Avengers vs X-Men Skottie Young cover

Top 5 Greatest Marvel Crossovers of My Time

“Avengers vs. X-Men” did not make this list.  If only for giving us Skottie Young’s covers, though, it ought to.

Managing Expectations

“Greatest Crossovers” is greatly overselling it.  It’s practically clickbait.  (Yes, a listicle as clickbait.  Shocking!)

This is more, “Augie’s Most Memorable and Fuzzily Favorite Marvel Crossovers.”  

This is in response to David Harper’s list from his new newsletter, The Crossover, which I recommend as a good subscription for comics fans.  He talked about his favorite crossovers, in general.

Our two lists do not overlap at all.  Not one bit.

Let’s stroll down memory lane now, shall we? This list is presented in no particular order, but I’ll number it so you can better tell how close to the end you are:

 

1. X-Force/Spider-Man

Spider-Man #16 cover by Todd McFarlane

Todd McFarlane drawing X-Force?  Sold!  Could 1991 me possible be more excited about any comic book ever?

Yes, this is the one entry on the list that isn’t universe-spanning.  It’s also only two issues, really: “X-Force” #4 and “Spider-Man” #16.  It’s such a minor thing, but just as memorable to me as the universe-crossing Everything Changes! type of crossover you’re probably expecting on this list.

xforce4_colors

There’s something just delightfully fun about it.  It takes some crazy chances.  Both issues are drawn sideways, something I’m sure Rob Liefeld was looking forward to getting back to after Karl Kesel had to redraw that “Hawk and Dove” issue on him.  The X-Force issue had some crazy Brian Murray coloring that looked like nothing else on the stands. It’s the four color equivalent of Owen Gieni coloring, but done in 1991, without the help of any computers.

It’s the issue that was the end of McFarlane’s tenure as a Spider-Man artist.  It was also the last straw for him in the editing department, when they took out Shatterstar’s eyeball-impaling attack on the Juggernaut.  The before and after panels of that are oft-reprinted, including in all of Marvel’s modern reprintings of the issues.

It also featured an explosion high in the Twin Towers, which looks a lot more eerie 25 years later than it was ever intended to be.

McFarlane didn’t look terribly comfortable drawing the mutants, but still got a few good shots in for the issue.

While he didn’t work over Liefeld’s panels in the crossover, McFarlane was a great inker over Liefeld’s pencils.  Those early “New Mutants” covers they did together were some of Liefeld’s best.

So, yes, a minor footnote in the history of crossovers, and one that everyone else would drop in favor of something more like the endearing “Archie Meets The Punisher”, but it’s my list and I like it this way.

 

2. Amalgam Comics

Spider-Boy #1 from Amalgam

Amalgam spun out of the third issue of “Marvel Comics Versus DC”  in 1996.  A second round of Amalgam titles came a year later.  I’m classifying this all as one big crossover.  And I’ll admit to one point of laziness/forgetfulness here: I don’t remember which of these books came out in which year, nor do I want to look them up.  It doesn’t matter.

There was a time in the 90s when Marvel and DC were not mortal enemies.  Likely, the depression of the comics market (and Marvel’s impending bankruptcy) made any tactic that could generate interest and sales worth doing.  Desperation will make you do interesting things.

And so we had Amalgam Comics, a series of one shots where great creators merged the worlds of Marvel and DC into interesting characters. They weren’t all winners, but they were all interesting. They were “big idea” books, where creators had 22 pages to jam together the two universes in interesting ways.  Sometimes, that got in the way of the story, but the overall effect was occasionally crazy, but also occasionally ridiculously interesting.  Some titles could have lived longer lives very easily.  (Anything Karl Kesel did classifies.)

The creators were top notch, too.  “Spider-Boy” might have been the standout issue, with Karl Kesel writing and Mike Wieringo on art.  Throw Joe Rosas in on colors and you have a very pretty book.

“Bruce Wayne, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” had Chuck Dixon writing with Cary Nord on art.

Bullets and Bracelets cover by Gary Frank. John Ostrander wrote the book.

John Ostrander and Gary Frank teamed up for “Bullets and Bracelets,” pairing The Punisher with Wonder Woman. Sounds ridiculous, but it works.

 

“Thorion of the New Asgods” featured John Romita Jr.’s art.

How about Jose Luis Garcia Lopez inked by Kevin Nowlan for Ron Marz’s twist script on “Doctor StrangeFate”?  That’s an awesome book.

John Byrne and Terry Austin doing an Ororo/Wonder Woman type of book?  Neato.

“Lobo the Duck” was the most ridiculous title of the batch. Coming in a close second was “Dark Claw Adventures,” a “Batman: The Animated Series” crossover with Wolverine by Ty Templeton and Rick Burchett.  (Naturally, there’s a Jubilee/Robin mash-up character.)

I’m beginning to think I should re-read the issues I have and do a whole writeup.  Someday…

 

3. Infinity Gauntlet

Infinity Gauntlet #1

I started reading comics in 1989, so “Infinity Gauntlet” was the first real crossover I read.  Sure, you had “Acts of Vengeance” before that (which just barely missed this list), but that didn’t have its own series.  It was just a banner under which a number of titles fell.  The main story happened in “The Avengers,” I guess?  I wasn’t reading “Avengers” at the time, so don’t quote me on that.

The Jim Starlin-penned “Infinity Gauntlet” blew open my comics reading mind.  George Perez’s work changed the way I look at comics.  I had only been reading for a couple of years, and it was all standard superhero stuff.  But Perez’s page layouts were amazing.  His pages were dense, detailed, and well designed.  He packed so much stuff onto every page.

I loved Ron Lim’s art at the time, and still appreciate so much of the stuff he was churning out back then (“Silver Surfer” and “Captain America”).  However, it’s a royal shame that Perez left to do that other crossover book at DC that nobody to this day remembers. (Point of Trivia: “War of the Gods”)  I wish he had been able to finish this mini-series, because there are moments I can picture him drawing today that could have been even cooler.

If I were CEO of Marvel, I’d hire Perez in a heartbeat today to finish drawing the series, then print Lim’s work as an addendum in the back of the collected edition.  It’s a money-losing idea and one likely to tick off some creators and readers, but I’d really like to see that happen.

This is a superhero book.  From an age where that was still nothing to be ashamed of and could still sell in the hundreds of thousands, it might look a little corny to today’s readership. They’re raised on a steady diet of superhero comics pretending to be science fiction and crime movies. “Infinity Gauntlet” is a perfect representation of a type of comic that’s pure superhero fun and craziness.

Captain America standing up to Thanos?  Hell yeah!

I re-read this series a year or two ago.  It’s still a great book to look at.  Some of the charm of it is strictly from nostalgia now, I realize, but it’s still a solid tale.  There are very few comics readers my age who don’t have fond memories of this one.

That’s why it makes the list — for being memorable, important to me, and well crafted.

4. JLA/Avengers

JLA/Avengers #3 cover

Just like the first “Avengers” movie, this is something that never should have been possible. After an aborted effort in the 1980s, the project was reborn in the early 2000s, and couldn’t have had a better creative team for that time: Kurt Busiek and George Perez. (Yes, him again.)   After their much-loved run together on “The Avengers” a few years earlier, this was a reunion well worth waiting for.

The problem with it was that Perez was under an exclusive contract with CrossGen when it came time to draw this series.  Say what you will about Marc Alessi, but he gave Perez enough freedom around that contract to draw this mini-series.  It came in just under the time limit — and some art in the last chapter shows that, I think — but it got done. It’s beautiful, and feels stylistically like what this book should be.  This isn’t the kind of book where you look for an outsider to draw it.  You use the superhero-ist superhero comic book artist that can draw a millions things on the same page. He’s your man.

“JLA/Avengers” does exactly what you’d expect from this kind of work: There’s a mission, there’s a crossover of universes, there are friendships and misunderstandings that lead to fights.  There’s an exploration of the difference between the Marvel and DC Universes.  And there’s lots of easter eggs, comic cultural references, and George Perez art.  The story is a bit simple and obviously constructed to put characters from different universes together to fight and work together.

Only George Perez could have drawn this book. Period.  

DC reprinted it in an Absolute edition, which I think is the best way to read this book. Those oversized pages show off Perez’s art very well.  That book, called “JLA/Avengers Collector’s Edition” (out of print, but available via third parties on Amazon in that affiliate link) is slipcased with a second slimmer volume that reprints the pages Perez had done on this crossover in its first attempt back in the 80s.  (Rob Liefeld is the owner of those pages of original art, by the way.)

After this, relations between Marvel and DC deteriorated again, and the two haven’t crossed over since.  DC continues to be more open to crossovers, including with companies like IDW and Dark Horse.  Marvel doesn’t do many crossovers unless it’s with another Disney character or plush toy.  And given the corporate parentage, the likelihood of the lawyers agreeing to a Marvel/DC crossover again anytime soon seem really remote.

Enjoy what you have. This one is a doozy.

5. Civil War

Civil War Collection

In many ways, this is the beginning of the end of Marvel/DC comics for me.  After years of Joe Quesada putting the House of Ideas back together — including Grant Morrison’s “New X-Men” and JMS’ “Amazing Spider-Man” — the idea of a crossover seemed possible.  And Marvel went all out.  “Civil War” wasn’t just a crossover, it was an event.  From coverage in the mainstream press, to the “I’m With Iron Man”/”I’m With Cap” on-line war of memes, to the feeling that every issue would be something major, it was more than just a comic story.  It had to be, because the story was a mess.  The major events happened in the main series, but all the interesting details and reasoning happened in the affiliated titles.  

It also happened at a time when I was probably most active on-line in comics.  I can remember being on Marvel’s press conference phone calls and getting PDF previews of issues under double tight security.  Those were heady days, when a properly timed review in Pipeline would drive ridiculous traffic.

“Civil War”, sadly, did so well that it kicked off a new era of crossover insanity.  It’s been a tireless steady stream of them since then, each one promising to update the status quo that hadn’t settled down since the last crossover, making any changes meaningless.  Today, for example, we have “Civil War II,” a crossover in which a bunch of characters are fighting each other in the wake of a universe-changing crossover in which they all fought each other and changed in some other way (most of which still hasn’t been explained ::cough cough X-Men cough cough::), after which alternate versions of the same character who weren’t white men took over.  Or something.

Civil War I'm With Captain America

But that original “Civil War”?  Even after the Clone Thor debacle and the long delays between issues, it was exciting and newsworthy.  It’s probably a better event than a story, but I can dictate terms for this list any way I want.  So nyah.

 

In Conclusion

The minute after I hit “Publish” on this article, I’ll realize the one I should have put on the list. C’est la vie!

If you’re looking for a list of the major Marvel crossovers, by the way, Wikipedia has your back.

 

 

 

5 Comments

  • George Tramountanas August 31, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    Ooh. I like this list, but I think it’s slightly cheating using two books with ties to DC. If we go with Marvel-only crossovers, I’d throw in the first Secret Wars (Shooter!) and Age of Apocalypse. I remember rushing to the comic store for both of those!

    Reply
    • Augie August 31, 2016 at 10:10 pm

      The first “Secret Wars” was a couple of years before my time. And “Age of Apocalypse” kicked in after I had left the X-books. That series is usually a generational thing. You’re either a Jim Lee X-Men fan or a JoeMad X-Men fan. If the latter, “Age of Apocalypse” was the greatest thing EVER.

      Reply
  • ed September 1, 2016 at 2:49 am

    An AMALGAM shout out!

    Had fun hunting down those issues in various longboxes over the years at SDCC. Have always enjoyed the MARVEL/DC superhero “mash ups” in ’96 and ’97— which even predated “The Grey Album” (BEATLES’ “White Album” + PRINCE’s “The Black Album”) years later…

    The editorial amalgam of “M. M. Carwald” was nice. Accelerate!

    Reply
    • Augie September 1, 2016 at 11:19 am

      Yeah, I like what they did with editorial, too. And Karl Kesel really had fun with it. I found most of the issues in my collection. I didn’t buy them all at the time, but I know I have one or two more misfiled in a longbox somewhere. I will do more with Amalgam around here one of these days…

      Reply
    • ed September 3, 2016 at 2:17 pm

      Brainfart: JAY-Z’s “The Black Album”. (Must’ve had PRICE on my mind.)

      /not a “journalist” fact-checking

      Reply

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