Dennis O’Neil’s Moving Words
Listen, I want to make an offer… George and Laura, if you need help moving, just give me a call. I can be at the White House in five or six hours and, sure, I’m not as young as I once was, but I can still lift a box or two, and I’ll be more than happy to buy the pizza.
And now for something completely different…
Last week, we mentioned crossovers – specifically, how Marvel’s movie division seems to be getting ready to emulate the comic book division’s old, old ploy and engage in crossovers. The trick, as I’m sure you know, is simple: take a lead character from one series and put said character into another. Comics have, as mentioned in the earlier column, have been doing crossovers for a long time, probably beginning with Sub-Mariner and The Human Torch hassling in the early 40s. I’m not counting DC’s Justice Society title, which assembled a small herd of super doers, because these guys and gal weren’t moving into each other’s magazines, but into a separate venue. (Does anyone know of any crossing over earlier than that of Subby and The Torch?)
It didn’t stop with the comics, even way back then. About once a year, Batman and Robin took over bad-guy-catching chores from the radio version of Superman for a week or two while the Man of Steel was indisposed and the actor who voiced him, Bud Collyer, took a vacation.
Jump ahead 60 or 70 years and we find that television cops have been occasionally popping into each other’s precincts, most recently just a couple of weeks ago when Mary Shannon, from cable’s In Plain Sight, paid a brief visit to Law and Order: Criminal Intent, and we were mighty glad to see her, too. (I would be mighty glad to see the actress who plays Ms. Shannon anywhere, at any time, in anything. I wonder if she needs help moving… And before you ask, yes, my dirty old man merit badge is glowing.)
Now, why do editors and producers and network executives bother with crossovers? Why, because they use every waking hour racking their brains trying to provide nice treats for their fans… Okay, not completely true. Crossovers have several uses, the most obvious of which is induce the audience for one show, or comic book, or movie, to sample another. Then there’s the “back door pilot” maneuver, in which a character is introduced in an already ongoing venue to test the character’s potential. That’s done often in television and was at least once tried, successfully, in Marvel Comics when Stan Lee had someone in a Captain America costume appear in a 1963 Human Torch story. (That guy was an imposter. The real Cap came along about a year later, in The Avengers)
Have we exhausted the subject of crossovers? I dunno… Stay tuned.
RECOMMENDED READING: The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff.
Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning editor and writer of Batman, The Question, Iron Man, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and The Shadow – among others – as well as many novels, stories and articles. The Question: Poisoned Ground, reprinting the second six issues of his classic series with artists Denys Cowan and Rick Magyar, is on sale right now, and his novelization of The Dark Knight will be available any moment.
This doesn't predate Sub-Mariner and the original Human Torch, but I just found a reprint of a 1944 Disney comic where the Seven Dwarves meet Dumbo. Yeah, really, Dumbo. Snow White sends the dwarves a magic lamp she's found and they try to wish for a new friend. Who they get is Dumbo. i suppose they were lucky that they didn't get Robin Williams' Genie. Very strange.
TV has been doing crossovers as long as there's been TV. Dennis the Menace showed up on the Donna Reed Show. The Green Hornet, of course, showed up on Batman. All of the Norman Lear shows were interconnected, with each one budding off the previous hit like clones in Brave New World. Garry Marshall did the same, with Happy Days begatting both Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy (and the runt of the litter Joanie Loves Chachi, but hey, they can't all be winners.) If ABC could have figured out a way to do it, they'd have had The Fonz show up on every one of their shows.Even Stephen J. Cannell's shows all take place in the same "universe". Ten Speed Turner (Ben Vereen) showed up on Hunter almost 20 years after Ten Speed and Brown Shoe had its short, bright life, Howling Mad Murdoch was "Crazy" Tommy Tedesco's (The bad guy from Ten Speed and Brown Shoe) cousin, and Captain Belly Buster showed up on both Greatest American Hero and The A-Team, I believe.But the shows that took it to amazing levels were the Warner Brothers detective shows, making the Law & Order crossing seem like nothing. The Casts of 77 Sunset Strip (*snap* *snap*), Surfside Six, Hawaiian Eye and Bourbon Street Beat regularly showed up on each others shows. Kenny Madison (Van Williams) started on 77SS, and they spun him off to Surfside Six. When BSB went under, Richard Long's character Rex Randolph was packed up and moved over to 77SS. There was even an episode of 77SS where Efrem Zimbalist called Richard Diamond and talked with his receptionist Sam (played by the voice and legs of Mary Tyler Moore). (And they're all on the American Life TV Network now, so you can watch them all again.)I remember an episode of The Love Boat where one of the vacationers left at the end, and Julie and Gopher said she was going to Fantasy Island. And sure enough, Fantasy Island was on next and there she was. And therre was the multi-part epics between Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionix Woman. Crossovers generate publicity, and as you say, they give people the idea to try another show. The fun part is, for the general public, they're still a new thing. For comics fans, we complain when books DON'T interact with each other. Back in the 80's a new DC title always had the same first couple of issues. Issue 1 – origin and forst adventure. Issue 2 – meet Superman. Issue, 3 – fight a "Jobber to the stars" villain, usually Bolt. Aftter that they would go off on their own.
Let's not forget the Beverley Hillbillies/Green Acres/Pettcoat Junction shared universe.Or the Flinstones/Bewitched episodes
Ah yes, the Hooterville trilogy. (That referenced site, poobala.com is an EXHAUSTIVE list of all the TV Crossovers over the years.)BTW, The Wife reminded me that Kenny Madison got his start on Bourbon Street Beat, not 77 Sunset Strip. The management apologizes for this journalistic inaccuracy.
I have recently waxed rhapsodic about the crossover here on ComicMix. It is my belief that crossovers are an integral part of what makes comic books a unique art form. Yes, there are other art forms that are as collaborative as comics. Comics derive a special energy from the fact that most are produced by several artists, including writer, penciler, inker, colors, letters and yes, even edits. You can toss in the "arts" of publishing and marketing too, because these collaborators play a stronger role in the finished product than ever before. Heck, with online comics, you can add "programmer" and "tech-wizard" into the growing list of contributors to the finished comic.Comics are a serialized art that encourages input from it's readers. This active collaboration, sometimes the literary equivalent of improv theater, gives the readers a profound emotional investment and a sense of ownership in comics characters. This can leave fans feeling outraged and betrayed when characters they love are written the "wrong way." But this also engenders an obbsesive love for comics that can burst forth in Fan fiction, tribute web sites, CosPlay, Conventions and overly long Comments!Because comics characters are serialized over generations, this allows many different artist to do many different interpretations of the same character. All this varied input can make comic stories some of the most deeply plotted, mythic in scope, inspired and inspirational in any medium.But wait! There is one more level of collaboration and cross pollination of ideas in comics … The Crossover. The crossover is the nitrous-oxide, that super fuels comics stories. Because now, stories are no longer linear. We don't just have a series of artists collaborating to create a single series of say, Batman stories. No, now we have all the writers who have ever worked on "Green Arrow" comics (for example) lending their gravitas, point of view, history, fan base and whatever else comes along for the ride with a character: all that is poured into the Batman stew as soon as he shakes hands with Green Arrow. I contend that the synergistic total can be far greater than the sum of the parts. But that's just two characters from the same company, the same publishing house, theoretically the same artistic sensibility. What if we tossed in something completely foreign in the mix, that is the Question!And for an answer, I would point to a series of crossover stories with "Batman," "Green Arrow," and "The Question," as a perfect example of a crossover masterpiece! Imagine, three stories (presented in three separate comic book Annuals) that could each stand on their own, but if you read all three, each story informs, illustrates and illuminates the other two! It was a particularly clever bit of writing, from a particularly clever author. Seriously, if writing is a craft, this is really crafty writing. A person could learn a lot from this example. It would be so cool if this author would teach classes or write books on the art of comic writing. But this author (All right, I will stop being coy, it was DENNY O'NEIL!) was standing on the shoulders of a half century of work on those characters from writers and artists that came before him. On top of that, "The Question," was a character that had been acquired from another publishing house, making this a true hybrid story.Part of the magic of the crossover lies in pulling ideas and fans from one book to another. But the real magic of the crossover is that if you can imagine Batman teaming up with Superman, The Question, Spider-man, Grendel, Mohammed Ali or Jay Leno, you can imagine ANYONE in a Batman story, even yourself! The crossover implies that ANY character can be written by ANY author, mixing them with ANY other character. This opens up the imagination of the reader that breaks the "fourth wall" of comics and invites the reader to participate even more in the creation of the myth. It removes one set of imposed limitations on what you are allowed to imagine.ComicMix has everything a comics company could ever want, great talent, focused vision and a growing fan base. ComicMix is lacking in only one area: there is no shared universe. There is no platform for crossover. The only crossover I've found is a couple issues of "Munden's Bar" (and cross-over is the lifesblood of Munden's) and a couple issues of "Shaman's Tears," where Mike Grell crosses over characters with himself, characters he created and controls, Jon Sable and Josh Brand. Not a strong example of hybridization.Comic mix needs a set of fictional conventions that encourages crossovers, like some fictional "Nexus of All Realities." It also needs some contractual way of creators compensating each other for the use of their characters. Sometimes this is as easy as one author saying, "Can I borrow your character?" Or, "Would you like to come write my character?" But without some contractual, legal understandings, before the collaboration begins, you creators open themselves up to the headaches of "Medieval Spawn."Stephen King's Dark Tower series is an example of an author playing with the idea of crossing over. The books link the various imagined worlds of Stephen King into a unified mass. He links those worlds with the "real world" (whatever that is). Now "The Dark Tower" has cross over into the hands of Peter David, who is taking the concept and running with it in comics. Media can crossover too. "The Predator" and "Alien" met in the comics long before they met on the silver screen. Recently they both met Superman and Batman in a cross-media, cross-publisher, crossover!Several other people have noted that the crossover has been used in other media, specifically on television. The Andy Griffith Show was a spin-off of the Danny Thomas Show!I would offer up one other art form that enjoys some regular healthy rejuvenation from the crossover: Music! Look at success of all the cross-genre duets. Hip Hop would not be nearly as popular today without the early crossover of Run-DMC and Aerosmith in "Walk This Way." "Unforgettable," is even more unforgettable for it's cross generation Nat Cole cross over. "Kid Rock" has done some amazing crossover work with Sheryl Crow and Bocephus. Fifty Cent and Tim McGraw crossed over. Tim McGraw cross over with Def Leopard. Jimmy Buffet has crossed over with more people than Mike Baron's "Badger!" And "Band Aid" and "We Are the World" are just musics answers to Justice League of America and the Avengers! I haven't even touched on the concept of the Multi-artist Tribute Album!The crossover gives artists the chance to make something with synergy and synchronicity, something that can transcend genre or even media, pulling in energies, ideas and fans from across what really are only imaginary boundaries. "Imagine all the people, sharing all the world."