Archive for October 2017

Comic Art Friday: All those who oppose this Shield must yield

October 20, 2017

I’ve noted many times in this space that I don’t collect much published comic art, preferring to focus on pieces I commission for my various themes. But there have been occasional exceptions to this policy. Case in point: today’s featured artwork.

The Shield, issue 2, original cover art by David Williams

Archie Comics, best known for the comedic adventures of its namesake character and his teenage friends, has over the years made periodic forays into the superhero genre. Most of these efforts have been short-lived and nonimpactful. That’s not to say that they haven’t been good comics; only they haven’t left much of a mark against the more familiar lines published by Marvel and DC.

The parent company of Archie, then known as MLJ Comics, began offering superhero stories way back in 1939, when the genre first exploded onto the scene. Their most successful character was the Shield, a patriotic-themed hero who preceded the ultimately more famous Captain America to the newsstands by several months. The Shield was ostensibly the star of the MLJ line until Archie Andrews and pals arrived in December 1941, at which point the Shield and MLJ’s other costumed crusaders (including the Black Hood and the Wizard) got shuffled off into the dustbin of oblivion.

When superheroes became popular again in the late 1950s — the beginning of the Silver Age of Comics — the Archie folks launched a new version of the Shield in a series titled The Double Life of Private Strong. The revamped Shield sprang from the imagination of Joe Simon, co-creator (with the now-legendary Jack Kirby) of Captain America. By the mid-’60s, the Shield had teamed up with a motley assortment of other heroes — including the revived Black Hood and new characters like the Comet and the Fly — to form the Mighty Crusaders, a team intended to compete with DC’s Justice League of America and Marvel’s Avengers. The series lasted less than a year.

In the 1980s, Archie took another stab at its superhero properties, launching the Red Circle Comics brand. Red Circle brought back most of the Mighty Crusaders: Black Hood, the Fly, and the Comet, along with both versions of the Shield — original flavor (real identity: Joe Higgins) and the ’50s-’60s update (a.k.a. Lancelot Strong). As happened previously, sales lacked staying power, and the Red Circle heroes vanished once again.

These characters’ most lasting effect was inspiring the initial concept of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Moore’s first Watchmen pitch to DC involved using the Mighty Crusaders as the leads in his dark vision, which would later morph into the former Charlton Comics heroes that DC had recently purchased (Blue Beetle, Peacemaker, Thunderbolt, et al.) before DC editorial prevailed upon Moore to create all-new characters for the project. Still, Watchmen‘s Comedian retained some of the patriotic iconography first associated with the Shield.

Most recently, in 2015, Archie once again dusted off its superheroes under the Dark Circle imprint. The latest iteration of the Shield, now a young woman named Victoria Adams, starred in her own four-issue miniseries subtitled “Daughter of the Revolution.” The book was written by Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig, with interior art by Drew Johnson, Al Barrionuevo (issue 2), and Greg Scott (issue 4), and covers by David Williams. You can see David’s original cover art for The Shield #2 at the beginning of this post; the published version (with digital colors by Kelly Fitzpatrick) appears below.

The Shield, issue 2, published cover art by David Williams with color by Kelly Fitzpatrick

It remains to be seen whether the Shield and his/her cohorts will merit any additional love at Archie Comics. Perhaps, as has been the case previously, they’ll disappear for a couple of decades before resurfacing once more.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.