I honestly didn’t think I was going to review Crossover #2. After issue #1, I felt confident that the series was both firmly not my cup of tea and has shown its hand, in storytelling terms. I was an idiot, y’all. Crossover #2 carries forward the combination of ignorant use of real-world parallels and Ready Player One-esque references and nods from the series debut, throwing in an additional level of smug inside jokes and frankly sloppy storytelling to fall below even its lackluster start.
Donny Cates (writer), Dee Cunniffe (interior colorist), John J. Hill (letterer), Geoff Shaw (artist), Dave Stewart (cover colorist)
December 9th, 2020
If you missed the first issue, the world of Crossover is one where the fictional realm of superheroes and fantastic characters violently crossed into our world, killing thousands and sealing off Denver, Colorado in the process. Filled to the brim with references, both explicit and oblique, to comic books and pop culture along with a fourth-wall-breaking narration, the series is, by his own definition, an attempt to recapture the wild days of early Image Comics by writer Donny Cates. While pushing boundaries and shaking up the industry is, obviously, an impressive goal, Crossover #2 makes it clear that the series missed the era’s most important lesson: creating new stories.
Crossover #2 opens on a news report on the murder of Brian K. Vaughn. Yes, that Brian K. Vaughn. Listed alongside him are Chip Zdarsky, Robert Kirkman, and Scott Snyder, who are all missing. I am sure Donny Cates is friends with all of the writers in question, and they were more than happy to sign off on being murdered in their buddy’s comic book. However, as a reader, it feels like an inside joke I am not a part of. This sort of inside baseball humor (much like Bendis’ usage of creators in Powers) never seems to be quite as funny as the creators imagine it to be and furthers the idea of comics as an insular boy’s club. It’s also worth noting that in a world where marginalized creators, most often women, LGBTQ and/or BIPOC ones, are routinely faced with death threats and harassment…maybe opening with your straight white writer friends being murdered as a gag is a bit tasteless.
Immediately following the news report, our fourth-wall-breaking narrator apologizes for including this bit, calling it more of a “second-arc storyline” and saying he shouldn’t have brought it up. Hoo boy. To be clear, I don’t hate all meta-fictional stories. Big fan of Morrison’s Animal Man and Gillen and Wjingaard’s Peter Cannon, for example. What both of these stories trade in, however, is the power of fiction and the confines that are formed over time to strengthen their stories. Apologizing for telling a story beat too early and, later in the issue, assuring readers that a villainous character will be redeemed and fall in love strengthen nothing. It is meta for the sake of being meta and does nothing but solidify the series’ astoundingly self-satisfied tone.
After the opening, some additional light is shed on the world’s status quo, with the government rounding up wayward fictional characters and draining the powers from those with special abilities. It’s at this point that I honestly fail myself as a writer and can’t quite capture my reaction to the very specific extended reference fueling this reveal, so I will simply throw the baton to past Zoe for some insight:
Given the self-proclaimed love for 1990s Image Comics titles, I feel comfortable assuming that the energy Cates and co. are chasing with Crossover is the famous double-page spread in Spawn #10. For the unfamiliar, the pages show a murderers row of Marvel and DC icons (with just enough visual obfuscation to skirt legal problems) trapped in Hell, reaching out to be freed from their eternal prison. Within the context of the Image boom and the birth of the 1990s independent scene, this page screamed with a raw energy challenging the corporate confines these legendary characters found themselves in and the creative freedom lying ahead for the industry. Now, decades later and following the rise of superheroes to the peak of entertainment media and independent titles routinely landing on best-seller lists and landing multimedia adaptations, Crossover’s attempt to recapture that energy feels lost in its muddled politics, lackluster emotional stakes, and self-congratulatory tone.
The government is keeping in camps those not worth draining, separating families for experimentation and medical procedures. Once again, I cannot fathom why a white writer would think it is a good idea to echo the countless violations of human rights and outright horrors occurring in similar camps across the United States right now but swapping in printer-dotted comic book characters. Social commentary is only worthwhile if you have a perspective to add or a message to send, and the message here appears to be: “I have watched a news channel in the past four years and am aware these camps exist” and nothing else.
There are other story beats, from Ava’s apparent superpowers to Ryan’s regret and fear of his father, but none of them land with any successful impact. Beyond single defining character traits, such as Ellie’s superhero fandom, very little about the cast is memorable, and none of their stories carry any sort of emotional weight. The closest the series comes to pathos is Ellie’s fate as a homeless orphan in the wake of The Crossover. Still, even then, it is undercut by the domino mask and cartoonish level of fervor she holds for superheroes and comics.
Honestly, it breaks my heart that Crossover is the utter disaster that it is. I have loved some of Cates’ past work, such as God Country and Doctor Strange, and had high hopes for his career a few years back. While Geoff Shaw’s art is as well-rendered as ever and more than pulls its weight in terms of storytelling, Cates’ writing is a shadow of his former work. After being branded as comics’ hottest rising star and placed in charge of multiple big Marvel titles and event crossovers, I can’t shake the feeling that Crossover is ultimately the result of buying into his own hype. A rehash of half a dozen series that came before billed as a bold new vision, backed with ads for Donny Cates brand t-shirts.