Tuesday, December 8, 2015


DC Comics's flirtation with pulp crusaders in the 1970s didn't bear profitable fruit: they managed only 13 issues of their title THE SHADOW and four issues of JUSTICE, INC., both based on properties licensed from the publisher Street and Smith. The later book was probably entitled JUSTICE INC. because the actual name of the starring hero, The Avenger, would have invited a "cease and desist" letter from Marvel Comics, home of "The Avengers." However, on the whole JUSTICE INC. was an undistinguished work. In contrast, DC's SHADOW comic, though short-lived, enjoyed a handful of memorable stories crafted by writers Denny O'Neil and Michael Uslan, and drawn by artists Michael Kaluta, Frank Robbins and ER Cruz.

The one good thing about DC's brief licensing of "The Avenger" was that it eventuated in this crossover. Certainly the story was an attempt to boost the visibility of the lesser-known feature, but the raconteurs in charge of having the Shadow and the Avenger-- Uslan and Cruz-- also made it one of the stronger comics-crossovers of the 1970s.

I won't claim that the plot is anything special. Both heroes employed crews of subsidiary agents who helped the main guy fight his battles, so the script took advantage of this by having a nasty evildoer-- the Shadow's most celebrated villain, Shiwan Khan-- kidnap members from both crews. He then hypnotized the assistants and used them as catspaws in a successful attempt to make the two crime-crusaders fight one another.

As a fight, it's not much: ER Cruz is more successful at creating oppressive mood than pulse-pounding action. But Uslan is excellent in the way he gives both the Shadow and the Avenger a waspish wariness of one another, rather than simply having them make nice once they learn how they've been manipulated. I particularly like the succinct way the Avenger explains things to a subordinate when they witness one of the Shadow's quasi-supernatural feats: ""All is not as we see it, Mac! But I DO know what it was I saw!" At a time when many comics-writers over-explained nearly everything in the story, Uslan shows a charming reticence as to divulging the inner secrets of his mysterioso protagonists.

Monday, October 19, 2015


One of the great "guilty pleasures" of 1980s TV was the 1981-89 series DYNASTY. Having seen the first season in reruns a while back, I've the sense that even then the producers hoped to create a spin-off by postulating that the Denver-based oil barons, the Carringtons, had a rival in another super-rich family, the Colbys. The two big families were bound in part by marriages between members, but it didn't seem to make them any more friendly over time.

The 1985 DYNASTY episode "The Titans" served to introduce the cast of the spinoff to the parent show's viewers prior to COLBYS's debut in November of that year. From then on the two shows didn't share many plotlines, and some of DYNASTY's actors , notably Joan Collins, refused to appear on COLBYS for fear of "weakening the brand," as some people call it these days. COLBYS started off with some powerhouse actors, particularly cinematic icons Charlton Heston and Barbara Stanwyck, both of whom certainly were more famous than John Forsythe and Linda Evans. Yet COLBYS never caught on and only lasted two seasons. I've not seen it in many years, but all I remember about it was a running plotline about incestuous desires between a brother and sister.

The crossover episode is okay fun, if one has a great tolerance for over-the-top line-deliveries and a wealth of scenes in which enemies bare their fangs at one another over champagne and studied innuendo. One of my first crossover-listings took a similar form, in that once the series ALL IN THE FAMILY was successful, its producer used not one but two episodes of that show as "back-door pilots" for his second series MAUDE. I'm not a big fan of the latter series, but I must admit that MAUDE by far a better spin-off than COLBYS. If COLBYS has any significance in a societal sense, it's probably just that the American public could only take so much champagne and caviar.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


I haven't read more than a handful of Clive Barker's prose works, so I know of his Hellraiser and Nightbreed concepts only through their incarnations in the cinema, where Barker's control of the franchises was, to say the least, compromised. I've read a handful of the Nightbreed comics published by Marvel's Epic line, and none of the Hellraiser comics from the same source. Fortunately, Epic's 1991 Hellraiser-Nightbreed crossover, JIHAD, is not tied into any of other serials, and neither writer D.G. Chichester nor artist Paul Johnson worked on either of the ongoing titles. Unlike some other Epic Comics graphic novels-- notably, the debut issue of VOID INDIGO-- JIHAD can be read without reference to any other serials. Admittedly, though, one is likely to be lost if one hasn't seen both the 1990 NIGHTBREED film and at least the first two Hellraiser films, which I have reviewed here and here. Indeed, I was thinking largely of JIHAD when I wrote in the second review that "HELLBOUND, while far from a perfect film, expanded on the Cenobite mythology originated by Barker, and arguably, it is the Randel-Atkins mythology that has been most fruitful in other adaptations of the franchise." (Note: Peter Atkins, writer of HELLBOUND, gets the honor of having a denizen of the Cenobite Hell named after him in JIHAD.)

Since JIHAD shows a febrile creativity in terms of both script and art, I will speak of it as the joint creation of Johnson and Chichester. The two creators had a formidable challenge before them, for of the two franchises, only Hellraiser had proved popular with horror-fans, while the NIGHTBREED film proved itself a critical and commercial failure when it debuted in American theaters in February 1990. This meant that the Nightbreed characters-- and JIHAD features a quite unwieldly quantity of them-- probably weren't really that familiar to JIHAD's readers, unless they also followed the ongoing NIGHTBREED comic book, which began a couple of months after the film's release in 1990. Still, the society of freaks and monsters who made up the Nightbreed offered more potential for reader-identification than the Cenobites from the Hellraiser franchise. These characters-- almost always represented by their articulate leader "Pinhead"-- existed largely to tempt their victims into entering their hellish domain, where they would then undergo ceaseless tortures in what might best be described as a S-&-M updating of medieval stories of infernal punishments.

So Johnson and Chichester essentially interwove the very loose "Randel-Atkins mythology" of the second Hellraiser film into the equally loose mythos created by Barker for the Nightbreed film. The result is one very heavily layered crossover, in which the Cenobites are discovered to have been the forces that caused the monstrous Nightbreed race to be divorced from their somewhat distant cousins, the human beings. I should note that Barker's concept for the Nightbreed bears a strong resemblance to the Stan Lee-Jack Kirby "Inhumans" franchise, in that both groups are comprised of a motley crew of superhumans who have little if any physical resemblance to one another-- though of course, Barker's concept ratchets up the sex, violence and perversity far beyond the boundaries of any mainstream comic book.

Despite all the transgressive elements in JIHAD, however, Johnson and Chichester bring an artfulness to their franchise-crossover. I for one consider that its theme is at least as deep as that of the Moore-Gibbons WATCHMEN, but would concede that JIHAD's space limitations-- consisting of just two 48-page novels, with gorgeously grotesque painted art by Johnson-- might make some overlook it as just another desultory franchise-crossover.  I'll be exploring said theme in more depth elsewhere.

As an odd coda to this overlooked work, both Chichester and Johnson left the medium of comic books for employment in other artistic venues.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


Though I made up my "best 100 crossovers" list months ago, the gradual nature of the project has allowed for me to occasionally bring in more recent stuff and drop out previous choices.

"Say Uncle," a STEVEN UNIVERSE cartoon lasting less than a quarter-hour, debuted in April 2015 on Cartoon Network. I just saw it, and it's easily one of the most "meta" commentaries on the dynamics of engineering a crossover between franchise-characters. The above scan takes place when visiting guest-star "Uncle Grandpa" assures Steven that the episode in which they're jointly appearing "is not canon"-- and then he proceeds to show him how to use a real cannon, by firing off his own head as a projectile.

In contrast to many non-canonical episodes of serial shows, in which nothing much happens aside from the crossover, "Say Uncle" does relate to a continuing storyline from the UNIVERSE show, in which he struggles to master his latent powers as one of the "Crystal Gems." At the same time, the story is written so that writers dealing with more canonical matters can freely ignore the intrusion of Uncle Grandpa into Steven's universe. Similarly, when the goony Grandpa transports Steven into his own universe, one of Steven's Gem-friends ends up devouring one of the regular characters of Grandpa's show-- an event which I imagine was also cheerfully ignored in any GRANDPA episodes that followed.

I've become only a minor fan of STEVEN UNIVERSE, and have not really followed UNCLE GRANDPA, but this episode does what any good crossover should do. The whole purpose is to encourage audiences to partake of both franchises more regularly-- and after this, I may even watch UNCLE GRANDPA a little more.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


I began reading prose fantasy and science fiction, in addition to comic books, steadily at the age of 15 and have never stopped. In my first ten years of SF-reading, I probably read most of the works that early fans considered "the classics," not least the works of "the Big Three:" Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein. None of them wrote the sort of fantastic fiction to which I aspired, as I soon became most enamored with the genre of fantasy, but of the three, Asimov was the one whose works I most consistently enjoyed.

Yet I did not enjoy the two books in the FOUNDATION series that I read in those days, and consequently did not bother to read the first book in the series, entitled simply FOUNDATION. Much more recently, though, my SF-book club voted to read the book. Therefore I finally read the missing chapter in the series once given a 1966 Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series."

Harlan Ellison once gave an interview-- which I'm recalling purely from memory here-- in which he described talking to Asimov about adapting the latter's "Robot" stories into a coherent screenplay-- which was certainly not used for the later Will Smith movie I, ROBOT. Ellison claimed that Asimov cautioned him that these were all "bad stories" and wouldn't make good movie-fodder.

I've no way of knowing whether or not Asimov actually said this. But if he did, it's interesting that he would downgrade the "Robot" stories, since in my eyes the early tales are eminently good reading. They're simple, problem-oriented stories, but they have the sort of humor and lively dialogue that I found characteristic in the best works of the author.

In contrast, I still remember my extreme distaste for the two FOUNDATION novels that I did read. All novels in the series were predicated on the idea that in a far-future galactic empire, founded exclusively by humans from Earth, which was doomed to fall into chaos (Asimov was reading Gibbon's DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE at the time). However, this Empire could be saved, thanks to the genius of one scientist, Hari Seldon. Seldon creates a mathematical science called "psychohistory" that can predict large-scale future developments by analyzing the movements of the societal masses. Although the original Empire does decline and fall, Seldon's system, carried on by his adherents long after his death, manages to circumvent total galactic chaos, making possible the rise of a better form of empire, called the Foundation. 

The original book is not a novel as such, having been composed of eight interrelated stories originally serialized in SF-magazines; to the best of my knowledge, the two sequels followed the same pattern. And all of the story-arcs follow the same basic story-pattern. An adherent of Seldon encounters some obstruction to the grand plan for the Foundation's rise, and takes steps, usually off-camera, to prevent them. Then  he sits down with his opponent, and the two of them go back and forth in endless talking-head scenes, as the "Seldonite" demonstrates his superior cleverness and the inevitability of psychohistorical destiny. 

I remember thinking that the Foundation novels were just like watching chess-moves translated into vapid dialogue from cookie-cutter characters: "You thought you had me with that move, but I countered thusly." "Yes, but I knew you would counter thusly, so I counter-countered you." "Yes, but I knew that you knew that you would counter-counter, so..." Since even watching a real chess-match would probably be more entertaining than this folderol, I'm somewhat of a loss to figure out how such a series became so popular in science-fiction.

A simple answer would be that the appeal of the FOUNDATION novels is basically "Revenge of the Nerds." Characters endlessly chant the favorite maxim of Hari Seldon, that "violence is the last resort of the incompetent," while finding all sorts of ways to trick or hoodwink their opponents into defeat. The Seldonites, then, use indirect rather than direct, violent means to effect compulsion, just as the heroes of the "Nerds" movies use trickery to get around their stronger opponents. However, that by itself seems too simple an answer.

Long before reading FOUNDATION, I'd come across another critic's assertion that psychohistory was just Karl Marx's historical materialism under the veil of pretend-science. And indeed, the book ends with one of its sound-alike narrators predicting the likelihood of future problems:

What business of mine is the future? No doubt Seldon has foreseen it and prepared against it. There will be other crises in the time to come when money power has become as dead a force as religion is now. Let my successors solve those new problems, as I have solved the one of today.

This is probably the principal appeal of the FOUNDATION series: it offers a technocratic solution to all of the inequities against which modern-day man struggles.  Not surprisingly, the main opponents to the rise of the Foundation are "religion" and "money power," the same factors that Marx hoped would be nullified by the rise of the proletariat. Asimov, himself a scientist, envisions a world where 
such factors cannot affect man's destiny, which is controlled entirely by rational scientists.

I could probably tolerate Asimov's simplistic enshrinement of scientific knowledge and methodology, if FOUNDATION had put across his wonky technocracy with any wit or charm. But even though Asimov was a master at creating simple but charming characters, all of his characters in the series are walking ciphers, whether good or bad. The common world of birth, death, and family relations does not exist for them, and I don't even remember any female characters in FOUNDATION itself.  Like Marx's historical materialism, Asimov's psychohistory can only work within a universe where human beings are almost completely predictable. The only exception to this rule appears in the latter two books, as the Foundation is threatened by a psychically-endowed mutant named "the Mule"-- and he's the only character I remember from these books.

I can't fairly review the latter two books, not having read them for over thirty years. But FOUNDATION is an awful "classic" of science fiction, full of stodgy characters and preening self-congratulation.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


One of the most impressive feats of Roy Thomas during his last years as an exclusive employee of Marvel Comics was a multi-issue THOR storyline involving Wagner's Ring operas, the polytheistic pantheons of the Marvelverse, and the reason that Thor's daddy Odin created the Destroyer. However, as explained by Thomas in the comic's letters-column, one of the main purposes of the storyline was to bring Kirby's 1976-78 concept THE ETERNALS into Marvel continuity. Though it's clear that Jack Kirby didn't care anything about melding his creation with the other Marvel books, Thomas clearly intuited that since Marvel owned the whole concept, sooner or later someone would bring Kirby's creations into mainstream Marvel, if only within the context of some dismal team-up issue. Thus the principal purpose of THOR #283-300 was to produce a mammoth crossover that did justice to the scope of Kirby's creation, by having the Lee-Kirby version of Thor investigate this strange new breed of "gods"-- although they were only gods in terms of the names they inherited. In truth, the Eternals were not creative forces, but the creations of brobdinagian aliens called the "Celestials," with whom Thor finds himself in conflict.

Having re-read the continuity, I have to admit that the crossovers with Thor and the Eternals are probably the clunkiest parts of the long sequence, although the Celestials make for great villains. Thomas did not actually complete the entire epic, as exigencies forced him to turn over the writing duties to Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio. Similarly, though John Buscema began the sequence, the majority of the penciling was done by Keith Pollard, and may represent his best work for Marvel Comics.

Despite Thomas' legendary commitment to continuity, he drops the ball in the "Seigfried" sections in that he shows how Odin gave birth to Thor by a non-Asgardian mother-- yet somehow tries to imply that Odin's mortal spawn, the Seigfried of the Wagnerian narrative, is also actually Thor by some unexplained logic, rather than being simply the Thunder God's half-brother. Perhaps Thomas meant to use one concept introduced in issue #294, "the Celestial Axis," as a catch-all explanatory device, but if so, he failed to follow up on it, as did Macchio and Gruenwald.

Nevertheless, it's a great romp through the many worlds of the Marvel cosmos.

Monday, June 15, 2015


A small number of hero-crossovers appear in the Italian "muscleman adventure" subgenre of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Until recently I'd considered choosing, as the best representative of these, 1963's HERCULES, SAMSON, AND ULYSSES. Like most of these mini-epics, the storyline of H,S & U is so conventional as to stifle one's imagination, though there is at least a decent fight-scene between the two strongmen of the title.

Happily, thanks to a contributor to Youtube, I came across a far superior nominee: a broad comedy entitled SAMSON AND THE MIGHTY CHALLENGE. I go into more detail in my review, but suffice to say that Hercules falls in love with a young woman who doesn't want him-- a development that probably never occurred in any other Italian Hercules film.  The lady's parents try to stave Hercules with a challenge-- and from a plot-standpoint, the film really is a challenge given to Hercules, not to Samson. They tell Hercules that the gods will not give permission for the marriage unless Hercules can defeat the Jewish strongman Samson.

In addition to once again bringing together Samson and Hercules-- this time in a humorous context-- two other heroes also jump into the mix. One is "Maciste," who began his career in the 1914 Italian historical epic CABIRIA, and who then starred as the hero of various silent films, as well as a horde of muscleman-adventures of the fifties and sixties, many of which were re-titled as Hercules films for the American market. The other is "Ursus," whose name was taken from the novel/film QUO VADIS for a handful of "Ursus" films. The Ursus of MIGHTY CHALLENGE is more like a comic brute rather than a hero in his own right, so he's not really a continuation of the noble fellow who had his own series. Then again, I must admit that almost none of these muscleman films maintain any consistency from one episode to the next. So the Hercules, Samson and Maciste of MIGHTY CHALLENGE are similarly not in line with any of the previous adventures of those cinema-characters, much less any mythic or literary forbears.

The highest compliment I can pay the film is to say that while most Italian knockabout comedies aren't nearly as funny as their makers think they are, this one actually brings the goods.

Thursday, June 11, 2015


It's a slam dunk that Jack Kirby, co-creator of both Thor and the Hulk, should be the one to render the best (thus far) face-off between the two Marvel titans, covered in my previous post.

Nevertheless, the Hulk-Thor battle in DEFENDERS #10, scripted by Steve Englehart and pencilled by Sal Buscema, comes a close second. The scene represented on the cover, in which the two super-strong guys, after lots of pounding and throwing things, presents the argument that the two are fundamentally equals, in that they struggle against each other, arm against arm, for something like a solid hour.

This was the high point-- though not the only good moment-- of the seven-issue crossover  called "The Avengers-Defenders War." This took place in the AVENGERS (issues #115-118) and DEFENDERS (issues #8-10) titles, both at the time being written by Englehart. In later interviews Englehart would assert that other Marvel employees doubted that he and his artists could pull off a crossover that had to be timed so that each segment came out precisely on the heels of the last installment. Later, this sort of multi-issue crossover would become standard practice at both Marvel and DC, often criticized for weak storylines and a transparent attempt to boost sales in an artificial manner. But Englehart's story carries the same innocent thrill of the "heroes-meet-and-fight-cute" trope that Marvel perfected in its Silver Age heyday.

The plot, dealing with a conspiracy by villains Loki and Dormammu to reshape the Earth into one of Dormammu's realms, serves adequately to bring the two teams into a conflict in which each believes the other to be villains. The only downside of this generally enjoyable outing is that although Sal Buscema is perfectly fine in his DEFENDERS segments, penciller Bob Brown, given mediocre inks by Mike Esposito, gives the AVENGERS segments a sloppy and unfocused look. The one exception to this generalization is a chapter devoted to a battle between Captain America and the Sub-Mariner, but only because this section is crisply inked by an uncredited Frank McLaughlin.

Monday, May 11, 2015


FANTASTIC FOUR 25-26, with its Thing-Hulk battle, remains the best example of Jack Kirby cutting loose with his trademark fight-kinetics. However, despite a shorter length, the first major battle between the Hulk and the Mighty Thor-- appearing in JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #112-- is nothing to sneeze at.

Rather than coming up with a new reason for the Asgardian hero to confront the Green Goliath, Lee and Kirby choose to tell an "untold story" of a previous meeting.  Thor himself narrates the story to a gaggle of young admirers, revealing that during the Avengers' sortie against the team of the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner in AVENGERS #3, Thor managed to get the Hulk alone in a room and the two of them matched muscles for roughly a minute. This, Thor tells his comics-audience (but not his listeners), is all the time the hero allows himself to defeat the Hulk, swearing not to pick up his dropped hammer until he defeats his monstrous opponent. Since in those days Thor would revert to the human Doc Blake if the hammer was out of his hands for more than 60 seconds, this sounds like a suicide impulse on Thor's part-- though it certainly fits in with his Viking macho rep.

It's a good fight, but the panels above capture a curious dichotomy in the Lee-Kirby corpus: an admiration for the brutal power of the Hulk played off against Thor's embodiment of the virtues of nobility. The THOR feature would sometimes explore these issues, resonant of class conflict, but here it's just a side-note to the Clashing of Titans.

Saturday, May 9, 2015


I selected this film for roughly the same reasons I chose CRISIS ON INFINTE EARTHS here in post #47, less for the work's quality than for its significance as a crossover.

As all fans of luchaodore cinema know, the dominant idea behind the genre was to portray established professional wrestlers as itinerant superheroes, running around fighting everything from crime bosses and spies to aliens and monsters. IMDB cites the date of the first crossover, SANTO AND BLUE DEMON AGAINST THE MONSTERS, as 1970. I haven't screened this flick as yet, but I have seen two other Santo-Blue Demon team-ups from the same period, so I have to pass on these two-wrestler team-ups to stand as the best of the genre.

If 1972's THE MUMMIES OF GUANAJUATO had nothing else going for it, at least it brought together the three wrestlers who had the longest careers as movie superheroes: Santo, the Blue Demon, and Mil Mascaras. Fortunately, the film also gave the wrestlers opponents who aren't simply retreads of Hollywood figures. These mummies were based on a group of well- preserved corpses found in Guanajuato, Mexico, which city subsequently became a major Mexican tourist attraction.

These two elements are the best aspects of the film: otherwise MUMMIES is not the equal of the more brain-fried Mex-horror films. For most of the narrative, director Federico Curiel seems content to show the heroes in a series of running battles with their super-strong, almost invulnerable enemies. More than that I can't  say, for I only watched a Spanish language version of the film. However, I honestly don't think I'm missing any great subtleties here.

The mummies are moderately imposing, if not scary, and there's lots of action. I should note, though, that Santo doesn't show up until the last fifteen minutes; it's been strongly suggested that he was a last-minute addition to the film..

Monday, April 13, 2015



While a lot of the crossovers I've covered here have elements of hand-to-hand conflict, here's one based in "foot vs. foot."

FLASH #175 was published as a follow-up to a similar set-up in SUPERMAN #199, which had only seen publication about three months earlier. The Superman story is a good read, but it has a somewhat "kiddie-level" feel to it. Superman and the Flash race one another for charity, but have to deal with illegal gamblers trying to sabotage the race for their own benefit.

As the cover above shows, the FLASH version of this conflict hinges more on the hero's pathos in contention with DC's premiere hero. The script by E. Nelson Bridwell shows a little more concern with overall continuity than was typical of DC comics in 1967.

In short, Superman and the Flash are forced to run across the galaxy in a competition managed by two alien gamblers, Rokk and Sorban, who had appeared in an earlier Superman story. The aliens also hold the whole Justice League hostage and threaten to destroy the home city of whichever hero loses the race. Refreshingly, Bridwell does manage to find ways for three of the Justice Leaguers to provide aid to the racing heroes, so that they're not simply confined to sitting around playing cheerleaders.

The story doesn't stand up to close scrutiny. Since Flash can't breathe in space, the alien betting on him promises to supply him with a force-field of breathable air throughout the race. However, you learn by story's end that the aliens are actually two of Flash's old foes, Professor Zoom and Abra Kadabra, who have only instigated the race in order to lure the Flash into various death-traps. When one of the villains says that he cancelled the force-field so that Flash should have died in space, Superman advances the absurd explanation that he provided the Flash with enough air to breathe via his "super-breath." Hmm, so Superman can expel pure oxygen from his lungs, rather than carbon dioxide? Still, I didn't really worry about such niceties as a kid reading this comic.

Ross Andru's art puts a lot of verve into the galaxy-spanning race, and the two heroes are seen to be somewhat distrustful of one another, possibly in response to the pervasive influence of Marvel Comics during the period.


Though like most fantasy-fans I've been entertained by the films based on the works of Jules Verne, I've been somewhat more ambivalent about the author's fiction. I have sampled more of his oeuvre than many modern readers, largely the "usual suspects" like JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, and AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, though I also have sampled some obscurities like OFF ON A COMET and THE CARPATHIAN CASTLE. But I had never come across the two novels that gave rise to his character Robur the Conqueror, entitled ROBUR THE CONQUEROR and MASTER OF THE WORLD. Elements from these novels were used in their most famous cinematic adaptation, 1961's MASTER OF THE WORLD, starring the redoubtable Vincent Price.

Recently I was able to correct that situation, as I came across an Ace combination of both novels, originally issued to take advantage of the then-current movie.  I crossed my fingers before reading them, for although I'd enjoyed some sections of both LEAGUES and EARTH when I recently re-read them, I found that Verne's tended to be over-indulgent with his copious research of places and physical phenomena, often at the expense of his characters.

The first of the two novels, "Robur" (published 1886), was a heady surprise. Verne starts slow, with a lot of detail about the state of manned flight-craft in his era, and introduces a whole society of balloon-specialists. Two members of this society, young hero Evans and his mentor Uncle Prudent, become the novel's heroes as they encounter the arrogant engineer Robur, who predicts that "heavier-than-air" flight will soon eclipse the "lighter-than-air" type. When the balloonists reject his claim, Robur kidnaps both men and their Negro valet (more on whom later). He takes them aboard his fantastic craft, the Albatross, and shows them how easily he can confound the military resources of every nation by simply sailing beyond their reach.

Verne is never great with characterization, so it's not clear what Robur gains from the kidnapping beyond a big "told you so," nor is it clear as to why he wants to keep the three men prisoners once he's accomplished this. Robur is clearly in the mold of Verne's earlier Captain Nemo, but Robur is more arrogant, in contrast to the way Nemo is mostly minding his own business when he's forced to take Professor Arronax and his companions aboard the Nautilus. While Nemo and Arronax enjoy each other's company as men of science, Robur does not socialize with his captives, though Verne may have meant to suggest that down deep, Robur wanted from them some validation of his accomplishment. Yet the fact that Evans and Prudent are unremittingly hostile toward Robur endows the novel with more tension than I found in LEAGUES: I read ROBUR with the same excitement I get from the best adventure-pulp.

Robur is in some ways a more compelling character than moody Captain Nemo, but unfortunately he's also more inconsistent. Sometimes he goes about mocking the authority of the European countries, but he also goes out of his way to prevent an African tribe committing a mass ritual murder of several innocent subjects. Evans and Prudent succeed in escaping the Albatross, and they also damage it with an explosive charge. However, when the two men and their crew are in danger during the test-flight of one of their balloons, Robur brings in the Albatross to rescue his rebellious guests, and then sets them free. He then issues another mocking declaration of the inevitable superiority of "heavier-than-air" flight, and vanishes into the sky. It's as if Robur, like his author, was just keeping Evans and Prudent in his company just to build tension, when his long-range aim was actually to catch the balloonists in an embarrassing situation, the better to prove publicly the superiority of his concept-- and indeed, the last we hear of the novel's protagonists is that the citizens of the U.S. are mocking them for their craft's failure.

MASTER OF THE WORLD (1904) lacks any of the virtues of the previous novel. Wikipedia notes that Verne's health was failing when he wrote MASTER, and indeed he passed in 1905, so one can understand if this was something less than a triumph.

However, this doesn't make MASTER any more fun to read. It's outrageously padded with tourist-like descriptions as the protagonist John Strock investigated strange phenomena in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Strock eventually finds out that Robur has holed up in one of the mountains while perfecting a new device: a triple-threat vehicle, "The Terror," which can convert from an air-craft to a land-vehicle to a submersible. Toward the short novel's end Robur captures Strock but never gives any reason as to why he chose to convert his Albatross into this new "Transformer-style" vehicle. Whereas a character named John Strock is instrumental to Robur's defeat in the 1961 film, here Verne takes the lazy way out and has Robur's craft struck by lightning. Strock survives the debacle but Robur's body is never found in his miracle-craft's wreckage.

I said that I would comment on Verne's character of Uncle Prudent's Negro valet, who goes by the name "Frycollin." I haven't read enough Verne to know of his general attitude toward characters of color, but Frycollin has got to be one of the worst minstrel-show Negroes of all time. In my commentary on the first two Tarzan books, I remarked that although Edgar Rice Burroughs was somewhat ambivalent on African Blacks, he found it expedient to heap cruel humor on a Black African-American character, a maid named Esmerelda. But at least once or twice Esmerelda seems like a human being, while Frycollin is just a concatenation of every minstrel-show trope in existence: he's witless, he eats like a pig, and he's a complete coward-- so much so that even when Prudent and Evans lay plans to escape, they know they can't confide in Frycollin or he'd reveal their plans, either out of stupidity or cowardice.  For that matter, given the unimaginative way Verne uses the tropes, I can't imagine them being even modestly funny to those who like racist humor.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


I've finished a lengthier analysis of DC Comics' CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS here. but that essay doesn't discuss the series from the POV of crossover aesthetics.

First, I should note that this type of crossover is the one I defined here as the STATIC CROSSOVER:

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 first example of the static type that I cited on this blog was FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #3, Marvel Comics' first large-scale assemblage of most of their 20th-century characters in one story. CRISIS ON INFINTE EARTHS-- "COIE" for short-- has many of the same faults and virtues of this annual. On the one hand, the seasoned fan enjoys the experience of seeing characters mixed together that did not typically meet, be it Mr. Hyde and Hawkeye, or Swamp Thing and the Losers. On the other hand, the meetings are so short that there's often a sense of frustration in such brief encounters.

A lot of COIE consists of characters looking up at the sky in apprehension or laying plans to deal with the Anti-Monitor, and these don't exactly give artist George Perez the chance to excel with his mastery of superhero kinetics.

The best issues to seek out for heroic action in the Mighty Perez Manner are COIE #6, in which the DC heroes contend with characters from other publishers, including Fawcett and Charlton:

And COIE #9, which puts the heroes in conflict with a contingent of DC's best villains, plus a tiny handful of Fawcett villains.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


I've already discussed the two best Stan Lee-Steve Ditko crossover stories of the Silver Age, here and here,  and the one Stan Lee-written comic that wasn't a collaboration with either Ditko or Jack Kirby  here. But Ditko also did one other notable crossover in the Silver Age. Given Ditko's contrarian nature, though, it's significant that he refuses to give the casual reader what he might expect. "Blue Beetle Faces the Destroyer of Heroes," the lead story of BLUE BEETLE #5, does have the hero of the titular feature cross paths twice with the hero of the same comic's backup strip, The Question. However, the heroes do not meet with both in costume.

First, Vic Sage (aka the Question) crosses paths with Ted Kord (aka the Blue Beetle) when both happen to be at a museum. They stand together to prevent some scuzzy hippies from assaulting one of the Greek artworks on display, but they part ways thereafter and don't so much as shake hands.

Later, one of the hippies takes it into his head to don a costume based on a sculpture that represents absurdity and pointlessness, and to break into the museum to finish what his buddies started: destroying images of heroism and purpose.  While Blue Beetle is fighting the costumed kook atop the museum's roof, on the street below one of the hippies grabs a cop's gun and tries to shoot the Beetle. Vic Sage happens to be around, and he disarms and clouts the bum, perhaps saving the Beetle's life. The Beetle then goes looking for his opponent, and never pauses to find out who shot at him or who saved him from being shot.

The "Blue Beetle" story also introduces a character who is featured as the villain in the "Question" backup, but this second story is not a crossover as such.

It's doubtful that "Destroyer of Heroes" made much impact on its dominantly juvenile audience at the time. However, many hardcore fans of the period still regard "Destroyer" as one of the most important stories of the decade.  Though philosophical concerns did sometimes pop up as side-issues in the Silver Age stories of, say, Superman and the Fantastic Four, BLUE BEETLE #5 is arguably the first mainstream comic book to devote an entire issue to exploring its author's philosophical outlook. (It's rivaled only by MYSTERIOUS SUSPENSE #1, but this full-length comic was also authored by Steve Ditko, and bears the same cover date, October 1968, as BLUE BEETLE #5.)

Of course one can argue with many aspects of Ditko's Ayn Rand-flavored meritocracy, but the story remains one of Ditko's best dramatizations of his concerns. Later, Blue Beetle and Question teamed up "for real" in another story from Charlton, one from Americomics, and finally from DC Comics. This established the trope of a bond of friendship between the two heroes that never existed in the original Ditko crossover, a bond referenced in Alan Moore's WATCHMEN, where the Ditko characters are transformed into Rorschach and Nite Owl.

Monday, March 23, 2015


Silver Age Marvel's western line quickly followed the pattern established by the superhero line of the early sixties. Thus mundane cowboy protagonists began meeting costumed crooks with names like the Red Raven and Iron Mask, and many of the characters began crossing over into each other's adventures. Usually the crossovers were limited to Marvel's Big Three-- the Rawhide Kid, the Two-Gun Kid, and Kid Colt-- though even in the early 1970s, when the western line was petering out, one could still come across oddball meetings like the Ghost Rider and the Gunhawk.

Unfortunately, though Marvel's western riders had their share of good-to-fair solo adventures, the crossovers were never as epic as one might have wished. All too often, the writers seemed to spend all their energies finding some excuse to have Kid Colt and Rawhide-- the two most frequent crossover-subjects-- to meet one another. But they usually only encountered mediocre villains-- routine owlhoots or rampaging Indians. On one occasion, the two Kids met a disguise-using criminal named the Masquerader, but I for one would rather have seen some variation on the old "rogues' galleries of different heroes band together" to fight the heroes. Unfortunately, the closest fans ever got to this setup occurred long after the western heroes had all been reduced to reprint status, when they guested in AVENGERS #142. That story bring together the three above named Kids, the 1960s Ghost Rider (under the new sobriquet "Night Rider"), and the Ringo Kid, who hadn't appeared in a comic book since the late 1950s. For good measure the story also included a handful of Western super-villains like the aforementioned Iron Mask and Red Raven. For fans of the colorful, entirely escapist cowboy crusaders, this would be the closest thing they would get to an "epic western crossover."

The 2000 four-issue miniseries BLAZE OF GLORY. while it substantially rewrites several character-histories, does succeed in putting across the aura of western epic. The small town of Wonderment, founded by black ex-slaves who fled the South, is besieged by masked bandits called "Nightriders," who are determined to scatter the town's inhabitants to the four winds. One of the inhabitants, however, has his own heroic history, for he is Reno Jones, who co-starred in Marvel's first "salt-and-pepper" team-title, GUNHAWKS (1972-73). Jones goes looking for his own "magnificent seven" and manages to corral three fighting cowboys--the Rawhide Kid, Kid Colt, and the Outlaw Kid. In addition Reno's ally, a fellow named Fournier, attempts to get the Two-Gun Kid to come out of retirement, and eventually succeeds. However, Colt is being pursued by the bounty hunter Gunhawk and the Pinkerton enforcer Caleb Hammer. The Gunhawk was, as mentioned above, a short-lived hero of the early 1970s, while Hammer enjoyed just one spotlighted appearance in a 1980 issue of MARVEL PREMIERE.  In addition, the Indian hero Red Wolf, another 1970s creation, is hanging about, as is what appears to be a reborn version of the Ghost Rider.

The story by John Ostrander is at least bracing if not strikingly original, but its primary virtue is in bringing together so many of Marvel's cowpoke crusaders, even though Ostrander and artist Leonardo Manco re-imagine all of the old clean-cut heroes as scruffy "spaghetti western" types. I like spaghetti westerns as much as the next western fan, but despite copious references to racial injustice, the script doesn't manage to sell its concept of "the Real Wild West," and Manco's rendition of western action is entirely too painterly. Still, BLAZE OF GLORY remains a pleasing salute to Marvel's history with the western genre, whose moribund state is perhaps signified by the fact that two of the oldest Marvel heroes end up on Boot Hill.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


I don't remember when I last re-read THE LORD OF THE RINGS, but it's definitely been over twenty years.  I've finished the first two volumes and have begun RETURN OF THE KING, but as I read the books, I find myself calling to mind my original reaction from the 1960s:

A lot of Tolkien's characters are BLOODY BORING!

The Oxford don does come up with a number of good touches for his main characters, and those touches are the reason why the book has remained popular these many decades.  But a lot of his subordinate characters are dullards. Yes, Theoden and Denethor serve different plot-purposes, and enjoy different character-arcs-- but as characters, one is no more developed than the other. Many Tolkien-fans despite the film-adaptation by Peter Jackson, but at least I didn't have trouble distinguishing one king from the other.

I remember thinking back in the 1960s that this was the one thing that kept LORD OF THE RINGS from greatness: that so many of the characters were dull ciphers, no more alive than figures in a history-book. I wished that someday someone--maybe even me-- might write an epic fantasy in which even the subordinate characters were intensely alive, were individuals as developed as fictional characters can be.

And yet, on some occasions, I've seen Tolkien attacked for his lackluster characters-- and I usually find myself coming to his defense, possibly because there is a special art to fantasy-characterization that isn't identical with the world of "realistic literature."


This is the only crossover that I'll feature where the story-line was not finished as planned, because the titular character was intended to "cross over" with an unacceptable guest star; i.e., Jesus of Nazareth.

The title SWAMP THING was born from the melting-pot of 1970s comics, at a time when the 1960s dominance of superheroes had waned somewhat and the industry was still actively seeking other genres that might pay off at the newsstand. Most non-superheroes, however, did not last past the 1980s unless they already established their popularity in earlier decades, as with DC's perennial war-hero Sergeant Rock, or had established bonafides outside comics, as with the Robert E. Howard character who became one of Marvel's longest success-stories.  Swamp Thing's original 1972-1976 run was not especially successful, even in comparison to other protagonists in 1970s horror-themed comics. However. its popularity with hardcore comics-fans led to the 1982 film, which in turn to the reborn series in the same year. During Alan Moore's groundbreaking tenure on the series, Swamp Thing's universe, which had featured only minimal ties to the greater DC Universe, began to feature crossovers far more liberally. This liberality may have stemmed from an editorial mandate, given that eighties comics became increasingly concerned with playing to the direct market, but I cannot explore those issues here.

Though Moore had his swamp-monster encounter a number of "offbeat" DC characters like the Demon and Adam Strange, Rick Veitch's time-travel story, featured in SWAMP THING #80-87, arguably provided a fresh angle. Instead of meeting heroes within his own timeline-- at least some of whom might boost the title's sales, as with Superman and Batman-- Veitch allowed his plant-protagonist to exclusively interact with characters who neither had their own series nor much chance of getting new ones. These crossover-characters included the aforementioned Sergeant Rock (whose regular title had died the year before he appeared in SWAMP THING #82), Enemy Ace, Tomahawk, the Shining Knight, and a gaggle of DC's western heroes, ranging from the sober-sided (Johnny Thunder), the humorous (Bat Lash), and the demonstrably weird (El Diablo, Super Chief).  For long-time fans of DC Comics, it was a blast from a long-dead past; of a time when comics companies could publish successful titles based in periods other than the present or the far future.

It's also occurred to me that some of the "non-superhero" genres spotlighted by Veitch's sequence tended toward a harder-edged "blood and thunder" approach than DC was known for in its superhero titles. This wasn't invariably the case. The short-lived Native American hero Super Chief was indistinguishable from a regular superhero yarn of the period, and for most of Tomahawk's career since his debut in 1947, the frontiersman enjoyed adventures just as vanilla as those of the Man of Steel; only in the last years of the Tomahawk feature did the hero's adventures assume a tougher outlook.  Still, it was largely in the non-superhero genres that DC pushed the envelope in the "blood and thunder" department, which might be viewed as a stepping-stone to later, more adult-flavored features-- not least SWAMP THING itself.

As most fans know, the Swamp Thing time-travel opus was never completed. Veitch had received approval from DC to finish the series by having Swamp Thing encounter Jesus Christ (as well as a considerably more obscure DC hero, The Golden Gladiator). DC Comics then reversed itself, apparently fearing negative publicity. Veitch resigned and the opus was completed by a new writer Doug Wheeler. Though SWAMP THING #88 technically finished the plot-threads of the time-travel story, I for one don't regard it as part of the whole-- not just because it wasn't Veitch's original story, but because it failed to follow through on the themes established-- particularly that of the wonky "DC history lesson."

Saturday, February 7, 2015


Just as I did with the comic-book BRAVE AND BOLD last post, I wanted to find a representative episode of the 2008-2011 Cartoon Network teleseries BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD.

To the lover of DC Comics esoterica, B:TBATB was a cornucopia of daffy pleasures. The writers went out of their way to stress the wild, campy elements of superhero comics, though with a very different approach to "camp" than that of the 1966 BATMAN teleseries.

But of all the series' many strong entries, it was never better-- or "campier"-- than the 2009 episode "Mayhem of the Music Meister."  The plot is fairly simple: Music Meister (cunningly voiced by Neil Patrick Harris), a criminal able to enthrall others with his singing, plots to use a special broadcasting device to gain control over everyone in the world.  But the simplicity allows Batman and his guest heroes, Black Canary and Green Arrow, the freedom to indulge in all the deliberate artificiality of musical theater. In fact, the artificiality of such musical tropes as non-diegetic tunes can be fairly compared to a superhero trope like the "villain puts the heroes into a death trap but doesn't stick around and watch them die."

The songs are all fun doggerel-style tunes, and there's a cool subplot in which Black Canary's affection for Batman finally turns to Green Arrow, which any fan worth his salt should appreciate.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


DC Comics' THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD holds pride of place as the first of the "alternating crossover" titles. The title technically began teaming up its heroes in issue #50, but a few "spotlight" features showed up to interrupt this pattern. Batman, the hero whose presence defined the team-up title, debuted in the title alongside Green Lantern in issue #59-- dated April-May 1965. But the Caped Crusader did not become the dominantly featured character until after the January 1966 BATMAN teleseries had debuted as a runaway success-- and the first of these new "Batman-centric" issues is the one on which I focus, BATMAN #64 (February-March 1966). However, that's not the main reason I chose it to be representative of the feature, which lasted until 1983.

Like the Marvel team-up features that followed later, BRAVE AND BOLD was not known for consistent quality. The dominant gimmick-- that the Darknight Detective would be teamed up with very nearly every starring character in the DC universe-- meant that there was no consistent tone: Batman could have a grim-and-gritty urban adventure with Wildcat or Black Canary in one issue, and then jet off to Rann to meet Adam Strange or have magical misadventures with the Spectre or the Phantom Stranger.  Similarly, though there's some very good art in the feature at times-- Jim Aparo, Nick Cardy, and Neal Adams (who debuted his very influential version of Batman in this feature)-- even good artists could do little with workmanlike scripts.  

However, for some devotees the feature's lack of consistency, its tendency to favor wild, attention-getting gimmicks over slick, streamlined storytelling, is BRAVE AND BOLD's greatest strength. And it's a virtue most fans associated with Bob Haney, who wrote the most BRAVE AND BOLD scripts, though he certainly was not the only contributor,

Haney's scripts fall into two main categories: the workmanlike formula stories and the wild gimmick-stories. The latter are the ones that most fans remember with affection, and I tend to agree with that preference. When forming this list I decided that I only wanted to represent each of the "alternating crossover" comics with just one selection. I might have chosen the crazy story in which both Wonder Woman and Batgirl break away from their normal characterizations and spontaneously fall in love with Batman, or the one where Batman and Sergeant Rock must keep a terrorist from killing Jim Aparo, the artist drawing their team-up tale. But I chose #64 because the Batman-Eclipso crossover is one of Aparo's daffiest Bat-outings.

The opening deals with Batman encountering an old flame, a rich girl named Marcia Monroe. In his flashback Batman reveals that he almost gave up being Batman in order to marry Marcia, until she did a "Casablanca" on him and left without explanation.  If that by itself sounds rather uncharacteristic for Batman, it should, because Haney tended to write the Caped Crusader as if he was some latter-day derivation of Mickey Spillane's PI, Mike Hammer.

However, in some adventures Haney's Hammer-esque Batman is so dumb that he ought to have been called "Mike Dumb-as-a-Bag-of-Hammers." Marcia feeds the crimefighter a story about how a fabulous stolen emerald came into her hands, and she wants Batman to help her return to the museum so that her dead boyfriend, the original thief, won't be implicated. Batman buys the whole story, hook-line-and-sinker, and he sneaks the jewel back into the museum. But it's a set-up: Marcia has Batman photographed so that it looks like he stole the gem, and then she re-steals it, so that the Dumbass Detective is arrested.  While Batman's in jail, it's revealed that Marcia is actually a costumed villain, the Queen Bee, and the head of an international crime syndicate named Cyclops.  One of her first acts after jailing Batman is to liberate Eclipso, the demonic other-self of altruistic scientist Bruce Gordon. Gordon's secret self was not a subject of public knowledge, but apparently during one of Eclipso's earlier peregrinations outside his Jekyll-side's body, he had something to do with instituting Cyclops-- though Haney's script is far from clear on this.

Batman breaks out of jail and seems to get killed by police bullets. However, he survives and tracks one of Cyclops' agents to the villains' HQ. Artist Win Mortimer wasn't the most dynamic artist ever to work on the BRAVE AND BOLD feature, but Haney gives a fast-paced pulp-tale full of wild incident: desks that spring up and hit people, flying bee-men, Eclipso's black-diamond death-rays, and Batman pretending to be a Cyclops assassin for no good reason whatever.  But the stand-out moment is when the Queen Bee helps the Bat-dude out of a jam because she really still loves him; she just put him in jail so that she wouldn't be forced to have him killed.  By story's end the Cyclops HQ has been raided by police and Eclipso has been returned to Bruce Gordon's body without anyone, including Batman, knowing of the phenomenon. Marcia gets away, leaving behind her Queen Bee costume, while Batman manfully swears to bring her in despite his tortured feelings. Happily, to the best of my knowledge neither Haney nor anyone else ever brought Marcia back, and that's the way I like it: having her disappear forever into Haney's dopey, lovably corny Haney-verse. 

Monday, January 12, 2015


I've recently finished Wilkie Collins' THE WOMAN IN WHITE, often cited as one of the first novels that cemented the European mystery-detective genre. I didn't find it nearly as salutary an experience as his arguably more famous novel THE MOONSTONE, which boasts not only a better plot but an exciting pace and more rounded characters.

That said, THE WOMAN IN WHITE has one thing going for it that MOONSTONE did not: a story that totally invalidates one of the major tropes of the detective genre, so much so that I view it as being "anti-detective," at least in theme.

One of the most enduring themes of the straightforward detective story is the reader's experience of salvation when the clever detective sees the solution to some puzzle that has confounded all others. I don't know whether literary pundits still deem Edgar Allan Poe to be the creator of the detective story, but in at least two of his Dupin stories, Poe concretized the idea of the detective as the solver of great puzzles, both in "Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter."

As in many such detective stories, the 1860 novel WOMAN IN WHITE does present the audience with a very convoluted scheme involving certain villains' attempts to despoil an heiress of her inheritance, And two of the principal witnesses to the scheme-- main characters Walter Hartright and Marian Halcombe-- become amateur detectives in order to figure out what has been done and what they can do about it.

Without detailing that scheme, though, I will say that Collins structures the novel so that even when the heroes find out the truth, the villains have arranged things so thoroughly to their advantage that the detectives can't DO anything with their knowledge. At the very time when a Dupin or Holmes would unveil the secret that solves the whole difficulty, Walter and Marian find themselves helpless to make that revelation, because they know that no one will believe them.

Collins, in other words, has no faith that society will listen to the detective once he reveals the truth.  Early in the novel the main villain Count Fosco pokes fun at one character's belief that "murder will out," claiming that only stupid criminals are easily found out, and he does arrange things so that it takes advantage of both the inertia of society and the straightjacketing effects of the legal system. On a side-note Collins' father nagged the author into studying law, so that Collins might have some more profitable employment than being a writer. Collins, in showing in his novel that the law hampers more than it helps, may be demonstrating his extreme dislike for the legal profession in THE WOMAN IN WHITE-- though to be sure, Collins' friend and collaborator Charles Dickens had provided an even greater excoriation of the law in 1852's BLEAK HOUSE.

The undoing of the novel's villains takes place not because of any great revelation, but simply because Walter, by sheer coincidence, lucks into making contact with an enemy of Fosco, and that enemy is key to tearing down Fosco's tapestry of deception.  And thus, though THE WOMAN IN WHITE still qualifies as a "detective novel" in terms of content, in terms of theme it rejects one of the main emotional satisfactions of the genre.

Monday, January 5, 2015


On my original "top 100 crossovers" list-- which has been revised several times since I started posting entries here-- I included DC's BRAVE AND THE BOLD #63, which had the distinction of being the only crossover of two starring female characters without any other heroes participating in the main plot (though Superman does make a very brief appearance). But when I recently reread the story, I found it pretty disappointing. Though it was written by Bob Haney, who produced many enjoyably daffy stories for B&B, the winsomely titled "Revolt of the Super Chicks" proved fairly workmanlike, despite a few inspired moments. (For instance, the story begins with Supergirl deciding to chuck her superheroine career-- and when Superman tries to lecture her on her responsibilities, his cousin intimates that his obsession with responsibility has made him a stick-in-the-mud in the romance department.)

So I began hunting in earnest, to find if the DC Comic was actually the first time comic book characters in any genre had assumed co-starring roles in a story. Frankly, I didn't confine my search only to comic books, but I was pretty sure that I'd find a big goose-egg in such media as films, radio, and comic strips. All three lacked the sort of unitary business model found in American commercial coniic books, the sort of approach that has made crossovers particularly viable. I found some suggestions that various female characters in comic books had crossed paths in the Golden Age. most notably Timely teen-humor character Patsy Walker and Madeline Joyce, a.k.a. "Miss America," though apparently Madeline did not appear in her costumed identity.

A few other comedy-characters met one another, but most of the adventure-oriented genres-- superheroes, space opera, westerns, and jungle-stories-- very few writers seemed to have given a second thought to the pleasures of having female characters meet one another. Granted, pound for pound there aren't that many male/male crossovers in the Golden Age if you discount regularly occurring teams. Still, even publishing giant DC Comics seems to have only one story comparable to the 1965 team-up of Supergirl and Wonder Woman: 1943's ALL-STAR COMICS #15, in which several girlfriends of the Justice Society meet one another and don the costumes of their male counterparts in order to save the main heroes from a villain. This is a cool little story, which James Robinson re-wrote for a sequence in his STARMAN title, but it doesn't satisfy my criterion for a crossover of featured characters.

Happily, in 1943 another story appeared from Fawcett Comics, which keeps the 1965 BRAVE AND BOLD from holding the honor of being the first crossover of two female superheroines.  The story "Mary Marvel and the Riddles of Death" from MARY MARVEL #8 may not be the first time Mary Marvel and Bulletgirl met, whether on the comics-page or behind-the-scenes. But both heroines know one another's identities at the start of this story, as Susan "Bulletgirl" Kent attends the high-school graduation of Mary "Mary Marvel" Bromfield-- a graduation attended by no one else in Mary's circle, not even her brother Billy Batson. Still, the absence of other supporting characters indicates that the writer wanted to have no distractions from the central plot: showing two female crimefighters taking on a pair of murderous crooks.

One can read the full story here at this January 2013 post at THE TIME BULLET.  While the 1965 B&B story seemed predictable in a bad way, the MARY MARVEL tale is formulaic in a good way: a way that suggests the basic appeal of the formula rather than its limitations. Susan Kent is attacked by two previous antagonists of the Bulletman-Bulletgirl team: the Weeper-- technically, the son of the Weeper, since the original character died-- and Doctor Riddle, who had perfected the schtick of leaving riddle-clues a good five years before the birth of Batman's Riddler.  It's not a momentous tale, but it's perfectly enjoyable on its own terms, though one might wonder why the villains don't cause Susan trouble by simply revealing her real identity to the world. But had they done that, it would have read more like a standard DC tale, instead of a good little rock-'em, sock''em story that lets the ladies deal out distaff justice.

One quick notation: while Mary Marvel did maintain her own feature, Bulletgirl shared feature-status with the hero after whom the feature was titled, Bulletman. Bulletman did initiate the feature without a female co-star, but by the time this story was published, Bulletgirl was an integral co-star, not merely a supporting character-- and so she satisfies my "featured character" criterion.