Lock up the women and children, Donny Cates and his fellow delinquents are at it again, filling page after page with explosions, blood, and violence, only to reveal a tender, hopeful heart. (Warning: may contain minor spoilers.)
Written by Donny Cates
Illustrated by Geoff Shaw
Colored by Dee Cuniffe
Lettered by John J. Hill
The creative powerhouses behind the bestselling, critically acclaimed GOD COUNTRY, Thanos Wins, and REDNECK return for the biggest launch of the year. Imagine everything you thought was fantasy…was real. And now join us, in a world where reality is dead…and anything is possible…
“Crossover” #1 begins with a quotation from psychiatrist Fredric Wertham’s book “Seduction of the Innocent” that concludes, “In comic books, life is worth nothing; there is no dignity of a human being.”
Published in 1953, Wertham’s unscientific screed rebuked what he called “crime comics” for the glorification of violence, drugs, promiscuous sex and — of course — homosexuality. Altogether dispensing with the idea that “correlation is not causation,” Dr. Wertham postulated that reading comic books led to illiteracy, laziness, moral decay and juvenile delinquency. Tenuous and unsubstantiated as the good doctor’s claims were, his allegations prompted a wave of anti-comics hysteria that quickly swept the nation and made Wertham a star.
In the midst of an opening sequence that features plenty of mayhem and violence and more than a smidgen of blood and gore, the book’s unseen narrator muses, “Stories, myths, legends…they are not fiction. They’re a virus. And they are spreading.”
Wertham was right!
Turns out the titular crossover is a double entendre. Not only does writer Donny Cates allude to a spectacular crossover event, complete with “green men with fins on their heads, men dressed as bats or spiders or gods with giant hammers,” a multitude of “fictional” comic book characters have already crossed over into the real world.
It’s not exactly a new idea, but here, the creators do it beautifully, without resorting to gimmickry or tortured explanations. Instead, illustrator Geoff Shaw, colorist Dee Cuniffe and letterer John J. Hill simply make it happen.
In a beautifully rendered sequence – complete with 21st century digital Ben Day dots – we’re sucked into a comic book and spit back out into Provo, Utah. Shaw does a brilliant job of interspersing the action across a sequence of panels within panels as an unseen narrator poetically muses about fiction, reality, and the legacies we leave behind.
Glancing at the climactic two-page spread in the opening sequence, it might look like utter chaos. At first, it probably is. But as you work your way through the text, following Hill’s perfectly placed, spiraling dialogue boxes, you slowly piece it together and it all makes perfect sense. This is a creative team at the top of their game. Shaw’s character designs and paneling, are spot-on; Cuniffe’s colors are unruly, but spectacular; and Hill’s design is intuitive and seamless. Damn. There’s some good stuff here.
Inciting incident out of the way, Cates is free to develop the book’s main characters and thematic elements. First, there’s our poetically named protagonist, Ellipses Howell, who works at a comic book store and dresses in cosplay, a bold political statement in an anti-superhero world. Ellie, as she’s known, is the glue that holds it all together, despite the narrator’s persistent waffling on who the story is really about.
Her colleague Otto, with a gray ponytail, round glasses, black t-shirt and jeans is the quintessentially cranky-but-charming purist behind the cash register. In his first scene we see him steadfastly refuse to buy a customer’s secondhand “propaganda.” After all, this is the only shop left that sells pre-event comics – books that somehow survived “the burning and recalls.”
Inside the comic book shop, Shaw and Cuniffe’s artwork truly soars. Shaw’s page and panel compositions are brilliant, blending close-up and medium shots that give us a great sense of the characters and their environment. At the same time, in stark contrast to the preceding cool blue exterior scenes, Cuniffe paints the store’s interior with warm, inviting earth tones and soft maroons and oranges reminiscent of a warm, cozy fireplace. As Ellie says to Otto, “This is the only home a lot of us have left.”
Moments later, one-two punch of dramatic scenes speeds this first installment to its stunning conclusion, revealing a pair of plot twists that will surely have you hooked. Many others have described “Crossover” #1 as the proverbial “love letter to comics.” I can’t really argue with that, and also it’s a heartfelt homage to comic book fans and their resiliency – the way they create and maintain community in even the most difficult times. The kind of story we all need right now.
Final Verdict: 9.6 With a creative team that’s at the top of their game, “Crossover” #1 is a dazzling debut issue that exceeds its considerable hype. Get this book on your pull list and be part of the story.