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"Crisis of Infinite Crossovers"

by: 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 Riverdale gang.

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 #3, 1940

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 they'd had.

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.

Like America's Bicentennial fever wasn't enough, 1976 gave the world Superman Vs. The Amazing Spiderman!

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 tickles!"

Hoho, woah there, big fella!

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.

Wait...is 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 skulls? *sigh*
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 in general.

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 following scene:

Oh, snap!

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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