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Skid Marks: Crossovers: I Love 'em, I Hate 'em. ARRRRGH!!!

Written by Zenguru on Thursday, July 16 2009 and posted in Columns
We all love crossovers.  We all hate them.  What would comics be without them?

Greetings, Skid fans!  Been quite a while, eh?  I love writing columns, but finding the time?  That's a real challenge for someone working the night shift.  But anywho, here we go.

 Crossovers.  The name evokes images of company-wide, all-encompassing storylines.  No title of any company is unaffected by a crossover.  They serve as a stage for huge events whereas putting it in a miniseries would just feel cramped.  No, these stories need room to breathe.  Their guts need space to spill over the waistline.  And if they feel the need to defecate all over racks and shelves of retailers nationwide, they don't even think twice of prairie-dogging it.

Crossovers have been around for quite a while.  Or at least the idea of a crossover has.  Titles would frequently link up with each other out of the blue to tell a story that simply could not wait month-to-month.  Action Comics would continue a story over Superman and vice-versa.  The same relationship existed between Detective Comics and Batman.  Sometimes, titles would touch that didn't really have much to do with each other.  Like say, Batman and New Titans for "A Lonely Place of Dying."  The main link there being Dick Grayson and the fact that Marv Wolfman was writing both titles at the time.

But it's the maxi-crossover that makes some readers wonder if these stories are really worth the money they shell out week after week.

The earliest crossovers of this type, or at least the most prevalent, were Secret Wars and Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Secret Wars had the distinction of hitting the stands first.  Nearly a year or two before Crisis.  Both stories had ramifications that spread to nearly every other title in their respective parent's repertoire.  You could find Secret Wars tie-ins in flagship books like Fantastic Four or ancilliary books like Power Man and Iron Fist.  Likewise for Crisis.  You could follow pieces of the story in Superman or Blue Devil.  These stories gave props to the big stars while also shining a little spotlight on lesser-known players.  Some of these littler books received a sales spike.  And the bigger books drew in a lot of new readers, if only for a short while.  But it was enough to let the bigwigs know that certain events could affect sales of their books in a very postive way.

Thus the mega-crossover was born.

Whether Crisis was a response to the success of Secret Wars is unknown to this writer at this time.  But crossovers to follow would appear almost certainly in competition with each other.  Take Identity Crisis, for example.  At nearly the same time, Marvel had their answer to DC's hit in the form of Identity Disc.  This story was not nearly as big as IC.  Didn't have the same ramifications to the Marvel Universe as Identity Crisis did for DC.  But it was there on the shelves nonetheless.

Now take a look at Planet Hulk.  Which, of course, led right into World War Hulk.  DC's "answer" for that was the lackluster Salvation Run.  Instead of sending one big troublemaker to some distant wild planet where survival is paramount, DC sent dozens of little troublemakers to some distant wild planet where survival is paramount.  Again, not nearly as big for DC as Planet Hulk was for Marvel.  But it was there on the shelves nonetheless.

One could say that crossovers have evolved from being a necessary forum for important events in characters' interactions to becoming an almost involuntary response to something unique from opposing factions in the industry.  Almost as a check against the otherwise bombastic earning potential if these events ran their course uncontested.

Sometimes these stories are quite enjoyable.  I, for one, loved Planet Hulk and Identity Crisis.  Not so much in the case of Identity Disc and Salvation Run.  Didn't even touch them.  And I liked World War Hulk, but didn't get any of the tie-ins except in books that were already in my reserve.  If buying comics was a medical discipline, and I was a doctor, I might detect the signs of a symptom here.

Sometimes crossovers are so draining, they suck out almost every bit of love one has for the characters involved.  Cases in point:  Spider-Man's Clone Saga and Superman's Reign of the Supermen.  This writer cannot speak for anyone else who lived through them, but those events strained the nostalgia for those characters very nearly to the breaking point. 

And at the end of said events, one was left standing alone in the tatters of bad storytelling and even worse art.  It was a tragedy that some robust leafy trees that were once home to happy chirping birds and busy squirrels were now pulped into the pile of four-color drek lying at one's feet.

And yet, despite all this crossovers continue.  They survive and evolve.  The latest evolution in the form of DC's weekly comics.  First was 52.  Then Countdown.  And finally, Trinity.  Three successive 52-issue arcs that dominated the bulk of DC's output since before Infinite Crisis.  Some of it was quite grand.  Some of it sucked hard.  And finally, some of it was so-so.

Now far be it from DC to do a crossover for which Marvel has no answer.  At least if the past is any indication.  And Marvel did indeed have an answer.  A deceptively shrewd one.  Instead of starting up a whole new book.  Marvel cancelled all the ancillary Spider titles and turned Amazing Spider-Man into an almost weekly book.  Very clever.  Almost dastardly, one might say.  Good show, Joe.

But if Marvel and DC are the main soldiers in this crossover war, we consumers are civilians caught in the crossover fire.  (heh heh)  Crossovers were originally showcases of important events in that universe's evolution.  And they were meant to draw in new readers.  They were beautiful. 

Nowadays, crossovers are bulwarks against the creative energies of the opposing army.  They are churned out as a response to an attack.  No longer are they threaded into a majestic tapestry of wonder.  Where one company may craft something approaching that apex, another produces a similar yet paler imitation of such.  Perhaps not to draw in or entertain new readers, but merely to prevent the other side from doing the same to maximum effect.

And the losers in this war are our wallets.  We simply cannot continue to support clashing forces in this way.  But as long as big name creators are given free reign to mold entire universes to their whim based on their past success, there will be crossovers and crappy comebacks to counter them.

 So Blackest Night is out?  Awesome.  Oh, that last page is a doozy.  I cannot wait to read more.  Geoff Johns rules.  Say what's this Dark crap I keep seeing on the Marvel shelf?


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About the Author - Zenguru


Zenguru has been an Outhouser since the days it was blue. He's the Rick Jones of The Outhouse. Not always in the mansion, but always around in a pinch. Just don't pinch too hard, okay? He's written a few articles, notably $k!d M@rks, and has published several books of poetry. Lately, he's been writing poems and fiction about diners. He's been reading comics since the mid-70's. He dreams of one day traveling between dimensions to be Jonah Hex's sidekick.


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