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CSBG Archive

Almost Hidden – The Children’s Crusade

Even with this large amount of comic books that have been collected in trade paperbacks, there are still a number of great comic books that have never been reprinted (I’d say roughly 60% of them are DC Comics from the 1980s through the mid-1990s). So every day this month I will spotlight a different cool comic book that is only available as a back issue. Here is an archive of the comic books featured so far.

I want you folks to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com with your suggestions for comics that I should feature this month. I’d like to see what you all would like to see get more attention.

Today, reader Jeff R. pointed out the oddity that DC has not reprinted the 1993-1994 Vertigo Annual crossover, The Children’s Crusade, which was book-ended by two extra-sized issues penned by Neil Gaiman!

Gaiman wrote The Children’s Crusade #1 and #2, which were bookends around Black Orchid Annual #1, Animal Man Annual #1, Swamp Thing Annual #7, Doom Patrol Annual #2 and Arcana Annual #1 (Arcana led into the Books of Magic). Interestingly enough, Arcana Annual #1 actually HAS been reprinted in one of the various Books of Magic/Faerie/what have you collections.

In any event, the series opens with a brilliant little idea Gaiman had. Much like other recent great comic book writers, Gaiman has this impressive ability to toss off ideas that you can build a whole series around (Morrison, Moore, Ellis, they all have this same skill). In this instance, it is Gaiman taking two characters he had introduced in Sandman #25 during the Season of Mists storyline, Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine, and putting a whole new spin on them. You see, Rowland was a young boy in a boarding school that found itself tormented by denizens of hell returned to Earth (as a result of Lucifer closing Hell during the Season of Mists story). He befriended the ghost of a boy, Edwin Paine, who was murdered in the school 75 years earlier. By the end of the tale, Rowland dies, as well. However, when Death comes for him he refuses to part with Edwin, so Death leaves them alone (for now). So Charles and Edwin head off into the world to enjoy life as ghosts in a way that they never enjoyed life as living boys.

Well, in the Children’s Crusade, Gaiman brings these characters back, only now they are boy detectives! Such an awesome idea, and it has led to a number of fun stories featuring the characters since then (Peter Gross, Ed Brubaker and Jill Thompson have all done fine work with the boys).

They are hired by a young girl hoping to find her younger brother. Just check out the awesomeness of their introduction (the artwork is by Chris Bachalo and Mike Barreiro, and it is just fantastic – Bachalo really went all out on this Annual)….

See? Really compelling character work by Gaiman. Do note the rhyming in the beginning of the sequence – children’s rhymes are very important in this crossover, as they have the power to connect to the “Free Country.”

The Free Country is a mystical land accessed by survivors of the original Children’s Crusade (the perhaps apocryphal tale of thousands of children being sent from Europe to help convert Muslims to Christianity. Instead of coming to Jerusalem, though, they were sold into slavery and most of them died before that even happened) that becomes a safe haven for children who have been abused, mistreated, etc.

As Charles and Edwin examine the case, they discover a major clue…

You see, Free Country needs to find the children on that list to help power their land because they intend to just bring ALL of the world’s children to Free Country (the children of Flaxdown were a dry run on their much bigger plan).

This, then, leads into all the Annuals, where the children in all of those titles take the spotlight.

If there is any problem collecting this crossover, it would, of course, be in the Annuals, as nearly all of the creators treat this story as part of their own overall story in their particular title. So while each of them are quite fine on their own, they do not exactly either…

1. Read as a cohesive narrative

or

2. Necessarily explain each particular book to the novice reader (can you imagine just reading one issue of Rachel Pollak’s Doom Patrol without knowing what is what?).

Still, the individual annuals are at the very least fun reads.

First is the Black Orchid Annual #1, by Dick Foreman, Gary Amaro and Jason Minor. Here, “Suzy” (the smaller of the two Black Orchid hybrids that starred in the series) ends up in Free Country.

Next is Animal Man Annual #1, by Jamie Delano, Russ Braun, Tom Sutton and Rafael Kayanan. Here, Animal Man’s daughter (who can communicate with animals), Maxine ends up in the Free Country, as well. Bruan’s pencils, particularly his animal drawings are a real standout here.

Next is Swamp Thing Annual #7, by Nancy Collins and Mark Buckingham, where Tefe Holland goes to the Free Country and forms quite a fun partnership with Maxine. Collins and Delano probably spend the most time actually developing the Free Country plot as opposed to advancing their own series’ plot (although Delano does do that, as well).

Next is Doom Patrol Annual #2, by Rachel Pollak and Mark Wheatley. Dorothy Spinner visits Free Country but does not stay.

Next is Arcana Annual #1, by John Ney Reiber and Peter Gross. This was a really strong one-shot that led directly into Ney Reiber and Gross’ Books of Magic series. Strong work. At the end of the story, Tim Hunter ends up in Free Country, as well.

Finally, in the conclusion, written by Gaiman, Alisa Kwitney and Jamie Delano (they split the chapters up – Gaiman gets most of them, I believe) and drawn beautifully by Peter Snejbjerg (seriously, an extra-sized issue #1 by Chris Bachalo and an extra-sized issue #2 by Peter Snejbjerg?!? How are these issues not collected?)

Charles and Edwin find a way to get to Free Country, where they enlist Tim and Suzy’s help in finding the missing brother…

Very cute.

In this issue, we meet the villain of the piece, who is manipulating the children into trying to take all the children of the world into the Free Country…

That is some really dark stuff right there. But darkly compelling!

Here, the council of kids explains THEIR plot…

And then it all comes to a head.

This was a fun crossover series, but the bookends, in particular, were REALLY strong. I mean, we’re talking nearly 100 pages of uncollected Gaiman goodness here, for crying out loud! Come on, DC, collect these issues!

23 Comments

Loved the Children’s Crusade, and I agree, a collected version would be really wonderful. I hope Black Orchid pops up in some form or another in the DCnU or in a Vertigo title. She’s always been a favorite character of mine.

Where is Peter Snedjbjerg?? I miss his work.

While I love Bachalo’s recent work I can’t help but miss his early work and it’s beauty

Spider Jerusalem

August 6, 2011 at 9:22 am

Snedjbjerg just did A God Somewhere late last year, Anderson.

I love Bachalo currently, but after seeing that old style I think I like that even more. I’d love for him to find a way to fuse both styles into a new one.

I don’t know if it affected other comics that much (some of them I didn’t read and in others it was not mentioned) but it was a tad odd when I started to read Books of Magic and they started to drop references to Free Country…and I had not read this.
In some ways I understand that collecting this might be confusing as hell (BoM is also the only one of these series which has been collected, right? No Delano’s Animal Man, or Collins’ Swamp Thing, or…) but still I’d be interested.

Sigh, remember when Bachalo could draw a comprehensible page…?

I think that Maxine’s temporary disappearance affected the plot in Animal Man, but in general CC didn’t affect any of the books except the upcoming Books of Magic vol 2. I think you could collect the bookends and the Arcana Annual and publish them as Books of Magic vol. 1.5, bridging between the Gaiman miniseries and the ongoing.

I miss Tim Hunter. It’s true that Gaiman, like Morrison, is a constant idea-generator– but it’s also true that, like Morrison, he’s left behind a string of ideas that other people tried to use and just drained the life out of. The two real exceptions are Tim Hunter and Lucifer.

It is not that it affected the plots of those books so much as those books were following the plots of the ongoings. So the Doom Patrol one, for instance, references all the stuff going on in Doom Patrol as if you were reading Doom Patrol. Same with Black Orchid. So they’re a bit hard for new readers to know what is going on if encountering them as a chapter in a collection. But really, if Amazon Attacks can be collected (and it has been) , then this should too, as it is FAR more cohesive than something like Atlantis Attacks.

Wow! This looks great! It has some great talent involved too! They definitely need to get this collected.

Also, seeing Jason Minor’s name in there, I have to plug his project, Fables for Japan, which is a charity book coming out at the end of August that will be donating all the money to the Red Cross. He’s writing and drawing a story, as well as several other comic book creators, animators, artists and writers contributing tales. Phil Hester, Ryan Kelly, and Stuart Moore are just some of the other recognizable names in the project. Everything I’ve seen so far looks incredible, and it’s for a great cause.

http://www.fables4japan.com/

Besides all the great stuff you mention (really, if you laugh about the 90`s comics it`s because you were spending your money on the wrong books), isn`t it REALLY WEIRD to see how uncanny similar to Tim Hunter Harry Potter is??? I know there was a trail an everything, but even knowing it, everytime I see this little guy with glasses who was a master magician but knew nothing about it I can`t help but be marveled at the similarities.

was wondering if children crusade from dc would show up on this list of hidden gems needed to be reprinted. though i remember how little creeped out i was over learning the reason the main villains wanted the kids and also took some of the characters like tim and dorthy spinner . and tefe. one would think now that animal man and swamp thing are getting going again in the dc universe. dc would want to reprint more of the early adventure plus if nothing else not pass up another chance to make some money off of Neils gainmans work.

I don’t get it . . . isn’t all the other material from Gaiman collected in one form or another? Why wouldn’t DC collect this story?

Two more things. First, did you mean Peter Snejbjerg? I just want to make sure it isn’t two different guys. Also, his name is pronounced “Sni-ber” . . . you just have to pretend that the J’s and the G don’t exist. I rant into him at the MoCCA show several years ago, and that’s where I learned the pronunciation. Secondly, if any of you are intrigued by the Dead Boy Detectives, you should check out the manga-sized graphic novel that was put out — I think — in 2005. Jill Thompson writes and draws, and it’s a fun story.

While I’m digging the concept and the stories presented I was thinking of how come DC never collected the first 9 issues of Superboy vol. 3 plus the 0 and Adventures of Superman # 506 issues witch told his first origin before Johns Teen Titans soft retcon or the stories last boy on earth # 50- 53, hypertension # 60- 65, evil factory #70- 74 with issue 74 being the only issue collected as it was part of the sins of youth crossover come on Kesel and Grummett told some stories in their 2 runs on the series

Agree this should totally be collected folk. There’s a lot of early Vertigo stuff that needs to collected. Like the rest of Milligan’s Shade for example. I’d also like to see many of the Milestone comics collected mainly Xombi. The run, which sadly ends this month, is amazing and I hear the original run is equally as excellent. DC should collect the remainder of Static Shock and ICON as well.

The whole crossover was collected in Spain.

Well, the “Enemy Of The State” storyline in Black Panther was collected in France. Found that out the few times I met Bill Almond (Sal Valluto’s inker on the title) at cons.

Seconded with “Hyper Tension.” When Karl Kesel came back to Superboy, it was like he possessed by the spirit of Jack Kirby. With the newly-created Hypertime at his disposal, Kesel sent Kon through alternate realities and Elseworlds (including Elseworld’s Finest: Supergirl/Batgirl . . . now home of the Supergrrl!!!), eventually facing off against his evil doppelganger, Black Zero.

Davey Boy Smith

August 7, 2011 at 4:41 am

I agree with Jacob T. Levy. Tim Hunter is one of my all-time favourite characters, and I wish it were possible to follow his further exploits and see him reach adulthood. Peter Gross’ achingly beautiful A Day, a Night & a Dream has endeared the character to me forever, and The Closing was the perfect final chapter to Tim’s first ongoing series. Luckily, the end of Books of Magick: Life after Wartime hinted at a happy end for the proto-Potter.

The first issue of The Children’s Crusade is one of my favourite comics ever, with two great creators (Gaiman and Bachalo) at the peak of their powers. The series itself was exemplary of Vertigo’s high-quality output in the Nineties (not that it isn’t a good imprint nowadays; it’s just that I miss the shared universe approach…)

I think I might have that series sitting around unread in my loft somewhere. Can you read just the bookends and still get a complete story?

You’d be unfamiliar with a lot of the characters not having seen them in their previous issues, but I guess so.

The middle issues, I’d rank in order of importance as:

1. Animal Man (the Jack Rabbit character is important)
2. Swamp Thing (it is the only one that pretty much entirely takes place in the Free Country)
3. Arcana (some good Free Country stuff, and probably the best issue of all the tie-ins)
4. Black Orchid (it would be tied for last, but I guess if you want to know who Suzy is, you’d need this issue)
5. Doom Patrol (totally skippable – not a bad issue, but not important at all to the crossover)

Actually looking at that I think that Black Orchid and Doom Patrol might be the only ones that I don’t have in some form or other – so it might not be so bad.

Ta

I’m seconding Milestone’s Xombi as something that should be reprinted.
I remember Dwayne McDuffie saying that Vertigo didn’t want to publish collections of it either. Blah.

THe Children’s crusade is one my favorite stories each issue except Doom Patrol was some of the best work by there individual creative teams I loved The Animal man story which also read as a commentary on on the branch Dravidian cult massacre. it was easily one the best issues Jaime Delano wrote and cover is One of Brian Bollands all time best . the swamp thing was a silly little tale but it charming two the Black Orchid Annual was the story of why not to talk to strangers it still read pretty tight despite the different creative team involved so yes I would love to see a compilation of what could be considered the size of 14 issue story Swamp thing did not spend it entire issue about the children’s crusade story the only thing I think they should do is to redraw doom patrol the art was as bad as the story which was all about a girl being kicked out free county for menstruating .

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