27.4.11

The Crossing: NOT The Avengers' Abbey Road (1)

(Newly re-edited with pictures!)

Aw, gawd, you have NO idea how badly I wish I had a picture of the various Avengers changed during the brief period in their history known as "The Crossing," all posed like the Beatles on their famous album cover. Maybe not even really succeeding at crossing the street. Maybe Giant Man's looking one direction, the Wasp's looking the other, Moonraker's getting his toes stepped on, and Iron Man's repulsor is at the ready. Maybe Hawkeye's tripping over the corpse of the second Yellowjacket. I don't know. Would any of the artists reading this blog (you know who you are, and I know you're out there) get on that? No? All right, then: I'll have to settle for this picture that doesn't quite conjure a thousand words:

This story changes everything. If that's not enough: really kewl chromium cover!
I was looking through my collection some weeks ago, and that got me thinking how pitifully few articles are out there about "The Crossing," the Avengers storyline meant to Change Everything We Knew About Earth's Mightiest Heroes (TM). It was constructed in 1995 under the auspices of then-Avengers group editor Mark Gruenwald by a group of writers including Dan Abnett, Bob Harras, Terry Kavanagh, Andy Lanning and Ben Raab, and artists including Mike Deodato, a bevy of his studiomates, and miscellaneous other talent. Here, I want to give my readers a look--as honest a one as I can without surrendering to raucous laughter--at the storyline in all its (should I use this word?) glory.

When did Stark become a pawn? Wink wink, nudge nudge. Art by Tom Morgan.
Please remember, "The Crossing" came about in a comics era that was, on the surface, very different from today. It was the era of special effect covers--of hologram covers, of multi-color foil covers, of neon fifth ink covers, of chromium covers, embossed covers, die-cut covers, quadruple gatefold covers, polybags, free trading card inserts, platinum variants, and every permutation of the above. It was also the era of the Special Event Designed To Change Your Favorite Character Forever (a mutually-owned trademark of Marvel and DC Comics), where DC killed Superman and decided it couldn't stop there, and then Marvel decided whatever DC did, they had to do it bigger, better, and often bloodier.

(Wait. Minus a few of the more outré components in the previous paragraph, it seems...I don't believe it! Ah, well--that's a topic for a totally different article! Moving right along...)

Tuc hints to Luna's nanny of her impending demise. Art by Mike Deodato.
"The Crossing" starts with two prequels in Invincible Iron Man #319, wherein Tony Stark reminisces about his life as an Avenger and decides to reunite with his old team (whom he'd left some time earlier to assemble the ruins of their west coast branch into Force Works), and Avengers #390, wherein Janet Van Dyne, aka the Wasp, learns she's broke, and the rest of the Avengers team tell stories around a campfire. There, they're visited by a mysterious guest named Tuc with ties to Quicksilver and Crystal's daughter Luna. Simple enough, right? The hallmarks of major storylines were all there: looking back upon the past, introducing new and mysterious characters, hinting at unusual situations to come. Little did everyone know what was right around the corner.

In the one-shot, chromium-covered Avengers: The Crossing, things go kablooey. Rita DeMara, the second Yellowjacket, returns from adventures in the 30th Century alongside the original Guardians of the Galaxy, flitting through a few moments of the not-too-distant future, seeing glimpses of fugitive Avengers, of the team fighting to enter their own mansion, of Avengers in different costumes, and an enigmatic blonde woman who warns her moments before a mysterious assailant kills her at the gates to Avengers Mansion. Whoever it is does a good job of hiding the body, because next thing you know, it's the following day, and the Avengers are reuniting to celebrate the day of their founding. Hercules finds the blonde woman who tries to warn him of events too, but the moment she disappears, he forgets her as if she were never there. The team finds itself under siege by mysterious attackers who disappear before they can be defeated, and discovers they left behind the Eternal named Gilgamesh, a former Avenger, now elderly and near death. All the while, something happens to the mysterious door in the team's basement--a door that didn't exist before one of the Watchers reconstructed the mansion in the wake of an extradimensional attack. Then, the mysterious attacker bookends the story by claiming another victim, Luna's nanny Marilla, before standing revealed as...Tony Stark! (Gasps, oohs, ahhs. Aren't you excited?)

DC's Green Lantern killed people? Screw that! Tony Stark can do it, too!
Over the next few months of stories, Tony Stark grapples with apparent memory loss and a split personality of sorts before arriving at the truth about his own schemes, denying it but at the same time trying to make Hawkeye into the fall guy for the murders he knows he committed. He helps seal up the mansion and the team relocates, then Janet forces him to leave when she finds out he was behind her current financial status. Hawkeye escapes following a confrontation with Stark and the Force Works team and their newest member, Suzi Endo aka Cybermancer, and goes on the run alongside former Avengers teammates Jim Rhodes, aka War Machine (enhanced with a new, alien suit of armor--the "Eidolon Warwear"...hey, if it worked for Spidey in the '80s...!) and John Walker, aka USAgent. They grow increasingly suspicious of Stark but ultimately refuse to believe he could have any malevolent intent.

Suzi Endo--the modern exception to the 1st rule of The Crossing. (You don't talk about it.)
Marianne Rodgers, a former flame of Tony's with psychic powers, escapes from an institution where Tony'd sent her many years before. She's convinced that having glimpsed the truth in Stark's soul--of which even he wasn't consciously aware--left her mind irreparably damaged, and she teams with a woman wearing the mask of Stark's former lover/foe Madame Masque. This new Masque can disguise herself as any woman, and when Stark captures the duo and ships them to his secret arctic fortress, she demonstrates her ability in a bait-and-switch escape sequence. (But, can she make the carpet match the curtains? Inquiring minds wanna know!)

Neut! Why do we care? He's killing Gilgamesh--because he's NEUT!
Meanwhile, the Avengers get in more trouble as result of that damned door in their basement, with a blue-skinned, big-headed creature called Neut killing Gilgamesh while the team is helpless to stop him. One of the newest Avengers, the other-dimensional analogue of the Swordsman, Philip Jarvert, finds himself visited by the Cotati incarnation of the Swordsman (who married Mantis during the "Celestial Madonna" storyline in the '70s). The alien tries to warn of an imminent threat, but then the blond-haired woman from The Crossing #1 returns with the axe-wielding brothers Malachi and Tobias, whose solar eyebeams possess a creepy similarity to those of the Vision. The brothers defeat Vision and Swordsman, but their blonde compatriot bids them away out of apparent concern for the Avengers. With the Cotati Swordsman captured, they return to their "mother"--Mantis herself!

Something familiar about those boys Bo and Luke...er, Malachi and Tobias.
Still elsewhere, the Force Works team, formed from the remnants of the West Coast Avengers, finds a new member in their midst, the enigmatic (there's that word again!) Moonraker. (The real mystery being, of course, how someone could possibly think naming a character after one of the worst James Bond movies could ever be remotely cool.) Other strange things occur at Works HQ, like Moonraker's girlfriend Spider-Woman (Julia Carpenter) making breakfast only to realize the eggs are still in the container on the counter, or cutting and putting roses in a vase only to find they're still in their wrapping from the florist. On top of that, Julia's daughter seems to be the only one who realizes Moonraker wasn't around in the previous issue. And, oh yeah, Vietnam's gone missing, and nobody realizes it was ever a real country! Somebody cue that "Twilight Zone" music...
Look, kids! Mantis! And she's eee-vil now! MANTIS! EVIL!
As it becomes increasingly apparent that "The Crossing" is a sequel of sorts to the beloved "Celestial Madonna" storyline, we see Black Widow join Rhodey, USAgent and Hawkeye because it was all getting to be too much of a boys' club. They all fight Deathunt 9000, one of Kang's Anachronauts. (Nobody here wins awards for names, but at least these ones were created before this arc.) Hawkeye goes to call out Stark on his own, and together they go to the Van Dyne mansion, where the Avengers have holed up since the abandonment of their own mansion due to the door in the basement. The visiting Hank McCoy, the X-Men's Beast and a former Avenger himself, helps Hank Pym reconfigure an image inducer so it can bring Avengers' memories to holographic life in hopes of discovering the identity of the murderer. When Stark's memories are probed, they find nothing, but Luna's memories clearly show Stark as the culprit. (The jig is up! The news is out! They finally found him...) A battle wages, during which Stark critically injures the Wasp. Pym becomes Giant Man and nearly crushes Stark, who narrowly escapes and falls into a portal. The scientist then takes the Wasp back to his lab and attempts to save her life using a similar procedure to the one that originally empowered her, resulting in her body being surrounded by a strange cocoon. Tuc returns and absconds with Luna, to whom he refers as "sister," and soon afterward, a ship lands and Masque disembarks, telling the Avengers that they must stop Tony Stark--and now! (Or is that yesterday?)

Can we order up some cheese with that whine, Tony? Huh?
Are we confused yet? I gotta warn you, it may well get worse before it gets better! But don't worry, folks--Uncle Gary's gonna show this saga who's boss in the second segment of this review-a-thon, coming soon to this very blog! Aren't you excited?

Yeah. Didn't think so. All the same, it is coming. Along with, you know, the reasons why we'll never see this story referred to in-continuity ever again. (You know: Avengers Forever.)

~G.

3 comments:

  1. You are a mighty brave person to revisit "The Crossing," known to me as That Thing They Did That Messed Up Iron Man For Years & Years.

    I know there were a dozen cooks in the kitchen for it, but reading it now, it's like a great big fever dream filtered through the Image prism.

    I laughed when Avengers Forever retconned it as Immortus just trying to confuse everyone. Because that explanation worked on levels of metatextuality Grant Morrison never imagined.

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  2. (Grr. My own browser ate my reply! Ah, well. Once more, with feeling...)

    I'm glad somebody appreciates my work here. I'm being snarky some of the time, sure, but I do understand some people out there like the story. I want to treat the saga with a modicum of respect even as I flay the skin from the creators' bones. And anyway, this storyline gets so little respect or even attention on the interwebs, so I thought I was doing everyone a public service by bringing this piece out.

    "Messed Up Iron Man for Years & Years"? Aside from Kurt Busiek's two years and the "Stark Solutions" gig, and John Jackson Miller's tenure when Tony was Secretary of State, I was unaware they'd even fixed him. Seriously, it seems the guy's had a red-and-gold target on his ass since 1995 where he can't catch a break. Look at Civil War for pete's sake.

    Too many cooks for "The Crossing"? I ran some numbers today and I'll be writing about this facet soon, if not in the second entry then in the third (and I promise, it won't go longer than a third). The good, the bad, the ugly, it's all coming.

    Avengers Forever is, curiously, what got me interested in reading "The Crossing" in the first place, so I guess I came into it bass-ackwards. I mean, I picked up Iron Man #320 back in the day, and later issue #325 and even Avengers #395, and even the adventures of Teen Tony for a couple months, but was I enthusiastic? Hell, no. It didn't even turn to morbid fascination until Forever. And yes, wouldn't Morrison just grin from ear to ear upon hearing what Busiek did?

    Cheers,

    ~G.

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  3. I do indeed! I'd never really thought much about the Hulk, but I read your series on Byrne and Mantlo and I was quite interested by what I found--I'd read Byrne's run in reprints and always wondered why it never quite gelled, and now I know.

    Well, it's odd: I like Busiek's run but I feel like I want to like it more than I do. It frustrated me that so much of it seemed to be Iron man getting his butt kicked and reacting to stuff that happened. Plus, we had to suffer through yet another attempt to get the Mandarin over and a few other niggles . . .but at least he never made the armor become sentient because of Y2K.

    I was intrigued by what Miller was doing with him, but I think I lost patience with it because the stories were so darn decompressed (this was the tail end of that trend, if I'm remembering right) and I probably jumped ship before the resolution.

    As MST3K would say, "You look at Civil War--I'm bitter." ;) Yeah, I have written reams about how badly people don't "get" Iron Man or don't seem to be interested in writing him as something other than a wise-ass technocrat who hardly ever, y'know, does Iron Man stuff.

    Having read most of the Iron Man issues of the Crossing (I don't recommend that) and squaring them against the Avengers issues running concurrently . . .yeah, things get confused pretty quick. That said, the letter columns in those issues where the readers plainly know what Marvel's going to do with Iron Man and seem to be in open revolt are a hoot. :)

    I think that's how I approached it too, actually. That, and the Crossing was kind of already a legend on the Avengers e-mail list as being so bad that putting Liefeld on it was an improvement.

    My big unanswered question about The Crossing--has anyone asked Joe Madureria why he thought the Wasp would be better as that bug/fairy . . .thing?

    Looking forward to the rest of the series!

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