Chat Cave: Crossover Events

Crisis on Infinite Earths was a significant event for DC’s universe, but its more enduring legacy might just be the very concept of an expansive, line-wide event. Not all crossover events need to be quite so large — DC has recently seemed more fond of events crossing into small handfuls of titles, and only for a few months at a time. Some of DC’s Vice Presidents may balk at the notion that they seem to like events, but with over a third of their titles recently involved in one of their five ongoing events (with more announced), they’ve become all but unavoidable for fans. We here at Retcon Punch are no exception, but are these events welcome? Welcome to the Chat Cave.

Drew: I’m sure I won’t be the first to suggest that this is a pretty broad prompt, nor the first to suggest that it really depends. As with individual issues or series, the quality of a crossover lives or dies by the talent involved. I hesitate to generalize the concept of events as “good” or “bad,” but I can say that I’m starting to feel a bit of event fatigue.

Part of the problem may be that these events often feel designed to bolster the sales of smaller titles, forcing fans of Green Lantern to pick up Red Lanterns just to understand what is going on with Rise of the Third Army. Some events (such as Night of the Owls) have avoided this by making each series functionally inessential to understanding the event as a whole. This allows fans to ignore issues they might not be interested in (though, being completists, we couldn’t help ourselves from reading terrible, terrible, issues), but it also means titles are occasionally hijacked by an event with no real emotional payoff for the characters involved.

At their best, crossover events create a sense of coherence to parts of a publisher’s universe, allowing different writers an opportunity to play with some different toys (and possibly collaborate with one another), and may even turn fans on to good titles they may have been missing. Those are virtues that are certainly worth pursuing, but I wish publishers were more wary of the risks. I’m increasingly disinclined to pick up crummy titles just to understand a crossover, which may mean just skipping the event altogether.

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Mikyzptlk: Ah, the crossover. They can be hard to pin down as sometimes they feel like the natural progression of storytelling in a shared universe whereas other times they feel more like shameless cash-grabs. I try hard to stay objective when a new one is announced but oftentimes I can’t help but become giddy at the thought of my favorite heroes fighting the good fight on the same page. The crossover acts to solidify the concept of a shared universe and the best crossovers serve to strengthen the ties that bind the various titles a publisher may have. 

Unfortunately, those same events can also serve to smother characters as well. Teen Titans, Superboy, and Legion Lost debuted almost as if they were one book when The New 52 launched. Each title, in their introductory story arcs mind you, all led up to an event called “The Culling.” Those books were so interconnected that the re-imagined characters barely had a chance to develop on their own. Ultimately, I think it comes down to the creative forces behind the event to understand that the story should always serve the characters and that, if it doesn’t, the story probably shouldn’t be told.

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Shelby: I cut my comic teeth on Blackest  Night, so I can appreciate the impact a crossover event can have on the reader. Blackest Night is actually a good example of event execution; you’ve got a threat that is tied to a specific group in the DCU, but is so all-encompassing it’s going to take everybody to get on board to fight. You don’t need Stormwatch or Jonah Hex to fight Nekron, but they can certainly try to mow down all the Black Lanterns they want. Night of the Owls followed the same principle. Batman fought the Court proper, everyone else fought the Talons. Interestingly, both involved zombies; maybe that’s the actual secret to a successful crossover event.

Really, my biggest issue with events goes back to my criticism of the New Guardians Annual: I don’t like to be tricked. I’m not an idiot, I understand that the comic book industry is just that: an industry, looking to make money. But don’t trick me into buying your crappy titles by making them a part of something I’m actually interested in. That’s a band-aid fix, you’re increasing your numbers for the short term without increasing the quality of your output. In the long-term, higher quality comics will make more money anyway, so why not invest in the long-term instead of making me choke down another issue of Catwoman?

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Patrick: I’m going to leap to the defense of the dense, stupid, impenetrable crossover event. Even something that we’re mostly not enjoying — like H’el on Earth — ends up being an interesting experiment in storytelling. A cursory glance of our output over the last couple months shows that we are as fascinated by the storytelling mechanics of these events as we are the substance of their stories. Even though we’re knee-deep in these things, they’re still extraordinarily novel. What’s more is that a crossover event is a uniquely comic-booky phenomenon. No other medium will present its audience will so many discrete creations, at the hands of so many discrete creators, and trust that audience to follow the aspects of that narrative that appeals to them. The insane collector that lives in each of our skulls may force us to take it all in, but that is explicitly not necessary for any of these things (except Throne of Atlantis, which I’d argue is barely an event).

Did I want to read Red Lanterns 15? Hell no, I didn’t. Could I have skipped it? Oh, absolutely – and we’re going to put that to the test in the next GL event by ignoring the Red Lanterns through the whole thing. So when we see an editor’s note in a few months that reads “*See Red Lanterns 18” and I going to feel left out for having not read the issue in question? Or — as I suspect — will I simply feel like I’m reading something that is part of a much larger world? I love the feeling that I’m taking in a narrative that’s part of something bigger. Do I have to read The Silmarillion to understand Lord of the Rings? Not at all. It does my heart well to know that millions of years of Middle Earth history are explored somewhere – and if my curiosity ever gets the better of me, I can explore it. But I also have the option to leave well enough alone.

23 comments on “Chat Cave: Crossover Events

  1. I’ve been burned by crossovers in the past, but I can also attribute them to the cause of some of my most favorite comic moments. Thinking about it, crossovers may have solidified my love of comics. Some of my earliest exposures to DC Comics was Crisis on Infinite Earths and the Batman title-centric “No Man’s Land.” Those events showed me that there was an immeasurably rich world beyond any individual title that I absolutely HAD to explore.

    • It’s tough. Crossovers have forced me to read a LOT of crummy issues, but they’ve also introduced me to titles I might not have investigated, otherwise. I can credit Night of the Owls with piquing my curiosity on both Birds of Prey and Red Hood and the Outlaws, which I REALLY enjoyed at the time. Time hasn’t been so kind to either of them, but with new creatives slated for both, I have high hopes…

      Sorry, crossovers, right.

      My point is, being forced to buy a comic has the potential to end really well, but I wish publishers would only do it when they were confident we’d all actually enjoy the exercise. Like, if Red Lanterns were secretly a fantastic but under-appreciated title, Rise of the Third Army would be a godsend. Instead, I’m feeling coerced to buying a total shitshow. And for what? So this under-performing title can limp on for a few more months? I can’t help but feel resentful.

        • Right, but again – do we need to read Red Lanterns? Couldn’t we have gathered that it was a shitty title and not just one that didn’t pique our interest? Red Lanterns didn’t trick us as all, we expected shit and we got shit.

        • With Red Lanterns though, it’s a whole other problem too because it’s clearly shitty but also revealed how the Third Army takes Lanterns out (by ripping their arms off) AND what their weaknesses are (punching them in the “Z”–I mean ripping out their eyes!). Has that even been mentioned anywhere else? I can’t really recall.

          But, I suppose the question remains, is that really important for the overall event? It seems like it is to me, but I wonder if not knowing that would negatively impact my enjoyment of the rest of the event.

        • Nah, that shit’s not going to matter. Leastwise, it BETTER NOT. If Baz, Kyle, John and Guy are all rescued by Manhunters aiming for the eyes, that’ll be the weakest possible resolution to their stories. All four of those characters need to show agency based on what they’ve learned in the last 4 issues. After they do that, then whatever cavalry shows up to do the clean-up is going to be totally incidental. Which is probably the kindest criticism I could level against Red Lanterns: “Totally incidental.”

  2. I think we have put ourselves in a position to be totally over events. Because we (Retcon Punch, that is) want to provide comprehensive and complete analysis, we end up having to read titles we don’t care about, even whole sections of the DCU we aren’t interested in. I think the average reader is less likely to suffer from “event fatigue.”

    • I don’t know about that Shelby, working at A Comic Shop I talked to many a customer that was fed up with the endless crossovers. Granted, they still BOUGHT pretty much everything, but that was a big part of why they were so fed up with them. Just like we are fed up with reviewing the tie-ins we care little about, they were fed up with “having” to buy them. It was common for our sales team to remind the customers that they didn’t NEED to purchase every tie-in that came out, but we certainly advised them to pick one up if it was either good or relevant to the overall event. Blackest Night is a great example of that because while most of the tie-ins were great, they weren’t necessarily “important” to the overall events taking place in the GL books and the actual Blackest Night mini series.

      We had a good mix of customers who absolutely HAD to buy anything stamped with Blackest Night and those who had a budget and stuck to it regardless of if that meant they didn’t get every single tie-in. And even within those two groups there was a mix of people who were and weren’t frustrated by having to buy or miss the tie-ins.

      • I make light of it by saying there’s an angry collector yelling in my head to catch ’em all, but it really does take a lot of discipline to leave crummy tie-ins on the shelf. Before I knew anything about comics, I went ahead and bought all the Blackest Night trades – which was fine because there’s not a single trade that doesn’t have at least one really cool story in it – but at the time, I just wanted to read the story of Blackest Night. Seemed like the right way to do that was to read it.

        But now that I’m a little over a year into actually pursuing this hobby in earnest, I feel like I can make the responsible decisions. But ask me again in two months and see if I’m secretly reading Red Lanterns…

        • I love that analogy by the way. It definitely feels like an insane person is in head. The doctors tell me to ignore the voices, but they are just so darn persuasive sometimes.

          Joking aside, I’m not going to make a secret of it. I can tell you that I WILL be reading that crummy, crummy Red Lanterns book.

          Speaking of a Peter Milligan book, did you hear that Jim Starlin is taking over Stormwatch? Based on the last book I read by him (Journey into Mystery, I think), he is probably past his prime, but he’s definitely left his mark in sci-fi comics so we might just see an upswing in the quality of that book pretty soon.

  3. I am not reading nearly as many of the crossover as you guys are and I am feeling the fatigue (and maybe more that a little disillusionment?). I think a well executed crossover is a wonderful thing – Night of the Owls, which only misstep was in Red Hood, in my opinion, but even that was ok, is a great recent example – but it takes a really strong guiding voice to make sure all the pieces line up. I heartily agree with Shelby – don’t trick me ’cause I am going to be resentful, as with Catwoman 13 in DotF (to call it a tie-in, even with ‘prologue’ status was being charitable and for it, and the next couple of issues, to be so bad was just cruelty to the readers).

    I stopped reading Supergirl prior to H’El on earth because I stopped reading Superman several issues before that and don’t care at all about Superboy. I may pick it up again after the event is over but may wait until it is collected to keep my ever-expanding pull list from bankrupting me.

    Will I still buy all the issues of the next big Batman crossover (which hopefully won’t happen for a long, long time)? Probably. Will I regret it…probably. I definitely appreciate you guys taking on the complete run of the crossovers. I am happy to know that if I do decide to skip something you will be talking about it so I can learn about what I am missing.

    The odd two or three issue crossover is definitely more palatable to me at this point. Daredevil did it well last year crossing over with Avenging Spider-man+Punisher and then Amazing Spider-man. It worked well to bring in other characters and allow for an expanded but not out of control story. Not everything has to be a big EVENT.

    • Retcon Punch: we read the shitty tie-ins so YOU don’t HAVE to!

      But seriously, I’m glad you appreciate our event coverage. Even though I get frustrated with events sometimes, it makes me happy to know we’re providing something of use to our readers.

    • I love tiny crossovers. That Daredevil / ASM crossover is a great example of what’s possible when you just think small, even while thinking big.The characters share a universe, so it feels right when they interact – doesn’t mean the world (or all life on it) needs to end every time they do.

      • Look at Rotworld, while it’s a “world ending event,” at least in the context of the story, it’s only a 2 title crossover with one other book tying in. Lemire could have also tied JLD into it considering that much of the Red Kingdom’s team is comprised of the JLD. Additionally, If either the creators or editorial wanted to, they could have easily tied in pretty much every other DC property or created a bunch of miniseries, ala Blackest Night, that tied into it. Instead, they kept it contained to just 3 books which doesn’t hinder the scale of the story in the slightest and just feels like a natural part of the 2 main properties involved.

        • It also helps that that specific crossover is built into the DNA of those series AND that Animal Man and Swamp Thing come out on the same day. I don’t know why, but the fact that I can read all of my Rot at one time (especially now that Frank is out of it) makes it a nice and smooth experience.

  4. The only time a crossover bothers me is when it crosses into 3 or more titles and I only get one of those titles to begin with. In this situation I still want to have an unbroken run of that comic but will not likely undertand it since I’m taking the issue out of context. Any time I’m already getting more than one book involved then I’m usually pretty stoked about it. It’s also relative to what writer is “driving” the corssover… in the case that I’m a huge Superman fan and get both that title and Superman I am still less than thrilled about H’el On Earth taking over Supergirl because I prefer the usual writer to Lobdell. It’s a messy web of affairs to be a collector

    • My typing and grammer is far worse when I do this between fraud calls at work. I am thrilled, however, that the contect blocker here is letting me post on RP again… WOOHOO

  5. I once had an argument with a friend about whether or not I collected comic books. He said that I did, but I argued, and still argue, that I don’t collect comics, I read them. I’m not a completeionist, I don’t buy books because of their value, I buy the books I want to read and have been known to skip over issues of a book I’d normally buy because I don’t like a fill-in writer or a crossover.

    And I mention this because I find that an asset when it comes to crossovers. Unless it’s a crossover where you have to buy every book to understand the story (like H’el on Earth or Throne of Atlantis), I have no problem buying only the books that interest me or that I was already buying and skipping the others (as much as I love Selina Kyle, I know to skip over Catwoman right now, for example.)

    I am feeling a bit of event fatigue right now, only because so many crossovers are going on at the same exact time (Rotworld, Death in the Family, H’el on Earth, Rise of the Third Army, Throne of Atlantis, it really is quite a lot), but I’m trying to be wise and only buy the books that appeal to me. And for the most part I’m enjoying the events I’m participating in.

    So my thought on crossovers are two: buyers, beware; and writers, make sure you’ve got something quality before you focus so much attention on it.

    (Just for my personal experience on recent crossovers, I felt burned after that Tim Drake fake-out during “Night of the Owls” and am sticking to the books I was already buying in Death of the Family, and while it’s a quality story, Joker’s plan is just so intricate that it feels a little overboard at this point. Throne of Atlantis got me to pick up Aquaman when I normally wouldn’t, so that’s to it’s advantage, but H’el on Earth gave me an excuse to finally drop Superboy rather than pick up two more books, and honestly, I’m grateful for that.)

    • Yeah, I think “live and let live” is definitely the best policy, but I’m starting to wish DC wasn’t so enamored of these things. They really can throw a wrench in a writer’s rhythm if they have to pause whatever arcs they’re working on to deal with whatever crossover is happening now. I know we can skip them, but what if I just wanted to see Supergirl doing Supergirl things, you know?

    • I feel almost exactly as you do about it, but I will make the distinction that I still consider myself a collector; I collect comics because I love them and I wish to have them handy in case of a re-read (just like a movie collection. I also collect Blu-Rays.) I think you can be a collector without being a speculator and that’s the important difference. Like how I collect toys, as well, but I’m not like that shrewd villian from Toy Story 2 in any regards

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