Saturday, May 24, 2014


As I said in my first entry, some of my choices for "greatest crossovers" are not so much because the actual stories are great, but because the stories I choose say something to me about the special appeal of the crossover.  Whereas crossovers in prose or comic books often have some "universe-building" elements, often those in feature films are much more haphazard, coming about when the producers of a crossover film are attempting to offer their viewers more for their money.

The powerful but short-lived subgenre of the "spaghetti western" generated a small number of mythic protagonists. Of those quasi-heroes, Django had only two "authorized" films while "Sartana" had five, but film-makers in Italy and Spain frequently appropriated the names and attached them to westerns that had no connection with the established characters.  According to Wikipedia five non-canonical films were made teaming Django with Sartana; I've now seen three of the five, and am satisfied to pronounce 1970's DJANGO DEFIES SARTANA as the best of the three.

This oater, directed by one Pasquale Squitieri, is by no means a great western, but compared to the others I've seen, at least DDS makes an effort to adhere a little more closely to the personas established in the canonical films.  The plot follows a predictable path. Bounty hunter Django's brother is hanged because he's thought to have been involved in a bank robbery. Django hears that the roaming gambler Sartana may have been involved in the robbery, and so Django goes in search of anyone who can prove his brother's innocence. Early in the film the audience learns that Sartana had nothing to do with the theft, and eventually Django learns this as well, though not before, in the grand tradition of Marvel Comics, the two crossover characters have a good dust-up. Despite this they team up against the real robbers and bring them to violent justice.

The two lead actors, George Ardisson and Tony Kendall, have a nodding physical resemblance to the actors who originated the roles. Neither one is particularly impressive, though Ardisson presents a strong visual presence with his dandyish clothes. This is just middling spaghetti-stuff, lacking the more frenzied scenes from the best of the subgenre-- with one exception. Sartana, cornering the head bad guy in his hacienda, shoots a pair of mounted antlers off the wall behind the villain, so that the horns fall on his shoulders, and for some reason get stuck there almost up to the point where the villain is killed.  I don't imagine this was for any deep mythopoeic reason; the filmmakers probably just did it because it provided a bit of unusual visual business.

One scene shows a trace of sociopolitical awareness. While Sartana is drinking in the local saloon, a bunch of rowdies come in and hassle the black piano-player.  A flag of the Confederacy is on the wall behind the rowdies, just to make the political point explicit. Sartana doesn't come to the piano-player's defense, but the lead rowdy senses a challenge from the silent gambler, and makes the mistake of getting in Sartana's face.  After Sartana effortlessly kills the bully, the camera zooms back to the grateful face of the pianist-- easily this mediocre film's best moment.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


The first important crossover of comic-book superheroes appears in the pages of MARVEL MYSTERY #9 (August 1940), a 22-page battle between the comic's reigning stars, the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner.  It was also a collaboration of the two artists who invented the respective characters, Carl Burgos and Bill Everett, and it's a credit to their creative power that both characters shine equally.

In addition to the story's primacy in the annals of crossovers, it also sets a pattern for a type of story that Marvel Comics would mine to great effect in the 1960s and ever afterward: the "clash of superhero titans" between superheroes. Although the Golden Age barely ever utilized this trope, Marvel's raconteurs speedily realized that their readers enjoyed seeing physical matches between regular characters, and they played it for all it was worth. A cynic might observe that these could be very easy stories to write: just set two heroes against one another-- usually as the result of a misunderstanding-- and watch them tear up the city-streets, and each other.

"Human Torch vs. Sub-Mariner" doesn't have much more plot than that, though there's no misunderstanding involved: the characters dislike each other at first sight, even without knowing much about one another.  The Human Torch, an android with the power to assume a flaming form and to use fire as a weapon, plays the part of a law-keeper. The Sub-Mariner, a.k.a. "Namor," a half-human hybrid with the powers of flight, titanic strength and equal survival in air or water, was comics' first true outlaw-hero, who attacked humanity due to encroachments on his subsea people.  As others before me have pointed out, Namor had been attacking New York off and on for several issues of MARVEL MYSTERY, making one wonder where the Torch had been that whole time.  On occasion Namor's wrath had been averted by his more-or-less girlfriend Betty Dean, a policewoman who knew that Namor wasn't all that bad, and in this story too, Betty plays a pivotal role in reconciling the brawling titans.

In contrast to many of the Marvel battles of the 1960s, Burgos and Everett constantly find ways to spice up the clash of heroes, rather than leaving it to a simple clash of powers. In one sequence, Namor, knowing that his strength can't harm the flaming Torch, uses a compressed-air canister to extinguish the Torch's flame. The Torch later responds by trying to broil Namor when he takes refuge in a lake, and later still, the flaming hero becomes unusually bloody-minded when he asks a chemical company for "a chemical that will burn Sub-Mariner off the face of the earth!"  This is pretty hardcore given that we're dealing with two rather juvenile-sounding adults who call each other names like "water rat" and "fire bug."

Strangely, though the Torch is nominally the hero in that he's defending humankind, the Sub-Mariner comes off as more inherently decent. He spares the Torch after extinguishing his flame, albeit with the thought that he may be able to use the hero's flame-power somehow. Later Namor, attacked by a pilot who shoots at him, commandeers the plane but allows the pilot to parachute to safety despite the latter's attempt to kill Namor.  Such touches display the authors' consistent attention to the heroes' respective characters, even down to the somewhat comical denouement, in which they agree to live and let live, and then go their separate ways.

I gave some consideration to another contretemps between the characters: HUMAN TORCH #5, in which Sub-Mariner assumes the military command of all the subsea races, using them to strike back against the warring humans who have caused so much chaos. The Torch and his partner Toro join the Allied forces in trying to end Sub-Mariner's threat, and there are even some token appearances from other heroes in the Timely Comics stable: the Angel, the Patriot and the original Ka-Zar. However, as ambitious as this 60-page story is, it doesn't show the conflict of Namor and the Torch nearly as well.  Rather, given the story's emphasis on all the wild spectacle of Namor's war on humanity-- in which almost no one dies-- the story seems more focused on a sort of "future-war" scenario of the type popular in H.G. Wells' day. And so, despite that story's pleasures, MARVEL MYSTERY #9 shows the two heroes at their cantankerous best.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


For number ten I weigh in with yet another film I've reviewed in more detail on my film-review blog: KING KONG VS. GODZILLA.

Without repeating the points I make in my review, I'll point out that even though this is not one of the best-scripted crossovers, it sustains historical importance as the film which revived Godzilla's career.

Consider: the original 1954 GODZILLA was a smash in Japan, and the Americanized version-- the one that circulated both in the U.S. and in most other countries in the world-- was dominantly a box-office success as well.  However, Toho Studio's quickie 1955 follow-up GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN underperformed at the Japanese box office. That film was not released in the U.S. for another four years-- twice the time it took for the original to receive a U.S. release-- and the American producers renamed the titular monster "Gigantis." This heavily recut version failed as well, so that for several years Godzilla remained in mothballs.

Ironically, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA-- which revived Godzilla's marquee appeal-- was not originally projected as a Godzilla film, though it too was intended as a crossover of sorts. Animator Willis O'Brien, the chief animator of 1933's KING KONG, attempted to sell various studios on a project initially entitled "King Kong vs. Frankenstein." As this Wikipedia essay explains in more detail, the O'Brien project morphed into KING KONG VS. GODZILLA.

Though O'Brien never took part in this project, his brainchild Kong gets more sympathetic treatment than that nasty reptile Godzilla. The Big G is in some ways more powerful than Kong, who has no counter-force against Godzilla's atomic breath. Still, Godzilla here lacks the apocalyptic menace he has here, just as he did in GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN.  Not until the fourth film in the series, wherein Godzilla faced off against Toho's newly minted monster-star Mothra did Godzilla begin to seem like a force of nature again-- and even then, this fearsome persona would often be modified by dollops of trivial comedy.

The most important aspect of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA-- aside from its significance in reviving the "Big G" franchise-- was the filmmakers' decision to build an entire film around the conflict of two giant creatures. Toho's first monster-vs.-monster combat appears in GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN, wherein the King of the Monsters meets his first foe of this type, the quadruped Anguirus. However, said combat was not the main focus of the narrative, and I've speculated that it may have been included for two possible reasons: (1) in blatant imitation of the monster/monster fights in the 1933 KING KONG, and (2) as a means of cutting down on some of the special-FX.  KING KONG VS. GODZILLA-- which even uses the same visual trope seen in RAIDS, where two giant monsters knock down a building as they battle-- made the big fight the central selling-point.  After that, most Godzilla films took note and made sure to give the starring a monster one or more gargantuan opponents-- resulting in yet more crossovers, though in this list I'll only address one more, which will stand for all of the Toho Godzilla productions.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Philip Jose Farmer's "Wold Newton" concept has been a major influence on crossover-fiction. The idea first appeared in his two "imaginary biographies," TARZAN ALIVE (1972) and DOC SAVAGE: HIS APOCALYPTIC LIFE (1973), in which Farmer wove a complicated web of interrelationships between the titular heroes and a wide number of other fictional and real-life personages. All of these figures were loosely related through ancestors who had been exposed to a radioactive meteor that fell to earth in Wold Newton, Yorkshire, in 1795. The meteor's radioactivity mutated various humans, so that many of their descendants inherited high levels of physical ability and/or mental acuity.

Influential though these books were, neither of them is actually a crossover between two or more centric characters: they are pseudo-histories devoted to making what I called "allusion crossovers"-- and therefore not admissible here.

But then there's this novel, published the same year as the DOC SAVAGE history:

THE OTHER LOG OF PHILEAS FOGG does not invoke the meteor-theory, though Farmer may have had it on his mind when he conceived the novel.  Farmer's conceit here is that the assorted inconsistencies he Farmer finds in Jules Verne's only novel to feature Fogg, 1873's AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, are explained by "another log" that reveals that Fogg was actually an alien-human hybrid, descended from an intermarriage between an Earth human and an alien called an "Eridanean." Other Eridaneans form a spy-network on Earth, where they can easily pass as human beings as they attempt to thwart the plans of the evil Cappelleans, who have more ruthless plans with regard to humanity. Just like the Eridaneans, all Cappellean agents are human-alien hybrids, the most noteworthy being Jules Verne's most famous character, Captain Nemo of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND.  Two other Verne characters from AROUND THE WORLD, Passepartout and Aouda, are said by Farmer to be part of the Eridanean network.

OTHER LOG is a good, readable adventure, even though it can be a little tedious whenever Farmer offers his nitpicking critique of the original Verne novels.  But though I can't say that I liked Farmer's re-interpretation of Nemo-- who becomes a simple "pirate" rather than a Byronic hero, and who is even to be coterminous with Sherlock Holmes' main villain Moriarty-- I have to say that for the most part Farmer does understand the appeal of both Verne characters, and so often a satisfactory interaction of their unique personalities.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


As I said in this essay, I find that only one Lovecraft story really presents what I may end up calling a "centric crossover:" one that specializes in bringing together two or more characters or milieus that have been, or are intended to become, the central attractions of a given narrative. (The "intended to become" application shows up most prominently in "back-door pilots," which I discussed here.)  This story is THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH, completed by Lovecraft in 1927 and published posthumously by Arkham House in 1943.

Technically I must admit that the protagonist of DREAM-QUEST, Randolph Carter, is not the central attraction of the story of the only story in which he appears previous to DREAM-QUEST. This story was "The Statement of Randolph Carter," finished by Lovecraft in 1919 and published in 1920. The story, whose full text can be found on various Internet sites, follows the mold of many Lovecraft stories about foolish occultists who blunder across nameless horrors. Carter's companion Warren is lost to these horrors when the two of them investigate a cemetery near the Big Cypress Swamp in Florida; only Carter lives to make his "statement." The story bears no relationship to any of the so-called "dream-cycle" of Lovecraft stories, mostly written in the 1920s, in which Lovecraft's protagonists encounter evanescent fantasy-worlds that can only be reached through what moderns now call "lucid dreaming." However, Lovecraft must have liked the name-- he uses a protagonist named only "Carter" in a 1923 story, "The Unnameable"-- so when he began work upon DREAM-QUEST, it appears that he simply refashioned the viewpoint-character of "Statement" into a full-fledged central character, one who now possessed a singular ability to project himself into, and navigate within, the worlds of dream. This version of Randolph Carter seems patterned after that of "King Kuranes," an otherwise nameless man of 1920s England who projects himself into the world of dreams and never leaves it; he first appeared in the short story "Celephais," written in 1920 and published in 1922.

Kuranes, who is the central attraction in his original appearance, is one of five entities, or groups of entities, who had stories devoted to them, all of whom Randolph Carter encounters in DREAM-QUEST. The second of these is artist-turned-ghoul Richard Pickman of "Pickman's Model." Third and fourth are the Cats of Ulthar and the Other Gods, both of whom appear as the central attractions in eponymously titled short stories. And for the fifth, Carter meets Nyarlathotep, often mentioned as one of the deity-like alien beings called "the Great Old Ones," though he was also the focus of his own eponymous story as well.

In general I prefer Lovecraft's stories of cosmic horror over his dream-fantasies, written in a studied imitation of the fantasy-writer Lord Dunsany. DREAM-QUEST is, perhaps fittingly for a dream-narrative, rather rambling in its structure. Carter has one intense dream of a marvelous "sunset city," and years to visit it within the worlds of dream. However, he's unable to locate it despite copious interviews with the inhabitants of the dream-countries, though he's given tantalizing clues that lead him from place to place.  Ultimately the Dunsanian mood of generally charming fantasy-worlds changes to one of horror as Carter encounters sinister beings allied to the Great Old Ones, culminating in a fateful encounter with Nyarlathotep, and the revelation of the true nature of the sunset city.

DREAM-QUEST's great problem is that while Lovecraft's delicate fantasies work well in short stories-- also the primary form in which Dunsany worked-- the conceit proves harder for him to pull off at novella-length, and one fantasy-realm seems pretty much like another. The forbidding mood-pieces prove more compelling, and I was particularly piqued when the author speaks of "the horror of infinite form." I might have thought that an experienced dreamer might have enjoyed his mind's ability to play with the finite forms of reality-- but it seems, given the novella's conclusion, that Lovecraft was primarily attracted to images of stability and comfort, while images of variability suggested ghastliness-- which, to be sure, made him one of America's premiere horror writers.

On a side-note, I see on Wikipedia that some critics have compared DREAM-QUEST's structure to that of Burroughs' Barsoom books, and to Baum's WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ. But given that one of Lovecraft's greatest literary idols was Edgar Allan Poe, I think it more likely that Lovecraft borrowed the rambling plot of DREAM-QUEST from Poe's only novel: the macabre NARRATIVE OF ARTHUR GORDON PYM.

Monday, May 12, 2014


Some more specifications about what kind of crossovers I consider most worthy of inclusion here.

I wont be dealing with "allusion" crossovers.  In my choice for #7, I listed Robert E. Howard's crossover between Bran Mak Morn and King Kull.  But there's also a crossover of sorts between the mythos of Robert E. Howard and that of H.P. Lovecraft  in the Bran Mak Morn story "Worms of the Earth." In this story, Bran needs the help of a race of subterranean serpent-men in order to unseat the invading Romans, and to do so he steals a prized idol from the serpent-men, so that they will attack the Romans for the return of their idol.  In the course of events the story mentions one of Lovecraft's minor deific figures, "Dagon," as well as "the nightmare corpse-city of R'lyeh," which Lovecraft fans will recognize as the hangout of the Great Cthulhu.

But what I'm looking for are crossovers involving characters, or in a very few situations, characters and particular milieus, so no "allusion crossovers" will be cited-- although I must admit that the work of Lovecraft himself is highly dependent on such allusions.  Some of Lovecraft's most ambitious stories weave ingenious webs of interrelationships between Lovecraft's parade of cosmic horrors-- the Old Ones, the Great Race, the sea-people of Innsmouth, and many more.  The idea that such interconnections exist outside the sphere of humanity adds to the horror.

However, even in the best stories-- "Call of Cthulhu," "Shadow Out of Time," "Whisperer in Darkness"-- the reader is only told about the webs of influence connecting the various creatures and aliens.  Most of these encounters are related long after the fact, so they do not project the unique flavor of the true crossover.  Only one Lovecraft work includes a true crossover of characters conceived as independent presences, which I'll detail in my next post.

Also not considered here are "cameo crossovers," where characters have no interaction with a developed plot, but merely appear as "walk-ons," usually for the purpose of a quick joke. Here's an example of a "cameo crossover" from the 1961-63 comic strip SAM'S STRIP by Walker and Dumas, which specialized in having the strip's characters meet other comic-strip characters:

The practice of comic-strip characters meeting one another was rare in 1961, but has become largely accepted in modern newspaper comics. I should add, though, that a cameo is not the same as a parody, given that the parody reproduces aspects of a character as seen through a funhouse mirror-- and so clearly deviates from the history of the original character.

ADDENDA: I may as well add here another example of a crossover that seems less than impressive. I considered including Jules Verne's THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, in which Verne's castaway-characters encounter not only Captain Nemo-- as all viewers of the Ray Harryhausen film will know-- but also the character of Tom Ayrton from Verne's IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS. However, though Ayrton is an important character in that novel, he's not a central one; he exists as an impediment for the major characters, the group that is sincerely searching for the titular castaways. Ayrton's appearance is more than a cameo, but his significance is too minor to qualify the novel for the crossover-status I'm exploring.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


American pulp magazines, more than any other single pop-media source, set the template for the production of American comic books. Even the comics' general disinterest in the later fan-fetish known as "continuity" may have been influenced by the pulps' disinterest in the idea of keeping their fictional histories straight.

However, certain authors in the pulp magazines were strongly self-referential, particularly the famed Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, who built complex-- if erratic-- continuities out of diverse stories, and who, during their lengthy correspondences with one another, frequently borrowed elements from one another's universes. In this post I'll concentrate only on Robert E. Howard.

Over and above Howard's repeated use of similar character-types and themes-- a common facet of all professional authors-- he possesses a broad conception of real-world history that centered upon the persona of the "noble barbarian." Howard featured many such heroes in both modern and archaic periods, but all were united by this barbarian aesthetic.

The most substantial Howard crossover, IMO, is the short story "Kings of the Night," first published by WEIRD TALES in 1930.  The illo above bills it as a story about his character King Kull, who existed in a prehistoric fantasy-realm that included Atlantis and similar kingdoms. In truth it's far more of a story about Howard's character Bran Mak Morn, a chieftain of the Caledonian Picts in the very historical era of Rome's British invasion.  The story can be summed up briefly thus: Bran, hemmed in on all sides by Roman forces, needs the help of a contingent of Viking warriors. The Vikings will not help Bran unless he provides them with a king of their own race, as opposed to a "Mediterranean-looking" king like Bran himself. With the help of a Pictish sorcerer, Bran summons the living form of King Kull to his own time. The Vikings are impressed with Kull's regal bearing and join Kull and the Picts in beating back the Romans-- at least, for a while.

As a story this is only good but not great Howard: the main attraction is that of seeing two Howard heroes sharing the same story, in addition to the author's trademark barbaric pessimism and his view of the living world as an "insubstantial pageant faded."

Slightly later, a story entitled "The Dark Man," published by WEIRD TALES in 1931, gave the Pictish chieftain the pleasure of being resurrected at a later date. Centuries after Bran's death, a Gaelic hero named Turlogh-- whom Howard also featured in a half dozen stories-- accidentally resurrects Bran by calling upon the power of a Pictish idol. This too is good Howard, but not as memorable overall as the "teamup" of the king of ancient Valusia and the chief of the embattled Pictish nation.