Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Wednesday Comics: Superheroes at Archie

Archie Comics is best known as the publisher of the teen humor character whose name it bears, but the company has also produced superheroes throughout much of its history, since its inception as MLJ Comics in 1939, in fact. They've never had the profile of DC's or Marvel's characters, but the MLJ/Archie characters are perhaps first among also-rans. It was the MLJ characters, after all, that Moore used in his original pitch that became Watchmen.

To get the low-down on these "Ultra-Heroes" (The term used in the Mighty Comics of the 60s. Presumably a reaction to Marvel and DC trademarking "Super Hero.") you could do a lot worse than the MLJ Companion from TwoMorrows.

The history of the characters can be divided into publication eras. The Golden Age started with Pep Comics in 1940. The Shield would appear there, America's first flag-clad hero, 15 months before Captain America. The Comet was there, too, unusually violent, and ultimately the first superhero to die. The Hang Man and Black Hood followed, but all the superheroes ultimately gave way to Archie Andrews and the Riverdale gang.

With the dawn of the Silver Age, the MLJ superheroes were revived first in the Archie Adventure Series and then Mighty Comics. Joe Simon created the Fly, who was likely inspired by Captain Marvel (Shazam to kids today) and was perhaps one of the inspirations for Spider-Man. DC's success was the impetus for the revival, but Marvel's success guided its development. Jerry Seigel was brought in as main writer and either was trying to do a burlesque of the Marvel style or was unable to take it seriously. Either way, the Mighty Crusaders (as the new team was called) were "High Camp" a year before the Batman TV show made it the hip way to handle superheroes.

The campy 60s titles died away, but the heroes wouldn't stay down. They were brought back in the late 70s in reprints as part of the Red Circle line. The early 80s saw new stories produced, masterminded by Rich Buckler, with a grittier tone in keeping with the times and in some ways anticipating what was to come. Archie backed off from this pretty quickly, rebranding the line as the Archie Adventure Series again and making them more kid-friendly. They even got a toyline.

They were revived by DC under the !mpact imprint in the 90s, then again in an attempt to add them to the DC Universe in the 2008, but DC lost the rights in 2011.

Archie Comics have been publishing the superheroes themselves since 2012, but it doesn't look like they've published anything since 2018. Given the Mighty Crusaders history, I suspect they'll be back. You can't keep the ultra-heroes down.


JB said...

I love getting this kind of history lesson.

Was there ever any crossover between the Archie characters and the Mighty Crusaders? I've read a lot of Archie stories over the years, and I don't recall ever seeing him and his pals in capes.

And do you know off-hand if Golden Key ever had a superhero line?

SF said...

The Watchmen characters were based on the Charlton Comics characters now (and also back when Watchmen was being planned) owned by DC, no? Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, the Question, etc.

Trey said...

@SF Yes, the Watchmen characters were the inspiration for the published characters and are currently owned by DC. But Moore originally intended to use the MLJ characters. From wikipedia: "Moore reasoned that MLJ Comics' Mighty Crusaders might be available for such a project, so he devised a murder mystery plot which would begin with the discovery of the body of the Shield in a harbour."

jdh417 said...

Archie and the gang were also superheroes themselves, as the Super Teens. Archie as Pureheart. Jughead as Captain Hero.

In the 40's Archie and the Shield did appear on covers together, but I don't know if they teamed up. There are some comic archives online that post those issues.

Trey said...

@hdh417 - I think there may have been so later crossovers if not then.
@JB - Gold Key did have some sort of superhero characters: Dr. Solar Man of the Atom, Magnus Robot-Fighter and Dr. Spektor.