Max Burbank & Protoclown
PROTO: Everybody who's ever read comics is familiar with
crossovers, the sometimes blessing, sometimes curse that brings
characters that don't normally interact together for a rollicking
hootenanny of an adventure. Sometimes they're within the purview of one
company, like when the Fantastic Four and the X-Men get together for a
multi-issue event, sometimes they involve more than one company, a la
the Avengers and the JLA, and other times they're just plain fucked up,
such as when the Punisher hooked up with Archie and the rest of the
Not a dream! Not a hoax!
Probably just a bad acid trip.
It was inevitable that
sooner or later crossovers became the subject of discussion in the
I-Mockery Comics section, but how could Max Burbank or I write about
crossovers without doing an actual crossover column ourselves?
Most people don't realize
that crossovers have been around ever since God invented comic books, or
at least since the 1970s. Unfortunately that's a little before my time,
but I'm thinking Max Burbank knows a thing or two about it. Max?
MAX: Indeed sir! The first crossover I'm aware of was the
very first meeting of the Justice Society of America in All star Comics
The Golden-Age Atom,
Hawkman, Flash and Green Lantern of All-American Publications teamed
with The Sandman, The Hourman, Doctor Fate and The Spectre of National
Comics. All these characters would later be eaten by DC, which owned
Superman and Batman (DC stood for Detective Comics). Superheroes were
still in their infancy as a genre, and comic book publishing was a wee
child. So the concept of a 'crossover' wasn't a big deal in the sense it
is today, for a number of reasons. There was very little continuity to
violate. Who was to say Sandman and Hawkman didn't inhabit the same
world? They'd only been around for a few months, maybe they hadn't met
yet. And comic book publishers were hand-to-mouth operations. They
didn't have any taboos against violating their brand, because their
brand might go under at any moment. Ironically, though, the first issue
of JSA must have inspired in its readers many of the same feelings
crossovers do today but for a whole different reason. ANY team up
whatsoever was a thrilling, novel event! JSA was the first team book; in
a very real way ALL superheroes up to this point existed in their own
continuity because they never, ever met. In fact, at the first meeting,
all this gang o' heroes did was tell each other about solo adventures
And therein lies my point,
and my first quibble with you, Mr. Clown. I would say that as good comic
books go, crossover books have several strikes against them right out
the gate. IF a crossover ends up being good, it's a factor of the writer
and the artist being good, and has next to nothing to do with the
combination of characters from different universes coming together. The
appeal of the crossover is all about being a fanboy wiener, a Dork, if
you will. It's not about the juxtaposition of different takes on the
nature of vigilantism as a form of justice or different companies' house
approach to heroism vs. the psychological pathology of the secret
identity. It's the sweaty, greasy, pimply, masturbatory potential of
finally having an answer to the question "Who'd win in a fight, Batman
or Captain America; Superman or the Hulk, Wonder Woman or any hot Marvel
chick"... actually, that last one has an entirely different and even more
shameful appeal. This is why the first crossover I ever bought was such
a huge disappointment.
Bicentennial fever wasn't enough, 1976 gave the world Superman Vs. The
But beneath the quivering
awe inspired by Marvel and DC coming together to settle the age old
playground question of which company was better (I was a Marvel guy back
then) lurked a certain... certainty that it was going to suck. Why? Not
because everything that ever gets hyped seems to blow. We didn't know
that back then.
The match-up was wrong. It
smelled like... business. Supes was DC's biggest seller, Spidey was
Marvel's. It wasn't parallel. When they fought (and you knew they would,
that's what superheroes DID when they met, any kid knew that) Supes
would Kill Spidey. The Super bastard could move at near light speed, and
while Spidey had the proportional speed, strength and agility of a
Spider, Superman had SUPERSTRENGTH! If Superman was going up against a
Marvel Character it had to be Thor, The Hulk or the Thing, but even then
it wouldn't be fair 'cause none of those guys had freeze breath. Period.
THOSE were contests kids could argue about, speculate about. The only
kid in my school who thought Spidey stood a Chinaman's chance against
Supes was Davey Hoss, the same kid who I had to punch in the face for
saying the Partridge Family was better than the Beatles.
PROTO: Oh, you're absolutely right, Max. Many crossovers are
unconvincing, painfully contrived events that only seem to exist to
placate the fanboys' ferocious need to see Hero A go up against Hero B
(and also to suck all the money right out of their wallets). There's not
a fanboy that hasn't imagined these kinds of battles, and if any fanboys
out there say they haven't, they're lying. I remember having many a
dorky discussion in high school about who would win in a battle between
Star Trek's Federation and Star War's Empire, or Die Hard's John McClane
vs. the Death Star, or best yet, the 1986 Chicago Bears vs. the Empire.
Yes, it should be obvious by now that I had no girlfriend in high
school, and come to think of it neither did most of my friends.
Which series has outlamed
the other? The world may never know.
One of my favorite
examples of this spiraling out of control and launching well past
ludicrous speed is the Aliens vs. Whomever trend in the 1990s. For years
before that disastrous movie, fans of the Aliens and Predator
franchises got to see their favorite aliens (and by aliens I mean
offworlder, not aliens in the xenomorph sense) duke it out in regular
comic book crossovers.
Doesn't it kind of look
like the Predator has a breast poking out?
But it wasn't long before
somebody got the idea to throw the Terminator into the mix as well.
They eventually decided to
settle their differences with a simple game of Twister.
I would have sworn that at
one point I saw the three of them vs. Robocop as well, but it turns out
that's just a horrible false memory of the malformed cash cow that never
was. I mean, let's face it, throwing Robocop into that mix would have
been ridiculous (though he did fight the Terminator by himself). I just
can't suspend my disbelief that much, I'm sorry!
Uh, Robocop? The
Terminator's that way, buddy...
Next thing you know, the
Aliens are fighting Superman, which I've never read but I'm sure that it
must have been very exciting, watching the Aliens try to bite Superman
or burn him with their acid blood only to have him squeal "Hee hee! That
Hoho, woah there, big
Even better yet has got to
be Batman/Aliens, where in the second volume Batman encounters aliens
who have undergone the DC Villain Process™ (i.e. they fell into a vat of
chemicals, or got splashed in the face with acid, or dropped their ice
cream cone...but it was a really good, radioactive ice cream
cone). So basically, you've got an alien that looks like the Joker, one
that looks like Two-Face, one that likes to ask Batman riddles before it
eats his head, and so on.
Maybe it's Mabeline?
Soon after that you've got
Green Lantern vs. Aliens, Wild C.A.T.S. vs. Aliens, Judge Dredd vs.
Aliens, and so on and so forth. Not to mention stuff like Superman vs.
Terminator, Batman vs. Predator...for some reason only DC seemed to get
into the Aliens/Predator game, leaving Marvel fanboys forever wondering
who would win in a fight between Daredevil and a Predator (my money's on
the Predator, although I just realized I opened up a can of worms fanboy
argument with the fact that Matt Murdock's "radar" could detect the
Predator even while cloaked and oh god just kill me now). Of course, we
all know that the Punisher could take out every last Alien AND Predator,
even if he fought them all at the same time, barehanded. And if you
disagree with me, I'll yell at you for a long time until my voice gets
all hoarse and shrieky and your ears start to hurt as you think "Dear
god how can those noises come from someone with testicles?" and before
the implications of that dreadful question cross either of our minds,
we'll both become embarrassed and extremely uncomfortable as we turn our
backs to each other and stare at the ground, hoping for an empty can or
a big rock to kick.
And see, that's exactly
what we're talking about when we say that fanboys get worked up over
this shit. Though I have to say, I'm still waiting with baited breath
for the inevitable Aliens vs. Predator vs. Terminator vs. Robocop vs.
Hello Kitty crossover, because that shit right there is the golden goose
that's going to put Dark Horse and whatever the fuck company is
responsible for Hello Kitty (see? only proving my point!) back on the
map. Mark my words well. It's only a matter of time.
If I were an alien and
there was ONE thing that could make
me shit my pants with fear, this would probably be it.
MAX: It all comes down to the same age old camp fire
question, if Jesus and Superman were in a fight, who would win? I think
Jesus, being the pacifist, long haired bathrobe wearing hippy that he is
would let Superman win and then of course Supers would have an epiphany
just short of punching the Lamb of God's ticket, and then they'd team up
against Lex Luthor and Pontius Pilot (who'd been mind controlling Judas
all along) and the surprise ending would be that Jesus would end up
getting crucified anyway, because the past cannot be changed as we
discover when Superman returns to a totalitarian future where General
Zod rules on earth and Lucifer has thrown God out of heaven. It would be
written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Jack Chick.
IN ANY CASE! Here's my
thesis! The modern company crossover is to a large degree modeled on
that cornerstone of the silver age of comics, the annual JLA/JSA team
up. If memory serves, it happened over summer vacation every year,
lasted a few issues and was pretty much the only reason legions of
lonely little boys in the late 60's and early 70's didn't rush Lemminglike over cliffs in a desperate attempt to end their empty lives.
(Incidentally, I have just learned that Lemmings don't do that, and the
whole idea is based on an animal documentary filmed in the fifties where
unscrupulous documentarians initiated a Lemming stampede and the poor
little bastards ran off a cliff. Thank you Animal Planet.)
See, back in my day, DC
continuity was very different. All the Golden Age (or WWII era) heroes
lived on a parallel earth called Earth Two. That's where the Justice
SOCIETY of America was. The Superfolk of my generation lived on Earth
One, which was where the Justice LEAGUE of America hung out. Ever since
an epic story line called "The Flash of Two World's" brought the
Original, Golden Age, FTD delivery Jay Garrick Flash together with
Police Scientist, buzz cut, Barry Allen Silver Age Flash together (The
uncle of Original Kid Flash turned Flash mantle assuming Charter member
teen titan your generation Flash Wally West ARE YOU CONFUSED YET?), All
us fan boys had been clutching our wicks in anticipation of the moment
when the JSA and the JLA would.... Come together. Tell me, Proto, before
I continue with my history lesson, was there any crossover of the modern
age you anticipated with the quivering, febrile fervor? I anticipated the
moment when Golden age Green Lantern Alan Scott might match rings with
Silver age Green Lantern Hal Jordan, when the hideously adult Robin of
Earth Two might cross rings with the shorts wearin' Teen Wonder of Earth
one or the abnormally short yet not as short as a midget and with no
powers Al Pratt Atom might encounter (if he could see him!) The genius
scientist, mass controllin' able to shrink to sub atomic size and ride
electrons over phone lines Earth One Atom?!?
PROTO: You know, Max, I can't for the life of me think of
anything that I was excited enough about that I had to bust out a new
pair of trousers over. But I do remember well enough that the JLA/Avengers
crossover from 2003 had been long anticipated by fans of both teams, and
though I'd never really been very much into either team at that point, I
decided to check it out.
Welcome to the World's
Largest Annual Spandex Convention. No fat chicks, please.
And I gotta say, for
someone who was only marginally familiar with these teams, it got
confusing as hell trying to keep track of all the background,
second-string characters they always throw into a story like that. The
plot itself was fun but cheesy, with both teams being mere pawns in a
cosmic game played by cosmic beings with really big heads (I don't know
why, but they always have really big heads). A wacky scavenger hunt
ensued, with both teams in pursuit of 12 items of power (6 from each
universe) that really only would have been at home on the bookshelf of
Dr. Strange (like the Wand of Watoomb). Failure to win the race would
result in the destruction of that team's universe (oh no!). Eventually
both groups figure out what's going on, stop fighting and work together
to stop the big-headed cosmic jerks from destroying a universe.
The best part was seeing
how the two teams reacted to each other's universes. When the JLA got to
the Marvel Universe, they saw how the world feared and despised many of
its heroes (like Spider-Man and the X-Men) and said "Fuck, what a dump".
And when the Avengers witnessed how the DC heroes are revered as
god-like figures in their own universe, they accused the JLA of
oppressing the people under their mighty superheroic fists and treating
them like lowly peons instead of people they should protect and serve. I
was just waiting for Captain America to blow his top and go completely
nuts as he had a World War II flashback after it occurred to him that
Superman was actually none other than the ÜBERMENSCH! Ah, if only Supes
had the blonde hair to go with his blue eyes!
Then of course there was
the Marvel vs. DC crossover of the late 90's, which resulted in Amalgam
comics (which is really a whole other article, and one I will be
tackling eventually), and pitted the most iconic heroes of both sides
against each other, even allowing the readers to vote on the outcome of
nearly half the matches.
Which characters are a
rip-off of which? There's too many of them! I just can't tell anymore!
Some of the battles were a
bit mismatched however, such as the Wolverine/Lobo fight, where Wolvie
somehow managed to defeat Lobo off-panel with nothing more than his bone
claws, which should have been impossible by the very nature of Lobo's
being an over-the-top grotesque parody of "tough guy" characters like
Wolverine. Anyone who's so ridiculously powerful that he can destroy
planets with his farts should probably not be defeated by Wolverine,
even if he is the best at what is does.
And then of course, there
was the Batman/Spawn crossover by Frank Miller and Todd McFarlane that I
was all excited about back when I was an Image whore and for some
bizarre reason thought Spawn was cool.
he giving Batman a piggy back ride?
I don't remember much
about it, but looking back on it now, given the knowledge that Spawn
sucks and Frank Miller has gone insane, it probably read a little
something like this:
BATMAN: Come on,
Spawn! We've got to go after the Penguin! He's trying to poison the
carbonated beverage supply of Rat City with pop rocks!
SPAWN: Fuck off. Can't you see I'm brooding on my throne of
BATMAN: That's totally queer.
SPAWN: Shut up.
So I guess that's my take
on a few of the more modern crossovers. Back to the history lesson,
then! I'm guessing that even as goofy as a lot of modern comics are,
some of the crossovers back in the day must have been completely insane!
MAX: I think my awesome cosmic powers of knowing an
encyclopedic amount of pointless comic back story is actually what made
that Avengers/JLA book the just about the only crossover I ever honestly
liked. I wish I could tell you that it was because the writing went
beyond pure fanboy appeal and actually told a good story, but that would
be a lie. As you pointed out, Mr. Clown, the best-written aspect of the
book is the clash of Marvel and DC sociology. But what made it great was
the fanboy shit being crafted to appeal to a middle aged duffer like me
instead of some short pants bastard twelve year old as they had been in
the past. The book has an uber fan boy appeal, it's totally meta, full
of combined commentary on the Marvel and DC approaches to superhero
comics and what are basically 'in jokes'.
In the first issue, Lobo
fights the Imperial Guard. Lobo is DC's homage/mockery of Marvels
Wolverine. The Imperial Guard is Marvel's homage/mockery of DC's lovable
but lame Legion of Superheroes. But the mud gets deeper. The Imperial
Guard was introduced in the pages of Wolverine's book, the X-men. The
artist who designed and introduced many of the New X-men of Giant Sized
X-men #1, the book that ignited the modern age of comics, Dave Cockrum,
had recently left DC as the artist on... Legion of Superheroes. In fact,
had he stayed with DC, his character Nightcrawler would have been
introduced as a member of the Legion, not an X-man. I have no idea if he
would still have been named after live bait. Maybe he would have gotten
a more Legionesque name, like... Teleporter Lad or Acrobat Boy.
My absolute favorite
example of this, and my favorite thing in any crossover book, is in
issue three. There's a shot that depicts what's supposed to be the first
meeting of the JLA and the Avengers. It's a version of the cover of
Justice League of America 21, where the JLA met the JSA for the first
time, which as I stated earlier is the basis of modern comics crossovers
The big Marvel aspects
thrown in the pot mix are the quest/fight for the magical objects, which
is lifted from the classic Avengers/Defenders Marvel in house crossover
in the late seventies, and of course the idea of the heroes being used
as game pieces by cosmic beings lifted from... well... pretty much at
least one big ass marvel event a year, often scripted by Jim Starlin.
PROTO: Ah yes, I've heard a lot about those big "galactic"
Marvel events, where everybody is duking it out over the Infinity Oven
Mitt or Driving Glove or whatever, but I've always steered pretty clear
of all that Jim Starlin "cosmic" stuff, and this picture explains why
far better than words ever could:
There is no caption that
can make this funnier than it already is.
I was originally planning
to wrap things up by talking about some insane comic book crossovers I'd
love to see, but the simple fact is, there's nothing I could come up
with that'd be crazier than what's already been done. There are very few
ideas too stupid or backwards for them to actually put to paper, so it's
nearly impossible to come up with an idea so bizarre that it's hilarious
simply for its inherent unfeasibility. And if something hasn't been
done, and you've thought of it, chances are some writer or editor has
too, and it's already in the works.
I mean, look, they did an
X-Men/Star Trek crossover ten years ago, and writer Scott Lobdell
probably pitched the idea SOLELY because he wanted to write the
I'd bet you a month's
salary that was the only idea he had for the book when he came up with
it. "Wouldn't it be cool if---?" But I'd also be willing to bet you
two months salary that there's fan fiction on the internet based
around the premise that Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Professor X were
both played by Patrick Stewart, whereupon making that discovery both
characters travel through time and space against all odds to have sex
with each other. And if it doesn't exist, by god, I'm going to
write it. But only because I can't afford to lose two months
salary, not because I'm in any way interested in the idea of Patrick
Stewart having sex with Patrick Stewart.
"Please don't write about
me having sex with myself."
Which brings me to my
final point. For those crossover ideas that actually DO somehow manage
to be more insipid than Cyclops meeting Captain Kirk, there's always fan
fiction. These crossovers are usually reserved for stories that fall
into one of two categories: stories by morbidly obese, lonely college
girls who want to see their favorite male anime characters get together
and have furiously angry sex with other, or stories by lonely teenage
fanboys who for some reason don't play World of Warcraft and don't have
enough friends to play Dungeons & Dragons, who fantasize about being a
superhero themselves and teaming up with Green Lantern and Optimus Prime
to save the world from the evil Lex Luthor-Darth Vader-Skeletor
alliance. This kind of stuff is truly bottom-of-the-barrel, and when the
barrel also contains lipstick-wearing smiling xenomorph aliens battling
Batman, you just don't want to go there.
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