Year in Review: Comic Book Crossovers of 2013 Sam Roche December 31, 2013 Comic Books 2013 was chock full of crossovers, so we’ve made it easy for you to decide which you should buy and which you should avoid at all costs: Battle of the Atom Brian Michael Bendis has taken some incredible measures to ensure that this epoch of X-Men is a great one. On November 14th All-New X-Men #1 was released in comic book shops and bookstores worldwide. The events that took place in that one 22-page comic have planted the seeds for what some have described as “a Bendis tapestry.” Bendis took this series farther than anyone could have imagined, creating an engrossing and captivating story that both built on years of X-Men history and defined the future of the team. His intriguing and exciting storytelling kept readers engaged and made the news of Bendis writing Uncanny X-Men as well all the better received. Telling both sides of the story, Bendis created a truly remarkable epic of X-Men interactions and conflicts. With the ever present schism and the recent murder of Charles Xavier, Wolverine and Cyclops are at each other’s throats. When Beast decides to bring the five original X-Men to the present everyone is unsure of what to do. Morality, revelation, compassion, friendship and destiny are all constant themes throughout this story, with some seriously amazing dialogue making the series read as well as any comics on the shelves today. There is an underlying tone of sobriety and the idea that everything we do has an impact, but the comics are at the same time a lot of fun. What All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men have done collectively is set the stage for the epic, Battle of the Atom. This may come across as a little money-driven of Marvel, and might diminish the beauty of the series because you find out that they were only created to introduce this money making scheme, “Battle of the Atom.” Another, not often discussed, yet nonetheless beautiful element of this X-Men universe is that there were a family of titles that really give you a complete story. If you read just All-New X-Men and Uncanny, you can understand what’s happening on each side of the schism. If you read All-New, Uncanny, Wolverine and the X-Men, and X-Men, I promise: you will fall in love with the X-Men and won’t be able to stop reading about them. Now, there are other titles that cover a lot of the less important characters: Uncanny X-Force, Cable and the X-Force, X-Factor, Wolverine, and Marvel Knights: X-Men are all great supplementary readings but aren’t crucial in understanding where the X-Men are as a team. Post-Battle of the Atom yet another X-Men title was released, this one crucial and incredible. Amazing X-Men is currently being released monthly and covers more of the adventures of the teachers and students in the Jean Grey School. When Battle of the Atom was announced at C2E2 2013 it promised more characters and the foundation that Bendis had, by then, set to be shaken. Battle of the Atom was also scheduled to be published right as the larger event, Infinity, was to come out. This is already spelling disaster for this crossover; with a giant, Avengers crossover taking place at the same time there is no way that BoA was ever going to get the press it deserved. Bendis took this series farther than anyone could have imagined, creating an engrossing and captivating story Battle of the Atom #1, the first chapter of the ten part story, was sold on September 4th and got decent attention from press and sold well enough. Marvel also made the decision to release the second chapter of the story: All-New X-Men #16 on the same day. Both of these two chapters introduced the conflict of the crossover and the new cast of future X-Men. While it was in no way surprising to fans that this crossover revolved around time travel, it was surprising to see the future X-Men and who Bendis chose to include in the roster. Initially, I was very impressed with the crossover and gave both of the opening chapters a score of nine or higher. This may be attributed to the fact that they were both written by Bendis, for as the prime architect of this X-Men universe it’s only proper that he kick off the crossover. The crossover continued well, but not extremely well. My biggest issue with it was quite fundamental, it seemed like the people telling the story didn’t really know what to do with it. There wasn’t a clear endgame in mind from the start, and that didn’t suit the tale. What I was looking for was a story that had a distinct beginning middle and end that used all of the characters as plot devices, not just for the minor pleasure gained in seeing one of my favorite characters in the book. I think a little more time and couple more issues would have given this story a lot more time to expand and complete some of the ideas that were never really explored, thus making it more complete. In the end, I only really remember select parts and those parts weren’t all that exciting. Had there been more issues, there would have also been more time to get the set-up in and deliver some action that didn’t seem hollow and without purpose, like most of the action in this comic. I did enjoy most of the writing in the event; these are some of Marvel’s top writers and it’s clear why. Each writer held their own in delivering solid content that matched up with the story, there just weren’t any times where any of these writers felt particularly comfortable in their respected elements. If there was any weakest author in this lineup I think it would be Jason Aaron, which is strange, because of the three he is my favorite. He was dealt the toughest tie-ins and didn’t really do anything with them. He seemed there only to write the action that didn’t even mean anything in the context of the story because, well, none of the characters motives to fight were explained in depth. In conclusion, I didn’t really enjoy this crossover, but I didn’t hate it. The new X-Men universe that Brian Michael Bendis has created is a real treasure, and it’s a pity that the first event he hosted within it wasn’t spectacular. I think that if anything this crossover aided the X-Men universe because it added Amazing X-Men to the repertoire of X-Comics every week. All of the involved titles haven’t come out of the event any worse for wear except of course All-New X-Men which hasn’t been it’s usual self since BoA concluded. Instead of having a giant event every 2-3 years, I think that Marvel should take a different approach. Let the X-Men writers do their own things for 11 months: no tie-ins, no annuals, just clean storytelling like it was meant to be. During the last month of the year all of the titles should tie-in to each other and tell a unique story that will change the universe, maybe introduce a new title and influence the X-Men linewide in the upcoming months and years. This will sell well because it will prove as a great jumping on point and important piece of X-Men history, every year. Bottom Line: Would I recommend “Battle of the Atom”? Not necessarily. If anything I would tell someone to read all of the titles involved in BoA in their opening issues and post-BoA issues. Notable Reviews: All New X-Men #17 | X-Men: Battle of the Atom #1 | X-Men: Battle of the Atom #2 Death of the Family “Night of the Owls,” Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s first run on Batman together was incredibly well received — both showing off the prowess of each creator but also creating a truly different and exciting Batman tale. Although line-wide the Batman family had a rough first year in the New 52, Snyder’s Batman was consistently the finest book that DC was publishing and continues to be today. It was with much excitement and anticipation that Snyder and Capullo took on the return of the Joker to Gotham. Fans were pumped for a great story, Snyder and Capullo were pumped to tell a totally original and terrifying Joker tale, and DC was totally pumped… to make money. The story is one with so much promise. Not even a year ago, the Joker’s face was cut off and nailed to the wall as a symbol. A symbol for what — I’m not really sure, but he’s coming back to Gotham to reattach it to his face. Ew! Joker also has a message for Batman: Joker thinks that Batman has grown weak now that he has assembled a team of allies to support him. Joker thinks that he and Batman are all the world needs and that Batman is just too confused with his “family” to see that he and Joker should be together. Psychotic? Definitely. That’s right: with the hottest, best selling book in the industry taking off and getting ready to tell a story about the most infamous villain of all time, all DC seemed to care about was how many tie-ins they could squeeze in. Spoiler alert: they could squeeze in a whole lot. “Death of the Family” turned out to be a giant, all-encompassing “epic event” rather than a one title story told over a couple months. And boy, did DC go to town with the whole notion of the Bat-Family getting attacked by the Joker. To kick things off we got a whole set of “die-cut covers” portraying any given Bat-Family member with a flap showing how it would look if the Jokers cut-off face was attached to the Bat-Family member. This was a neat concept and nice incentive to buy all of the comics with these covers. The only problem: most of the comics with these “cool covers” were filled with total trash. The tie-ins didn’t even supplement the story in a meaningful way, they were just there because DC wanted them to be. Not once did I think: “Huh, you know what, I don’t think the ‘Death of the Family’ arc would be the same without this comic.” It’s unfortunate too because there were some really good talents assigned to these tie-ins, it would have been nice to see all of the Bat-Family respond to the Joker in a unique, thoughtfully planned out way. Although the tie-ins were sub-par and it was ultimately just a ploy for DC to make a little more moolah, I don’t want to diminish the fact that the five Batman issues in this arc were phenomenal. Snyder redefined the Joker as a truly demented and disturbing psychopathic; while I respect a number of previous works about the Joker for what they did in making the character who he is today, “Death of the Family” is the greatest Joker story ever told, for a number of reasons: First, Snyder mastered the Joker by making him incredibly creepy and brutal in a day and age where we already thought we had seen the Joker at his most incredibly creepy and brutal. Sure, he killed Jason Todd, but then again, he didn’t even mean to. And yes, he’s gone rampant spraying laughing gas a couple of times, but isn’t that stuff oftentimes temporary? (And at least you’d die happy.) In “Death of the Family” Joker lurks in the dark cracking necks and soaking Batman in acid. And through those scenes Snyder has separated him from every other villain. Even the Governor in The Walking Dead, someone who’s willing to rape, torture and kill to gain a new safe haven has some reason to his craziness. Why Joker is so great in “Death of the Family” is his ridiculous insight, how he explains and rationalizes it all to Batman, and the brutality he will show to prove his point. The Joker is in love with Batman and only thinks that Batman is damaged and weakened by his many allies. His psychotic reasoning is so insane it almost makes sense on a deeply disturbing level. Snyder’s Batman was consistently the finest book that DC was publishing and continues to be today My favorite issue of the storyline was without a doubt Batman #16; Snyder struck an absolutely terrifying equilibrium of the insane and the beautiful making an eerie and memorable issue. What made the experience of reading this issue even better: I read it in the dimmest of lights, something I absolutely recommend because it (weirdly, I admit) adds to the effect. The ending of the story arc was extremely controversial; for starters: there wasn’t really any physical “death” of anyone in the family. I understand that it was supposed to be tragic how the Bat-Family was “divided” and not really talking with one another but that was almost completely ignored when the next issue of every Bat-title was about them bonding with each other over the death of Damian. As an effect, there really wasn’t any lasting impact of this story, making it a little less memorable. However, the ending issue itself was, much like the other installments in the storyline, quite wonderfully produced and read very well. The finale with the silver trays (while quite predictable in its conclusion) was very interesting and ultimately the most satisfying part of the ending. Alfred’s storyline concluded in a far less predictable way but didn’t really do much for the story. Scott Snyder really does understand how to make a comic really sinister; Batman #17 featured some of the most chilling dialogue I have ever read. When the Joker was explaining how he viewed his relationship with Batman and revealing what had become of Batman’s family… man, was that unnerving. Despite my criticisms, this is one of my favorite storylines of the year and by far my favorite story of the Joker. This arc defined just what this creative team was able to accomplish and I find myself recommending it to almost all of the comic fans I know. It’s a chilling and haunting story that I will remember for years to come. Contrary to “Battle of the Atom,” I think that “Death of the Family” would have benefited from a larger scope. It felt like Snyder waited until the very end to release all of his best material and I would have liked to see a longer story with more consistently mind-blowing issues. If the Joker had gone after the family in the main book, well, that would be a very different story, one with much more action and a larger sense of how the family was really getting targeted. And while I gave DC a lot of crap a little while ago for milking all the money they could out of “Death of the Family” with the cajillion tie-ins, some of the books weren’t terrible. The portion of the story told in Batman and Robin was nicely creepy and really served the overall narrative very well. Although there were these few gems, the majority of the crossover was made up of downright unreadable tie-ins. Anything written by Gail Simone or Scott Lobdell was an utter waste of time and the work by Jimmy Palmiotti, a very talented writer, was severely lacking. Bottom Line: To wrap things up: I want to say something to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. Here it is: I love you guys. You have been putting out some of the best work I have ever seen in comics, and I really want that to continue. The thing is, you have to get out of DC. Your creativity is being encumbered by the fact that you have to be making the corporation money with every issue you put out. Think about if you both went to Image: you’d still be making fat stacks, you’d be able to do whatever the hell you want, even if it doesn’t involve 10+ tie-ins and more people would read indie. Save Batman, I don’t read any DC anymore, I just don’t agree with their policies. I know that you have a lot invested in this character and the DC mythos, but it would be just so great for you guys to get free of the corporate machine. Thank you, and please keep up the quality no matter where you are. Notable Reviews: Batman #17 Infinity I’ll admit that going into “Infinity,” I was very skeptical and not in the best of moods. After 17 issues of pure buildup with no pay off and forgettable characters, I was willing to officially write off Hickman’s Avengers work for good if he couldn’t deliver on this event. Now that it is all done and I have had time to think about it, it did deliver to a degree and I’m still sticking around to see where Avengers and New Avengers will go. The story has two parts to it. Out in the space, these creatures called the Builders are wiping out planets and races all over. Worried about the threat they pose, the Avengers head into space and team up with a bunch of other Marvel space characters to combat the menace. Back on Earth, with the Avengers gone, Thanos and his posse decide it is time to invade the planet. With no heroes left (well Avengers heroes, since no other kind of hero matters apparently), the villains start conquering and taking over. However, there may be more to this plan than meets the eye, since Thanos and his crew set their eyes on the Inhumans and a secret that Black Bolt may hold. Both stories had their ups and downs to them, but the storyline involving Thanos was honestly the best of the bunch. Good, memorable looking villains; solid action; an interesting mystery about what the true goal was; decent artwork; and some good moments to it. Sure, it had the problem of speeding through and glossing over some events (besides Black Panther, apparently no other hero can put up a good fight against any of the flunkies Thanos has except in tie-in issues), but it was decent enough at the very least. The true problem lied in with the other story, the space opera. It started off very promising, showing a true and dangerous threat that could give the newly strengthened Avengers team a run for their money and it had a fast paced to it, in comparison to very slow and decompressed storytelling from the past. However, as time went on, it became apparent that things would not get any better. It became just as slow, padded out, and decompressed as before the event; where issues could go by without a single thing happening. The characters were just as flat, forgettable, underused, and were little more than plot devices as before. Amusingly enough, the only time there was any form of characterization was during this part of the comic was in the most disposable issue that could have been easily ignored and the reader wouldn’t have missed a single thing. Also with characters, the villains were completely uninteresting and boring (they also all looked the same, a very generic brown alien design), just often talking about how awesome and right they were and that nothing can stop them. Nothing unique or anything that could make them standout. As time went on it became apparent that things would not get any better It also made a very poor and rather odd decision with how it handled its events. The comic played up the fact and really emphasised that the villains were extremely powerful and almost invincible, seeming to counter every single plan or attack the heroes threw at them. However, when it came to the heroes winning, it downplayed it severely and acted as if it didn’t matter. For instance, the big game changer that seemed to turn the tide of the war was when Thor managed to kill one of the Builders. Everyone was feeling confident and they got their second win. However, instead of showing any of the battles or letting the artwork tell any of the story, it did a montage of panels over two pages which amounted to basically, “Yeah, they started off good, but then they sorted of lost all that steam and went back to where they started.” Not only was that a terrible idea, basically rendering the last issue and the opening pages meaningless, but it also showed a sort of indifference that writer seemed to have and decided to tell instead of show. Even worst, Hickman did it again for the official victory, deciding to show the aftermath of one of the characters telling Captain America that he and his team were awesome, while showing some very static shots that are supposed to symbolism the team winning fights. It feels lazy, especially considering the only victory that was shown in great detail was Captain Universe basically killing the Builders without a sweat and making it feel rather anticlimactic (another problem in and of itself). There were tons and tons of tie-ins and mini-series that spun out of “Infinity,” many of which I didn’t read because I couldn’t afford it or was way too behind on the books. The series I did read were actually pretty enjoyable with what they did. Thunderbolts was a regular arc that just so happened to be interrupted by Infinity, Mighty Avengers started this time and did its own thing, while Fearless Defenders used it as a way to introduce a new character to the series. The mini-series I have heard were rather middle of the road or below average, so they may not be worth some people’s time. Then again, I have not read them so I don’t know if that is true or not. Bottom Line: I’ve said enough about “Infinity.” It is a comic that showed promised at the start, had a decent enough finale, and had one half of the story at least be interesting to read. However, the majority of the comic was pretty bad and underwhelming, leading to one of the weaker events to have come out this year. Infinity was my first ever Marvel event and I just hope that the next one will be much better. Notable Reviews: Avengers #21 | Infinity #4 | Infinity #14> Trinity War What was originally thought to be its own event before turning out to be merely a prologue, “Trinity War” was my most anticipated DC comic of the year, besides Harley Quinn. Spread out over three comic and two months, “Trinity War” was honestly one of the more enjoyable events and crossovers this year. It wins in comparison to other events because like I said, it was spread out over two months and almost every week had the next part of the story. There were no long gaps between issues, you knew the next part would be coming soon, and ultimately, it was only six issues (none of the tie-ins were actually secretly necessary) and costed 24 bucks. That’s a pretty good deal in comparison to all other events this year (“Age of Ultron” with 10 issues over four months, “Infinity” with 16 issues over 4 months, and “Forever Evil” being 7 issues excluding JL over 7 months). But what is the story about anyways? An organization called the Secret Society makes their move after years of careful planning, planning the destruction of all the heroes. Setting up Superman as a fall guy for murder and taking Madame Xanadu off the table, the Justice Leagues scramble to figure out what has happened and who is pulling the strings. It ultimately leads to one hell of an ending that removes them all from play and sets the stage for Forever Evil with the Crime Syndicate coming to that Earth. The event has a fantastic and thrilling opening issue and an intense and shocking finale, but the middle itself is rather middling. It’s not that the comic is bad or anything at this point, it just becomes the characters running around and looking for answers most of the time. Doing sort of the same thing over and over again, with very little progression can become tiring to a degree for some people. There was also aspect of the heroes fighting one another and for some, that can also be tiring even if the reasons make sense and the fights don’t last for long (Marvel has really beaten that idea into the ground that when DC does it, no one is all that excited for it). The event was written by both Geoff Johns and Jeff Lemire, with both of them doing their own separate comic (Johns for Justice League and Lemire for Justice League Dark) while both of them wrote Justice League of America together. To their credit, I did not notice much a difference in the writing, so much of them blended well together. With the artists, we got Ivan Reis (JL), Doug Mahnke (JLA), and Mike Janin (JLD). They are all good artists and brought some good looking visuals to the event (Reis being the best), though the JLA issues looked the weakest of the bunch due to having multiple inkers on it that had their own styles. Bottom Line: As an event and crossover, would I recommend it? Yes, hesitantly. It is a lot of fun and reads a lot better all at once, but there was a lot of buildup to this. All of the Justice League books have, in a way, been building plots and subplots in the backgrounds that would tie into this crossover. If one was reading all of those comics up until this, they would get a lot of it and see how everything comes together. I mean, someone could easily read this comic without it and follow everything reasonably well, but still. Notable Reviews: Trinity of Sin: Pandora #3 | Justice League of America #7 | Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger #11 | Justice League Dark #22 Zero Year The year began with the finale of the Batman event, “Death of the Family.” People enjoyed it, but the opinion seemed to be split in a lot of areas, in particular with the fans. Now with the end of the year here, we also have another Batman event going on, Zero Year. The opinions seem to be a bit stronger everywhere, with most people enjoy the arc, even some of the more jaded fans I’ve talked to. At the time of this writing, Zero Year is about half or a little more than half way through. The event itself is separated into three mini-arcs: Secret City, Dark City, and Wild City. Secret City was about Bruce Wayne trying to fight the Red Hood Gang and figuring out a way to fight back against them. In the new arc, a massive blackout has happened in Gotham, caused by the Riddler, and Batman is trying to handle things as best as he can. However, he is hunted by the police and is on the search for a gruesome killer, Dr. Death. So far, the comic has been very good in my opinion and I look forward to where it goes in the final third. The comic was originally stated to have absolutely no tie-ins to the event, with Scott Snyder assuring that. Sometime in the summer, that turned out to be not true and there ended up being tons of tie-ins from just about every book in the Bat-line. Snyder states that wasn’t suppose to happen, but had gotten word from the other writers about wanting to tie-in. Whether this had anything to do with editorial interference or not (probably the case with the Batwoman issue if I had to guess), the main thing is were any of these tie-ins actually good? For the most part, yes. A lot of them were very enjoyable to read, while a couple of mediocre titles slipped in. They all took place during the blackout portion of Zero Year, most of them dealing with the storm of the century coming towards Gotham and how other characters dealt with it. The best ones were probably Batgirl, Detective Comics, and Catwoman; while Nightwing and Batwoman were the weakest. There was a rather shady activity going on with the tie-ins as well. They were all extra dollar more than they usually were (they all had extra pages, but still) and that felt like a cash grab if anything. Also of note is that the event had some rather unusual tie-ins as well to consider. There was The Flash, Action Comics, Green Lantern Corps, and Green Arrow; all series that had nothing to do with Batman. They all were about the early days of the heroes first starting out or before they became who they were later on (like Barry Allen in The Flash for instance). Despite how unusual it was to have these issues, they were all actually pretty good and a lot of fun to read as well. Green Arrow fighting alongside Batman, Barry Allen doing detective work with Bullock, etc. Honestly, these four issues were the best of the tie-ins, amusingly enough. Bottom Line: Both the main event and for the most part, the tie-ins of Zero Year were or still are pretty good. With the tie-ins, some maybe worth your time if you are a fan of the character and others are not (some are actually very important to their runs). Most likely, you would be better off getting a special collection of the tie-ins instead of buying them all individually if you really want to read them all. As for the main event itself, it is still not done yet and it’s rather difficult render any final judgment on it at this point. It’s very good, fantastic even at different points, but it’s still a bit too early tell if this will all be worth one’s time at the very end. Notable Reviews: Batman #25 | Nightwing #25 | Batman #21 There you have it, our thoughts on the crossovers that took place in 2013. Agree/disagree? Sound off in the comments. shawn My favorite is Zero Year, I haven’t liked Dark City as much as the opening arc, but still my favorite. I was loving Infinity until the end, couldn’t agree more about how Hickman decided to wrap it up. christian what about Age of Ultron? http://adventuresinpoortaste.com/ Sam Roche Wasn’t really following that one close enough to make a fair judgement. I did enjoy the first three issues, though.