Thursday, 26 July 2012

Maximum Crossovers?

In my last couple of posts (for now) I’m going to look at the future of the Essential Spider-Man line. I’ll talk more about the general direction in my second post, but here I want to consider what could be a fairly major problem for future volumes – the proliferation of crossovers both within the Spider-Man titles and between them and the wider Marvel line. The issues Essentialised so far have generally preceded this development and consequently only included at most one or two extra issues. But the most recently published volume (Web 2) contains four additional issues in order to carry the full story “Kraven’s Last Hunt”. As the crossovers increase, how can the Essential volumes cope without producing volumes that only advance their own series by a few issues and contain tonnes of crossovers the reader will be buying in other volumes as well, but equally without running storylines that make no sense without issues in other volumes that may not be available on the shelf (or even published yet)?

It’s certainly a tricky dilemma, but in order to put it in context it probably helps to draw a list of the crossovers yet to come. In the interests of sanity this list only covers storylines that ran in more than one Spider-Man title. When only one of the titles crossed over with other Marvel titles (e.g. “Sabotage”, “Spirits of Venom”, “Infinity Crusade” or “Civil War”) then it’s not included. So here goes...

“The Wedding” – Amazing #290-292 & Annual #21 and Spectacular Annual #7.

“Mad Dog Ward” – Web #33, Amazing #295 and Spectacular #133.

“The Evolutionary War” – Amazing Annual #22, Spectacular Annual #8, and Web Annual #4, plus eight other annuals (or nine if you include Alf).

“Inferno” – Amazing #311-313, Spectacular #146-148, Web #47-48, plus lots and lots of other Marvel titles – one list I’ve seen has forty-two issues on it!

“Atlantis Attacks” – Amazing Annual #23, Spectacular Annual #9 and Web Annual #5, plus eleven other annuals.

“Acts of Vengeance” – Amazing #326-329, Spectacular #158-160 and Web #59-61, plus lots and lots and lots of other Marvel titles – if you thought “Inferno” was big, for “Acts of Vengeance” one list I’ve seen has a total of sixty-eight books on it!

“Spidey’s Totally Tiny Adventure” – Amazing Annual #24, Spectacular Annual #10 and Web Annual #6. Marvel switched away from running epics across all its annuals to running smaller crossovers.

“The Spider And The Ghost!” – Amazing Annual #25, Spectacular Annual #11 and Web Annual #7.

“The Hero Killers” – Amazing Annual #26, Spectacular Annual #12, Web Annual #8 and also New Warriors Annual #2.

“Maximum Carnage” – Spider-Man Unlimited #1-2, Web #101-103, Amazing #378-380, Spider-Man #35-37 and Spectacular #101-103. This is the one where things start to get tricky.

“Pursuit” – Spider-Man #45, Spectacular #211, Web #112 and Amazing #389.

“The Clone Saga” – This saw lots of individually named story arcs, and complicating things further there was a period when Amazing & Spectacular focused on Peter Parker/Spider-Man whilst Web & “adjectiveless” focused on Ben Reilly/Scarlet Spider. Then the books all fused together, telling a virtually weekly story. Then midway through Ben’s time as Spider-Man there was a move back towards keeping the titles reasonably separate subject to further crossovers. To save my sanity I’m going to list this as the whole lot:
Web #117-129, Amazing #394-418, Spider-Man #51-75, Spectacular #217-240, Unlimited #7-14, Web of Scarlet Spider #1-4, Amazing Scarlet Spider #1-2, Scarlet Spider #1-2, Spectacular Scarlet Spider #1-2, Scarlet Spider Unlimited #1 and Sensational #0-11; plus the limited series and one-shots: Jackal Files, Maximum Clonage Alpha, Maximum Clonage Omega, The Lost Years #0-3, The Parker Years, The Final Adventure #1-4, Redemption #1-4, The Osborn Journal and Dead Man’s Hand.
And if that isn’t enough, The Complete Clone Saga and The Complete Ben Reilly Epic collections of this period also include Spider-Man Team-Up 1-5, “Planet of the Symbiotes” in the 1995 annuals (see below), and various specials and issues of other series. Some of these issues can be trimmed off if focusing upon a single series but it would take an extended process to work out what should and shouldn’t be added to the general Essential volumes for each.

“Planet of the Symbiotes”/”Ghosts” – Amazing Super Special #1, Spider-Man Super Special #1, Venom Super Special #1, Spectacular Super Special 1, Web Super Special #1. These are basically annuals by another name and whilst taking place amidst the wider Clone Saga they form two distinctive crossovers in their own right. (Clones and symbiotes – what more could you ask for?)

“Onslaught” – Amazing #415 and Spider-Man #72. Another Marvel Universe wide crossover (and still during the Clone era) though Spider-Man managed to get away with a rather minimal contribution.

“Spider-Hunt” – Sensational #25, Amazing #432, Spider-Man #89 and Spectacular #255.

“Identity Crisis” – Sensational #27-28, Amazing #434-435, Spider-Man #91-92 and Spectacular #257-258 This one’s complicated by Peter Parker adopting four separate new identities and each title focusing upon a different one.

“The Gathering of Five” – Sensational #32-33, Amazing #440, Spider-Man #96 and Spectacular #262; and “The Final Chapter” – Amazing #441, Spider-Man #97-98 and Spectacular 263. Although they have separate names, these are basically one extended story which served to bring all the titles to a close before a major relaunch of the line.

Now we come to the relaunch era when the line was cut to two present day titles and the numbers were reset. Also with only two regular titles not all crossovers were explicitly branded. I’m broadly following SpiderFan.Org’s lead here.

‘Introducing Spider-Woman’ (I can’t remember if this has a formal title) – Amazing #5-6 and Peter Parker #5.

“Another Return of The Sinister Six” – Amazing #12 and Peter Parker #12.

“We’re All Doomed... Again!” – Amazing #16 and Peter Parker #16.

‘Green Goblin V revealed’ – Amazing #18 and Peter Parker#18.

“Maximum Security” – Amazing #23 and Peter Parker #23, plus lots of other Marvel titles. However if memory serves the two Spider-Man issues largely stand separately from one another.

“Revenge of The Green Goblin” – Revenge of the Green Goblin #1-3, Amazing #25 and Peter Parker #25.

‘The Return of Mary Jane’ – Amazing #29 & Annual 2001 and Peter Parker#29.

Then the original numbering was restored on Amazing, but in the same period the second (and briefly third) books went through other titles, some of them recycled.

“The Other” – Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1-4, Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #19-22 and Amazing #525-528.

“One More Day” – Amazing #544-545, Friendly Neighborhood #24 and Sensational #41.

This list surprised me as I would have expected many more storylines running in multiple titles. But unless I’ve overlooked some the pattern is clear – after “Kraven’s Last Hunt” and Mad “Dog Ward”, the only crossovers between Spider-Man titles for the next five years were either in the annuals or part of wider mega crossovers with the Spider-Man titles opting to tell extended Spider-Man arcs within them. In general it should be relatively easy to carry on the separate volumes for Essentials until 1993, though it would probably help to make the volumes covering “Acts of Vengeance” extra large so the crossovers don’t slow the series down too much.

It was “Maximum Carnage” in 1993 which began the pattern for routine storylines across the multiple Spider-Man titles, and the following year this was tested with “Pursuit” before coming with a vengeance with the numerous storylines that made up “the Clone Saga” and at times saw the Spider-Man books effectively serving as one continuous story (the Superman books did this even more explicitly in this period). Following that there were a few crossovers in 1998 in the lead up to the relaunch. Then in the early relaunch years there were a handful of storylines told in both titles, perhaps due to sharing the writer, plus a couple of events. And then it dropped back to only the occasional crossover, largely as part of a big event. The switch to multiple issues of Amazing each month has (for now) seemingly ended Spider-Man crossovers.

The Essentials will have to do some real headscratching about how to incorporate “Maximum Carnage”, let alone “the Clone Saga”, when they get to those in due time. Since there are five other Essential series that are chronologically ahead of the Spider-Man titles it’s possible that how they handle similar crossovers may offer a solution. Here’s a quick rundown:

Essential Silver Surfer – Volume 2 gets up to issue #18 from 1988 of the Surfer’s 1980s/1990s series. The only crossover so far is “The Evolutionary War” and just the Surfer’s own annual is included.

Essential X-Men – Volume 10 gets up to issue #272 of the Uncanny X-Men (the titles of the X-Men books and the Essential series can really confuse). This time round there are rather more outside issues with crossovers and of those from 1986 onwards it runs through “Mutant Massacre” (also containing the New Mutants, X-Factor, Thor and Power Pack issues), “The Evolutionary War” (just the Uncanny X-Men annual), “Inferno” (also containing the X-Factor issues but none of the New Mutants, X-Terminators or any of the other books), “Atlantis Attacks” (just the Uncanny X-Men annual), “Acts of Vengeance” (just the Uncanny X-Men issues), “Days of Future Present” (also containing the Fantastic Four, New Mutants and X-Factor annuals) and “X-Tinction Agenda” (also containing the X-Factor and New Mutants issues).

Essential X-Factor – Volume 5, coming out soon, will take the series up to issue #70 from 1991. Again there are multiple crossovers in this run including “X-Factor” (which launched the series via the Avengers and Fantastic Four), “Mutant Massacre” (also containing the Thor and Power Pack issues but not the Uncanny X-Men or New Mutants ones), “Fall of the Mutants” (only the X-Factor issues), “The Evolutionary War” (just the X-Factor annual), “Inferno” (also containing two of the Uncanny X-Men issues but not the other two or any of the other books), “Atlantis Attacks” (just the X-Factor annual), “Acts of Vengeance” (just the X-Factor issue), “Days of Future Present” (also containing the Fantastic Four, New Mutants and Uncanny X-Men annuals), “X-Tinction Agenda” (also containing the Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants issues), “Kings of Pain” (also containing the New Mutants and Uncanny X-Men annuals but, on the information I have, not the New Warriors one) and “Muir Island Saga” (also containing the final Uncanny X-Men issue but not the previous two).

Essential Punisher – With volume 4 again coming out soon the series is up to #59 from 1992. Once the Punisher’s own ongoing series is reached at the start of volume 2, the only crossover issue from another series included is Daredevil #257 which is half of a two-parter. Otherwise it just has the Punisher’s own issues of “The Evolutionary War”, “Atlantis Attacks”, “Acts of Vengeance” and various shorter annual crossovers that didn’t involve Spider-Man titles. Also note it doesn't include issues of Punisher War Journal or Punisher War Zone, but I’m not sure how many crossovers there were between the Punisher’s three titles.

Essential Wolverine – Volume 6, coming out soon, will take the series up to #128 from 1998. So far the series has only had a single outside issue (Uncanny X-Men #332) despite running through several crossovers including “Acts of Vengeance”, “Fatal Attractions”, “Phalanx Covenant”, “Onslaught” and “Operation: Zero Tolerance” though notably the “Age of Apocalypse” issues are absent, however as the book was temporarily notionally renamed and renumbered then one can claim exemption as not part of the actual series.

Well... The experience of Essential Punisher and Essential Wolverine would suggest that it’s relatively easy to get through many wider crossovers by just reprinting the issues the title character was in. The Essential X-Men and Essential X-Factor experiences suggests that not all crossovers are equal and in some cases it’s possible to limit the number of additional issues that are brought in to complete the story. Again there’s an obvious difference between books starring separate, albeit related, teams (Essential X-Men has not quite reached the launch of the second X-Men title) and books starring the same character but they offer hope. It also seems clear that with the smaller annual crossovers it’s advisable to run all the parts in each relevant Essential (though space can be saved by not reprinting their back-up features). All five series are in agreement that the epic annual crossovers can be limited to the individual annuals for each series (although for Atlantis Attacks the Spectacular and Daredevil annuals are closely tied together so may been an exception). One concern is how the crossovers can slow down the pace of reprinting the main title. Essential X-Men volume 10 has just eight of the regular issues and one of the regular annuals, and almost half the volume given over to completing the “Days of Future Present” and “X-Tinction Agenda” crossovers.

More intriguingly the experience of Essential Wolverine in completely side-stepping the “Weapon X” title that appeared during the “Age of Apocalypse” suggests that the Spider-Man Essentials could potentially get away with not carrying all the “Scarlet Spider” books in each volume – maybe instead they could be a standalone affair or even help fill up the end of Essential Web? Of course that’s some way off, and there’s the previous deluge of Clone Saga material to tackle first.

But for the next few years worth of issues it should be relatively easy. For “Inferno” and “Acts of Vengeance” decisions will have to be taken on which issues can appear just in their own titles and which ones need to also appear in other books, but it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. “Mad Dog Ward” must appear in all three series. Each of the smaller annual crossovers will probably have to appear in each volume, whilst the Evolutionary War and Atlantis Attacks annuals can be confined to their own series. And both of the Wedding annuals should probably appear in both Essential Amazing and Essential Spectacular, though I note the Spectacular annual, featuring the honeymoon, was omitted from The Wedding tradepaperback, an omission that may be repeated. But otherwise there’s at least three more volumes for each Spider-Man series (and at least one for the adjectiveless) before the crossover problem will hit on a regular basis. And hopefully by then Essential X-Men will be deep into the two-titles era and can offer more precedents.

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