Comic book crossovers are a lot like one night stands: the characters meet, share an intense experience together, and then never mention each other again. And if they ever see the other guy in the street (or at another crossover), most of the time they’ll pretend they’ve never even met.
So, most crossovers come and go without much consequence (or much regard for what has come before, since they love to show characters from different universes existing together without explanation). There are some exceptions, 10 of which we present to you here, ranked by level of importance.
(And if you can think of more, go ahead and tell us about them at the forum!)
10. The Superman/Madman Hullabaloo! (1997)
In this three-issue miniseries published by DC and Dark Horse, Superman and Mike Allred’s Madman accidentally switch places and become merged in the process.
Things return to normal by the end… or do they? Allred, who took a break from the regular Madman comic to write and draw this crossover, says he considers these issues 12, 13 and 14 of his series. Madman even made a fleeting mention of meeting Superman once his own comic resumed. More importantly, Allred also says he likes to think that a little bit of Superman’s essence stayed inside Madman, which makes sense when you consider the progression the character made through the 90’s, from a bizarre zombie guy who eats people’s eyes to the brave leader of a superhero team (though the transformation began a while before this miniseries).
The crossover is also notable for acknowledging various elements from the Superman comics of the time, like Metropolis’ Special Crimes Unit or good ol’ Professor Emil Hamilton (that’s his robotic arm in the picture above). There’s one little detail they ignored, though – the fact that when this came out, Superman had been transformed into an energy being with electric powers. I think we can all forgive Mr. Allred for overlooking that one.
9. Superman/Aliens (1995)
This is a small one, but since crossovers are so rarely acknowledged in continuity, we’re including it here anyway. On the first Superman/Aliens miniseries Superman borrows a small spaceship from Lex Luthor’s space station (“LexPort”) to reach a floating city invaded by Aliens. Why would Superman need a ship to get there, you ask? Because the further away he gets from the sun, the more his powers diminish. So, by the time he reaches the city, he’s pretty much useless. Great plan.
Later, Superman sends the ship back to the space station with some survivors in it, stranding himself in an asteroid full of Aliens. This proves to be a magnificently bad decision when it turns out that the survivors are infected with Alien parasites, which Superman would have known if he only watched more horror films. Superman fails to save the floating city, but manages to get back to LexPort in time to get rid of the Aliens (though not before they kill half the crew).
A couple of years later, in Superman #119, Superman returns to LexPort and even asks for the same ship he used in Superman/Aliens. This probably caused every surviving crewmember on board to ask for the day off or hang himself in the closest broom closet.
Unlike the two Superman/Aliens crossovers that followed, this one was deeply tied to Superman continuity. There are references to the Lex Luthor II fiasco, the Eradicator, and even that Cleric guy Superman met during his exile in space (that’s about as obscure as you can get). Also, Superman’s whole impetus for not killing the Aliens is that he’s haunted by the memory of the time he executed the Phantom Zone criminals. (He’s perfectly comfortable with letting other people burn the Aliens to death, though.)
8. Fallen Angel/Joss Whedon’s Angel (2009)
Peter David’s Fallen Angel character is practically a walking crossover – her comic was conceived as a follow-up to David’s previous Supergirl series, and for a while they were even rumored to be the same person. Readers assumed that all connections to the DC Universe would be severed once the creator-owned series moved to IDW Publishing… but then David went ahead and had Supergirl guest-star anyway, copyright laws be damned.
The series also co-stars Sachs and Violens, the main characters from a miniseries Peter David and George Perez published at Marvel in the early 90’s. They’ve also done in-series crossovers with Billy Tucci’s Shiand, most notably, the character Illyria from Joss Whedon’s Buffyverse.
What’s significant about this one is that Peter David didn’t name the miniseries Fallen Angel Meets Illyria or something like that – he named it Fallen Angel: Reborn, using the opportunity to relaunch the character. Long standing plot points were settled and new ones created. If crossovers are like one night stands, this would be the kind that has you paying alimony for the next 18 years.
7. The Darkness/Batman (1999)
Here’s some trivia for you: Did you know The Darkness is still being published? Yeah, neither did we. Back when the character (basically, Witchblade with man-parts) was in his heyday, DC and Top Cow published a one-shot crossover with Batman. The issue was co-written by Jeph Loeb, who had recently done The Long Halloween.
The meeting had little impact on Batman (then in the middle of the interminable No Man’s Land storyline), but it was a real turning point for The Darkness. His real name was Jackie Estacado, and up to that point the character had been a mobster working for his evil Uncle Frankie. Inspired by his encounter with Batman, Jackie has a change of heart and decides to turn over Uncle Frankie to the authorities. So, the crossover basically turned the character from mobster to good guy.
This, in turn, causes Uncle Frankie to kill Jackie’s girlfriend
in revenge, which drives Jackie over the edge and eventually turns him into an even bigger mobster. He even funds a drug cartel at some point. Maybe next time Batman should try not to be so inspiring.
6. Spawn/Batman (1994)
The first Spawn/Batman crossover is historically significant for two reasons – being the exact moment Batman fans decided Frank Miller had gone bananas, and this:
The story ends with Spawn giving the usual “Our methods may vary, but we’re not that different in the end” speech, to which Batman replies by stabbing him in the face with a batarang. An issue of Spawn that came out shortly afterwards showed him getting his face sewn back together with a metal shoelace, and explaining that he was attacked by “some bozo in black”. The scar (and the shoelace) remained there for the next 30 issues, forever becoming an iconic part of Spawn’s look (since most readers had dropped the book by the time it was removed).
Todd McFarlane would later retcon the origin of the injury so it had nothing to do with the Batman crossover… probably in order to avoid paying royalties to Frank Miller if they ever did a spin-off comic starring the shoelace.
5. JLA/Avengers (2003)
This crossover wasn’t just referenced later on; it served as the basis for an entire 52-issue series. At the end of JLA/Avengers (or Avengers/JLA, depending on where your loyalties lie) the villain Krona is trapped inside a “cosmic egg” and the Justice League is tasked with keeping custody of it. By the way, this shouldn’t be confused with the “infant universe” the JLA was taking care of at the same time, and if you suggest that we thought they were the same thing when we started writing this article, we will ban you (because you’d be right).
The JLA is shown examining the cosmic egg in JLA #107 and it played a small role during the ensuing storyline, “Syndicate Rules”. The damn thing finally hatched during the weekly series Trinity, five years later. It’s implied that during his stay in the Marvel Universe, Krona became aware that each universe has a “soul”, and he planned to use that knowledge to become the master of reality (or something like that).
We’d rank this one higher if it wasn’t for one detail: all those comics were written by the same guy, Kurt Busiek. So it’s not really about a crossover having lasting consequences; it’s more about one writer sticking with an idea that nobody else ever touched.
4. Green Lantern/Silver Surfer (1995)
This one is at the center of a complicated string of crossovers and events that we will attempt to explain in as few words as possible. It all starts with The Death of Superman, during which Coast City is bombed by the Cyborg, causing Green Lantern Hal Jordan to go insane and trigger the Zero Hour event, which in turn inspired Kyle Rayner to blow up the planet Oa in order to get rid of Hal.
The explosion of Oa (the very center of the DC Universe) created a rip in the fabric of reality that formed a portal to the Marvel Universe. Thanos used that portal to travel to the DCU and instigate the events ofGreen Lantern/Silver Surfer. Meanwhile, at the end of the Trial of Superman event the Cyborg was sentenced to die in a black hole, ending up transported to the Marvel U instead. Hal Jordan followed him there seeking revenge for the destruction of Coast City, meeting Silver Surfer and Thanos along the way.
It ends there, right? Nope. Before escaping the Marvel U, the Cyborg learned about Galactus from a brief conversation with Silver Surfer. He used that information to manipulate Superman into believing Galactus had destroyed Krypton, thus causing 1999’s Superman/Fantastic Four crossover. Before that, Hal Jordan had finally caught up to the Cyborg and trapped him in the Source Wall during The Final Night, but he managed to escape during Genesis.
What about the rip in the fabric of reality that appeared in Green Lantern/Silver Surfer? Well, Kyle Rayner thought he had closed it up, but at the end of the comic it resurfaced on an alley in New York, leading to…
3. DC vs. Marvel (1996)
DC vs. Marvel starts where Green Lantern/Silver Surfer ends, and though it spawned a bunch of official sequels and one-shots, the untold implications are much wider and interesting in this case. The crossover introduced Access, a character capable of traveling back and forth between Marvel and DC while thanklessly fixing inconsistencies in both universes, much like John Byrne.
Access showed up in the sequels to DC vs. Marvel, was mentioned in other crossovers, and even popped into an issue of Green Lantern to tell Jade there was something iffy about her powers (foreshadowing the tragic events of the Green Lantern/Sentinel: Heart of Darkness miniseries). He then ran off to find Silver Surfer, probably to ruin his life with some casual remark too.
Anyway, Access was used to explain that if a character from one universe remained in the opposite one for too long, both realities will temporarily merge together. The implication was that every previous DC/Marvel crossover that took place in a “shared earth” was the result of this phenomenon. And since it was specified that Access was able to travel through time (his future self is an alley-dwelling hobo named Morty), this means he must have been present in each one of those crossovers.
In fact, if you look at the classic Batman Meets The Incredible Hulk crossover from 1981, there’s a scene where they go into an alley and bump into a guy named Morty. This cannot possibly be a coincidence.
2. Mars Attacks Image (1996)
This is one of the most bizarre crossovers ever, and its consequences are as baffling as the comic itself. In this four-issue miniseries, the heroes of the Image Universe (Spawn, the WildC.A.T.s, and… you know, all the others) fight off an invasion from those mischievous aliens from the trading cards and the Tim Burton movie. Through the course of the series the little rascals go about the Image U viciously killing, torturing and raping a bunch of obscure Image characters.
Yep, raping. One scene depicts the daughter of SuperPatriot (a Savage Dragon
character who had his own miniseries at one point) being, erm, “probed”.
What happened next? Well, SuperPatriot’s Wikipedia pages literally states: “Also, his daughter was raped by a Martian and had a half-Martian baby.” Further investigation reveals that the little guy was named Damian, and at one point he travelled back from the future to fight Savage Dragon. And that’s as far as we’ll read up on the subject, if you don’t mind.
1. WildC.A.T.s/Aliens (1998)
When presented with the idea for WildC.A.T.s/Aliens, Warren Ellis reportedly responded by saying that was “Bloody stupid”. We’ll assume that statement is not entirely accurate, since there are no expletives in it. The fact remains that Ellis only changed his mind when his Editor mentioned one little detail: he could kill off as many Stormwatch characters as he wanted.
Ellis used the opportunity to have the Aliens murder half the Stormwatch team, plus 400 of the people working at Skywatch, the satellite that served as their headquarters. The Skywatch itself was thrown into the sun to get rid of the Aliens. What remained of Stormwatch (that is, mostly characters Ellis himself had created) re-assembled as The Authority, and the rest is history.
So this crossover didn’t just have implications for that particular comic and that particular universe, it helped reshape the entire superhero genre by giving Warren Ellis the perfect excuse to launch one of the most influential books of the past few decades. Suddenly “Superman mentioned the space station one more time” seems kinda lame, doesn’t it?