Blame this one on waterfalls.

For the last couple weeks, CrossGen Comics have been occupying the ‘pole position’ in my graphic novel section at Barnes and Noble. According to the store planner, this heightened product placement will remain in effect for a month’s time, which is an exciting notion because at B Noble, no company garners exclusive use of the ‘waterfall’.

Taking this as the most apparent of ‘signs’, the Engine began turning in earnest, collecting any scattered fragment of consciousness ever devoted to thoughts of “the CrossGen article,” spun them sufficiently and dropped them here. The once new kid on the block is poised to make major waves in the next couple of years, and it’s only considerate to examine what they’ve accomplished to this point. With the aid of the Ambidextrous Auditing Service, an unsolicited five cents will be offered on what’s wrong, what’s right, and what bearing it may have on what’s next.

Presented here is the condensed version of the report offered by the team of dedicated investigators.

What CrossGen Has Done Right:

Mark Alessi is dangerous.

The man can literally afford to disagree with everyone, while making the periodic declaration that CrossGen will be the number one publisher in two years. Attending an Alessi panel or press junket turns one into a helpless witness as the publisher’s confidence in his product, staff, and business structure spray into the surrounding area, approaching the realm of over-confidence, and always maintaining the unshakable stance you want from someone running a company. He dismisses mature comics, Diamond, and traditional superheroes as the route the industry should take in regards to growth, instead relying on a strictly all-ages product line with classic sensibilities delivered to the audience with a renewed creativity. Alessi is opinionated and even worse…he’s a thinker, the kind of indispensable madman that pundits will classify a genius if he even comes close to his distant goals or a complete failure if he falls short.

Alessi is willing to put everything on the line and it doesn’t really matter if you don’t like it…because he could just buy you.

Lucky for him his books aren’t half bad.

One of the initial things you’ll notice from a cursory glance at CrossGen’s library of titles is the deliberate straddling of genre. There’s action adventure, sorcery, science fiction, horror, martial arts, and even a detective comic thrown in for good measure. A great number of the offerings owe several similarities to those superhero comics everyone is so crazy about, casting beings of incredible power or intelligence on paths to aid those less fortunate, but CrossGen’s slick enough to utilize the more endearing elements without draping their characters in spandex. Clever ruse on their part. Without abandoning the bold visuals and heroic feats, CrossGen has managed to create a line of hero comics that don’t feature “superheroes”.

The excellent production values only help matters, making it relatively difficult to argue that CrossGen doesn’t deliver a visually exciting package. The coated paper stock, vibrant coloring, and clean lettering allow the stable of artists to deliver performances miles apart from anything we’ve witnessed from them previously. Butch Guice, Greg Land, and Jimmy Cheung among others are offering the work of their respective careers and the insulated nature of their work environment, toiling side-by-side with the rest of their creative team has to be somewhat, if not principally, responsible.

And the damn things are on-time. I don’t think they’ve missed a shipping date in their two year history and you’ve gotta give ’em props for that. There are a variety of reasonable and understandable explanations for a book’s tardiness, but CrossGen’s studio system seems to effectively negate that possibility. Missed ship dates by themselves can cut a growing company off at the knees, and CrossGen would rather worry about something else impeding their view of the finish line.

This probably explains why the line is available in 4 flavors. Displaying a flexibility matching that of the readership, CrossGen remains unconcerned with exactly HOW you read their comics, only that you read them in some form. Naturally, things are anchored around the monthlies feeding our umbilical on a four-week schedule, matching stride with the other major publishers. (As an aside, I’m considering dropping CrossGen monthlies from my reading list altogether, but we’ll get into that a little later.)

Trade paperback collections (likely method how CrossGen will receive my money) are trickling onto the racks, and though I’m following too many of the titles to appreciate the Compendia, they’re a nice option at a low price point. Comics On The Web is an even better deal if you don’t mind pointing and clicking your way to a story. Personally, I prefer actually touching the merchandise, but CrossGen allows one to pick their poison.

Their brand of storytelling is also becoming increasingly more pervasive due to various media initiatives running in all directions. The books have been translated into dozens of languages, and when combined with the numerous websites, movie studios, and print media devoting attention to the company, their piece of the pie can only increase. Code 6, if creators are willing to relinquish that seventy-five percent, is going to broaden the scope as well.

Luckily the Auditors returned with some notable objections, ensuring that I maintain my dangerous rep.

What CrossGen Has Done Wrong:

The universe displays far too many incestuous tendencies.

The same potentially dramatic chain of events replicates itself across nearly every title, seeing Unsuspecting Figure granted with mysterious and powerful “mark” that essentially alters their existence and possibly that of their entire world. They’re confused and uninterested in their accidental importance and bungle through their first few issues, the “mark” becoming more of a curse than a gift. If this wasn’t bad enough, Unsuspecting Figure is usually watched by Mysterious Figure that has some connection or classified information regarding the “mark”. Mysterious Figure offers no conclusive aid, relegating themselves to the corner while grinning suspiciously. Or sometimes not grinning at all, that’s also a dead giveaway. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this chain of events…until it happens in some similar variation in five books.

This is a fundamental problem with nearly all comic universes. Things are connected but we’re supposed to pretend they’re not. The potential for completely original forays into the CrossGen universe is lessened by the fact that everything will involve a sigil and the god-like First. (Which coincidentally is one of the CrossGen books I don’t read.) Imagine the Marvel Universe being constructed of different characters on different planets being bitten by radioactive spiders, yet in a twist of universal fate…Uncle Ben always ends up dead.

Another major problem is the snail’s pace at which storylines develop, characters trapped in molasses as their books illustrate every aspect of their waking lives. I told a friend once that I swear an issue of Crux chronicled a character walking from one side of the room to the other. I’m going to open Scion one month to watch Ethan peeing in the bushes. Arcs are usually followed by epilogues to bring the reader up to speed, but it can’t eliminate the sensation that we never even started going.

This is best explained by comparing the storytelling approaches of a motion picture versus that of a weekly television serial. A movie is going to provide roughly one hundred minutes of over-bearing entertainment that barrages the senses with every pyrotechnic, character development, and shocking climax that the frame will contain because that’s the longest Dreamworks or Sony are allowed of your attention span. The weekly serial, if constructed in a manner that inspires devoted following, can effectively consume forty minutes of your life every week for a period of years. Serials have the luxury of time in order to relate their stories. There’s no passionate and frenzied grabbing at the crotch, because questions can remain somewhat unanswered with another years’ worth of pending installments.

CrossGen books read like weekly serials, allowing the stories and characters to develop at their own pace, neglecting the need to pepper the reader with shocking revelations, perilous cliffhangers, and role reversals. They’re not the only company to adopt this deliberate and methodical style of storytelling, but a great majority of their line reads this way, which is fine. This is the rationale prompting me to follow CrossGen exclusively in trade format, because the stories read better.

Beyond that, AAS finds no exceptional reason to provide CrossGen a mark any lower than a solid B. Recruiting Chuck Dixon, the man who convinced me to write comics, into the mix has only caused me to take additional notice. My jaw was on the floor with the rest of you when Alessi proclaimed that his team will be number one in two years…but based on everything we’ve seen thus far…it should prove interesting to watch.

The New Hotness- The Books You Should’ve Read Last Week:

Queen & Country #11 (Greg Rucka/Leandro Fernandez)

Rucka does it again, and I’ve reached the point we’re I’ve stopped being surprised. Crack open the beautiful cover, punctuated by a dangerously striking image of central character Tara Chace and allow real-world espionage to wash over you, causing one to squirm in their seat as they realize these things are probably happening somewhere while we enjoy our wonderful funny books. Sarin gas is still making its way toward Britain and the only lead the Minders have can’t be pursued without the Prime Minister’s permission.What the hell kind of fucked up logic is this? You mean to tell me the international men and women of mystery have to ask some stuffy guy’s permission to go save the day!!? Where are my rebellious special agents with tattoos and flame throwers!!? Where’s the damned speedboat and bulletproof BMW!!? Queen and Country feels real…and that makes it even more disturbing…

The Legion #11 (Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning/Olivier Coipel)

Shame on DC for letting the House steal Coipel’s services for Avengers. Since his pencils first graced this book a couple years back, he’s managed to render the teenage heroes with the worst code-names in comic history as iconic figures that look poised to put a foot in the ass of any adult that steps out of line. It would be easy for the writers to fall behind, suffocating in the dozens of flight ring wearing teens, but they’ve always managed to shift focus from hero to hero, providing an accurate and believable voice that distinguishes one Legionnaire from the other. You have to understand, two years ago, you couldn’t have given me a Legion comic and now it’s one of the best buys with a DC bullet. The world has been taken over by an artificial intelligence that’s invaded the planet in an eyeblink, and the only thing in their way is a pack of pissed off teenagers. And you gotta love that cliffhanger ending…

Wildcats #1 (Joe Casey/Dustin Nguyen)

Forgive my enthusiasm…but this is what the fuck I’m talking about. You see these covers!!? This is how more comics should look dammit!! Clever design work by the Wildstorm magicians that hopefully caught the discerning eye of more than one reader with their efforts. Joe Casey’s got their back, bringing a dose of New Hotness to the table…corporate superheroes. Why in the hell would an android desire to sell batteries? Because it’s the only way to save the world dummy. You’re not in charge of this shit, your friendly neighborhood corporation is with its colorful logo and indispensable home product. We’re all slaves to some name brand, why shouldn’t it be Wildcats? Casey’s got the scripts, Nguyen’s got the art, channeling a bit of Travis Charest to give us the goods. Say what you want about Casey, but his Wildcats is gold. He shows us again with the first issue of version 3.

Rolling With the Punches (J Hues)
You thought SBC was bringin’ heat before!!? Well, go check out the column I read instead of mine. (Because I really suck and have fooled you all. HA!!!) Mr. Hues makes a living by making fun of people that usually deserve it. (Like John Byrne. Go buy Lab Rats. Everyone needs spare toilet paper.) He’s a highly talented writer that we shall all follow one day into the glorious Ultraverse, and Rolling With the Punches is only the beginning. (And no, it’s not fair that SBC has the best columns on the web. Get over it.) See what I just did there? That’s what J Hues does every week except he’s funny. Read his column. Follow the link—> HERE!

Get knocked the fuck out. Read Rolling With the Punches. Read Ambidextrous. Make life complete…

And then read everyone else’s column because SBC is taking over the game by year’s end. (I don’t think they believe you. They don’t know that it’s not a game. Not the fuck anymore.) Talk to me in December as we prepare to dominate 2003. It’s the Takeover…the break’s over homie…


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