Mark’s Remarks – Marvel Age #124 (May 1993)

Crossovers. In other entertainment media, this refers to bringing an audience that likes one genre (like country-western music) to another, hybrid genre (country-western rock) usually through the strength of a given performer’s performance. This broadens their base of appeal, giving the artist a more mainstream audience. Hip-hoppers dream of crossing over and attracting a pop audience. Action stars like Jean-Claude Van Damme dream of crossing over and attracting more women to his pictures. In comics, the term has a different meaning. Crossovers are done within the same genre, and the one doing the crossing over is not the artist or the work, but the characters in the story.

Imagine Clive Barker characters making guest appearances in Stephen King’s books. Imagine the kid from Home Alone meeting Problem Child. We occasionally see some of this. Seinfeld’s Kramer did a guest shot as Kramer on Mad About You earlier this TV season. On the rarest occasions you’ll even get genre-crossovers on TV, the classic example being when a few doctors from the dramatic series St. Elsewhere showed up on Cheers.

But when it comes to character crossovers, the comics medium is the champion, Marvel is the champion’s champion, and there’s no end in sight as long as you readers demand we keep doing them, and they still do their magic, attracting readers to try a certain title they ordinarily would not buy. And crossovers can still be a lot of fun for us creative-types, too.

Industry jargon time. There are two different types of crossovers. A closed crossover is conceived of as involving specific titles where each title is equally important in advancing the storyline. Recent examples are “Operation: Galactic Storm,” in seven different AVENGERS titles; “Dead Man’s Hand” in NOMAD, DAREDEVIL, and PUNISHER; and “X-Cutioner’s Song” in the core X-titles. An open crossover is one which has a basic storyline told in one major series, but its ramifications and complications can play out in any title that chooses to get involved. Recent examples include the INFINITY trilogy (GAUNTLET, WAR, and CRUSADE); “Inferno” in X-MEN and “Acts of Vengeance” in AVENGERS.

The Merits and demerits of the two type of crossovers? Open crossovers are more difficult to coordinate, due to the greater number of titles usually involved. On the other hand, they are more creator-friendly: no one is barred from participating (“Sorry, fella, this crossover is closed.”) Open crossovers also enable the readers to pick and choose which tie-in issues of which they wish to partake. They pick up the key elements of the story by reading the keystone series, and the rest is just gravy.

Tom DeFalco has a theory that every other open crossover has lots of participants. Writers and artists get involved one year, discover all of the coordination headaches involved, vow to never do it again, and so pass up the chance to participate the next year. Months later, they get their sales incentive checks, realize the benefits and, forgetting the aggravation, agree to participate in the next one, having missed the intervening event. So it goes, year after year, according to the Chief.

The merits and demerits of a closed crossover? Each part of a closed crossover is essential, so to buy one is to commit to buying them all, or else the storyline is not going to be intelligible. They’re creator-unfriendly, not allowing others to jump in if they have an inclination. Taken as a whole, they are probably more coherent, since more centralized scrutiny is given to every integral part. Participation in a closed crossover is probably a better sales boost for a title, since every part of a closed crossover is equally important to the advancement of the storyline.

In a crossover, there’s usually one editor who’s in charge of the whole magilla, and that’s the person who’s the regular editor of the main title character around whom the crossover revolves. The editor in charge, of course, has a supervisor (one of the executive editors) to look over everything in an advisory capacity, but the editor in charge has to do all the hands-on work: distributing the rough outline to everyone involved, answering continuity questions, and reviewing al the tie-in plots to make sure they conform to the details of the overall storyline.

Sound complicated? I’m not done yet. All the participating editors of the crossover must also submit their book’s plots to the other participating editors if there’s so much as a cameo of a given editor’s character in their story. And once the art is done, photocopies of the art-boards must also be distributed to fellow editors in the crossover so they can make certain that costume details and so forth are consistent. We’re talking major league coordination here, folks, and it’s never any wonder to me that try as hard as we might, there is always a detail that is a little off in one title or another.

I’ve initiated major storylines in closed crossovers. I’ve participated in open crossovers whose premise I had nothing to do with. I’ve read and supervised crossovers for which I had no input or participation. Let me bend your attention span a bit with some of my specific experiences.

“Operation: Galactic Storm” as based on a plot germ growing out of my QUASAR continuity. Quaze is supposed to be the protector of the Universe. What would happen, thought I, if some aliens wanted to enlist his aid in a war with some other aliens? How would he decide which side to assist? Would he try to prevent the whole thing from happening, or would he turn his back on the whole murky affair? Well, when Bob Harras, Fabian Nicieza, and I were casting around for premises big enough to involve all the AVENGERS titles, I offered my QUASAR idea. Obviously, if the war infringed upon Earth in some way it could be “opened up” beyond the QUASAR title. Bob, Fabe, and I then thrashed out a raw outline of key elements in each of the nineteen (ulp!) Chapters that comprised the crossover. This took a lot of lunches.

Then we held an AVENGERS summit meeting with all the writers and editors, in order to debug and flesh out the outline. The writers were required to cover the elements that were slotted for their issues of the storyline, like it or not. In most cases, there was plenty of room for the individual writers to make their portions uniquely their own, but it was still a far greater imposition upon their titles than usual. The net result, in my opinion, was pretty successful.

Last year I also participated in the open crossover INFINITY GAUNTLET. I had nothing to do with the basic premise – the extent of my influence on the core storyline was “Since this story’s so darn cosmic, and Quasar has a unique role in the cosmos, make sure he’s got something special to do, please.” And so he did. Writer Jim Starlin had the mad Titanian Thanos choose Quasar, of all the assembled multitude, to wield the Ultimate Nullifier. Unique enough for me. And when I wrote my tie-ins, I was obliged to deal with the events in the limited series. In one issue, Quasar’s role was to “find Eternity.” I relished this, since I have long been interested in exploring the means by which omnipotent abstract entities acquire humanoid forms. I used my assignment to do a real offbeat story. I was happy.

For my second crossover issue, I was a little more hamstrung. My issue came between two issues of GAUNTLET and, at the beginning of the second issue, Quas was in exactly the same predicament he was in at the end of the first. I had an issue of QUASAR where he couldn’t do anything! I managed to get around this as best I could by having Q go on a fact-finding quest that no one knew he went on. Whew. Then for my third crossover issue, Quas got nullified in GAUNTLET and never came back in the course of the story(!). Obviously, I had to tell what happened to him after he got nullified, and bring him back to life. This challenge was compounded by the fact that, in his own series, Quasar had already spent a few recent issues being “dead,” so it was incumbent upon me to make this new experience as different from the previous one as possible. Truth to tell, I would never have chosen to do another “after death” storyline in the course of the book if I hadn’t been obliged to. I now find that having had a character come back from the dead twice makes the threat of corporeal harm pretty empty.

So that’s my side of the story on the subject of crossovers. They sometimes seem like a necessary evil, and sometimes like an unnecessary good! I would be interested to hear from you what you think our best and worst coordinated mass crossovers have been (I have my own theories). But as long as the idea of crossing over from one title to another remains a way to boost interest among you readers, we’re going to keep doing it. And hey, maybe one time we’ll get it absolutely right.

–Mark Gruenwald