so it's going to be an interesting exercise to be put in charge of all these kids and trying to make something out of them."
Steel Sterling is "like the Chris Kline character from 'American Pie.' He's sort of like the benevolent jock."
The Web, son of the original Web, is Kaminski's favorite character "because I can relate to him so much. Total nerd." He's also the only hero in the group who has a traditional super-power.
After running down the team's initial roster, Kaminski stressed, "We wanted to preserve the old continuity, but not bog it down with old continuity. One of the main themes of 'New Crusaders' is legacy. It's something that we're very aware of."
Pellerito said the new Red Circle Comics happened because the timing was right. "We had the rights back to the characters, we had the rights back from DC [Comics]. They did a good job, but we knew that Archie is a house of ideas. We keep doing crazy stuff and everybody really responds to it. We wanted to do superheroes that were really cool and had a legacy."
Pellerito stressed several times during the panel that "New Crusaders" is not a reboot, directly comparing it to DC's New 52. "One of the things about the DC reboot I really hated is that they killed the legacy aspect of it. I loved that you had superheroes going back to 1942 and World War II and there were all these levels of heroes and legacies. That makes a heavy burden for a superhero. Marvel has it to a small degree, and DC did have it [before the reboot.]"
The recently announced series "Lost Crusade" by writer Ian Flynn and artist Mike Norton tells the story of what happened between the classic "Crusaders" continuity and "New Crusaders." "Ian [Flynn] has many different pitches for every project you can imagine. He writes them in his sleep," Kaminski said.
The panel then announced that Chuck Dixon is writing the second story-arc of "Lost Crusade." Pellerito places Dixon in his "top 5 writers of all-time." "He's one of those writers -- when I see his name on something, I just buy it. He got what we were doing immediately and he wanted to play in the sandbox."
"The one negative response we heard [about the app] was, 'We want our comic book in print!'" said Perllito as the topic shifted once more to the upcoming collected, print editions of the series.
Offering print versions of "New Crusaders" for the first time at CCI, the publisher is also soliciting print copies to the direct market, as well, complete with variant covers. The first collected print volume, "Rise of the Heroes," is coming out this March.
iVerse CEO Michael Murphy, whose company designed the Red Circle Comics App, then joined the panel on stage. "From my end it's kind of interesting because I got to come in and pitch [the app's] general concept as a fan because I've loved these characters since the Impact line in the early '90s," Murphey said. "What's been really great is to see things take form and see the app take shape., Fom a technical standpoint, to get to do things that nobody's done before with a digital app has been a lot of fun."
New titles featuring some of the characters from "New Crusaders" are in the works. Kaminski said in response to the first query of the panel's Q&A session. "Ian [Flynn] has pitches for every spinoff title right now, so they're ready to go. I think the one he is most excited for is 'Jaguar.'"
Pellerito told a fan that more material will be making it to print, but he feels it's important to keep some digital material exclusive for the app users that were there from day one. "They're already in the club,"Pellerito said.
"New Crusaders" is structured around putting out six pages of material a week, 24 pages a month. For months with five weeks, they plan on putting out installments of "Lost Crusade," which explains the backstory of the universe, including why The Shield is even legally allowed to adopt all of these kids.
Readers can buy individual digital issues of "New Crusaders" or subscribe to the app for 99 cents a week to get six pages of new content and 10-15 issues of archived material each week. Once you download an issue, it's yours forever.
Pellerito confirmed to a fan that we should see "New Crusaders" t-shirts around the time the first collected print edition comes out in six months.
The panel dodged a question asking about when new or old villains will be showing up, insisting that there's a reason they've been largely absent so far.
"You don't want to know all the pieces," Pellerito said. "This is 'The Sixth Sense.' It really is a mystery in a super hero story."
The Red Circle Comics App, featuring the "New Crusaders," is available in Apple's App Store now.