Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Hotspot #9: Crossovers, Contrivances and OOC

As a rule of thumb, I HATE comic crossovers.

But then again, the majority of the crossovers I see seem to consist of the main characters of both comics dancing around in some contrived situation, which incidentally appear constructed to allow them to show off their abilities to the max, and seemingly more intent on going: "OMG! Look! Characters from two different comics on the SAME PAGE!" than you know, telling a goddamned story.

This has been a major beef with me for ages. I've seen far too many comics, good and well-written comics at that, that fall flat on their faces when attempting crossovers. It's weird. In their normal spheres they act rationally, talk normally, and have an interesting story. But when it's crossover time, characters suddenly start stiffening up and acting OOC (A common fanfiction term I borrowed. Stands for 'Out of Character'), very much like a self-conscious amateur acting in front of a camera for the first time.

As for the plot... There usually is no plot. They're usually a collection of scenes the creators thought would be 'uber-cool' to see their characters in, with the merest excuse of a plot to hang them together. Which usually runs along the lines of:
Some evil mastermind steals/kidnaps something that matters to both Team A and Team B.
Team A and Team B go afte the evil mastermind.
Team A run into Team B.
Team A and Team B get into a disagreement/misunderstanding and get into a 'fight' (Last part is optional, but this is usually to allow them to 'show-off' their powers/abilties)
Both cool down, teams decide to call a truce, and join forces to defeat the 'evil mastermind'
Yay all is happy, they become friends and go home with good cheer.
Ping pukes.

Can you spell "contrived pablum"?

I want to know why, for the love of God, can people NOT come up with something more original than this when doing crossovers? This kind of shoddy writing would not be acceptable in a normal comic, it should not be acceptable in a crossover either. It just shows a lack of respect to the reader, assuming they're going to lap up the substandard stuff just because characters from their two favourite comics are OMG, in the same thing together.

And of course, if you have a reader who only reads one of the comics, they're either going to be confused as hell or bored to tears. Either way, presenting an insipid story to introduce your characters to a new audience sure is a great way to get people interested. Uh huh.

Yes, that was sarcasm, by the way. I'm not going to point out which comics (and there are very very many, among them the 'big guys') who have been guilty of the crossover bug. You all know who you are.

I'm not saying that all crossovers suck, of course. Just those that don't are damned rare. For future reference, here's some stuff I'd like to see in properly executed crossovers:

  1. An original, non-cliched plot and plausible reason for Team A and Team B to get together. It usually helps if you plan the plot FIRST then base the scenarios on it later, and not the other way around

  2. A plot that should able to stand alone on its own merit even without the presence of Team A or Team B. Pap is not any more acceptable if your stick good characters in it. It just makes the good characters look poor.

  3. Proper introductions. Don't assume we automatically know who the other party is. Chanting their names to each other in two panels does not count either. Introduce the personalities of the other party to the audience.

  4. On the other hand, don't get too long-winded with the intros either. You don't have to go into excruciating detail, but introduce them as much as you would a secondary character in one of your normal comics.

  5. Get rid of the Automatic-Trust On button. It does not magically appear after 'disagreement' and 'fight', just so you know.

  6. Stop the characters from acting OOC! I swear, the moment most characters enter crossover mode they become as wooden and stiff and featureless as a board. Instead of being characters living their lives out, they usually become horrendously bad actors acting out scripted scenes without much heart in it. Some of them even get an inexplicable case of enhanced PMS and become irritable and irrationally agressive towards the other team for no apparent reason (except to trigger the 'big misunderstanding', mahybe). I hate this. HATE HATE HAET!

  7. Have the characters REACT to the other team as people. I cannot stress this enough. The other team should be treated as the individuals X, Y and Z, not 'members of Team B' who are coming along with us.

  8. Get rid of the 'Reset and everything goes back to the way it was' Button too. It's damned annoying. Just makes the whole N-number of pages done the crossover absolutely pointless.

In short, treat the other party as characters, not features. Just because it's a crossover doesn't mean you have to stop thinking. A good measure go with is the 'Secondary Character Replacement Rule'. Would the crossover still work if you replaced the guest characters with fascimile nameless secondary characters? If it doesn't, you're in trouble.

All that said, two of my favourite GS comics, Killroy and Tina and Reckless Life, appear to be entering some sort of crossover thing. Both comics are very similar at heart, with a mix of outrageous goofball humour, strong characterization and dramatic plot/action.

So far my "Ping sense" says it looks promising, because the premise behind them meeting appears to be fairly sound and fitting in context. Tina is currently busy playing vigilante. Locke is an anti-hero thief. The non-appearance of the 'evil mastermind' is a definite plus. The plot would work even if Locke was replaced with Random Thief X or Tina with Vagabond Vigilante Y.

We'll see if the rest of it soon enough, but I really hope it lives up to the start.

Also, be sure to check out the Modern Tales sites on Free Comic Book Day (May 7th). A little bird tells me Joey Manley's doing something special to celebrate. Something like free comics... *cough*


  1. Yeah, most crossovers are a little too contrived for my tastes, and not just in webcomics (I mean, DC/Marvel crossovers? Way overhyped). Now, bizarre cameos...those're fun.

  2. Nobody ever liked my comic enough to suggest a crossover...It would be rather difficult, though.

    If I ever do a crossover, I'll keep those tips in mind...definitely.

  3. Back in the day, Goats and Bobbins did a very successful crossover that managed to tie into the continuity (such as it is) of both strips ... but that was a long time ago, when webcomics were fresh and flowers smelt like peanut butter.

    I may be drunk.

  4. We'll do our best to please m'lady.


  5. I know this might sound strange at first, but in my opinion, one of the best of the mainstream cross-overs of the past decade has been . . . erm, now hear me out now! . . . *Archie Meets The Punisher*.

    Honest. Let me explain.

    First, I'll wait until you finish cringing and rolling your eyes.

    A personal pet peeve I have with cross-overs involving fantastical fiction is that they often have incompatible genre metaphysics. Example: It is part of the Lethal Weapon meta-physics that gusts of wind from explosions are faster than heat and light and carry our heroes out of harm's way if they jump into the explosive wind blast, whereas such a meta-physics makes no sense in a horror tale such as The Ring (or in real life).

    Often, when there is a cross-over between comic book companies, the genre traditions are clumsily mashed together into an empty pastiche of the native genre niche of each character. (The most recent D.C./Marvel cross-over had fun with that, actually, outright stating that the laws of physics and magic differ between D.C. Earth and Marvel Earth.) This has been noticeable not only in D.C. and Marvel cross-overs (the two lines have significantly different underlying genre physics and metaphysics!) but in other such cross-overs, such as the X-Men/Star Trek cross-over which tried to twist Star Trek genre physics and metaphysics to fit the X-Men universe, with cramped and contorted results.

    However, the authors of *Archie Meets the Punisher* actually managed to find a way to mesh elegantly and seemlessly the two wildly divergent genre worlds of The Punisher (dark violent action fantasy) and Archie (whimsical innocent slapstick in which violence has no place).

    In the cross-over, The Punisher ends up in Riverdale and makes the conscious decision to hold back on his violent and dark tendencies specifically because he finds himself feeling a protective awe over the innocence of Riverdale. The darkness of his own world receives a nice counterpose in Archie's world. Meanwhile, Archie and company acknowledge the violence of The Punisher's reputation but distance themselves from it as something which happens way off in New York.

    Instead of violating the genres of either Archie or The Punisher, the cross-over opens both of them up by admitting that the real world has both moments and places of innocence and moments and places of dark violence.

    I wish there were more cross-overs like this one, cross-overs which respected the genres of both cross-over niches instead of forging a mishmash combination genre for the cross-over.

  6. The Fans/It's Walky tried to play around with the conventional crossover plot by reversing it: the teams recognize each other as "the good guys" pretty quickly, and only later in the big fight against the bad guy do they find themselves in a situation where they're not on the same side.

    Whether it worked or not is debatable. Most people seemed kind of confused.

  7. pheonix_seraph: That's a very good point, really. Respect for the genre of the other comic

    Personally, I've never read Archie meets the Punisher, but from your description of it, the premise makes sense. You could see it working if they replaced Archie with an ordinary teenager from a small-time town or the Punisher with generic tortured dark hero.

    gwalla: Personally, the Fans and It's Walky! crossover didn't work for me because they tried to introduce too many characters at a time. My tolerance for new characters being introduced at one go is about 3-4 at a time, and in the crossover they dropped an entire Sci-Fi club down in a single event. Confused? Me indeed. If the characters had been originals, people would have screamed bloody murder.

    Hmmm... another point I missed talking about.

  8. I did a crossover of two of my own comics once, a girl who normally kills chavs and a guy who normally kills enemy soldiers join up and kill zombies. It sucked. Plus the girl should have been in her 50's by the time of the "omg mega zombie attack on london" in my overall continuity