Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Eighties August 8 part IV: Best Crossovers Of The 1980s

By Jef Willemsen (clarmindcontrol.blogspot.com)

It's day four of the Eighties August 8, we're at the midway point. The 80s marked the beginning of the company wide crossover. What started out as an exciting way of seeing different heroes interact with each other grew into an annual tradition until finally it spun out of control in the early to mid 90s... But for now, let's look back to when the going was still good.
8) - Evolutionary War (1988)

I really wanted to like the Evolutionary War, Marvel's first attempt at having a company wide crossover that solely played out in that year's annuals. The story featured Herbert Edgar Wyndham, a mad scientist turned uber powerful evolved human, who was determined to help guid mankind to the next phase of evolution through several schemes that brought him into conflict with a variety of Earth's heroes. As stories go, not the worst outline. But the sad truth of the matter: most of the material really wasn't very good.

The main problem with Evolutionary War was that only a few of the books really mattered to the actual story. Having the Punisher fight the High Evolutionary's footsoldiers who were killing drugdealers in Bogotá made for an okay but ultimately pointless story. Same goes for the Silver Surfer annual which saw the Evolutionary ask the Eternals to help map the Silver Surfer's DNA until he was able to convince them it wasn't a good idea.

Now, not everything is pure filler. While the X-Factor annual wasn't as pivotal as the cover suggested, it did feature a confrontation between Apocalypse and the Evolutionary which was a joy to read. And the finale in Avengers Annual I#17 remains a personal favorite of mine, with Captain America (as the Captain) desperately trying to get a makeshift team of Avengers together to help him deal with the High Evolutionary once and for all. The actual Avengers were disbanded at the time, still the Mr. Fixit Hulk, X-Factor's Beast, Hercules, Falcon, a newly reconstructed Jocasta and the criminal Yellowjacket (Rita DeMara) showed up to help save the world.

Even though yours truly didn't much care for the story I did buy the omnibus that came out a few years back, proving once again the old adage: If at first you don't succeed, resollicit!

7) - Fall Of The Mutants (1987)

The main reason this crossover didn't break into the top 5 is the simple reason it really wasn't a crossover at all. Following the success of 1986's "Morlock Massacre" storyline that ran through the pages of Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants and X-Factor, it was decided a new event was needed to boost sales.

Back when there were just three X-men related titles (written by only two people!), deciding what to do was easy. Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson came up with Fall Of The Mutants, a three month special event that would put the aforementioned teams of mutants through the wringer... without them ever meeting! The X-Men were in Dallas where they apparently sacrificed their lives fighting The Adversary, X-Factor was forced to deal with Apocalypse who assaulted New York with his four horsemen, one of which happened to be Angel. The New Mutants suffered perhaps the most personal loss: their teammate Cypher was killed during a mission against a forgettable Dr. Moreau type villain called the Ani-Mator.

Well crafted stories, one and all... But the only thing that really crossed over was the Fall Of The Mutants logo that appeared on the covers. There were, however, a few other titles who joined in on the fun. Captain America, Daredevil, Hulk, Fantastic Four and Power Pack all published Fall Of The Mutants tie-in issues with varying degrees of relevance.

All in all, 25 years later, Fall still holds up...

6) - Secret Wars II (1985-1986)

"Fear me, you lords and lady preachers, I descend upon your Earth from the skies!"

If only Secret Wars II had been as energetic and to the point as Queen's bombastic rock classic Seven Seas Of Rhye. Instead, the sequel to the smash hit of 1984 will mostly be remembered as longwinded, rambling and plagued by pedestrian art. In a nutshell: the Beyonder came to Earth looking for a purpose, which makes about as much sense as you asking an anthill for career advice.

That's not to say writer Jim Shooter's exploration of the nature of desire was either wrong or poorly thought out. Often profound, Shooter's story in fact preceded Wallstreet's Gordon "greed is good" Gekko by well over a year. Secret Wars II examined the ever changing human nature through the eyes of the naive but all powerful Beyonder, who in many ways learned about the world he'd entered like any newborn would... If that baby was capable of exploding planets and dropkicking Celestials, of course. Another often overlooked theme Shooter quite effectively touched on, was life in the mid 80s U.S., which he showed through the prism of Molecule Man and his chubby sweetie Marsha. Both had virtually limitless potential, but instead they were seemingly content holding down mediocre jobs, only to come home to watch mediocre television and stuffing themselves with junkfood. The most excitement they got was playing boardgames with friends. Was it bliss or were they blissfully trying to settle?

Secret Wars II ran for nine issues and had crossover tie-ins with just about every mainstream Marvel title. From Cloak & Dagger to Dazzler, from Uncanny X-Men to Power Man & Iron Fist, they all had to contend with a visit from the Jheri curled "one from beyond". While most writers were able to use the Beyonder in some way to progress the storylines they were actually interested in telling, there was still an undeniable sense of forced participation. After all, the one writing Secret Wars II also happened to be the one who signed their cheques.

5) -  Atlantis Attacks (1989)

Atlantis Attacks is the first crossover Marvel actually put some P.R. power behind. In an attempt to boost sales for the multipart Summer annual crossover about Marvel's undersea ne'erdowells, they sent out sponges to retailers. Because, y'know... things get very damp around Atlantis and hey, you try and come up with something better. What, complimentary sea monkeys? Now that's just racist!

The editors took the lessons learned from Evolutionary War to heart, though. Instead of having eleven annuals that told pretty much standalone stories, they now constructed a 14(!) part connected story that saw the Deviant high priest Ghaur ally himself with Sub-Mariner's old enemy Llyra. Together, they planned to revive the Elder God Set using a complex five pronged plan that brought them into conflict with pretty much every superhero who had an annual out that year.

Not every chapter had the best possible art and some of it did still feel like padding (looking at you New Mutants Annual I#5), but all in all Atlantis Attacks told intriguing or at least fun stories. From the seven superheroines Ghaur kidnapped so they couldbecome Seth's brides, to Atlantis' inevitable invasion of New York which was secretly to facilitate a blood sacrifice needed to appease Seth... It was well thought out and felt like an actual event, instead of incidental skirmishes against semi-connected foes. As it stands, the final battle against Ghaur and Llyra remains one of the most underappreciated slobber-knockers of the late 80s.

4) - Secret Wars (1984 - 1985)

The year was 1984 and Marvel wanted to sell some toys.

While that might be a bit unfair, Secret Wars was created to help promote a line of toys and playsets based on Marvel characters. Back in 2011, writer Jim Shooter detailled part of the origin story of the first ever company wide mega crossover on his blog. Any fan of Marvel in the 1980s knows the set up of Secret Wars: a mysterious, all powerful force calling itself the Beyonder summons a number of Earth's superheroes and villains, as well as Galactus, to a patchwork planet named Battleworld. Once there, they have one simple instruction: fight each other, for whoever wins will gain their heart's desire.

The toyline wasn't that big a hit, but the book itself proved incredibly popular. Part of the appeal was the fact most of the heroes had undergone mysterious changes during their time away. Spider-Man had a new costume, She-Hulk had taken the Thing's place with the Fantastic Four, the Hulk had a broken leg and more. Finding out the how and why behind these changes, not to mention seeing most of your favorite heroes and villains interacting, brought readers back month after month.

Still, the maxi-series wasn't without its detractors. Both John Byrne and Secret Wars artist Mike Zeck have gone on record say how dull and unimaginitive they felt the book was. And Shooter's scripting could at times be a tad too overwrought and shouty, as Brian Cronin pointed out back in 2007: out of 12 issues worth of dialogue, only 14 sentences did not end in an exclamation mark(!). But I don't care, Secret Wars (or 'Geheime Oorlogen' as the Dutch publisher Juniorpress translated it) was the first crossover series I got into as a kid and I absolutely loved its grandiose scope.

3) - Contest Of Champions (1982)

You never forget your first time...

Contest Of Champions was originally intended to be a comics tie in to the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. For that reason a number of international superheroes like Talisman, Defensor and Collective Man were created. The project was well under way, penciller Pablo Marcos was already drawing the first scripts and then... the USA decided to boycott the event to protest Soviet Russia's military actions in Afghanistan (plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...). So, while Marvel's editors considered the project effectively defunct and moved on, nobody told Marcos. He dutifully kept working on the script he'd received. When he eventually sent in his art, wondering when he could expect the rest of the story, people were stunned. Still, the half finished storyline gave editors Mark Gruenwald, Tom DeFalco and writer Bill Mantlo the idea to finish the tale anyways.

The plot could easily be reworked, now featuring Grandmaster who used Earth's heroes to engage Death in a cosmic game of chance. Each picked a team of 12 heroes who had to compete against each other. If Grandmaster won, Death would restore his fellow Elder of the Universe the Collector back to life. and with an art assist from John Romita Jr. who had to update Marcos' depictions of the various characters and team line ups to reflect their then current incarnations, the three part Contest Of Champions was a fact. Not only does Contest hold the honor of being the first crossover, it's also Marvel's first ever limited series.

Ironically, despite the involvement of so many A-level creators, one massive mistake was made when they messed up the final score. The story claimed the game ended in a tie, but the decisive battle was won by Shamrock who in fact was on Death's team. This major whoops was later addressed in the 1987 Avengers and West Coast Avengers annuals.

2) -  Inferno (1988-1989)

Roughly a year after Fall Of The Mutants, the X-office unleashed an inferno on the poor children of the X. Flowing naturally from the pages of Uncanny X-Men, the crossover told the story of Limbo demons S'ym and N'astirh who planned to merge their realm with Earth to rule over both worlds. Over the course of the year leading up to the event, the coming catastrophe was strongly hinted at. The barriers between dimensions growing thin and S'ym's march to wrest control of Limbo from its ruler Magik was a plotline in both New Mutants and Uncanny X-Men. And then, when the demons managed to seduce X-Men associate Madelyne Pryor to become their Goblin Queen, the fuse was lit and no one could escape the exploding powderkeg that followed.

For three months' worth of issues, Limbo's ravenous residents rained down on New York, ready to take a massive chunk out of the Big Apple. The city itself became infected by outerdimensional evil, turning inanimate objects like cars, statues, mailboxes and payphones into vicious creatures out for blood. While the X-Men dealt with the main crisis, many of New York's heroes got in on the action trying to contain the effects of the incursion. The Fantastic Four helped keep the city safe from such varied menaces as Kang, Necrodamus and Graviton who all sought to benefit from the chaos. The event spawned the formation of a new Avengers lineup and caused Spider-Man's foe the Hobgoblin to strike a deal with N'astirh to become a true demon.

Even though they mostly didn't run into each other, thanks to the shared backdrop of a New York gone mad, Inferno felt like an actual intercompany crossover. Even if the actual, byzantine storyline played out in Uncanny X-Men and X-Factor where it taught a confused 8 year old the meaning of words like 'obtuse', 'opaque' and 'wtf did I just read?'.

1) - Acts Of Vengeance (1989)


Acts of Vengeance might just be the single best crossover Marvel did in the 80s... and it didn't finish until early 1990! Of course, naysayers complain about the blithingly simple plot: a cabal of high profile villains like Doctor Doom, Magneto, Kingpin and the Red Skull join together to finally beat their most hated adversaries... by siccing bad guys on them they were unaccustomed to.

For those who claim that's a silly trick, yes... definitely. But it worked for the heroes so many times in the past. How often didn't either the Fantastic Four, X-Men or Avengers win a battle because they quickly switched opponents? The idea that a group of brainy baddies set aside their egos (as much as possible) to think of the perfect person(s) to take out their archenemies makes total sense. It did when I was a kid and it does today. And besides, it was just fun to see heroes try and deal with menaces they're unfamiliar with. Thor fought the Juggernaut, Iron Man found himself face to face with the Wrecker, Quasar had to adapt to defeat the Absorbing Man and a remnant from the first Secret Wars and what was left of the X-Men ran into the Mandarin. The resulting dust ups were a joy to read.

The cabal was brought together by Loki, who gleefully sat back and watched the mischief he'd caused. He also did nothing when holocaust survivor Magneto turned on his fellow cabal member Red Skull. Kingpin quickly abandoned his compatriots when the Avengers finally moved against them and Doctor Doom was too busy to notice anyway. He sent a bevy of baddies to fight a cosmically powered Spider-Man and also found time to sink the Avengers' floating island headquarters Hydrobase. Fun was had by all, unless you were one of the good guys, that is.

*Naturally, these picks are solely based on my own, anything but unbiased preferences. Think I'm wrong or an absolute idjit for leaving out your particular fave? By all means, join the conversation!


  1. Terrific post, and I appreciate the time put into it. I didn't like Atlantis Attacks, but will give it another read based on this.

    I'm a little disappointed Mutant Massacre didn't make the list, especially seeing as the Marauders made the Best Teams list below. Would've definitely preferred to see Secret Wars 1 and Contest of Champions removed to make room, as I'd be hard pressed to consider those crossovers. They were self-contained mini series.

  2. I have to agree with previous comment. How could you possibly leave Mutant Massacre off the list??? Especially when Secret Wars II was so lousy bad and was just a money grab. Otherwise great list. And again great site.



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