Urm, wait. Sorry. Wrong crossover. Wrong company, even.
Alrighty then, no more kidding around: this is the third and final part of my overwrought overanalysis of "The Crossing," covering the four-part "TimeSlide" plus certain epilogues, epitaphs, retcons, and more. It's still not too late to go back and read the previous pieces of the puzzle here and here before proceeding onward.
Before venturing further, it bears stating: I like the storyline, but that doesn't mean I can't laugh at it. (Hard, oftentimes.) I also know that recently, Marvel released a handbook, Blockbusters of the Marvel Universe, that's got a two-page entry all about this storyline. I've read it, and it in no way resembles the narrative you've been digesting here. There are mentions of Immortus, and Space Phantoms, and all kinds of things that were only introduced into the storyline much, much later, when Marvel tried (foolishly, I think) to rework their own history to allow themselves to tell another story. (You know the one, it features the Avengers and goes on Forever.) If my recap gives you indigestion, the one in that book will have you praying to the porcelain god all week long.
If, however, your air sickness bags are full from the last two rounds, go ahead and grab new ones. I promise I'll wait. If you need clean underwear, I'm afraid you're on your own.
|Avengers: TimeSlide - Now with 85% uglier art than last month! Art by Roger Cruz & Luke Ross.|
In the past, the two Jarvises give each other headaches, and readers' migraines strengthen with ridiculous cameos by Aunt May, Uncle Ben, Peter Parker, Willie Lumpkin, Matt Murdock, Sue Storm and Ben Grimm. Young Tony Stark shows he's still an egghead, no matter his age, by showing off his holographic communicator wristwatch. (Isn't it kewl?) Tobias follows the team and arrives at the Stark Mansion where he kidnaps the Starks. Young Tony returns, the Avengers offer him a (blessedly) abbreviated version of The Story So Far and ask for his help, and he's just crazy enough to agree. He uses his mom's matching holographic cameo to track his parents to Latveria (because we just had to have yet another appearance by another character from today's Marvel U). Although Tony, in a red-and-gold costume obviously meant to remind us of Iron Man, tries his best, his parents die thanks to Tobias, yet he agrees to go with the Avengers and avenge their deaths instead of doing what any sane person would do and tell them to go screw. Malachi retrieves his brother and Dr. Doom lets the Avengers use his time platform to return to the present, taking the opportunity as they depart for an Evil Twisty Mustache Moment. Bwa-ha-ha, he'll get those rascally kids soon.
|Haggard and bearded = bad. Smooth as a baby's butt = good!|
We wisely cut away from Tony's overwhelming bow-chicka-wow-wow to Avengers Mansion, where the team determines the time portal vanished after they traveled through it. Quicksilver and Crystal lament their missing daughter (aww...), and Captain America rounds up the team for a charge on Stark's Antarctic lair only to have them all stopped by Henry Peter Gyrich and a host of Mandroids. Hey, where's Century when you need him to teleport everyone away? That's right--for no damn good reason, he still hasn't returned from TimeSlide! D'oh! I smell a deus ex machina!
|Ooh! Aah! Old Tony rips Teen Tony's heart out! Art by J. Calafiore. Screams by Sam Kinison.|
"The Crossing" concludes in Avengers #395, whose cover tastelessly advertises "The Death of an Avenger!" The Avengers fight Kang's crew between the bunker and Chronopolis, and that includes Cap fighting Mantis, who is a formidable martial artist (a fact neglected so far!). What is coming is on the Avengers' heads, she says--"[their] past together proved nothing but a prelude to the end of all there is, was, or ever will be" and "[her] new family is the last chance for each and every one of us." Strangling Cap, she continues: "One of yours chose another over this one, drove this one to a loveless union with a man that was not a man...spawning a monster in the form of a messiah. And if he cannot be punished for it, Avenger, you surely will be." And if that commentary didn't reveal the identity of "The One Who Comes," I'll...um, I'll explain it later.
Teen Tony has a near-death experience courtesy of the Vision, who has merged his body with the dying lad's because be obviously must survive to become the new Iron Lad...I mean, Iron Man. And Old Tony, realizing his number is up and his Joe Madureira-designed armor is so 1995, decides to redeem himself, rescuing the Cotati Swordsman, who's growing branches all over the place. Then, Vision is apparently free of Teen Tony, and comes to fight Mantis, because his choice of the Scarlet Witch over her was the event that led to everything she talked about. In pitched battle with the Avengers, Kang admits Henry Pym was his first choice to betray the Avengers, but that his attempts to bring him under control only resulted in his legendary nervous breakdowns.
|Kang caused those nervous breakdowns! Art by Mike Deodato.|
In the epilogue, Age of Innocence: The Rebirth of Iron Man, Hank Pym heeds Old Tony's last request, performing surgery on Teen Tony to keep him alive. While an unconscious Teen Tony fights for his life, those nearest to Old Tony relive their best memories of their friend and boss. Masque visits the younger Tony, shapeshifting into Meredith McCall and all the girlfriends he wouldn't recognize, including Kathy Dare, Janice Cord, Gretl Anders, Dr. Su Yin, Whitney Frost, and Bethany Cabe. Marianne Rodgers psychically visits Tony's innards (someone tell me how that works?) while outside, a shadowy enemy in a long, McFarlanesque red cape goes booga-booga and threatens that Old Tony's foes are just begging for a shot at the young one. Then it's daylight, and it was all a nightmare! No, wait--Teen Tony's still here. Oops. (Don't worry--he'll be gone faster than you can say "Onslaught.")
"The Crossing," such as it was, appeared during one of the worst periods in the history of publisher Marvel Comics. While in previous years Marvel had expanded dramatically with multiple editor-in-chiefs in charge of its major product lines, in late 1995 the line constricted during the event dubbed "Marvelcution," and was again brought under the control of a single editor-in-chief, Bob Harras. Harras was co-writing Avengers with "Crossing" architect Terry Kavanagh at the time of his promotion, and had to leave the book before the storyline concluded, as he simply didn't have the time to devote to the series.
Oddly, time, or rather the lack thereof, doomed "The Crossing," as surely as the time-traveling adversary Kang stood at the center of the 25-part epic. From the very start, line editor-in-chief Mark Gruenwald was under the gun in all facets of development. How else does one explain 21 pencilers drawing 25 stories, often with two or three pencilers working on any given story? It's true that many artists, including Jimmy Cheung and J. Calafiore, have gone on to bigger and better things. Even still, aside from Mike Deodato Jr., few of the artists had a professional enough look to be anywhere near this high-profile a project. (Interesting note: Daredevil artist supreme Alex Maleev made his Marvel debut drawing the cover to Iron Man #321!) The wildly inconsistent art was and remains a key barrier to any mass appeal. (That, and the fact that at no time were the chapters of the storyline actually numbered.)
|You're darn tootin' Ed Benes' art got better. Dig that sensational title!|
Many of the key points of the storyline had their genesis in Steve Englehart's aforementioned "Celestial Madonna" storyline, to the point fans might be all but lost without having read it. That storyline was where the bulk of Mantis' development came about, including her relationship with her father, Libra, and her martial arts training with the Priests of Pama at the Temple of Agaphaur. It established the initial conflict between Kang and Mantis, and solidified the idea that Kang, Rama-Tut and Immortus were all the same being in different periods of his life. Finally, it united the Vision and Scarlet Witch, with Immortus marrying both them and the Cotati Swordsman and Mantis. That final event provided the impetus for the "villain" of the greater arc that "The Crossing" was intended to start: the Celestial Messiah, son of the Cotati Swordsman and Mantis, as all-but-stated in Avengers #395. I must say, I'd be very anxious to see what was planned for that character's eventual arrival. (The actual Celestial Messiah, Quoi, finally appeared much later in Englehart's direct "Celestial Madonna" sequel, Avengers: Celestial Quest, in 2001.)
|Quoi, Mantis' "real" son and the "real" Celestial Messiah. At least 'til it's retconned.|
Busiek also took it upon himself to resolve the various plot threads of "The Crossing," to various degrees of success. Rather than deal with the impending threat of a "Celestial Messiah" per Harras, Kavanagh & Gruenwald's original intent, he brushed the entire arc aside as the machinations of Immortus. The first hint at the change was Libra's denial of having ever been Moonraker (Avengers Forever #2). As seen in a tremendous info-dump in Avengers Forever #8, the Time-Keepers charged Immortus, Kang's future self, with protecting timelines, and did not want one to take place in which the Avengers became a galactic conquering force. To that end he briefly manipulated Iron Man (not, as was claimed, for years) and he and a group of Space Phantoms staged an elaborate ploy to keep the Avengers earthbound long enough for Onslaught to require their full attention. Hence, many of the players in "The Crossing," including Moonraker, adult Luna, Tuc, Mantis, Malachi and Tobias weren't who they claimed to be, with their leader Immortus disguising himself as Kang. To date, Neut remains an unknown quantity, having no connection to any contradictory Avengers history. Gilgamesh has recently returned to life without a discussion of his previous whereabouts, so his status during "The Crossing," including his possible death, is unconfirmed. Also in Forever, Immortus admitted his story about causing Pym's breakdowns was a lie.
|So glad Libra didn't mention the g'dawful movie of the same name, yeah?|
Writer Howard Mackie also had his shot at dismantling "The Crossing" in the 1997 one-shot Tales of the Marvel Universe, where Rhodey divested himself of the Eidolon Warwear armor (which Skye, obviously a servant of the Messiah, claimed was bonded to him "forever") by sending it into Stark Enterprises' computer system like a virus. He meant it to purge all Stark's sensitive data so that Fujikawa Corp., who just took over the company, couldn't get their mitts on it. Marvel cared so little, they let the story go to press with two pages of duplicate dialogue! (But seriously, why did these stooges of Immortus'--as I presume Skye would have to be--try to get Rhodey to go into space to track the Eidolon when he wanted the rest of the team to remain on Earth so they couldn't start that galactic Avengers army? I guess it takes all kinds to make the universe go 'round.) What I wouldn't give to see that suit return, all pissed off at Rhodey for having tried to get rid of it!
|The legacy of "The Crossing" is alive and well in Suzi Endo.|
Overall, while Busiek's dissection of "The Crossing" was grist for the mill for his from-the-ground-up revisionist take on the Avengers' relationship with Kang and his many alternate selves, it really did genuine "Crossing" fans a disservice by reducing their favorite situations and characters to bit players in what amounted to an elaborate stage play--the ultimate metafictional creation that's become even more ludicrous to think about in its new context. What could have been a terrific story engine, with Moonraker's struggle against himself and his adjustment to this new parallel reality, to the developing mystery of the Celestial Messiah, to the eventual reunion between the Vision, the Scarlet Witch, and their sons, to the ongoing dramas involving Rhodey's Eidolon Warwear and yes, even the further adventures of Teen Tony, all of it's been wiped away, most by Busiek, some by other writers.
|He's a Space Phantom, she's a Space Phantom, wouldn't you like to be a Space Phantom, too?|
I'm not saying "The Crossing" was a great story, or even a good story. But I do like it, and I like it because it was ambitious, perhaps overly so. So Tony Stark killed who again? The Avengers' nanny, Force Works' PR lady, and somebody who was only an Avenger in an annual a few years back? His targets were damage control in and of themselves. I liked the idea of exploiting Kang's utmost advantage over the Avengers--that he was such a master of time travel, he could disappear and then reappear fully armed for another round of battle, or specifically, he could monkey with the timestream, manipulating your friends into your enemies, sowing sleeper agents. I liked the idea of a Marvel hero with a suit of alien armor, and Rhodey worked because he wasn't Tony Stark. I liked the suspense of the door in the basement. I liked the idea of having to go back in time to see an uncorrupted version of the hero-cum-sleeper-agent...although it would have been nice to see exactly how Kang gained that foothold in Stark's psyche--and perhaps stopped him instead of launching into the Teen Tony nonsense.(Yes, you'd have to have some method of changing time for good, as apparently Kang had, else how was he able to mold Stark as he did?) I liked the lapsed Avenger gone bad, with Mantis becoming the mirror opposite of what she'd been in the "Celestial Madonna" storyline. I liked the idea of her son becoming what Kang perceived as a great, cosmic-level threat, and wondered about the implications of such a being's relationship with the Avengers. And Moonraker, in spite of the ridiculous name, I enjoyed for his complex relationship with Force Works in general and Spider-Woman in particular. (A fascinating idea, that his history from a parallel world came with him.) The pieces were all there for a grand Avengers epic, but spread out across too many titles, like the Spider-Clone storyline that ran for over two years. The storyline blurred focus, with too many plates in the air, and with the art especially it suffered.
So let's all have a moment of silence for "The Crossing," not for what it was, but what it could and should have been.
And then, let's get back to laughing at it. But not too hard, for pity's sake.
Let's see this puppy in collected editions in '12, yeah?
- Iron Man #319
- Avengers #390
- Avengers: The Crossing
- Force Works #16
- Invincible Iron Man #320
- Avengers #391
- Invincible Iron Man #321
- Force Works #17
- War Machine #20
- Avengers #392
- Invincible Iron Man #322
- Force Works #18
- War Machine #21
- Iron Man #323
- Avengers #393
- Force Works #19
- War Machine #22
- Force Works #20
- Invincible Iron Man #324
- War Machine #23
- Avengers #394
- Avengers: TimeSlide
- Invincible Iron Man #325
- Avengers #395
- Age of Innocence: The Rebirth of Iron Man