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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
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…
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!