You know the drill by now, friends. First of all, let’s look at this week’s Everthing But Imaginary. Earlier this week, Devil’s Due Publishing announced that they’re cutting off ties with Diamond Distribution. Why did they do this? What does it mean? See my thoughts here:
Next, let’s look at this week’s classic Everything But Imaginary. This week we’re going back to March 21, 2004…
In the past, friends, we have talked about the inter-company crossover, those rare occasions where Superman and Spider-Man cross paths, or Batman puts a hurt on the Punisher, or when Aunt May trades wheatcake recipes with Martha Kent. While it’s always fun to see characters from different “universes” come into contact with each other, these crossovers are usually pretty hollow because no lasting changes can be made due to the need not to infringe on the regular titles. Even if that wasn’t an issue, there would still be the problem of referring to events that included a character you can’t legally refer to. Although it would be funny, every once in a while, to see Wildcat talking to Billy Batson and saying, “Hey, remember that time… no, wait, that was the other Captain Marvel…”
There is, however, another kind of crossover that rings much truer, where things can be changed. I’m talking about the intra-company crossover, where all of Marvel’s characters or all of DC’s characters unite to face off against some major threat or some terrible crisis. The first major company-wide crossover I am aware of came in 1984, with Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars, in which the mysterious Beyonder kidnapped the most intriguing (read: best-selling) heroes and villains from the Marvel universe, dropped them on a distant planet called Battleworld, and told them to duke it out for his amusement. (Surprisingly, Brother Voodoo and Diablo got to stay home.) The story was 12 issues and wound up telling a pretty satisfying yarn, including some of the best Doctor Doom sequences ever.
The story was so popular, in fact, that before the heroes even had time to unpack their bags back on Earth, Marvel launched Secret Wars II, in which the Beyonder came to our planet. This story was not quite so well-received, but it was significant in that it helped spearhead something that would define crossovers in the future: a main story in the titular mini-series and other chapters spread out among the regular issues of all the Marvel titles. The story wasn’t contained in Secret Wars II, the Beyonder carried out parts of his agenda in many other titles, including Uncanny X-Men, Fantastic Four and even Dazzler.
At around the same time, DC Comics was launching the crossover that would not only define the entire genre, but give the shorthand name for such an event: Crisis on Infinite Earths. Similar in structure to what Marvel did, this event was contained in a 12-issue miniseries about time collapsing and worlds being destroyed. (This was done in an effort to “simplify” the DC Universe. Frankly, I didn’t think it was in need of simplifying — science fiction fans had no problem with the concept of alternate realities for generations, why did comic book fans? But that’s another column.)
However, across nearly every DC monthly at the time, as well as several miniseries and specials, other effects of the Crisis were felt. New heroes were introduced. Old ones were laid to rest. The whole thing was so well done that even today, 18 years later, I’m still trying to get all of the official crossovers (mostly for the prestige of being able to say I have all of the official crossovers, including Losers Special #1).
The crossover was a hit and, like any other hit in the field of entertainment, it had to be repeated. The year after Crisis, DC gave us Legends. Then Millennium. Then Invasion . Some of these were more successful than others, but they all had the same basic format — a miniseries to contain the main story and “bonus” chapters spread across other titles that readers could get or ignore as they wished. Although it bears noting that while people were willing to shell out $100 bucks for a hardcover collection of the 12 main Crisis issues, you can probably make a complete set of the Millennium miniseries and all its bonus chapters in your nearest quarter bin.
Marvel, at the same time, took a different approach, abandoning the miniseries and instead hosting crossovers in a family of titles but spreading out to affect others. When demons swarmed on New York in Inferno, Spider-Man and Cloak and Dagger mixed it up with them in their own titles, but the main battles were fought in the pages of Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants and the X-Terminators miniseries.
A couple of years later came the Acts of Vengeance crossover, in which a mysterious mastermind who would turn out to be Loki, Norse god of trickery, convinced supervillains to attack each other’s enemies in order to gain the element of surprise. This resulted in unusual battles like Mandarin versus the X-Men, the Gray Gargoyle versus the Hulk and Typhoid Mary versus Power Pack. The crossover would touch everyone from the Punisher to Quasar, but the story began and ended in Avengers, Avengers West Coast and Avengers Spotlight.
Then both companies struck upon a gold mine for crossovers: the annuals. For years most comic books had an annual double-sized edition. With Evolutionary War, Marvel began the practice of running a single storyline through all of these annuals. DC followed suit with Armageddon 2001. Marvel gave us Atlantis Attacks. DC gave us Bloodlines.
Other companies got into the act. Valiant had Unity. Eclipse had Total Eclipse. Malibu had Genesis. Even Image had stuff like Shattered Image, Altered Image and, my personal favorite, Mars Attacks Image.
Then something happened. People started to get fed up with the crossovers. They felt it was a cheap ploy to get them to buy books they ordinarily wouldn’t have just to have the complete story. They felt that the stories themselves weren’t worth it (and with junk like DC’s Genesis, who can blame them?) Frankly, I think this frustrated attitude is indirectly the reason we no longer have annuals today. The last time any major company-wide crossovers were seen was in 2001, with DC’s abysmal Joker: Last Laugh and Marvel’s “Okay-but-not-good-enough-to-justify-20-crossovers” Maximum Security.
But while I sympathize, and even agree, with those who hate crossovers because of the “gotta get ‘em all” mentality, I can’t deny that there is a certain thrill in seeing lots of characters come together against one menace. Isn’t there any common ground?
You bet there is.
Just a few weeks ago we found it in Secret War (notice the lack of pluralization) by Brian Michael Bendis. Nick Fury discovers that all of the two-bit hoods in the Marvel Universe, the ones who aren’t smart enough to program a VCR but walk around with high-tech weaponry and nuclear reactors strapped to their backs, are all being supplied by a singular source, meaning they are no longer supervillains, but instead meet the definition of terrorists. It’s such a simple, brilliant idea, and future issues, which promise Fury putting together a superhero task force to fight the ultimate evil, should be great.
It’s a story that won’t have crossover “bonus chapters,” but whose implications for nearly every Marvel title are clearly evident. It’s something I can’t wait to see played out.
I’m hoping for something similar with DC’s Identity Crisis (there’s that word again) coming out this summer, a storyline about which no one seems to know anything except that someone will die and it’s somebody important enough to show Superman crying in the preview art. At CrossGen, several of their titles have come to an end with a promise of their storylines being concluded in Negation War.
Major ramifications. No cheap stunts.
The crossovers of the future, friends. Let’s hope they stay this way. (2010 note: They didn’t.)
FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: March 10, 2004
It’s not that long ago that my two favorite comics at Marvel were Avengers and Thunderbolts. Now I don’t read either title anymore, for obvious reasons. When Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza, the writers that put those titles in the upper tier for me, got together for a miniseries bringing back the latter from oblivion and the former from mediocrity, I jumped at it. The first issue of Avengers/Thunderbolts was a fine start, showing us where the Thunderbolts are since we left them at the end of Nicieza’s run and why the Avengers feel a need to stand against them. Throw in fantastic artwork by Barry Kitson and you’ve got the recipe for a great comic book.
Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at Blake@comixtreme.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.