The Crusaders

Created by Bob Rozakis and Dick Ayers

» FIRST APPEARANCE: Freedom Fighters #7 (April/May 1976)

» SEE ALSO: JSA ParodiesEarth-8Amalgam The Maximums

In 1976, both DC and Marvel were printing comic book titles starring Golden Age heroes. Marvel featured the All-Winners in the pages of The Invaders. DC had revived heroes from Quality Comics in the pages of Freedom Fighters. At the same time in publication, each team encountered a band of super-powered adversaries called the "Crusaders." It was no coincidence. Rather, the authors from both companies created these groups as a friendly challenge to each other.

For more about DC/Marvel swipes, read the introduction to DC Teams: Earth-8.

DC's Crusaders

The Crusaders: Barracuda, Rusty, Americommando II, Fireball, and Sparky. From Freedom Fighters #7 (1977); art by Dick Ayers and Jack Abel.

DC's Crusaders were created by Bob Rozakis and Dick Ayers and debuted in Freedom Fighters #7 (Apr. 1977). It was obvious to readers that this team had been based on Marvel Comics' Invaders:

  • Americommando (Captain America): He had super strength and a triangular shield. He was later revealed to be the Freedom Fighters' arch-foe, the Silver Ghost. No relation to the original DC hero of the same name, who was also called Mr. America.
  • Rusty (Bucky): Teen-aged sidekick with no powers.
  • Fireball and Sparky (Human Torch and Toro): A flaming duo.
  • Barracuda (Sub-Mariner): A green-skinned, trident-wielding, super-strong, flying amphibian.

The Crusaders were known as a popular group of comic book characters—on both Earth-One and Earth-X. But no one seemed too concerned about how these fictional characters had come to life when the Freedom Fighters met them for real on Earth-One. The Crusaders offered their services to NYC District Attorney David Pearson, to help capture the Freedom Fighters (who were fugitives at the time). Pearson gave the Crusaders the authority to pursue Uncle Sam and his group after a report that they had caused a blackout in upstate New York. (Freedom Fighters #7)

While the Freedom Fighters were in upstate New York, at Niagara Falls, the Ray had been forced to use his powers to stop the Falls temporarily. There he was attacked by Fireball and Sparky, who began tossing flames at him to try to capture him in a cage of fire. The fiery duo followed the Ray back to the others at Niagara Falls, where a huge flaming "C" in the sky summoned the rest of the Crusaders. The Americommando parachuted in and threw his triangular shield at Uncle Sam, cutting the hero's star-spangled top hat in half.

Barracuda tried to capture Phantom Lady, but she went intangible, allowing the Human Bomb to push their blue-skinned opponent over the railing and into the water. Aware that being underwater would increase the Barracuda's powers tenfold, the Human Bomb used his explosive punch to ensure his finny foe did not stay in the water for long. The battle was at a stale mate until Barracuda ripped off the Human Bomb's helmet. The resulting explosion knocked out everyone but the Americommando and Uncle Sam, who was distracted by the blast and then taken out by the Americommando. The Americommando then removed his mask to reveal that he was Raphael Van Zandt, aka the Freedom Fighter's archenemy, the Silver Ghost. (#8)

His teammates soon discovered the Americommando's dual identity and sent them away while he took the Freedom Fighters' unconscious bodies to the power plant. He wired them all to the power generator, which would soon come back online and electrocute them all. Luckily, the first person in the "human circuit" was the Ray, who woke up and contained the electricity. The Freedom Fighters pursued the Crusaders to prove their innocence, and the Americommando kidnapped Doll Man's girlfriend, Martha.

The heroes dismantled the Crusaders, who told them how the Americommando had approached them (Marvin, Lennie, Arch, and Roy) at a comic book convention and had offered to recreate them as his former teammates using a special device. NOTE: The fan names were homage to real life creators Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, and Archie Goodwin.

The Freedom Fighters soon learned the Americommando's true identity, but in the confusion created by police arriving on the scene, the Silver Ghost escaped. His Crusaders returned to civilian life (though they might have retained their powers). (#9) The Ghost would return to challenge the Freedom Fighters again. (Canceled Comic Cavalcade #2)

» FEATURED APPEARANCES: Freedom Fighters #7-10 (Apr.–Oct. 1977)

Marvel's Crusaders

Spitfire calls the roll of Marvel's Crusaders. From Invaders #15 (1977); art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer.
The Crusaders disavow their weapons after learning they came from the Nazis. From Invaders #15 (1977); art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer.

Marvel's Crusaders, appeared only in Invaders #14-15, written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Frank Robbins.

They were a group of super-heroes based in Great Britain. While not having the raw power of their American counterparts, the Invaders, they were still a force to be reckoned with. The team included:

  • The Spirit of '76 (Uncle Sam): William Nasland, an American dressed like a revolutionary hero and equipped with a bullet-proof cloak. This patriotic hero wore a tricorn hat and domino mask (looking very similar in appearance to the Fighting Yank). He also had a cape that was somewhat bullet-proof, but no super-human powers. After the war, the Spirit of '76 was one of three men (along with Jeff Mace and the artificial being Adam II) who wore the costume of Captain America while the real super-soldier was lost (imprisoned in a block of ice).
  • Dyna-Mite (Doll-Man): Roger Aubrey, a six-inch tall man with the strength of a normal sized person. He was able to shrink down to about 12 centimeters tall, but retained his full-size strength. Dyna-Mite later took on the guise of the Mighty Destroyer.
  • Ghost Girl (Phantom Lady): An unidentified Scottish girl who had a mechanism in her gloves that could cast her image several feet away.
  • Tommy Lightning (the Ray): An unidentified Cockney who had the ability to absorb electricity and cast powerful lightning bolts.
  • Cap'n Wings (Black Condor): Upper-class gent who couldn't get into the RAF because of a heart murmur. He was able to fly and had a pair of golden wings on his back.
  • Thunderfist (Human Bomb) was very strong and had the ability to throw explosive punches.

The Crusaders appeared in wartime London and routed the crew of a crashed German bomber, convincing the British that they finally had a super-team to rival the Invaders. An eccentric cab driver named Alfie was later revealed to have given most of the heroes the devices that granted their powers. He could also turn their powers off with a switch on his belt.

But Dyna-Mite, who had no memory of where he came from, became suspicious. He spied on Alfie and discovered that he was a Nazi tool and was using them in a plot to assassinate the King George VI of England. Alfie, meanwhile, had convinced the Crusaders that the Invaders (Captain America, Bucky, Torch, Toro, and Namor) had traitorous inclinations.

When Dyna-Mite finally warned the Invaders, they rushed to stop the king's murder and the Crusaders assumed they were under attack. Eventually, the truth (and a bomb in the champagne bottle) was revealed. Alfie fled but was killed when the Torch's fireball caused his taxi to go off a bridge. Most of the Crusaders gave up their heroic careers after their powers were gone.

Two of them remained active: Spirit of '76 took over as the new Captain America when Steve Rogers got frozen. But after the war, Nasland was killed in a fight with some robots of the evil android called Adam 1. Dyna-Mite turned out to be a friend of Brian Falsworth, the original Mighty Destroyer, and later Union Jack II. Aubrey was restored to his normal size and succeeded Falsworth as the Mighty Destroyer II.

» FEATURED APPEARANCES: Invaders #14–15 (Mar.–Apr. 1977)

Original text copyright DC Comics unless otherwise noted. Used without permission.