Crossover Volume 1: Kids Love Chains (2021)
Written by Donny Cates
Art by Geoff Shaw
The comic book crossover became a staple of the superhero genre in the 1980s. There were smaller precursors to this starting as early as the 1940s when the first superhero teams were assembled out of established solo characters. In the 1960s, Marvel Comics would weave long-form narratives through multiple titles. At the same time, DC Comics introduced the Multiverse and had the Justice League meet their counterparts on Earth-2. With each annual meeting, the scope of these adventures would expand to encompass more worlds. The first large crossover event is considered to be Secret Wars, published by Marvel in 1984. This was a 12-issue limited series whose storylines would be continued in ongoing titles. DC responded the following year with Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was the largest scale narrative ever told at that point in the comics medium. These days, you can’t have a year go by without the big two having at least a couple crossover events. It’s into this state of being that writer Donny Cates begins Crossover from Image Comics.
On January 11th, 2017, Denver, Colorado, became the site of a universe-shattering event. People lived their normal everyday lives when a rift in reality occurred, and beings from a myriad of other worlds came pouring out. What connected these strange new visitors is that they were every comic book character you’ve ever heard of and more. A massive battle followed between the forces of good and evil, and in the end, millions were killed, and the city of Denver became permanently surrounded by an energy dome. The government moved in and sealed off the area; no one has gone in or comes out in the four years since.
The protagonist of Crossover is Ellipses “Ellie” Howell, a young woman who works at a comic book store in Colorado. Because of the events of 2017, superhero comics have come to be seen as dangerous, satanic material by radical Christian groups. There are regular protests outside her store and threats issued to the owner. Things go awry when Ava shows up in the store one busy weekend. Ava is a little girl from one of those fictional comic book realities, easily seen by the Ben-Day dots on her skin. Ava is saved by Ellie, who learns the little girl was aided out of the Dome by a man in a cape and an S on his chest. Meanwhile, prominent real-life comic book writers are being murdered, hinting at a serial killer with an ideology centered on the Crossover event. The news reports Brian K. Vaughn (Saga, Paper Girls) is the latest victim with Chip Zdarsky, Scott Snyder, and Robert Kirkman missing, but the worst is presumed.
Crossover is one of those wild brain-bending experiences that works as both an entertaining narrative and meta-commentary on comic books. There’s a deep mystery embedded as soon as the opening flashback recounts the Denver event. Deeper into the story, we have narration boxes that aren’t just penned by writer Donny Cates but seem to be written by a character within the universe who knows a lot more than the cast we see do at any given moment. There’s also Ryan, the son of a local religious zealot, who is put in contact with Nathan Pendelton, the man in charge of the government’s special prison in the region where the comic book people they have managed to capture are locked up. He presents Ryan with a briefcase that contains a gun, a bullet tipped with green glowing material, and a letter signed with “…” Ellipses? Is the note from Ellie? Ellie certainly doesn’t know Ryan well and what she does makes her dislike him immensely.
Because of annoying copyright and trademark laws, there are some characters only hinted at in this opening volume. However, we do get to see a few established indie characters starting with writer Cates’ own The Paybacks and Mike Allred’s classic Madman. An issue later, another Cates creation, Valofax, shows up in the book. By the time we reach the final chapter in this book, there is a magnificent glimpse given of what is happening inside the Dome, and we get brief looks at Savage Dragon, The Darkness, Prophet, multiple characters from Astro City, Shadowhawk, Glory, Battle Pope, Hit-Girl, Witchblade, Luther Strode, Black Hammer characters and more. Cates sets up an epic story but keeps it centered on a small cast of “normal” people, giving us a perspective we don’t often have in event books. Most of this first volume is all hype & teasing out little mysteries, so it’s hard to evaluate it as a complete piece. I am intrigued enough to keep reading, and here’s to hoping that the story builds in both quality and grandeur as it continues.