Brand Echh: Mighty Crusaders #4

The combination of the super hero fad and a bit of an overlapping nostalgia boom led to the creation of this issue of Archie/Mighty Comics’ MIGHTY CRUSADERS #4, one of the best-remembered bad comic books of its era. For in its pages, having brought back a couple of its golden age heroes in prior adventures, the newly-organized Mighty Comics Group threw all caution to the wind, and jam-packed this entry of their team series with a dozen more revivals of obscure 1940s costumed cut-ups. It’s an orgy of awfulness.

We’ve talked before about Mighty Comics, the super hero imprint launched by Archie when super heroes began to pick up steam in the marketplace, but just to reiterate: it was a bald-faced attempt to capture a portion of the audience for the new Marvel Comics, and Mighty Comics just didn’t have any scruples about how they went about it–to say nothing for having a clue just what it was that made those Marvel books so appealing. So the whole production was an unintended parody of the Stan Lee/Marvel style of storytelling–right down to crediting the creators as Jerry Ess and Paul Are in emulation of Stan truncating his real name from Lieber to Lee.

On the one hand, it feels a bit sad that the creator of Superman had fallen to this level by the mid-1960s. One has to imagine that Jerry Siegel was doing his absolute best to mimic Stan’s sense of patter and the feet-of-clay personalities that he gave the Marvel heroes. But Siegel (or his editors) didn’t get it at all, and so Jerry’s attempts to copy Stan’s style are cringeworthy, both in the manner in which they characterize the Mighty heroes and in the specific cadence of the copy that he generates.

Siegel’s Crusaders fought and sniped and bickered like the Avengers did, but without the underlying sense of camaraderie and fun that the Marvel series had. Consequently, these guys all come across as complete jerks. Siegel often reads as though he can’t quite decide whether he should be drawing from the Marvel books or the tone of the Batman television series, and so he ping-pongs back and forth between the two, arriving at a meeting of the two that satisfies fans of neither.

But that all said, I love these stupid comics, almost as an anthropological study as to how the more established editors of the period viewed Lee’s success with the Marvel books. Reading this, it’s certainly easy to understand how the powers-that-be at DC and elsewhere would take another decade and a half to truly be able to tap into the appeal of what Lee and his collaborators were doing. It’s all a wonderful misfire–but if you’re in the right frame of mind, it’s incredibly entertaining, too.

I have to assume based on context that this particular Mighty Crusaders adventure was inspired by the yearly team-ups of the Justice League of America and their golden age counterparts in the Justice Society. By 1966, those pairings had been going on for a couple of years, and reportedly they were usually the best-selling issues of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA for every year. So I can see why the Archie team might attempt to emulate them.

It’s probably not surprising that there’s a dollop of Mort Weisinger characterization in this story, either, since Siegel had spent the last couple of years toiling in obscurity for his one-time friend on the Superman titles, until his bid to regain the rights to Superman made him once more personal non grata at National/DC.

The Web is my favorite of the Mighty Comics revivals, as his bizarre interactions with his hero-hating wife are the stuff of 1960s situation comedies and tend to work despite how leaden the whole thing is. This page here is a small masterpiece of contrivance, coincidence and shoddy plotting–but it’s also just a little bit disarming in how earnestly it’s all done.

It’s also not impossible that Siegel and his editors were thinking of the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm in FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #3 in terms of their inspiration. There’s something about the way successive super heroes keep turning up in this story that reminds me of that other adventure. I don’t know that the timing allows for long enough between that issue’s publication and this one, however.

This house ad turns up in the issue at this point, and it’s a magnificent emulation of the Marvel formula, for all that it plays the music in a tone-deaf fashion.

This dopey little interlude with the Spider is also a comedically poor take on a Marvel trope. But it’s still fun nonetheless.

Even the villains in this story, the Hangman and the Wizard, had once been MLJ super heroes. Making them into villains was an attempt to emulate the way Namor the Sub-Mariner had been reintroduced over in FANTASTIC FOUR–except in their cases, their turn to villainy didn’t really make a lot of sense.

6 thoughts on “Brand Echh: Mighty Crusaders #4

  1. Seeing some of these attempts to ape 60’s Marvel impresses on me that what Stan Lee did is harder than it looks. Especially from inside the industry at the time, as opposed to decades after people have already grown up with it and as a standard part of their toolkit. It’s kind of a writing parallel to Kirby art. I think a pretty definitive refutation of the extreme anti-Lee perspective would be a compilation of all the contemporaries trying to imitate his style, which failed rather miserably.

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  2. I actually had this comic when I was a kid, as I was a fan of The Mighty Crusaders and the characters. Yeah, I knew it was campy but certainly was a lot of fun. Most of my comics money was going to Marvel, but since I was finding less enjoyment with the DC books, I had some extra funds I could use on lesser publishers.

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  3. It’s not as good as Marvel, and it doesnt quite stand up to doom patrol, but it beats dial h for hero and ultra the multi alien, to say nothing of the Dell, H survey and ACG hero attempts.

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  4. Ironically, according to the book “Ditko Shrugged,” Jerry Siegel had worked for Stan as a proofreader, before Stan tried him out on Human Torch stories in two issues of Strange Tales, written under the name of Joe Carter. And I agree with you, “I love these stupid comics.”

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