Brand Echh – The Crusaders #1

In the early 1980s, as the comic book Direct Market began to become a real sales force in the industry, the way was opened up for all sorts of new, smaller companies (and individuals) to publish their own comic books and potentially strike it rich. There was now a ready-made distribution network of specialty stores into which almost anybody could plug a publication and expect to find some manner of ready-made audience. The earliest creators who took advantage of this burgeoning marketplace produced works that were a bit more personal, not as likely to find footing among the mainstream publishers of the day (I’m thinking here of titles such as ELFQUEST, CEREBUS, THE FIRST KINGDOM and STAR REACH). By the early 1980s, though, the dam was beginning to burst and a whoel flod of new super hero titles was waiting to emerge.

THE CRUSADERS was published in 1982 in the black and white magazine format initially. It was half a step up from a fanzine at this point, but the series would go on to have a decent life and attain legitimacy, albeit under a different title. THE CRUSADERS featured artwork by Butch Guice, who would almost immediately go on to find employment at Marvel and DC–an editorial in this debut issue tells about Butch having to finish up work on it while at the same time juggling his earliest work on MICRONAUTS, the book that gave him his entry into the mainstream.

The series proved to be prescient about some of the trends that would come to be reflected in super hero comics in the years to come–although that prescience wasn’t immediately apparent, obviously. Of the four members of the Crusaders, only one of them wore a regulation super hero costume. Te others were all attired in stylized civilian garb, an aesthetic which would become widespread across the industry in the years to come. That one costumed member, Electrode, was himself a comic book fan, and he would speak to the tropes of the genre as the characters would encounter them in the kind of manner that Joss Whedon would popularize a decade-and-a-half later. And cast member Connie Ronin’s power was to materialize a psychic sword of the sort that would become standard issue in the X-MEN titles in later years.

Unfortunately for The Guild, the trio of friends who had put together and published THE CRUSADERS #1, Archie Comics was right on the cusp of attempting to relaunch its super hero line one more time, under the Red Circle banner. They sent the Guild a cease and desist letter claiming that the title represented an infringement on THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS, which was then coming back into print. With no case, the Guild changed the name of their series to THE SOUTHERN KNIGHTS–and even reflected the C & D in the story, where the new super-team is similarly forced to change its name due to rights held by another publisher.

As SOUTHERN KNIGHTS, the book lasted a respectable 33 issues as well as spinning off a few additional specials and characters. Guice was gone after the first issue, and a string of other artists drew the series, including Chuck Wojtkiewicz.

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