Cover for Mighty Crusaders #2

The Mighty Crusaders #2, January 1966

“The Mighty Crusaders Battle Inferno, the Destroyer”

The tale opens with the Mighty Crusaders indulging in a little horseplay as they throw each other manfully around a field. This, however, is not mere jolly japes: it’s how the team keep trim (they are, presumably, unable to afford a Danger Room like the X-Men’s). Just then the Comet asks them all to stand on the “Star-olator”. At first glance this might just appear a star-shaped pattern on the ground, but it is in fact oh so much more, and each member takes up a position on one of the points. The Star-olator  monitors “any terrific emergency” requiring the team’s “ultra-services”. An image of the Earth’s impending doom by a giant drill from outer space is shown and the Mighty Crusaders fly into action — literally, as the Coment fires a ray gun at them that gives them all the power of flight!

Meanwhile, the telescope at a nearby observatory picks up the approaching drill from outer space! Crumbs!

The Crusaders assemble a giant “reverse-gravity-ray-cannon” and fire it at the drill, but it’s no use. They try again, but suddenly a seemingly sentient tornado appears — it has a face and everything — and the gun is destroyed. The team scatter. Comet is attacked by an eagle, and the Shield is doused when an oil gusher erupts over him. A lightning bolt takes out the Black Hood, and the earth seems doomed as the giant drill comes ever closer.

A giant apparition appears. It is Inferno, the Destroyer, and he conveniently destroys the drill. He then flies off round the world telepathically trumpeting his great deed to the whole population. The people of Earth then turn against the Crusaders for failing to protect them from the drill. The Crusaders know Inferno is a bad-un, but it’s no good: “Hoorah for Inferno, the Destroyer!” chant the people of Earth. The Crusaders are distraught but decide to go manfully on, however Fly Girl decides to quit and join forces with Inferno. At a farewell meal she drugs the others and passes them into the clutches of Inferno!

Inferno sets up a gigantic fan with each of the Crusaders tied to a blade. The fan spins at 500 miles an hour and Inferno flips a switch to kill the heroes. He then has a strange change of heart: “I, who was once sinister, am now meek and gentle!” he says to himself.

Fly Girl appears and releases the Crusaders. She then explains the plot. It seems as though Inferno has, in fact, been behind everything. It was he who sent the space drill in the first place and used it to trick to people of Earth into trusting him. The disasters the befell the Crusaders as they fought to stop the drill were caused by Inferno’s “fate-mastery machine” that can “cause effects that are contrary to science and can bend fate!” Fly Girl has used this device to change Inferno’s black heart, and he goes on television to explain all to the people of earth.

“We shouldn’t have turned against the Mighty Crusaders!” chant the rather feckless people of Earth, and the Crusaders mop up the remainder of Inferno’s gang while Inferno himself is handed over to a prison warden.

“Bravo!” cry the people, as the Mighty Crusaders perform a victory flight over the city.

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It pains me to report that this was written by Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Superman. Siegel was one of the greatest comics writers of all time, but 1965 was not a great year for him and this sees him at a real low point. He’d just launched legal proceedings against DC over the ownership of Superman and, perhaps not surprisingly, had found himself unwanted at his former employers. With writing work thin on the ground Siegel washed up at Archie Comics just as it was launching its new line of super-heroes designed to compete with Marvel’s. He reworked and re-launched the moribund The Fly title as Fly Man and revived the company’s Golden Age characters, the Black Hood, the Comet and the Shield. These, when banded together, formed the Mighty Crusaders along with Fly Man and Fly Girl. Unfortunately, as was common with a lot of publishers at the time, camp was the order of the day — like the Batman tv show — and Siegel struggled. Unable to tap into the same well of creativity that Stan Lee stumbled upon (well, okay, Jack Kirby), Siegel resorted to ever sillier stories with little sense or logic. They’re fun to read, sure, but are completely barmy, and one wonders what might have been had Siegel and Archie really studied and understood what Lee et al were doing over at Marvel.

The art is competent, but unspectacular, with Mike Sekowsky handling chapter one, and Paul Reinman on the remainder.

The back-up story, by Siegel and Reiman, is an untold tale of the Comet, and explains his long absence between the Golden Age and today. In it, it’s revealed that he had actually been kidnapped to fight a war on an alien world, and, with the war over, settled down to marry the Queen. With her passing, the distraught Comet decided to come back to Earth. This is actually rather clever, a great deal moreso that the lead tale anyway, and shows that Siegel could always spin a good yarn when he tried.

Cover art by Paul Reinman.

Image ©2010 Archie Comic Publications Inc