Monday, April 28, 2014


The Batman-Elongated Man crossover was probably the first non-regular crossover I ever saw, but I believe the first one I ever BOUGHT was a MARVEL TALES reprint of SPIDER-MAN #16, "Duel with Daredevil," by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Around the same time I also bought SPIDER-MAN #50, the conclusion of the original Green Goblin saga by Lee and Romita, and the two issues pretty much summed up the strengths of Silver Age Marvel. The latter was tense and dark and full of adult-seeming psychological undercurrents-- but the first was just pure superheroic fun.

I suspect that artist/plotter Steve Ditko may not have cared to devote an issue of his series to hyping another Marvel feature, but no other Marvel artist of the period would have been capable of rendering the balletic encounter of Marvel's two super-acrobatic heroes, as suggested by the story's splash page.  The Lee-Ditko story doesn't stress any of Spider-Man's ongoing melodramatic plotlines, except for his relationship with girlfriend Betty and the encroaching introduction of the mysterious Mary Jane Watson. Any greater soap-operatic threads would have been out of place given the overall antic mood of the story, and if anything, Daredevil's alter ego got the majority of the "tragic romance" elements, all to the end of persuading Spidey fans to check out the new hero.

Although Ditko fully plotted many of the Spider-Man tales in later years, this feels like a Lee plot to me, since it's so strongly focused on introducing the important elements of the new hero on the block-- like the salient fact that he's physically blind but can perceive everything around him with his super-hearing and "radar sense."  A circus comes to New York, advertising that Spider-Man will be the main attraction. Spidey knows nothing about the matter, but since the circus claims that the profits will go to charity, he decides to show up. But the circus is the Circus of Crime, headed by the Ringmaster, who specializes in using his hypnotic top hat to mesmerize the attending crowds, in order to rob them. The villain realizes that Spider-Man is a threat and puts him under hypnotic thrall. But Daredevil in his identity of lawyer Matt Murdock has also attended the performance to "watch" Spidey's performance via his super-senses.  The Ringmaster's hypnotic hat doesn't work on the sightless hero, so the villain sics Spidey on him, so that the two heroes are forced to fight it out under the big top-- though the emphasis is on skill more than power. Eventually Daredevil frees Spidey from his enthrallment, and then sits back and lets the book's featured hero have the honors of demolishing the Circus of Crime. In this scenario I see the hand of Stan Lee, who, even in the act of hyping a new hero, was aware of the necessity of giving regular readers bang for their buck-- or rather, their twelve cents.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby turned out a number of good crossovers in the Silver Age, but this is only one of two Lee-Ditko crossovers that ranks with the best of all time.

Friday, April 25, 2014


This will be a short post since I've already reviewed the film FREDDY VS. JASON at length on my movie-blog.

Some excerpts relevant to the crossover-theme:

...based on the interaction of Jason and Freddy here, one might characterize them as "the terror of the child" and the "terror of the parent." 

Jason, ever since he was promoted to starring monster in the second FRIDAY THE 13TH installment, has been depicted as a literally childlike man who imagines that he is killing for his beloved-- and deceased-- mother.  Freddy, even before he was retconned to make him into a literal parent, was a horror born of the mistakes of Springwood's parents, so that Freddy becomes metaphorically identical with his killers.  Though both Jason and Freddy attack primarily teenagers-- who were of course the target audience in the extra-diegetical real world-- Jason kills them for having failed him when he was a child, giving his murderous rampages the intonation of a child's tantrum.  Freddy kills teens in order to feed upon them, and even to incorporate their souls into his ghostly flesh, a pop-cultural version of Saturn devouring his children.

And also:

Though the all-out, Hong Kong-style action is inventive, what I like even better is that in this incarnation Freddy and Jason become the Dracula and Frankenstein of the eighties and afterward.  Jason is the Monster of Frankenstein, lumbering and pitiless, shrugging off almost every assault via sheer strength and near-invulnerability.  Freddy, as much a shape-shifter as Dracula, proves far more agile and clever about wearing down his brutish foe.  The only minor deficit of the Big Fight is that it doesn't find any way to reflect the monsters' respective parent/child orientations, which is relegated strictly to the set-up portion of the film. 

I'll also add the distinction that this may be the best one-on-one battle between separately conceived characters in a film crossover, easily beating out such contenders as ALIEN VS. PREDATOR and FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN-- enjoyable as those may be for other reasons.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Since LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is one of my prime examples in THE LOGIC AND APPEAL OF CROSSOVERS, it should be obvious that I think this is a damned good crossover. I'll go even further: I think it's a work that's more in touch with the creative propensities of co-creator Alan Moore than many of Moore's more celebrated-- but sometimes intellectually arid-- works like WATCHMEN and V FOR VENDETTA. And as much as I like co-creator Kevin O'Neill's acid visual wit in MARSHAL LAW, I believe GENTLEMEN gives him a wider variety of emotional states to render.

That said, I wouldn't necessarily pronounce all the GENTLEMEN crossovers to be of equal excellence. I liked many sections of BLACK DOSSIER, but some of Moore's experiments in imitating authors like Jack Kerouac struck me as empty posturing, while I found the conclusion of CENTURY: 1910 almost unreadable.

So it's the first two volumes of GENTLEMEN that win pride of place here.  While I appreciate some of Moore and O'Neill's intellectual points about the evils of imperialism or the changing roles of males and females, I'm more impressed with the mix of characters-- with scenes like Nemo and Quatermain confessing their shared love for adventure despite their political defenses, or Hyde's quixotic feelings toward Mina Murray. 

Yet even the skillful interplay of the characters and their backstories proves secondary to the Moore-O'Neil project of writing a love letter to popular fiction.  Further, though bits of pop-fiction from America (Poe's Auguste Dupin) or France (Captain Nemo) have important roles to play, most of the characters the co-creators re-invent stem from British authors like Wells, Stevenson, Doyle, and even post-Victorian types like Ian Fleming. I would imagine that an author as well-versed as Moore in the history of fiction, popular and canonical, is aware that British authors were pre-eminent in the creation of what we now call popular fiction. Some genres were essentially invented in Britain, like the Gothic novel and the imperialistic adventure-novel, while some forms, like the detective story and the science-fiction romance, were arguably re-defined by British authors.  I further imagine that for Moore at least, there's considerable irony that his country defined so much of early pop fiction at the same time his countrymen boasted that the sun would never set upon their empire.  Now, of course, there is no real British empire-- a fact Moore and O'Neill would probably celebrate-- yet Britain is also less pre-eminent in the world of popular fiction, which has been very nearly usurped by the publishing juggernauts of Britain's former colony.

So, even though Moore and O'Neill express a Wellsian distaste for the exploitative nature of empire, they're far more sentimental than he ever was about the fantastic figures spawned during that period.

GENTLEMEN, by the way, would be another example of a "static crossover," since the creators are concerned less with any particular interplay between characters, or sets of characters, and more with creating the milieu in which all these characters can co-exist. It's occured to me that one might also term these two crossovers as "character-oriented" and "plot-oriented" in contrast to "dynamic" and "static," but I plan to keep the first set of terms at this point in time.

Friday, April 18, 2014


Given that I'm a stone fantasy fan, it's probably inevitable that I'm going to select more crossovers with fantastic, as opposed to realistic, themes. However, personal taste isn't the only reason I tend to rate the fantasy-crossovers higher than the reality-crossovers-- many examples of which are found here-- though it would take another essay to address those reasons.

However, here's one of the great reality-themed crossovers:


Almost as soon as producer Norman Lear vaulted into major success when ALL IN THE FAMILY became a critical and commercial success, Lear capitalized on that success by creating not one but two "back door pilots" in FAMILY's second season. In December 1971 Edith Bunker's cousin Maude came to care for the Bunker family at a time when Archie, Mike and Gloria were all sick and running Edith ragged.  In March 1972 Archie and Edith visited Maude's house, giving the producers the chance to introduce FAMILY's audience to Maude's husband and daughter, and to show the actress Bea Arthur to much better effect: as the domineering diva of her household.

To be sure, neither episode is the best either show could offer, nor are the crossover elements sustained to the best effect. "Maude" is the better written of the two, precisely because Archie and Edith are barely in the story, allowing the script to introduce the ethos of ultra-liberal Maude and her unconscious lapses into chauvinism, seen in her attitude toward her daughter's prospective Jewish husband.

In contrast, "Cousin Maude's Visit" is a very thin story, but it does have some classic confrontations between Archie and Maude, as when Archie gets Maude's goat with his classic line, "Franklin Delano Roosevelt ruint this country." To be sure, Maude doesn't get a great comeback, reduced to the response, "You're fat." Still, the episode does put across a broad, quasi-mythic conception of the inherent conflict between a White Working-Class Conservative versus a White Arch-Liberal/Feminist.

I don't think the show MAUDE ever reached the heights of FAMILY at its best. Yet MAUDE did spawn a show that reached those heights on occasion, though it's arguable that the "Florida Evans" of MAUDE is not quite covalent with the materfamilias on GOOD TIMES. 

Friday, April 11, 2014


By the time FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #3 made it to newsstands in 1965, Marvel Comics had already become famous in comic-book circles for the art of the crossover.  Crossovers at their major competitor DC Comics were more limited in nature, largely because DC was a larger company and possessed several editors for their line, each of whom tended to promote crossovers only for books they regularly edited.  For the decade of the 1960s Stan Lee edited all titles and wrote many of them, so there was no resistance to having any character meet any other character-- or, in this case, having nearly every Marvel character make an appearance. Contrary to the cover, the story did not include the Sub-Mariner or the Hulk, even though they're referred to in indirect ways. The tale certainly doesn't feature Kid Colt, a western hero of the 1800s who would have been damn old if he'd lived until 1965.

The lead story, "Bedlam at the Baxter Building," is more impressive as a landmark than as a narrative.  In the regular FANTASTIC FOUR title, Reed "Mister Fantastic" Richards and Sue "Invisible Girl" Storm, two members of the quartet, had become engaged, and FF ANNUAL #3 devoted 23 pages to the big wedding. The supergroup's nemesis Doctor Doom decided to rain on the wedding parade, by using a hypnotic device to compel dozens of super-villains to attack the proceedings. Fortunately, the FF has invited dozens of super-heroes to the event as well. Almost the entire story is given off to non-stop, almost incoherent action.  In those days even Marvel heroes were expected to maintain a coterie of super-villains that they usually did not share with other heroes, so FF ANNUAL offered the then-rare pleasure of seeing heroes encounter villains who didn't usually hang around their neighborhoods, like Captain America fighting Thor's villain, the Cobra.  The big donnybrook unleashes so much havoc that the Watcher shows up to watch it all.  The cerebral alien generously gives Reed Richards a golden ticket to find a super-device that time-reverses the whole attack and makes it possible for the wedding to be concluded in peace.

Fun as this wild tale is, its best moment appears at the end, when authors Stan Lee and Jack Kirby try to crash the wedding party and are given the gate by Nick Fury.

This is my first example of a STATIC CROSSOVER, for the emphasis here is not on the particular ways that two or more characters impact on one another, but upon the breadth and diversity of the universe in which they all co-exist.


My first selection is a personal one, though I can defend it on other grounds as well.


DETECTIVE COMICS #343 contained the book-length story "The Secret War of the Phantom General," dated September 1965, meaning that it was on stands roughly six months before the debut of ABC's BATMAN teleseries.  Since 1964, when editor Julie Schwartz had initiated the so-called "New Look" to DC's Batman franchise, the title DETECTIVE COMICS was usually divided between a Batman story and a shorter back-up feature starring the stretchable "Elongated Man," given his own berth in DETECTIVE COMICS after assorted guest-appearances in the FLASH title.  "Phantom General" was the second of two book-length stories which devoted the entirety of a DETECTIVE issue to a team-up of Batman, his partner Robin and the Elongated Man.

What's personally interesting for me about this comic is that though I'd been reading comic strips and kiddie comics for years, in 1965 I had yet to take a chance on superhero comics.  The 1966 BATMAN teleseries in part converted me to this strange new genre, of which I've been a devotee ever since. I would have seen this cover when I was either nine or ten years old, and it's one of three covers-- all from DC comics, incidentally-- that mildly freaked me out. 

I was probably just as ambivalent back then toward fantasy in other media.  Some fantasies I liked, such as most of the Disney oeuvre, but I was standoffish toward a lot of the horror-films if I thought that they were too violent or perverse. I say "perverse" purely as a matter of subjective attitude, not because at ten years old I had any conception of what made one story acceptable to me and another unacceptable.

I didn't read this story when I first saw it at an acquaintance's house in 1965. The sight of a man in a purple costume stretching his limbs like python-coils was freaky enough, but no less bewildering was the sight of the ghostly head of the "Phantom General" commanding the purple guy to "wring the life out of Batman and Robin." I don't think I knew who Batman and Robin were at the time; it was the insinuation of violence-by-strangulation that I didn't like. In other words, even though no adult of the time would have regarded this BATMAN cover as transgressive, I reacted to it the way adults of the 1950s reacted to the over-the-top horror-comics of that decade.

The BATMAN teleseries, with its comedic-ironic take on the comics-character, probably served to inoculate me against the largely imagined perils of the Phantom General. I probably acquired a copy of the issue a year or two later.  I found no horrors therein; it was just a decent journeyman story by writer John Broome and artist Carmine Infantino.  Both men did better individual stories for both BATMAN and ELONGATED MAN, but this was their best crossover of two featured heroes.

The villain of the piece was General Von Dort, one of many, many recrudescent Nazis who came out of hiding in Silver Age comic books and began making trouble for heroes.  Von Dort had a plan to conquer the world with a death-ray, but unlike many super-villains before him, who paid no attention to mundane matters, the general needed capital. He came to Gotham City and engineered various robberies by training gangsters in commando-style tactics, so that he fell afoul of the Dynamic Duo. For good measure the Elongated Man also came to Gotham, having received a tip about the long-missing Nazi's current activities, so the three heroes teamed up to ferret out the Phantom General's hideout.

The story's climax is perfectly serviceable: it just doesn't have the delirious intensity of the cover's rendition. At said climax Von Dort does indeed take command of the Elongated Man's will, by use of a hypnotic monocle (the villain looked like your basic Prussian officer stereotype). Batman and Robin manage to take out their opponent by using his own strategy against him, circling around him so that he gets tied up by his own arms, and then pulling taut so that the stretchable superhero passes out. Then Batman resists Von Dort's hypnosis and takes him out.

This comic also makes a good example for my concept of the "DYNAMIC CROSSOVER." When these type of crossovers are produced by company-owned characters, the emphasis is upon seeing how two or more characters from two or more features work together. This may also include crossovers between teams, for the emphasis is not upon how many characters encounter one another, but on the approach used by the authors to show the "mana" of characters from separate franchises bouncing off of one another.

In my next example I'll choose a crossover that exemplifies the opposite type.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


In modern commercial fiction, the "logic" of crossovers is always the same. The crossover may be engineered in any number of ways:

(1)  by a single author who decides to have characters from distinct storylines meet one another, as one sees in Rider Haggard's 1921 novel SHE AND ALLAN, which brings about a meeting between She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed and Allan Quatermain;

(2) by an author (or authors) who brings together characters in public domain, as one sees in the Alan Moore-Kevin O'Neill comic-book series LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, which associates the aforementioned Quatermain, Jules Verne's Captain Nemo, Robert Louis Stevenson's Mister Hyde, and many many others.

(3) by a company who owns from inception, or purchases from another corporate entity, a group of characters whom that company then chooses to associate with one another. (Said companies may also choose to include public-domain characters within their modern-day mythologies: the comic book companies Marvel and DC both gave rise to versions of the archaic hero Hercules who then became entangled with each company's modern-day superheroes.)

There may be other variations of this process, but the logic is always the same: to intrigue readers/viewers so that they will patronize not only the crossover-work, but also any and all works that gave rise to the crossover. The practice is most associated with-- but is not limited to-- the merchandising of ongoing serials, and can often be used for the process of using a well-known series to "hype" one that is less well-known by the target audience. When Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote his 1930 novel TARZAN AT THE EARTH'S CORE, the character of Tarzan was already world-famous. Did that crossover help the sales of the books in the "Pellucidar series," where Burroughs originated his "land at the center of the earth" concept? I don't know, but the possibility of making that series more popular probably crossed Burroughs' mind before he wrote the crossover.

Some Marxist critics will view such character-crossovers as one of many strategies by which the evil Masters of Mass Culture manipulate their audiences. While such explanations may seem to answer all questions as to the motives of the stories' producers, they don't say anything substantive about why the audiences choose to patronize not just works of mass culture in general, but works in which characters or concepts from different storylines happen to intersect. The usual Marxist explanation is that these audiences want nothing more than mindless divertissement. However, the overlapping of distinct storylines would seem to intensify the degree of mental effort an audience-member must exert in order to participate in the crossover's intersecting universes.  For instance, when Rider Haggard takes a character who exists in a moderately realistic universe, i.e., Allan Quatermain, and causes him to encounter a character whose nature is overtly supernatural, Haggard must find some way to treat both characters with integrity, even though the ground rules of their universes are in conflict.  I'll discuss this particular example in more depth in an essay devoted to this novel.

It's something of a given in literary criticism to state that audiences, literary or sub-literary, maintain interest in fictional characters by identifying with them.  This commonplace observation is not so much wrong as overly simple. As I am what has been called a "myth-critic," I assert that the process of identification comes about as a reader (or viewer) realizes what kind of role the character plays in the story, and what that fictional role means to the reader. This does not mean "identification" in the simple-minded sense of "I want to be like this person," for identification can take place with any number of villains (the Joker, Freddy Krueger), monsters (Godzilla) or even mysterious locales (the subterranean domain of Jules Verne's "Center of the Earth.")  It is more properly an appreciation of what I will call the "mana" appropriate to the character or concept's role in the story. 

A crossover features at least two characters who have established-- or will establish-- the "mana" that has or might make them popular. In the above example, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed has one type of "mana," while Quatermain has a different type.  It is this "clash of energies" that I believe readers enjoy in crossovers, a clash that is radically different from the normative encounters of a hero and his villains.

Two more points:

First, I was careful to say above "characters who will establish" their mana because some of the crossovers I'll talk about here are what professionals term "spin-offs."  Burroughs' "Pellucidar" novels had already been launched prior to the Tarzan-Pellucidar crossover, so "Pellicidar" was not a "spin-off" of Tarzan. However, it's possible for a company to launch a franchise that it hopes to make popular, through association with a successful franchise.  The television medium is particularly known for what are called "back-door pilots," in which characters for a franchise not-yet-launched are introduced on an established series. 

A couple of the crossovers I'll discuss here qualify as "back-door pilots," as with the episode in which the main character of the Norman Lear franchise MAUDE guested on a 1971 episode of Lear's successful ALL IN THE FAMILY sitcom, before the character and her entourage appeared in their 1972 program.

However, I disallow any and all "back-door pilots" which did not eventuate in a series, as is the case with the STAR TREK episode, "Assignment Earth." I also disallow parodies which may blend together two or more characters who are parodic versions of franchise characters, as is seen in Philip Jose Farmer's story "Showdown at Shootout," which includes travesty-versions of the Shadow, Doc Savage, Fu Manchu and others.

Second, I'll frankly admit that the majority of these crossovers are taken from comic books. There are various reasons as to why this medium is so prominent in the history of pop-fiction crossovers, reasons that would require a separate essay.  But even in admitting the comic-book medium's pre-eminence in this regard, I will exclude one type of "crossover" that Jess Nevins mentions in his essay on the topic. In contrast to Nevins, I don't regard "hero-teams" as genuine crossovers.  They resemble what I've termed the "static crossover." However, in my opinion a series devoted to the teaming-up of characters with their own separate mythoi is not just "static," but "regularized." From the first appearance of the Justice Society within the same story in ALL-STAR COMICS #3, there is no longer special attention to the unusual nature of the crossover, simply because it is the main appeal of an ongoing feature.  This type of "crossover" I will not explore.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Though the main purpose of this blog is still to record some of my thoughts about my current reading, one project I've meant to do for some time might be called "the Greatest Crossovers I've Seen."  Even that vague title, though, requires some sussing out.

First, it seems appropriate to confine the list to things I myself have experienced, if I'm going to claim they're especially noteworthy.  I don't mind admitting that there are works I've not yet read that probably have considerable merit. This essay by Jess Nevins, "On Crossovers," mentions several I haven't explored yet.  For example, he notes that there was an early crossover in 1896, in which two boys' adventure heroes, Frank Reade Jr. and Jack Wright, raced one another. I would admit that this story is historically significant, but I can't comment on whether it's "great" or not.

A more important distinction hinges on definitions: what is a crossover?

In archaic times, one cannot assign more than approximate dates to the appearance of specific figures in myth and folklore.  Nevins argues that a "liberal definition" might start with "the Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts," since this narrative is famous for associating heroes who had separate histories, particularly Heracles, Orpheus, and the twins Castor and Polydeuces.  However, by the same logic, one could as easily cite the Iliad, one of the cornerstones of Western literature, which brings together many heroes who were almost certainly not invented by attributed author Homer, such as Achilles, Ajax and Odysseus. Even characters who had not yet attained the literary personae for which they're currently known, such as Aeneas and Oedipus, were likely to have been spawned not by the poet but by a long-standing oral tradition, one that the epic poem concretized.

Most if not all religious mythologies show this same tendency to bring together disparate figures, figures ranging from the gods and demigods of assorted geographical regions to mythologized historical personages.  Folklore, as Susanne Langer has observed, tends to be more inchoate, often not even giving names to protagonists or antagonists, so that the characters seem more like interchangeable symbols.

Even confining the argument to the ancient Greeks, though, I observe a difference between two forms of crossover: what I choose to term "the static" and "the dynamic."

The STATIC CROSSOVER is characteristic of both Homer's Iliad and Apollonius' Argonautica.  In such works, the author assumes an overall cosmos in which all of the myth-characters he invokes are capable of encountering one another at any time.

The DYNAMIC CROSSOVER, however, is one in which the author of the story makes much of the unusual-ness of the encounter of two or more established characters.  Very few classic plays or epics choose this mode, which would become the approach most pursued in 20th century fiction, so that my only example is that of the battle between Apollo and Heracles, shown in this Roman terra-cotta relief:

In his book THE WHITE GODDESS Robert Graves argued that this story, in which the gods fight over Apollo's prophetic tripod, indicated a real historical clash between the priesthoods or the two deities. This is possible, though Graves tended to explain a great many myths through this sort of hypothesis. I find the myth interesting in a different sense: in contrast to Heracles' encounters with deities important to his own myth, such as Zeus, Hera, and Hebe, Apollo really has nothing much to do with Heracles. This is why I term this sort of crossover "dynamic," because a great deal of its appeal stems from being extraordinary, from being something the average Greek would not have expected, at least not the way he would expect to read about another attempt by Hera to persecute her husband's bastard son.

In future installments I'll attempt to show some specific examples of these two types of crossover, in the hope of further elucidating my terminology.