30.6.11

Avengers - The Crossing: The Terrible, Torturous Tale of TimeSlide & Teen Tony (3)


Finally, the day of judgment has arrived!

Urm, wait. Sorry. Wrong crossover. Wrong company, even.

It was a dark and stormy night deep in the bowels of the Marvel offices...

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.
With the gastrointestinal distress-inducing pleasantries out of the way, Avengers: TimeSlide opens with a situation we saw way back in Avengers: The Crossing: the attempted infiltration of Avengers Mansion...by the Avengers! Somehow, those ultra-smart Avengers decided "stopping a genius with another genius" meant using the information older Luna put in Hercules' brain to manipulate the time portal in the mansion's basement and venture back in time to snatch a 19-year-old Tony Stark forward to the present. (Was that really right before Kang started pulling strings? Or was that just the best time to align Marvel's armored Avenger with that young and shiny new Green Lantern down the street at the Distinguished Competition? What was his name...Kyle No-Brainer?) The team fights Kang's Anachronauts so they can enter the mansion while Rita DeMara returns to show we're still seeing the same events as in that Crossing special. Captain America returns to the team because sales figures weren't quite the same without him, and besides, Jarvis needs someone to take his side that his younger self would recognize in the past. The Avengers beat back Kang's armies and go through the portal, with Century's staff Parallax guiding the way to the other side sort of like how the advent of DC's Parallax paved the way for ol' Kyle!


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!
In Invincible Iron Man #325 with the Avengers again in the present, 19-year-old Tony Stark is in awe of his future self's lab like any nerdy 16-year-old would be, while Masque and Hawkeye debate whether he'll be any match for his older self. Meanwhile, Old Tony mopes in his Antarctic lair, Mantis relates her life's story to her "son" Malachi, and Kang trains his "son" Tobias against a legion of his Anachronauts while regurgitating his maniacal plan to raze the Earth, yadda yadda. Mantis thinks to herself how she used to be the Celestial Madonna, but how that title was stripped from her, and since the Avengers "didn't care" she began an allegiance with Kang. She refers to their enemy as "The One Who Comes" and "The Dark One." How much more obtuse can you get? Finally, she comes to Old Tony and licks his tears away (which, oddly enough, are colored as blood).

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.
Believing the other Avengers are on their way, Hawkeye, Masque and Teen Tony arrive at the fortress, and Tony proves one more time that he's, well, Tony, by passing a retinal scan and speaking the magic word to enter the complex. (Was The Once and Future King one of Teen Tony's favorite books, too?) Tony and Hawkeye find a wall of Iron Man armors Old Tony's used over the years (and some he hasn't because they're just too fugly). Speaking of the old fogey, he finds Hawkeye and Masque, and Marianne Rodgers emerges! Faster than you can say brouhaha, they fight, even as Teen Tony jailbreaks one of the fugliest armors. Back at the mansion, Century finally arrives to teleport the rest of the Avengers to where the action is. Teen Tony stops his older self from killing an Avenger that's actually worth a damn (plus Masque and Marianne). They fight, and as the Avengers arrive, Old Tony makes spaghetti out of Teen Tony's heart, because if he's become a heartless S.O.B., then the young'un has to be, too. Old Tony teleports out, Kang and his army teleport in, and the Battle of Who The Hell Cares is ON! Yeah!

"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.
Old Tony arrives with the Cotati Swordsman, and while the latter wraps up Mantis, Tony sacrifices himself , redirecting Kang's weapon back at itself, saving the world! Kang gives up on the current era, high-tailing it to Chronopolis and returning the Avengers to the Temple of Agaphaur instead of the Antarctic. With his dying breath, Old Tony gives the Avengers the schematics for his chest plate so Teen Tony can survive. And to close off yet another loose end, Tuc returns young Luna to her parents. Yippee!

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!
While the writing team across all the books stayed relatively stable, with Harras and Kavanagh alongside relative neophytes Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Ben Raab, it's painfully clear the storyline had its faults, too. Particularly weak was the unending barrage of mysteries without resolutions, with writers apparently thinking there were never too many plates in the air. What's more, few of the mysteries were really all that mysterious. Tuc and Luna were brother and sister, although the question of Tuc's father remained unknown. Tobias and Malachi, from their powers and Kang's dialogue about not really being their father, were obviously meant to be the children of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch. At the very least, due to the direction of continuity guru Mark Gruenwald in the year before his death, the series of events whereby the Avengers brought a time-displaced Tony Stark to the present violated no rules of Marvel time-travel, as in previous stories (i.e. Marvel Two-In-One #50) he had well established that traveling into one's past only creates a divergent timeline and does not affect the main "616" continuity. (How this affects Kang's jaunts through time, well, *sigh*.)

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.
Unfortunately, sales were flat at the close of "The Crossing," leading to an almost-immediate shift in company policy that heralded the premature end of the saga's status quo. Two series integral to "The Crossing"--Force Works and War Machine--wrapped up their runs only two months after the storyline finished. To help raise flagging sales across the line, Marvel hired Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld, two artists who'd departed to form Image Comics a few years before, and assigned them the "Heroes Reborn" event. Liefeld developed an Avengers reboot that began in the aftermath of the line-wide event, "Onslaught." (Liefeld's series would stink on ice, leading Marvel to bring Thor super-writer Walt Simonson in to "save" it. But that's another article.) To ramp up to "Onslaught," Marvel replaced Kavanagh and co-writer Ben Raab with fan-favorite Mark Waid for all of three issues (#400-402) that concluded the first series. They only maintained "The Crossing's" status quo, kicking the series in neutral until the inevitable reboot. Moonraker even put in one appearance in Avengers Mansion's medlab, recuperating from his injuries, and then he just vanished. The one new character from this brief period, Benedict (from Avengers #398-399), turned out under subsequent writer Kurt Busiek to be an android under the command of Madame Masque, sent to retrieve Masque, her eponymous clone. Her story and that of the gold coin Benedict gave the Avengers concluded in their next appearances, Avengers/Thunderbolts: The Nefaria Protocols, (Avengers #31-34 and Thunderbolts #42-44).

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?
Outside Avengers Forever, other writers continued to refute the events of "The Crossing." Mantis and the Celestial Messiah returned none the wiser (Avengers: Celestial Quest), and the Vision and Scarlet Witch's children eventually stood revealed as Speed and Wiccan of the Young Avengers (with a teammate who was, ironically enough, a teenage Kang clad in armor reminiscent of Iron Man). Busiek planned to address the post-"Heroes Reborn" period in an Iron Man event tentatively titled A Look Back in Armor; however, the project was never scheduled, so instead he settled on a few paragraphs' explanation of the return of Iron Man and Wasp's more traditional appearances in Avengers Annual 2001, relating them to Franklin Richards' reordering of reality that began the "Reborn" event. Stark remembered all of his previous lives, including his "death," Teen Tony's life, and all of "Heroes Reborn." Swiss-cheesed doesn't even begin to cover the state of poor Tony's brain. Maybe that's what drove him nutso and led to the Marvel Civil War?

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.
The only remnant of "The Crossing" that has weathered the 15 (!) years since the storyline ended is Suzi Endo, whose origin is an intriguing one. Originally she wasn't the Cybermancer of Force Works #17; rather, Stark brought another universe's Suzi (that term comes up a lot, doesn't it?) to the main Marvel Universe, and put the real Suzi on ice. After "The Crossing" concluded, in the two-part Force Works finale in #21-22, the members of Force Works that didn't run away screaming back to the Avengers thawed "our" Suzi, and she became Cybermancer in order to help stop the evil version of herself. Greg Pak, a name familiar to readers of this blog, took a liking to Endo in recent years, using her in his War Machine series and even more recently in his Silver Surfer miniseries, the latter as a herald to the High Evolutionary and love interest to the Surfer himself. Not bad for a character who started as a bit player in Force Works and whose evolution leapt forward in a storyline most Avengers fans openly revile.

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?
More than any event in comics over the last several decades, Busiek's Avengers Forever demonstrates a contempt for the source material. Just because he didn't agree with facets of the storyline, debatably didn't have any way to find out how other writers planned to continue it, felt that many Avengers fans shared his opinions, and had his own story to tell that he felt worked best by bulldozing continuity, that didn't give him the excuse to dump on a story that had some potential diamonds in the rough. Avengers Forever could have worked quite well without reducing "The Crossing" to an even more ridiculous shell of its former self. It reminds me of what Marvel also tried to do with Spider-Man during the same timeframe as "The Crossing," inserting the Spider-Clone as the "real" Spidey and hence implying that the last two decades of stories didn't matter because we were now being told the Spider-Man in them wasn't the real Spider-Man. That one smarted, and Marvel even had to concoct a one-shot, The Parker Years, just to deal with fans' fears. Still, Peter Parker eventually returned as the one, true Spider-Man because fans felt slighted.

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.

Ssssssssmokin'!
But yes, Teen Tony ranks among my guiltiest of pleasures, mostly because for one brief, shining moment, I saw the utter lunacy of what could have been. Of course he couldn't have stayed a teen and eventually we'd have to get the old Tony back. (Am I wrong in thinking of Teen Tony every time I watch Iron Man: Armored Adventures?)

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?

~G.

SUGGESTED READING:
  1. Iron Man #319
  2. Avengers #390
  3. Avengers: The Crossing
  4. Force Works #16
  5. Invincible Iron Man #320
  6. Avengers #391
  7. Invincible Iron Man #321
  8. Force Works #17
  9. War Machine #20
  10. Avengers #392
  11. Invincible Iron Man #322
  12. Force Works #18
  13. War Machine #21
  14. Iron Man #323
  15. Avengers #393
  16. Force Works #19
  17. War Machine #22
  18. Force Works #20
  19. Invincible Iron Man #324
  20. War Machine #23
  21. Avengers #394
  22. Avengers: TimeSlide
  23. Invincible Iron Man #325
  24. Avengers #395
  25. Age of Innocence: The Rebirth of Iron Man

28 comments:

  1. Tsk, tsk, Gary! :-)

    I have always (always!) counted myself supremely lucky that I stopped reading these titles just before this abomination of a story appeared... I'm *still* counting my blessings!

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  2. I wonder if part of the problem with "The Crossing" and why it was so swiftly buried isn't much the same problem that the Clone Saga had--namely there was so much rather unpleasant heavy lifting involved in ratcheting the direction of the books back to where they people making them thought the fans wanted them to be that the heavy lifting negated any goodwill that then might have occurred.

    Plus, when Marvel set the clock back in those days, they shut the door, bricked over the door, and reinforced it with steel. Again, look at the Clone Saga, which was walked back swiftly (and somewhat sloppily, really) in like, two issues, I think?

    Your recap of Iron Man #325 was very much like my own read of it, by the way. It very much felt like they were reading from the Kyle Rayner playbook. Though Kyle Rayner never, to my knowledge, had a professor he fancied who used to be his girlfriend from an alternate timeline whose husband turned himself into a cut-rate Iceman. No, he just had Donna Troy.

    Splendid series, Gary! You found a lot more worth in "The Crossing" than I would ever have found possible myself, and I hope someday soon you'll do the Heroes Reborn Avengers, which features 6 issues or so of Lifefeld trying hard and the rest is just Simonson alternately doing damage control and taking the piss.

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  3. Kazekage, always great to hear from you here!

    Admittedly, for the Avengers themselves, the worst issues to resolve were Teen Tony and the Eidolon Warwear. Wasp was easily enough cured. Skye claimed the Warwear had to be worn "forever" and, well, you had a Tony Stark that was quite dead, so there had to be a way of bringing him back and sending Teen Tony off into the sunset. My bet would have been using something akin to the Forever Crystal in Avengers Forever, disrupting Kang's plans at an early stage, stopping one such encounter and hence the timeline would change so that he never died. That, or I'd imagine some Cotati involvement could have resulted in a resurrection, perhaps by the Celestial Messiah when he finally stepped out of the shadows.

    I must admit I love the idea that Hank Pym's many breakdowns came about from being able to (just barely) resist Kang's manipulation attempts over the years. I didn't like the retcon of that retcon.

    I also wanted to see just what kind of "villain" could horrify Kang into doing what he did during "The Crossing." Was the Celestial Messiah really evil? Would it have been a version of "Infinity Crusade" with its "good" side of Adam Warlock being worse than his bad side? Was there some greater threat the Celestial Messiah was ramping up to defeat? Such delicious questions without answers.

    The Spider-Clone Saga has a special place in my heart, and one day either here or on my podcast (The Spectacular Spider-Cast!) I'll go in-depth in my love for all things Ben Reilly. I see why they shouldn't have done it, but I loved a lot of what they did. In particular, the "Lost Years" stories are among the best things J.M. DeMatteis has ever written. And yes, though they padded out the story's conclusion through 6 months (right after Onslaught!), the storyline was quickly resolved in a 4-part storyline. They also essentially boiled the resolution down, rather sadly, to a one-off joke by Tom DeFalco in the "101 Ways to End the Clone Saga" one-shot: "Ben melts." And ergo, he must be the clone. (We also have the Clone Saga to thank for the return of Norman Osborn. Sigh.)

    Who knows what I'll do next? Maybe "Heroes Reborn" will be on the list sometime. I'm up for suggestions, certainly.

    ~G.

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  4. Will you do a series regarding Impact Comics?

    J.A.P.

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  5. Jeremy,

    Thanks for reading! Unfortunately I am not familiar with Impact Comics, so I probably won't be doing a blog about those characters anytime soon. Sorry!

    Any good creators in that bunch of books? I might be convinced...

    ~G.

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  6. Mark Wheatley, Rick Burchett, Neil Vokes, Tim Sale, Trevor Von Eeden, Mark Waid, Tom Lyle, Joe Quesada, Chuck Wojtkeiwicz, Rags Morales, Paul Kupperberg, Len Straziwski, Mike Parobeck, Carmine Infantino, WML, Ken Penders, Don Secrease, and Dave Johnson!

    J.A.P.

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  7. Quite the crew!

    I have a Mark Wheatley convention sketch coming up. Stay tuned!

    ~G.

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  8. Although I respect your appreciation for "The Crossing" storyline, I have to admit that one of my favorite parts of Avengers Forever is that Busiek cleaned up Kavanagh's and Harras's mess. As you acknowledge, the primary point of "The Crossing" was to de-age Tony Stark as a competitor for the new, young Green Lantern at DC. The resulting storyline is thus an unnecessary, convoluted hodgepodge of kewl "ideas" and mysteries that were clearly posed before anyone had any idea of their resolutions.

    I think Moonraker is a good example of this: while "his history came with him!" sounds interesting, it's ultimately meaningless. Unless the other timeline versions of Spider-Woman, etc., come with him -- that is to say, the physical manifestations of his history -- then all that's happened is that Moonraker has brought his memories with him from another timeline and, for some reason, some people don't realize he wasn't always there. The door in the Avengers basement is another, probably better example of this. Harras and Scott Lobdell were close, and Lobdell was infamous for introducing "mysteries" that he didn't know the resolution to; the basement door always seemed like a Lobdell plot device to me.

    You note that, although the storyline had a plethora of artists, it had a consistent stable of writers. This was a problem because -- let's be honest: Terry Kavanagh was a horrible writer. Perhaps he didn't have the time to develop the skill to differentiate "big" ideas from "good" ideas, but Teen Tony is a prime example of a bad idea poorly developed.

    In retrospect, "The Crossing" is where I began to grow disenchanted with comic books. I continued to collect until 2001 or so, when Bruce Jones's and Axel Alonso's extended middle finger of a Hulk run finally drove me away. In many respects, that run was the NuMarvel version of "The Crossing": ideas more important than execution, characterization less important than big moments.

    Oh well. Thanks for the extended analysis!

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  9. Gary--thanks! How could I resist throwing in my two cents about the senses and sensibility-shattering finale of "The Crossing?"

    The Hank Pym thing was pretty clever, but I think they also tried to suggest that Old Tony's drinking problems were related to Kang messing with him, and making a personal weakness into something a blue guy from the future is doing to mess with you hurts the relatability of it somewhat.

    There were things I quite liked in the Clone Saga. I'm not a die-hard Spider-Man fan at all, so I don't mind the odd bit of irreverence in terms of changing who Spider-Man is or whatever. Plus, the Ben Reilly Spider-Man suit was some pretty sharp design (the Scarlet Spider suit a bit less so, but oh well) it was far too long, of course, and they wrung just about every dollar they could out of it, but again, as someone who was willing to tolerate some irreverence, the bits I read really weren't that bad.

    Given your typical blog's content, I think we'd all love to know what you thought of Heroes Reborn's Grunge Hulk. :)

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  10. I actually thought "Teen Tony" was a secondary focus to the storyline. The first was to involve the Avengers in a cosmic-level storyline in the mold of "The Kree-Skrull War" and "Celestial Madonna" storylines of earlier vintage. To that end that's why Harras & Kavanagh went to lengths to frame Kang's entire plan as his counter to a larger adversary (the Celestial Messiah). The problem was, with four main titles, the story looked to be Clone Saga-sized in scope. I still counter that it might have worked in a pared-down version, emphasizing the Avengers couldn't be sure whether Kang's enemy was a threat to them or the entire universe, or if, by virtue of Kang being one of the bad guys, they were worrying for nothing.

    Terry Kavanagh had the benefit of a better pedigree of writers with which to coordinate a big event in the Spider-Clone saga, which also benefited from his only having been aboard for the first few months of the actual storyline. (J.M. DeMatteis in particular really truly helped there. And Tom DeFalco isn't as bad as many have made him out to be.)

    Agreed on the Jones/Alonso Hulk. Yikes, and to think I might get to reviewing that stuff someday...!

    Kazekage, I don't think I quite see the same implication that Kang caused Tony's drinking problem. Although you might be able to make a case for it, I thought the "Teen Tony" issues of Iron Man explored that the drinking problem was still there even in a character Kang hadn't gotten to.

    As a die-hard Spider-Man fan, the Clone Saga brought me back after many months away. 'Nuff said. Oh, and I rather liked the Scarlet Spider outfit--hoodie and all!;)

    Heroes Reborn Hulk...yikes. That's all I gotta say. All I can think of his how badly Jim Lee drew him.

    ~G.

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  11. Gary--I'm sure the "Kang was responsible for drunk Tony" thing was buried in amongst all those mind-mangling issues of Iron Man from during The Crossing. I could be conflating it with the Pym thing, however, as I am somewhat reluctant to go back and read those Iron Man issues to find out.

    I do remember the Teen Tony stuff, where he gets drunk for the first time and it's supposed to be all ominous. I was, however, slightly distracted by the major continuity gaffe in those same series of issues (Meredith McCall is married and teaching at Stark's college . . .even though she was unmarried and a member of the Masters of Silence maybe two years ago. Man, no one really does read Annuals, do they?) which was even more distracting.

    All I can think about is how bad Liefeld and Portacio and . . .hmm, I'm actually have a problem remembering someone who didn't draw HR Hulk (not to be confused with HR Pufnstuf) badly, really.

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  12. A great set of posts. I remember reading the Crossing at the time and having mixed feelings about it. One that seems bizarre now is that I felt Iron Man was the wrong character to base such a major storyline around because he hadn't been seen in the regular Avengers title at all for nearly four years (and his last appearance had been Operation Galactic Storm, an event with "everyone who was ever an Avenger"). As someone who'd started reading the book in the interim and who hadn't really read Iron Man at all before it just felt odd to be basing things so heavily on him.

    The storyline wasn't helped by the lack of any clear order to read the books in - I have memories that Iron Man and Avengers seemed to switch places midway - and was compounded by shipping problems as it came out in the first months of Marvel's self-distribution nightmare with books turning up in the stores at random.

    Also some of the stuff wasn't decently explained there and then - for instance the whole thing about Gruenwald's position on time travel changes was rather obscure to many, especially given that different rules had applied for the Age of Apocalypse X-Men crossover and it shouldn't have taken letters pages to explain it. There were some other details that only came out in guides printed in Avengers Unplugged - for instance I think they were the only place to *explicitly* identify Tuc as the son of Crystal & an unknown father - and it just added to the sense of mess.

    Plus there was the poor follow-up. Looking back it seems clear(ish) that the original plan was to end the storyline in the Timeslides oneshot as with other Alpha/Omega books in crossovers, and then launch Teen Tony in the double-sized Iron Man #325 which would probably have had time to flesh him out. Instead that issue and Avengers got taken up with the ending of the storyline - and Iron Man didn't even die in his own book! - and then along came another crossover designed to reunite the Big Three Avengers, so Teen Tony never really had a proper launch.

    There's one other Crossing related book that you may or may not be aware of, Spider-Man Team-Up #4 in which Clone Spidey and the Avengers team up to fight Kang's Spider-Man robot from way back in Avengers #11. Whilst the overall plot is dire, the story is bizarrely about the only attempt to show the reaction to the changes in Tony and Jan both by themselves and by others around them. It's a small step but it's about the only one actually taken.

    Despite all this the storyline reasonably works as a adventure on the desperate stakes if a) you try not to think about it, and b) don't have much attachment to what the revelations meant. I knew very little about Hank's breakdowns at the time so the revelation just bounced aside; now I see that bit as terribly crass. Overall it had great ambition and appalling planning, leaving people asking too many questions that will never be answered.

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  13. Thanks for posting, Tim! Some great insights.

    It seems on the one hand that TPTB used "The Crossing" to bring Iron Man back into the fold, as in the previous two years, they got him really far away from the Avengers, taking West Coast Avengers and turning them into Force Works. On the other hand I have to wonder if it meant they knew that Force Works would be canceled following the end of "The Crossing," since Stark was clearly at the center of that group. Could that team even go on sans Stark's involvement?

    Come to think of it, the mid-90s Avengers didn't really feature any of the heavyweights--the biggest star of the team was, I think, Giant-Man (no pun intended). Cap, Thor and Iron Man were all phased into the Avengers all over again, with some of them returning in "TimeSlide." They even seemed to realize what they were doing, with the "First Sign" crossover occurring the month after "TimeSlide," barely giving the new status quo room to breathe.

    I am indeed aware of Spider-Man Team-Up #4--I believe I have a B.A. in the Clone Saga--and yes, it's a strange one! The Clone Saga was a picture of solid structure compared to the Avengers and the status quo in the wake of "The Crossing." Citing the examples you do from Avengers Unplugged....yikes.

    Pym's breakdowns due to Kang, crass? Perhaps, perhaps. I'm tempted to say "it's comic books, it doesn't have to be super-serious." Too much is made of reality, of grim and gritty for the sake of being true to life when truthfully we're talking about characters that should appeal more to kids than they have since maybe the 80s. (I'm a child of the 80s and my gateway book was Hulk. Okay, maybe I'm not normal.) Pym's mental breaks have led at turns to his emergence as Yellowjacket and his WCA career as, um, Dr. Pym. Why not ascribe a comicbooky explanation to his behavior?

    Man, you are right about AoA not following Gruenwald's rulebook. Sigh.

    ~G.

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  14. I suspect Force Works would eventually have shed Iron Man because the inherent conflicts between him and the Scarlet Witch couldn't really have been reconciled. The team could have continued, though

    Regarding the heavyweight Avengers, Captain America was generally on the team for much of the 1990s with only two short breaks - one of about nine months after Galactic Storm but he returned even before Hank started growing again and the other was at the time of the Crossing because in his book he was missing presumed dead for a while. Otherwise he was there pretty continuously. The original Thor had a lengthy absence due to events in his own book, though Eric-Thor was on the Avengers throughout his time in the role. (Curiously in his Thunderstrike days he was shown working in the Avengers far more in his own title than in the main book!) For much of Harras's run that was probably for the best as it allowed him to mainly develop characters who weren't appearing elsewhere and give them some good material, especially the Black Knight.

    As for the breakdowns, the crassness really stems from the retroactive explanation. Before that they had been ascribed to causes that people face in their everyday life and had been a portrayal of a character facing a crisis that many people in real life have faced, leading to a tale of fall and the long path of redemption. Now that was swept away and made the influence of a supervillain, rather undercutting the edge of that earlier story and making light of the recovery. It just feels wrong to rewrite all that in such a quick manner - and it was hardly appealing to kids.

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  15. As I recollect, Abnett and Lanning were supposed to launch a second Avengers book, The Mighty Avengers, from the end of Force Works. However, the signing of Lee and Liefeld put an end to those plans. Good job with the Crossing review. As much as the Crossing was a missed opportunity though, it might be pointed out that Bob Harras was Editor-in-Chief when Busiek did the hatchet job on the Crossing. If Harras didn't even fight to defend his own story, that says a lot about what the Crossing was: a despiration Hail Mary play that failed. Even though the gears of the storyline stick out, I have a small appreciation for that story: the creators had long odds to struggle against and it's sad that all that's left is what the Crossing wasn't rather than what it was.

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  16. Brian,

    Thanks for visiting! Good to see you around these parts. (I trust you're the same guy I see everywhere from CBR to Peter David's blog, etc.)

    This is the first I'd heard about a Mighty Avengers spinoff, but it makes sense that something like that would spin out of "The Crossing" since Iron Man's exit from the team had initially led to the transformation of Avengers West Coast into Force Works two years earlier. It also makes sense that they'd cancel altogether since I believe upper management's deal with Liefeld and Lee stipulated no other books could be published featuring those characters in a lead role during the timeframe of "Heroes Reborn." I'd love to pick Dan Abnett's brain about it on Twitter, but I get the feeling it's something best left untouched...

    That's a great note that Harras didn't step in to defend his own story. While it's true he wasn't immediately overseeing the story (that would have been Tom Brevoort's job, I'm pretty sure) he would have had some idea what was happening and could have steered Busiek in another direction. Then again, Harras does strike me as understanding the characters were never his but Marvel's, and another writer could do as he pleased.

    ~G.

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    1. Would love to discuss Crossing further with you:)

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  17. Amusingly enough, the 'Crossing' version of The Wasp received an action figure from the Spider-Man line of the 1990s!

    J.A.P.

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  18. Strange but true, Jeremy! Here it is on Amazon:

    Wasp action figure

    Great find!

    ~G.

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  19. "Let's see this puppy in collected editions in '12, yeah?"

    Your wish is the Marvel trades department's command, apparently...

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  20. Marvel is planning to release 'AVENGERS: THE CROSSING OMNIBUS' in February, reprinting this event!

    Jeremy.

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  21. I hated Gruenwald's timeline theories: I assume he was trying to simplify things, but if every event and every time-change goes two ways, then every event is robbed of significance because in a cosmic sense it doesn't matter (as one of Larry Niven's stories once pointed out).

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  22. "This is the first I'd heard about a Mighty Avengers spinoff, but it makes sense that something like that would spin out of "The Crossing""

    There was a whole article in Wizard at the time of the Crossing outlining how the Avengers franchise was going to be reordered with new titles after the Crossing. After the fact, I've come to suspect that it was a deliberate fakeout to keep the wraps on the imminent Heroes Reborn. It stretches my disbelief a bit too much that both the Wizard-outlined revamp *and* Heroes Reborn were on the table simultaneously. One of them had to be a smokescreen for the other. Just my opinion.

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  23. Well, that's possible. But it seemed to me that Heroes Reborn was sprung upon Marvel without a lot of editorial input. The negotiations with Lee and Liefeld were spearheaded at the corporate level from what I saw and I doubt Marvel had more than 6 months to set things up. The Crossing was initiated the previous year, before they likely could know about it. They would have had to have plans to follow the Crossing and considering the work Kurt Busiek had to do clean up the dangling plot lines, I don't think the Crossing was meant to be threading water as a fake out would imply. Those months were chaotic at Marvel, what with going from 5 Editors-In-Chief to 1 and the market collapsing, so only the ones working on the titles at the time might know for sure. Candidates who may be able to answer are Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning. and Terry Kavanagh. They rest were artists who are usually the last to know and the editors who may be under NDAs from Marvel.

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  24. Great read! I love in-depth retrospectives of old comic sagas, and "The Crossing" is one that doesn't get much play.

    While I'm less forgiving of its flaws, it'll always hold a tiny place in the bottom of my cold heart as the story that got me into collecting Avengers regularly. What can I say, I was at the perfect age to fall hook, line, and sinker for all that "Everything you know is wrong, nothing will be the same again!" marketing claptrap.

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  25. Samy/Brian,
    My recollection of the time is very much that editorial were planning in one direction and corporate in another - the announcement about Heroes Reborn came about late November 1995 and caught quite a few on the hop. Bob Harras let it be known he was opposed but by the time he was in place as Editor-in-Chief and had any influence to fight it the agreements were already signed. (The five group EiCs set-up really undermined the authority of the post.) Mark Waid accepted the post of Avenges writer from issue #400 onwards in this period, dismissing the HR rumours as unbelievable nonsense, and subsequently gave an interview stating he wouldn't have accepted the job if he'd known he'd be doing just one issue and two crossover chapters.

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  26. When the Crossing came out in 1995, I was horrified. This story, along with the Clone Saga, was pushing me out of comic collecting, of which I was a 23 year veteran (my wife was overjoyed)! Within the next few years, I sold most of my collection, and pretended the Crossing, Clone Saga, Heroes Reborn/Return, Norman Osborn return, had never happened!
    Now, nearly 20 years later, my interest in comics has been rekindled (much to the horror of my wife), and I recently purchased the Crossing omnibus. Maybe it's me, but I really enjoyed reading it as one uninterrupted story (in 95 I did not collect Force Works or War Machine). It was pretty creepy seeing Stark as a villain and killing people left and right. Even the writing of Andy Lanning, Dan Abnett, and Ben Raab didn't bother me. I even enjoyed Rhodey's Eidon (sic) armor! Wow!
    Anyway, thanks for the blog on this obscure storyline. It, like the Clone Saga, probably could have been successful if the comics market wasn't going to hell in a handbasket at the time of its publication.

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  27. Totally agree with a number of points.

    RE: Vietnam, the other interesting implication of this abandoned plot would be whether Tony Stark had accessed the "services" of Mantis during his time there in the War before she had become the Celestial Madonna. How awesome would it have been to discover some previously unknown relationship between the two?

    Kang's claim to be responsible for Hank Pym's psychotic breakdowns could have led to some interesting revelations about whether he had some alliance with the Creature from Kosmos in Ant-Man's early career, given he had earlier obtained "growth pollen" from the world Kosmos for use in his Growing-Man simuloids.

    RE: Tony being Kang's sleeper agent he placed within the Avengers, personally I was hoping at the time they would reveal that Tony was actually a younger version of Kang. Yes, Tony would really go on to become the Conqueror (and they'd scrap that stupid plot that Kang was Nathaniel Richards). One could even reveal teen Tony as Ironlad these days!!!

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