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    Playing Well With Others: Overlooked Dark Horse Crossovers

    By | June 14th, 2016
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    One of the best things about mainstream comics is the crossover. Other entertainment mediums may be slow to discover how much fun can be had letting peanut butter mix with chocolate, but comics have known about their combined deliciousness for decades. And in terms of interesting combos, Dark Horse has matched up some of the best ever. So today we’re looking at a few you might not have heard about.

    And before you start firing off comments about them, I’m intentionally skipping any DH/DC crossovers (with one small exception) for the sake of keeping things manageable. Fair enough? Then let’s get started!

    “The Mask/Marshal Law” (1998)

    Credits: Pat Mills (script), Kevin O’Neill (art/covers), Dave Stewart (colors), Ellie de Ville (letters)

    Two of the most outrageous characters to grace the comics medium face off in future San Francisco. Marshal Law, fresh from his adventures with the Savage Dragon, is ready to give up his war against superheroes. But when his most hated enemy, the Sleepman who murdered his girlfriend, gets a hold of the Mask and unleashes murder and mayhem across the Bay, Law has to get back to his old tricks. It’s not a question of which one of them will survive, so much as whether or not anyone else in Northern California will!

    One of the benefits of crossovers is that they introduce the fans of one property to the other property. In the case of “The Mask/Marshal Law”, I’m still not sure if that was a good thing or like letting a baby wander into a lion’s cage because any fan of the Jim Carrey movie not aware of the Marshal Law side of this double-bill were in for a shock (or would that be SHOCC in this case?). I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it no doubt made for some REAL interesting reading.

    While there is no Stanley Ipkiss in this comic, all the reality-warping id-releasing magical face covering basics of The Mask are on display. Without any real character on that side of the equation, that leaves Marshal Law and cast to pick up the slack. This in-continuity comic comes pretty late in Marshal Law chronology; you can read above that he’s actually ready to lay down his guns and unwind the barbed wire for domestic bliss. But “Marshal Law” creators Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill know better than to let him ride off into the sunset too early. They also do a solid job of giving enough “Marshal Law” backstory to have the overall plot make sense for new readers (which, given the character’s overall market presence, would have been most of them).

    Make no mistake, this IS a “Marshal Law” comic. The super-disdain of Pat Mills is still there, even if its not coming from Joe Hunter all the time. And Kevin O’Neill (in his last pre-“League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” art gig) absolutely nails it. Crossovers tend to bring out not only the best artists but also the best in the artists chosen, and “The Mask/Marshal Law” is a clear example. Foreground, background, middle ground…O’Neill packs the panels with gags and business that just sells how even a demented setting like San Futuro could become an even more insane place just by adding one magical mask.

    Availability: Aftermarket — Left out of “Marshal Law” deluxe edition due to licensing rights.

     

    “Predator vs Magnus, Robot Fighter” (1992)

    Credits: Jim Shooter (plot) & John Ostrander (script), Lee Weeks (art), Maurice Fontenot (colors), John Constanza (letters), Barry Windsor-Smith (covers)

    A Predator stalks North Am 4001, searching for his most prized trophy — the X-O Manowar helmet. The stolen trophy has fallen into the hands of a certain Goph, a man called Magnus, whose steel-mashing strength has earned him the title Robot Fighter — thus the stage is set for the battle of the 41st century

    “Tarzan vs. Predator at the Earth’s Core” (1996)

    Credits: Walt Simonson (script), Lee Weeks (art & covers), Perry McNamee (colors), Pat Brosseau & Vicki Williams (letters)

    In the center of the earth lies Pellucidar, the last bastion of primeval forest in the world. To Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, this is sacred ground. But to the Predators, it is hunting ground. When Tarzan receives word that Pellucidar’s greatest warriors and strongest beasts are being killed, and his friend David Innes, ruler of Pellucidar, has gone missing, there is no question that he must travel to the earth’s core to investigate. The people of Pellucidar rest a little easier, knowing that their protector is coming. And in this land of eternal noonday sun, the Predators rest up for their greatest challenge yet!

    Continued below

    I think the reason everybody and their mother seems to have crossed over with the Predators is because they’re essentially cipher boogeymen. And as such, adaptable to a wide range of different settings & continuities. Here were look at two such drop-ins: one in the recent past, another in the far future. Aside from being really entertaining, they both feature artist Lee Weeks just as he was transitioning from his initial work on “Daredevil” to a broader audience. Inking his own work, you can really see him bending his style between two different poles for these stories.

    With “Predator vs Magnus” coming right after the “Predator vs Batman”, it would make sense to grab an artist working in the same ballpark as series artist Andy Kubert. This choice also makes “Predator vs Magnus” none of the best-LOOKING Magnus stories ever. Plotted by Shooter & dialogued by John Ostrander, the story gives you a real sense of what made this version of Magnus a success at the time. Almost too good, because I’ve never really been able to cross back over to those original Valiant issues by Shooter & Bob Layton after seeing Lee Weeks Blade Runner the crap out of this story.

    Going from a steel jungle to a real jungle, Weeks teams up with Walt Simonson to show the Predators taking on the Lord of the Jungle. If you think 4 issues of Tarzan vs Predators is 3.9 issues too long, you need to have more faith in Simonson’s writing ability. Again, with the Predators being blank slates for the most part, Simonson gets to play around with the Edgar Rice Burroughs toys and make those 4 issues a fun eead that includes the Predators, rather than a Predator 4-issue slog. And writers who are artists always give their artist collaborators the best stuff to draw, and this story is no exception!

    Availability: Aftermarket — Both collected in separate TPBs but out of print.

     

    “WildC.A.T.S/Aliens” (1998)

    Credits: Warren Ellis (script), Chris Sprouse (pencils), Kevin Nowlan (inks), Laura DePuy (colors), Bill Oakley (letters), Chris Sprouse & Gil Kane (covers)

    When an escape pod crash-lands on New York with injured StormWatch agent Flint enclosed, the WildC.A.T.s decide to get involved. Void teleports the team up to SkyWatch and into the middle of a disaster zone. They discover two things; for one, the aliens aren’t Daemonite and two, they are going to have one hell of a time getting the survivors, and themselves, off the space station alive. But how can even the WildC.A.T.s survive an encounter with the Aliens when StormWatch has already fallen? Get ready for a horror/sci-fi/super hero slugfest the likes that has never been seen before!

    So when I said there was one exception to the ‘no DH/DC’ ground rule, I was referring to this book. Although, technically, it’s not a DH/DC crossover because it was published by Wildstorm while they were still part of Image, prior to their purchase by DC and the incorporation of all their characters into the larger DC publishing multiverse. But that’s not why I picked this book. It gets the nod because it’s well-executed, genuinely creepy, and quite possibly the most important crossover book ever. More on that last part in a bit.

    While the book is called “WildC.A.T.s/Aliens”, it actually picks up a lot of threads from writer Warren Ellis’ second “Stormwatch” series just prior to the launch of “The Authority” and “Planetary”. An escape pod from Stormwatch’s satellite HQ, carrying one supposedly-invulnerable member now sporting acid scarring, crashes into downtown Manhattan. Her debrief reveals the satellite has been quarantined by Stormwatch leader Jackson King due to an alien (small cap) infestation. The Stormdoor shield is raised and nothing can get in or out. This information makes its way to Grifter, who mobilizes the WildC.A.T.s for a rescue mission using their team teleporter Void… that goes about as well as the first Colonial Marine rescue in Aliens. From there it’s a race to see who can make it to the end of the comic alive. And this being an Aliens story, not everyone does.

    By keeping the focus on the C.A.T.s’ trying to piece together what happened, Ellis gets to parcel out the reveals in a manner that keep ratcheting up the tension in the Aliens tradition. Sprouse would go on to work with Ellis a few years later on “Ocean” and “Global Frequency”, but you can see in this story why they decided to continue this partnership. His matter-of-fact open rendering and clear storytelling plays into Ellis’ strengths not unlike equal parts Cameron and Scott in the first two films. And bringing in senior Aliens inker Kevin Nowlan just sweetens the deal. He may be thought of as overpowering his pencilers in general, but for these books, he adds a slickness that readers are expecting, even if they don’t know they are. (And while I was kidding about Nowlan being an official Aliens inker, the man has worked over Jurgens on “Superman vs Aliens”, Bogdanove on “Superman/Aliens 2: Godwar”, Sprouse here, and Mignola on “Aliens: Salvation”.)

    Continued below

    Couple that with a mandate to kill off most of the “Stormwatch” cast and his own proclivity for pushing reader pressure points, and you’ve got the makings of one hell of a good comic. But an important one? Consider this:

    • This story killed off 3/4 of the “Stormwatch” cast and was the in-story impetus for that title’s transformation into… “The Authority”.
    • “The Authority” is one of the few books in the last few decades that you can legitimately call groundbreaking, if only in terms of its impact on the industry around it. ‘Widescreen’ storytelling became the buzzword of the decade, and Bryan Hitch (and his aesthetic) was at the top of everyone’s Christmas list that year.
    • “The Authority” begat “The Ultimates”, which was an acknowledged template for the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general, which rules the box office and has made more money than the GDP of most of the nations on Earth.

    All from an Aliens crossover comic…

    (And read this post from editor Scott Dunbier’s blog for a great anecdote about that Gil Kane cover!)

    Availability: In Print — collected in last month’s “Dark Horse/DC Volume One” TPB.

     

    “Nexus Meets Madman” (1996)

    Credits: Mike Baron (co-plot/script) & Mike Allred (co-plot/MADMAN translation), Steve Rude (art/cover), Paul Mounts (colors), Willie Schubert (letters)

    In his nightmares, Nexus has seen visions that would wake the dead. And in his role as interplanetary executioner, he’s faced down the galaxy’s most vicious mass murderers and sentenced them to the most horrible of punishments. But when a renegade robot overcomes Nexus with sickly sweet sensations of cotton candy, pink flowers, and circus music, he must look for help — and he finds it in the form of Madman!

    As great as the comics we’ve seen so far are, they have a LOT of death and destruction on display. Yes they are from the 90’s, and yes there was a lot of that going around back then, but aren’t we going to talk about something…fun? Glad you asked! Because I have just the book to close out this list. It even has the word ‘fun’ right on the cover!

    While both these properties were published by Dark Horse at the time, making this an INTRAcompany crossover instead of an INTERcompany one, both Nexus and Madman were owned by two different sets of creators: Mike Baron & Steve Rude for the former, and Mike Allred for the latter. The idea for indie comics darlings of two different decades to come together can be described as one of the few times that something actually happened “because YOU demanded it!”…if ‘you’ were comics fan Haruka Sometani. Her fan letter caught the eye of editor Anina Bennett and got the ball rolling into the avalanche of fun contained herein.

    I know you’re asking yourself how a comic about an interplanetary executioner can be substantially more fun than comics with alien hunters, xenomorphic hordes, and reality-warping psychopaths, but trust me, the team of Baron, Rude, and Allred deliver the goods. The comic is very much a “Nexus” story guest-starring Madman rather than a 50/50 split, but the specific brand of lunacy Baron cooked up for the “Nexus” universe is very compatible with that off-kilter sweet zaniness Allred brings to “Madman”. The book benefits by Baron being in the driver seat, as I don’t see Allred being able to nail the “Nexus” cast & vibe as well as vice versa.

    Steve Rude, however, is the real star of the book. Is there a mainstream artist that juggles bigfoot cartooning & Andrew Loomis figure work in the same panel? This easily? Maybe Stuart Immonen at times, but not on this scale or length. And he sells those quirky poses Allred always has Madman stand in without breaking the overall “Nexus” visual dialect to do it. Rude makes this comic move, dance, sing, and fly.

    If a successful crossover captures some of the different flavor of each participant, then “Nexus Meets Madman” is a real hit.

    Availability: Aftermarket — back-issue bins & collected in the OOP “The Madman Boogaloo”.

    HONORABLE MENTION: “Godzilla vs Charles Barkley” (1992)

    Continued below

    Credits: Mike Baron & Alan Smithee (script), Jeff Butler (pencils), Keith Aiken (inks), James Sinclair (colors), Steve Dutro (letters), Dave Dorman (cover)

    Availability: Aftermarket

    This gets an honorable mention simply because I’ve never been able to track down a copy. But how could it NOT be on this list? The sequential art offspring of a Nike ad campaign only the 1990’s could have produced, this comic gives you the backstory/context for this commercial (which necessitated its own trailer) pitting kaiju against future NBA commentator. While I haven’t read it, the good folks over at CBR have, and put together this excellent write-up.

     


    //TAGS | Dark Horse at 30

    Greg Matiasevich

    Greg Matiasevich has read enough author bios that he should be better at coming up with one for himself, yet surprisingly isn't. However, the years of comic reading his parents said would never pay off obviously have, so we'll cut him some slack on that. He lives in Baltimore, co-hosts (with Mike Romeo) the Robots From Tomorrow podcast, posts on his Tumblr blog, and can be followed on Twitter at @GregMatiasevich.

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