Some Stuff, That MEMES Are Made Of!

Short digression here:

No, following along with the Marvel Editorial Simulation that Sean K. was involved in didn’t actually give me the idea, but it sure helped…when about two seconds ago I came across (at Blog@Newsarama) mention of somebody saying they’re a big DC-over-Marvel fan (understandable) because at the present moment DC is way more progressive than Marvel (true), like just take for example Amazons Attack (whaaa-aat?)…

And then I thought, no, see, wait…it’s obvious that things have simply gotten to the point where, if only for sales reasons, DC and Marvel alike simply must have a big Crossover Event, isn’t it? I mean, don’t we all know that? So, given that necessity…

Is that Amazons thing so bad, really?

Okay, it is bad. But let’s not kid ourselves: it could also be a lot worse. And these people are kind of working under the gun, here. Plus, we shouldn’t forget that a lot of the crossover “naturals” have been cleaned up long ago, in fact most of the good crossovers were the inspiration for the first bad or middling quality crossovers in the first place! And even those derivative crossovers I’m speaking of, well…yeah, they’re pretty old, too. Like, twenty years old.

So it’s gotta be tough, coming up with new Crossover Events. The mine’s played out, but you’ve gotta keep digging anyway…

And therefore…

MEME! If you were in charge, and you had to manufacture a big-ass Crossover Event, and you didn’t have a time machine that could take your readership back to 1987, or 1977, or even 1967

Well, what would your big-ass Crossover Event be?

I’ll be answering this question myself in pretty short order (off the top of my head, I’m torn between three possible crossovers, entitled Bend Sinister, The Erskine-Horton Letters, and The Plot To Kill The High Evolutionary, respectively — well, I am a Marvel guy after all), but I must post the thought now even though I myself am not quite ready, and open the floor to suggestions.

So what would be your Crossover Event? If you had to do one.

Mr. Kleefeld, you may sit this one out, if you like.

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23 responses to “Some Stuff, That MEMES Are Made Of!

  1. Spider-man and Wolverine are Killed by a Whale: A Story in One Part with every book in the Marvel line tying in. Yes, I’ve been reading the simulation blog. Why do you ask?

    Heh.

    Seriously, off the top of my head I would make my crossover:

    The Brotherhood

    It would start in X-men and would focus on a new brotherhood forming, but this one would be an actual army of militant mutants fighting for their freedom against a government that basically locked them in a refuge camp for a year or so following the Decimation.

  2. Okay. My main villain is Doctor Destiny. He’s worried about what Dream Girl said to him in JSA #5 last month: that he’d be killed in his sleep by the owner of the Dreamstone, who is currently Daniel Hall, the new Morpheus. So he uses his fellow Arkham inmates (the Joker, specifically, but I’m sure there are others there who could do it too) to open a line to Morpheus’s ‘sister’, Delirium. Doctor Destiny gets Delirium to help him (after all, you never know what she’s going to do) set up a deal with Despair. She’ll do some kind of Endless thing where she makes Doctor Destiny the new Morpheus instead of Daniel. In return, he’ll put his dreams at the service of Despair (pretty much what he wants to do anyway).

    There’s only one man who can help Daniel: the Sandman. That is, Sanderson Hawkins, formerly Sandy the Golden Boy, current JSAer. He goes way back with Daniel’s family and he’s got a connection to the Dreaming himself. And Doctor Destiny knows this perfectly well. So he sends the Joker and maybe a few other guys out after him. That’s one of our two main storylines here: Sandman and whatever allies he can gather, on the run from the Joker and some other guys, trying to rescue Daniel and put him back on the throne in the Dreaming. The stakes: if they don’t succeed, Doctor Destiny remains the new Morpheus and everyone in the universe dreams about nothing but despair from now on, and that would suck.

    Now, the Endless typically couldn’t care less about superheroes. They’re just people like anybody else. But Doctor Destiny does, and he knows that superheroes are dangerous to him (all of them, not just Sandman), so he uses his spiffy new Morpheus powers to enter their dreams and screw with them and trap them in the Dreaming. This is the other part of the story, and the part that makes it a crossover: heroes all over the DCU experience terrible nightmares, each according to his or her own personality, and these nightmares bring them to a bizarre fantasy world (Doctor Destiny’s version of (part of) the Dreaming) in which they have to survive without their superpowers, just with their skills and strength of character and all that crap. The stakes: they can all die here, if they don’t find the way out. And maybe there’ll be some key moment where Sandman and his team needs their help.

  3. “The Erskine-Horton Letters” sounds like a gem. (But do either of those guys turn out to know Reed’s father or Franklin Storm by any chance?)

    As far as crossovers go, Englehart was really onto something with the Millennium approach. Instead of trying to tangle the sequence of events into one big knot — leading to critical scenes depicted differently in different comics by different writers working at cross-purposes, characters contradicting themselves, and supposedly crucial plot points built up and then abandoned without explanation — the thoughtful ringmaster sets up something that, by its very nature, affects or at least touches on the whole line, then leaves the other writers to it.

    The other virtue Millennium brings to mind is that there are just so many continuity-rewriting “everything you know is wrong…again! now everything changes…again!” sledgehammers you can use consecutively on a readership before they get tired of being hammered. Infinite Crisis leads into 52 leads into Countdown which turns out to lead into Final Crisis And This Time We Mean It For Reals and each one is bent on fixing or tweaking whatever the previous one left as the status quo. Same deal at Marvel. You gotta let the mark heal before you skin him again, you know? If we must have these crossovers, let’s have a few whose goal is consolidation and working within the current status quo before anyone overturns it yet again.

  4. While I’d always say that crosscovers never really work and end up historically at best as a good miniseries and lot of bad tie-ins (Crisis on Infinite Earths, House of M), and just plain wretched (Civil War, every single thing that came out of the nineties). The only crosscover that ever really worked as a whole was Seven Soldiers, and it’s fundamentally cut off from the main characters of the Dc universe.

    I’m a firm beliver in the Jemas-era marvel of just paring everything back and letting the best people work on the series without worrying about company-wide matters. What’s better, Grant Morrison let loose on X-Men or Grant Morrison’s X-Men being written away because it doesn’t click with whatever happens in New Avengers this month?

    Well, all that being said – The Plot To Kill The High Evolutionary is such a good title, that I’d say if you don’t use it, you’re depriving the world of something that good.

  5. Funny, lots of people online seem to abominate Millenium. I really liked it, of course.

    On to the Erskine-Horton Letters, but first! Matthew, oh my God, that could be really good. Nice one! And Shane, I dig it, and love that it taps into that whole “Magneto Was Right!” thing from X3: what I want to see is definitely a new Brotherhood based along the sentiments of “all right, we’re not even trying to conquer the world anymore, we’re just fighting back against The Man now…and look out, that’s makes us ten times the badasses we were before!” An underground mutant resistance front, maybe with the unofficial slogan, “hey, if Xavier was twenty years old right now, he’d be our leader! We are the freakin’ X-Men right now!”

    Love it.

    Okay, the Erskine-Horton Letters comes out of this old idea I had which goes into the secret technological history of Marvel, and basically it’s this: in the late twenties, there was a famous exchange in one of the scientific journals of the time, between Nobel laureate A.Erskine and young iconoclast P.T. Horton, who wrote some letters in response to one of Erskine’s articles on (and here I’m making stuff up) the possible application of his Erskine cells, artificial cells that he’d invented that were finding lots of uses in medicine, the biological sciences, etc. at the time. Erskine responded, then Horton re-responded, and pretty soon it was a very lively debate. Most of the scientific community considered Horton to be a huge flake, and Erskine practically a god, but Erskine was interested in this young man’s claims and ideas, even though he had pretty much comprehensively torn them apart in the journal’s pages. Basically Horton was saying that Erskine cells had the potential to act as “energy-reservoirs”, and that with the right kind of organization of these cells, they could be used for much more than medicine. This was Tesla vs. Edison, kind of…Horton imagined a fantastical SF kind of world of people who basically were living power batteries, and who could turn that energetic release to all kinds of outre purposes. Beyond nuclear-powered trains and flying cars, Horton was out there, and of course he was widely considered to have not only lost the debate, but to have ruined his reputation…such as it was.

    But what no one knew was that Erskine and Horton continued their exchanges in private correspondance for years afterwards, and eventually Erskine began to see that, hey, this young man may really be onto something here. He regretted his earlier closed-mindedness, and was talking about publicly reversing himself…maybe he and Horton should collaborate on some new research into Erskine cells, and that would help to undo the unfair perception of Horton in the minds of his colleague, that Erskine felt somewhat responsible for.

    But then Erskine died in a car crash, and it never happened.

    Except of course, he didn’t: he went deep underground, to work on the Super-Soldier Serum for the US government. And his biggest regret was that he couldn’t even let Horton know that he was still alive.

    Somewhere in the Pentagon (or wherever they keep the records of Project: Rebirth…including the formula for the 50s Cap’s Super-Soldier Serum, which apparently was not quite the same as the formula Steve Rogers got after all) is a letter in Erskine’s own hand, addressed to Horton: “My dear friend, although I know that you will never receive this letter…”

    Now every once in a while somebody in the military tries to recreate the Super-Soldier Serum, with pretty uneven results. This is just such a time: only a researcher going through the files comes across Erskine’s letter tucked away behind something, and it’s pretty clear to him that it hasn’t been even looked at since 1941, if ever. And he’s stunned to read that the two scientists had this long correspondance that apparently contained all this technical detail and collaboration. This is big: for one thing, whatever technology Horton used to create the original Human Torch has after all been around since the Thirties, and yet no one’s been able to duplicate that first and greatest success in creating a real living android…like the S-S-S, subsequent attempts to create living machines have been of varying success. Could it be that these Erskine-Horton letters contain the secret of that technology, just for starters? Of course we as comics readers know more than this researcher: we know that just before the first attack of the Mad Thinker on the Fantastic Four, Reed Richards was staring at a DNA model, and trying to create what would eventually be the power-duplicating form of artificial life known as Andy the Awesome Android.

    So what was Reed thinking about, while he was staring at that model?

    He was thinking, “now how the hell was the original Human Torch able to give Jacqueline Farnsworth a blood transfusion back during the war, and especially how in the hell did she get her own super-powers out of it?” Because, you see, back in Erskine and Horton’s day, the structure of DNA was not known. It’s a huge scientific mystery, actually, at least to those few who know about it it is…and what about Cap himself? Some historians theorize that Erskine independently discovered the structure of DNA in his DoD lab as part of the Rebirth project, but others say there’s no evidence of that in the official record, and you’d think Erskine would at least have flagged this discovery in some way, if he’d made it…

    Something else our researcher doesn’t know: when Ultron got the Original Torch’s body from the Thinker, and tried to build himself a robot son out of it…he couldn’t, because he couldn’t understand the systems that were in play. He had to kidnap Horton in order to complete the construction of the Vision, and even then Horton was able to do lots of things that Ultron didn’t even notice him doing.

    Needless to say, this all makes continuity-sense out of some later events in Avengers with the Vision that at the moment are dropped stitches…

    Okay, and also, what about the Erskine side of the letters? Is there some note in there which would give a clue as to how he modified the original S-S-S that eventually produced the Fifties Cap, to create the true S-S-S that was given to Steve Rogers? Is the discovery of the structure of DNA contained therein?

    He must find those letters!

    But, he won’t be the only one who’s after them…

    He starts investigating absolutely everything that’s every been connected to that old MU bio-science, and it takes him into sticky areas where he really shouldn’t be. He’s told to keep everything super-secret, he has to avoid SHIELD, he has to sneak his way into the Sallis Archive that’s jealously guarded by another agency within the government. He runs into a vast network of interlocking conspiracies surrounding bioresearch all across the globe. Red Skull stuff. AIM stuff. Project Pegasus stuff. Mad Thinker stuff. Etc. But whenever he gets into trouble at the fringes of these conspiracies, he gets rescued by the various superheroes who are connected to them, and this lets him go around the MU talking to various people about the history of Erskine cells, their many applications, the S-S-S, anything related…he talks to Hanks Pym and McCoy, for example. He talks to Reed. But he tries to keep them all in the dark as much as he can. Can’t risk word leaking out about the letters.

    But then word does leak out, and suddenly everyone’s after them, and after him. The major supervillainous players get interested, and start to vie for control of our hero, capturing him, bargaining with him. Ultimately it all ends up with the revelation of the secret top villain who’s been manipulating things from the shadows…The Yellow Claw.

    And now, like Iago, I’ll say no more.

    Well, okay…that’s as far as I’ve ever gotten with it, actually.

  6. Whoops, you got in ahead of me, Sean. Yes, it’s a damn good title, isn’t it? Now if I could only remember what the story was supposed to be, that was connected to it…

  7. Yeah, I quite like that. Like Earth X, like all of the good stories that are the high points in Marvel U history, it’s about the science and the history. That’s always the best starting point I think.

    Though it doesn’t have the same “Day Of the Jackal” quality that The Plot to Kill the High Evolutionary.

  8. It’s kinda neat, ain’t it? Strangely inspired by Byrne’s Avengers West Coast Vision hate-a-thon (actually he didn’t seem to have a lot of love for ol’ Br’er Hawkeye either), and an old dream-plot for Avengers that I got out of a long pot-smoking Englehart-immersion summer a long time ago…

    And, the dropped Vision thread there? Okay, so after his “disassembly”, the Vision’s non-mechanical parts are all white, right? But what are these “non-mechanical parts” exactly, they’re just the artificial flesh parts, the parts that Busiek later re-retconned back into being the same artificial flesh that the original Torch was also made from.

    Aha! “Erskine cells”.

    (By the way, in this scheme Erskine cells are also used in the production of antibiotics in early Marvel — the “new sulfa drugs” Reed Richards’ doctor talks about in “The Avengers Take Over!” (of course you’re not surprised I’ve done my research, RAB!) are born from carefully-cultured Erskine cells — also the Master Mold’s freakin’ brain is made out of Erskine cells, but that’s a part of the story I prefer to keep dark, because Ed and I aren’t finished having fun with all the ramifications of this yet…)

    So why does the Vision’s artificial flesh go white? Same reason he loses his memory: trauma. Vizh’s “computer brain” is his system’s processor, right enough, but his Erskine cells are its memory…and that’s why (I decided at the time) he could recover his memory without having to go to any ridiculous extremes like re-mapping Wonder Man’s brain or, oh I don’t know, just downloading a backup of his software from ISAAC…sheesh. But, not necessary: as his colour came back (so I decided), so would his memory and personality. After all, you want an artificial-human (meaning of the coinage “synthezoid” by the way, Byrne…hell even Shooter didn’t get that wrong) superhero who’s made out of a big neural network…yeah, five pounds of 1970s-era Intel chips probably isn’t gonna do it. Okay, even five pounds of 2007-era Intel chips isn’t gonna do it. In fact I daresay not even five pounds of 2007-era Stark International chips would do it.

    And yet, the original Torch was unveiled back in (firm date) 1939, when there wasn’t a single computer chip to be found anywhere on earth, even in Marvel Time…

    Oh no, RAB! Don’t peel the onion of my reasoning here, this is supposed to stay my plaything for a while! But, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Ultron wanted his “son” to be a full-on machine, with a computer brain…old Phineas’ task was to find a way to integrate the Torch’s systems with the cybernetic technology that Henry Pym adapted from Dragon Man to create Ultron, in other words with the technology that Ultron understands

    I mean, it’s all right there, isn’t it?

    So what could be a more natural outcome of the Vision having his artificial flesh stripped from his computer-core bones, than for that flesh to be so traumatized that when he was reassembled it took some time for the two systems to learn to work together again? And until that happened he was basically (at least, apparently) turned into nothing more than a pretty-sophisticated robot.

    Y’r welcome. Yes, Englehart-zombie over here, always looking for the one way out of the maze…and, damn it, this is kids’ comics! So, of course when the Vision’s colour comes back so does his personality…!

  9. Marvel Super-Villains Secret War!
    Remember all the secrte organizations in the Marvel universe? They didn’t do much in the last years, did they? Still each of them has the manpower and the ressources to fight any super-hero team. Even when they lose, there is no doubt that other cells still exist – hoarding their weapons and planning for the future…

    And the future is now! AIM attacks Chicago! HYDRA takes San Francisco! The Master of the World rules Toronto! All over the world Weapons of Mass Destruction attack!

    The heroes strike back, but soon they realize – the combined attack wasn’t planned! And the villains start to fight each other while the heroes can only save the innocents. A random group of super-heroes finds the incredible truth: Somebody manipulates all of the secret organizations from within. And when this is over, he will rule the world from his throne or from the shadows…

  10. I’ve always thought Marvel’s Dracula (especially as portrayed in the old school Wolfman/Colan run) could have been one of the company’s really great villains, up there with Doctor Doom. Marvel officially “killed” its vampires years ago, but they’ve been popping up here and there anyway. So why not just bring them all rushing back in? The Montesi Formula finally just totally expires and suddenly there are hundreds of new vampires out there tearing stuff up, doing what they do. The twist could be that even Dracula is disturbed by these new vampires, so he forms kind of an opposing group — basically putting him in a “moderate” position similar to that of Xavier (dealing with a society that hates and fears him, although clearly with darker implications). On the surface you finally get a simple, uncomplicated superhero story in which Marvel heroes fight a bunch of anonymous faceless villains (which nevertheless do pose a real threat of Ending The World As We Know It), but the story still has an interesting reversal at its core, as we see mainstream characters freaking out about having to work with Dracula. Exploring the concept of “Dracula’s X-Men” could be fun too. It would also be a great opportunity to focus on a lot of the Marvel horror characters that haven’t been seen in a while.

    I’d like to see more stories that either take characters back down to their original settings and locales (eg: Spidey as a working class stiff fighting basic urban crime with a few pulp fantasy elements; the X-Men facing as much of a threat from human prejudice as from other mutants; the Avengers dealing with global political and/or national security threats instead of beating the crap out of each other). I think the MU really needs a period of retrenchment to shore itself up. But I think you could do that while still keeping with the sort of “crossovers sell books and are essential” mentality, as long as you kept similar characters grouped together. Spidey-Daredevil-Punisher works in a way that Spidey-Captain America-Iron Man doesn’t, as much. If the Shi’ar empire is falling, the FF should be there along with the X-Men. That would be a crossover which would make sense. You still get guest appearances, still get cross-sales, but you don’t have to Alter The Very Course Of The Universe every time.

    Failing that, I like Events that get into some relatively neglected corners of the Marvel Universe and play around with concepts we haven’t seen much. Annihilation was like that. I’m hoping Mystic Arcana will be too. Something like that which played on the high tech end of the universe (maybe featuring Vision and X-51 or something?) or on the Dr. Strange/mysticism end would be cool.

  11. Hmm, Dracula’s X-Men! What an idea!

    (You’ve also made me think about how cool a Super-Villain Team-Up with Doctor Doom and Dracula would be…surprised I’ve never seen that before…)

    I’ll echo the sentiment as far as keeping “like” heroes together in team-ups most of the time — this really is the Plan of the Marvel Universe anyway, to have people just bumping into each other all the time, and it’s what makes the Events so redundant, and what made Shooter’s Secret Wars such a fantastically dopey idea. Hey, Shooter, you don’t need to whisk them away to “Battleworld” to have them team up and fight, okay? They already all live in New York City! I’ve always liked the “accidental” crossovers best, a huge interlinked story that you just stumble into by picking up an issue of Spider-Man or whatever — no banners, no need for all the books to acknowledge anything. In fact I think it’s kind of boring for every character in the MU to be so, so up on everybody else’s business — at this point it almost seems impossible that characters would ever need to meet up, because all of them already share all the available information on everything.

    And, I don’t have high hopes for the Q Continuum’s treatment of magic and Dr. Strange at all…but wow, just put X-51 and the Vision in a comic together, and watch me buy it…! Only no hentai covers for it, that would just be wrong.

  12. Only no hentai covers for it, that would just be wrong.

    Too bad, that Doc Ock tentacle threat cover really would have been a doozy…

    Totally agree about the New York thing, and I’ve always wondered why the big events never acknowledge that. It’s especially interesting because it’s not as though New York City is a particularly static or boring place on its own — and it certainly wouldn’t be in the Marvel Universe. It would be interesting to explore the relationship between the current string of billionaire Republican mayors and companies like Roxxon, Rand, etc… How does the Kingpin handle someone like Elliot Spitzer? Given the portrayal of NYC’s mutant population in the recent X-books, I’m sure there’s probably an Al Sharpton-style activist out there complicating things for law enforcement (maybe justifiably?). What happens in Marvel’s New York when something like the Amadou Diallo incident occurs in District X? How do New Yorkers feel about the fact that some of the biggest terrorist targets in the Marvel Universe (Stark Tower, Avengers Mansion, the Baxter Building, often the SHIELD Helicarrier) are in their backyards? I could think of some fun crossovers that could be grounded in the situation of being a powerful person with Great Responsibility in the big city.

    I have this idea about Frank Castle becoming mayor of New York by accident (say he happens to neutralize an unpopular villain who’s being protected by the police establishment while news cameras are rolling and he becomes an “outsider” celebrity write-in candidate). It would be interesting to see him try to use the full resources of NYPD to stamp out crime in His City once and for all (leading to all sorts of overreactions and miscalculations, along with a few really important arrests) even as he struggles to deal with all the byzantine political stuff in City Hall. Meanwhile, other New York heroes are trying to deal with their new, quasi-authoritarian (but very popular!) mayor. Using The Punisher would be fun because he’s already a morally complicated character and the rest of the Marvel Universe already kind of thinks of him as this dangerous lunatic, so it wouldn’t require some massive character retcon like Civil War did for Tony Stark. But they’d kind of be stuck with him because which superhero wants to be the one that takes out a democratically elected, popular mayor? It could all culminate in some big story arc with a cheesy name like “Punishment” where you have the Punisher’s intense Strike Team cops surrounding Avengers Mansion on a flimsy pretext or something. I think it could get fun.

  13. Ha! You’re hired, Blob! That’s just the kind of crossover Marvel wants to see!

    It’d work in post-Civil War Marvel, too — Frank would be one of the few people who could tell Tony Stark to STFU. They could have a duelling-egos thing that gets out of control…because Frank’s supposed to be the psycho, and Tony’s supposed to be the beloved hero, but now Tony is Stalin-Lite and scares the bejeezus out of everybody, while Frank is the man of the people — nobody thinks he’s gonna kill them, but everybody lives in fear of Iron Man showing up at their door one day to tell them they’re going to Superhero Vietnam or something. Also presumably Frank could mess with all kinds of permitting and zoning that Tony needs, it’d be sweet.

    I actually always thought the Falcon should be mayor — but the fanboys wouldn’t buy it, would they? Plus there’s that whole “Snap” Wilson thing to deal with…

    Nice one!

  14. Matthew, another thought on your Doctor Destiny crossover…in the Dreaming, there’s some significant oneirogeography going on, “far shoals of Dream”-type stuff, etc., and if you’re Morpheus you can pretty much walk directly from one “species” of dream to another. So, knowing you, I’m sure you’d enjoy seeing the JLA or something being stranded in some some distant reaches of the Dreaming by Dr. Destiny, and having to walk back to the centre…because then you’d get Superman and Batman tromping through all these other disparate regions of the collective unconscious, and putting their bootprints on them! Why do the iconic superheroic characters of the DCU have such resonance, why are they so iconic, what is so magnetic about them? Because they got lost in the Dreaming one day (or, one “day”), attacked and ambushed by Nightmares, and it sent little unsensed tremors through tons of weird little mythopoetic tidepools, perhaps gets witnessed by the odd dreamer-within-a-dream who manages to swim their way up to the top meta-level of Morpheus’ reality! It’s a Cross-Dream Super-Event!

    Lot of room to run, there.

    Very neat idea.

  15. Well, I hadn’t gotten as far as thinking that whatever characters were involved in this (and not just the JLA, but, oh, whoever’s interesting and appears in a title that can contribute a crossover issue. Oracle, who wouldn’t need to dream her wheelchair; Ryan Choi; Lois Lane; Guy Gardner; Amanda Waller; Detective Chimp…) would actually affect the Dreaming itself. I don’t know if they would or not. Presumably, if Morpheus was on the case, they wouldn’t, but he’s not, is he? Neat idea yourself.

    I may have another crossover idea brewing.

  16. Here’s my next crossover idea.

    It starts with Rip Hunter, Booster Gold and Skeets doing some time travel. They’re about to exit the timestream and reenter reality, when reality starts shaking like crazy. For Rip and Booster and Skeets to drop out of the timestream now would be like trying to jump aboard a train moving at 100 mph: good way to mess yourself up. Rip has never seen anything like this before; it’s like someone’s pointing the VCR remote at DC reality and hitting the Rewind and Fast Forward buttons in quick succession again and again (and, he’s worried, Record). Then, as suddenly as it started, it stops. From the timestream, things look normal again. Booster, Rip and Skeets reenter reality, with some trepidation, and check it out.

    They find your standard sucky-alternate-history-present-day. The tone of the world is depressing, crime of all kinds is more common (and criminal organizations more powerful), institutions more corrupt, several nations are openly ruled by supervillains, and superheroes are illegal, rare and less principled than we’re used to seeing them. Not quite as bad as the usual Per-Degaton alternate-future, but nearly so, only less monolithic. Rip tries to use his instruments to figure out what happened, exactly, but he’s at a loss; he’s seen time-tampering before but he still can’t figure out quite how this was done, from a technical point of view. He can’t even pin down at just what point history began to come off the rails; there seem like multiple divergences piled on top of each other.

    Before Rip and Booster can sit down and start to make a plan to deal with it (not that they have the beginnings of one), they’re interrupted: a phalanx of bewildered superheroes materializes in front of them. They’re all from the original timeline, not this corrupted one, and most are from the present day. They don’t all recognize each other (though many do) and they have no idea how they individually got from wherever they were to Rip’s lab, or why. Introductions are made

    Rip and Booster know manpower when they see it, though, and figure they might as well take advantage of it. Rip squints hard at his printouts and isolates six points in history at which it looks like someone was pulling some temporal shenanigans. The assembled heroes divide into teams and Rip sends each team to one of the key historical points. Everybody’s got instructions about how to report back when they’re finished doing whatever they have to do. Meanwhile, one of the teams is going to remain in the present-day and try to find some clues that way.

    First, Metamorpho and the Question (Renee Montoya, the new Question) check out the present day to see what’s going on. They come across a lot of details that probably mean more to us than to them, such as that Thomas and Martha Wayne were never killed in an alley (just the butterfly effect here), or that Clark Kent is the editor of the local paper in Smallville and is married to Lana Lang. They also have to dodge a lot of the random dangers that this timeline holds, and also get mixed up in a fight between the Royal Flush Gang and one of the only heroes who’s still pretty much himself in this timeline: Mr. Terrific.

    Hawkgirl and the Atom (Ryan Choi) go back to the period of time that’s about when the Justice League was founded. They join this timeline’s version of original Leaguers, including Wonder Woman, J’onn J’onzz, Black Canary, the Flash (Barry Allen), Brown Hornet (Guy Gardner, with a Green Lantern ring, but wearing a brown uniform, and a lensed glove over his ring that makes the GL energy look brown), Aquaman and a Starman we’ve never seen before. They fight the Appellax monsters and Starro, and decide to form a League. The politics are tricky in this timeline, though, and this new Starman pushes the rest of them to make the JLA an arm of the U.S. military. He’s got government connections himself, and argues convincingly that it’s the only way there would ever be public support for a super-vigilante group. Wonder Woman and Guy Gardner are inclined to go along with him, but the rest (especially J’onn!) are skeptical about putting their powers under the control of, ultimately, politicians. Hawkgirl and the Atom know how this is supposed to go, though, and must convince the League to reject Starman’s idea, while also surviving the weirdass Silver Age JLA menaces that keep cropping up. Once it looks like the League isn’t going to go with Starman’s plan, Starman disappears mysteriously.

    Red Tornado and Damage (this is Damage from the current JSA, formerly of the Freedom Fighters, descendent of the original Atom and possessor of Human Bomb-like powers) arrive a small pile of years before that, in Los Angeles. At this point in time, there really aren’t any superheroes; the JSA basically retired after WWII, and Superman hasn’t shown himself yet. So they’re surprised to learn that movie mogul Jock Verner is sponsoring the creation of a new superhero for the Space Age: Verner’s Vanquisher (anybody remember this character? I’m ganking him for my crossover from where he originally showed up). The Vanquisher has a weaselly sidekick, named the Vanguard, who isn’t impressed when Red Tornado and Damage make the Vanquisher’s acquaintance. After some Hollywood crimefighting it becomes apparent that Vanquisher is a bit of a fake. He’s more interested in women, drugs, money and fame than actually helping anybody, and Vanguard is encouraging him in this line of thinking. Reddy and Damage eventually discover that the Vanquisher is being set up for a fall, but before the trigger can be pulled on the scandal (which is to involve the naked corpses of Vanquisher and Rock Hudson, plus a lot more sordid details, including faked Communist party membership and faked evidence of conspiracy with criminal organizations), Reddy and Damage confront Vanguard and his conspirators and there’s a fight. Turns out Vanguard had a lot more power than it looked like he had, so it’s a real battle that spills across any number of famous Hollywood landmarks. Vanquisher has been paying attention to how Reddy and Damage go about their business, and he joins the fight on their side. In the end, Vanguard gets away, but Vanquisher dies heroically, saving Elizabeth Taylor’s life from falling rubble.

    Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes) and Centrix (yes! I’m using Centrix! It’s my crossover, and it’s about time somebody used him!) arrive in the Sahara at a point a couple of years before Superman’s spaceship crashed in Smallville. What they find is the staging area for a fake alien invasion–aircraft that look like spacecraft, ray guns that look like Green Lantern rings, and troops wearing uniforms with hidden exoskeletons and the Superman insignia on them. The invading force is equipped with anthrax and other nasty stuff, and their battle plans include Metropolis. Jaime and Centrix trash the place, obviously, and spoil the invasion. The commander gets away, though.

    Ravager (from the Titans, the Terminator’s daughter), Booster and Skeets touch down in Metropolis in early 1941. Here they meet Superman. Not Kal-El, of course, or even Kal-L; it’s a blond strongman who doesn’t look a bit like any Superman we know; different costume and everything. He’s charismatic, though, and a very popular superhero; his deeds seem every bit as admirable as the real Superman’s. And he’s not a fake like Vanquisher, either; he seems like a genuine hero. Only one problem: he’s publicly affiliated with the Bund, is in favour of allying with the Germans against the Russians, and is trying to organize a superhero group to champion his ideas. At the time when Ravager and Booster arrive, he’s already managed to half-persuade a couple of heroes like Tarantula and Johnny Thunder. So now Ravager and Booster have to, in the middle of their Golden Age adventuring, counter this Superman’s influence. It eventually comes down to a fight against Superman and some Bund agents (in which Ravager and Booster are joined by other Golden Age heroes including General Glory, Abin Sur and the Flying Fox), and in the end Superman gets away.

    Atom Girl (aka Shrinking Violet of the Legion) and Nightwing show up just a short while before Ravager and Booster. In their case, though, they arrive in Keystone City, where a couple of guys named Alan Scott and Jay Garrick have just started their heroic careers, and have been taken under the wing of an older superhero named Batman. Again, this isn’t Bruce Wayne; it’s someone in a black-and-brown outfit, who can fly and has claws and some sonic powers. Batman is mentoring Alan and Jay, and he’s showing them the dark side of the superhero business, teaching them that the only way to defeat evil is to be as ruthless as the bad guys are, and that the end always justifies the means. This attitude does not come naturally to Alan and Jay, as you can imagine, but Batman’s the expert, after all… Atom Girl and Nightwing know that this Batman doesn’t belong there and they need to shut him up. Obviously, it eventually comes to a fight, which Batman loses but gets away from. Before calling for a ride from Rip Hunter, Nightwing gets a brainwave and introduces Alan and Jay to Ma Hunkel.

    Finally, Star Boy (also of the Legion) and Atom-Smasher go all the way back to the ’30s, before there really were any superheroes. Except there are some, a couple of really brutal (and super-powered) vigilantes named Firestorm and Blue Devil (again, no resemblance to the characters we know). These two do fight crime, but they’re lethal about it, and they don’t mind if the odd innocent bystander gets injured or killed. They’re also very forthcoming to the press, talking about how individuals of conscience have to do whatever’s necessary for the sake of justice, and that they’re proud to be the first of what’s probably going to be many superpowered vigilantes just like them. Star Boy and Atom-Smasher have to stop this kind of nonsense before it gets very far, of course. As they’re doing it, Star Boy is bemused and frustrated by the racism of the era, which gets in the way a lot and means that Atom-Smasher has to do a lot of the talking, especially when they’re trying to counter Firestorm and Blue Devil in the press. In essence, Atom-Smasher has to define superheroics to the DC Universe for the first time. Anyway, this is successful, and provokes a fight with Firestorm and Blue Devil. The fight also features a young Lee Travis, putting on the Crimson Avenger outfit for the first time to help out Thom and Al. As has become the pattern with these fights, Firestorm and Blue Devil get away at the end.

    So once that’s all over, the various teams all rendezvous back at Rip Hunter’s lab, where Rip has been discovering some things. When the various teams’ opponents got away, they all time-traveled to the same place, and Rip tracked them, so now we know where to go and have the big final fight. More importantly, he’s put together everything that the different teams encountered and figured out what’s going on. Only one person could have the power to disrupt time in the way that Rip and Booster witnessed, and only one person could have had the motivation to engineer history in just the way he tried to do:

    Bizarro-Zoom!

    (If that revelation doesn’t explain everything to everyone’s satisfaction, I can elaborate…)

  17. Second time trying to post this.

    Okay, well, the first thing I need to explain is Zoom. This isn’t Barry Allen’s Reverse-Flash; this is Wally West’s Reverse-Flash. He used to be a guy named Hunter Zolomon, who was originally a friend of Wally West-Flash. Then he was traumatized in some temporal accident, lost his family or something, and kind of went around the bend. He became Zoom. As Zoom, he has superspeed, but not like Wally’s. Wally’s speed was derived from the Speed Force; Zoom’s is much faster because it’s derived from being not tightly attached enough to the flow of time. (Or that’s how I remember it.) If Wally wants to run faster, he has to expend more effort; if Zoom wants to run faster, he just has to adjust the rate of his motion against the rate of time flowing; much more elegant and with fewer constraints.

    Zoom’s motivation is that he wants Flash to be a better superhero. And his idea of how to do that is to put him through the wringer and kill his family and stuff. Once he comes out the other side of that, Wally will be all the stronger for it, is the idea.

    Which brings us to Bizarro-Zoom. Bizarro-Zoom is entirely my creation, and I didn’t bother coming up with an origin for him; I figured his name sort of spoke for itself. Bizarro-Zoom has the opposite motivation to Zoom: instead of wanting one superhero to be better, he wants all superheroes to be worse. And he’s quite aware of all the implications of that, and he’s all for them. Bizarro-Zoom’s powers are the opposite of Zoom’s, too: instead of being able to move freely within time, he’s almost motionless in time… but he does have the power to push time ahead or push it backwards, all around him, while he stays in ‘the same place’. Now, to an observer within the normal flow of time, there’s no difference between the two superpowers; to perceive the difference you’d have to be able to observe their behaviour from some external frame of reference. Which is just what Rip and Booster were (luckily for the DCU!) in a position to do.

    So Bizarro-Zoom came up with this idea to make all superheroes worse. Any attempt to stamp them out utterly would of course be doomed to failure; that’s been tried before by better villains than Bizarro-Zoom. You’re just asking for a smackdown when you try that. So he’s being more subtle about it. He first pulls up the ’30s and makes a deal with Vandal Savage (who’s a convenient guy to team up with because he’s always around). It takes a while for Bizarro-Zoom to explain the coming wave of superheroes to him, but once he does, Savage signs onto the plan, and sets up (over the next century or so) a large criminal organization whose only purpose is to grow useful tech for Bizarro-Zoom’s plan. All this can be conveniently fitted into the gaps of everything else Savage was up to during that time, if we have to. Bizarro-Zoom pulls up a point in time a century into this organization’s future, harvests the tech, and takes it back with him to his six key points in time, using promising members of Savage’s organization to play the parts of ‘Starman’, ‘Vanguard’, the alien invaders, ‘Superman’, ‘Batman’, ‘Firestorm’ and ‘Blue Devil’.

    Most of what Bizarro-Zoom wanted to accomplish at these six key points is pretty obvious, but I’ll point out a few nuances I particularly liked. They’re presented in reverse order so that we can see things in one time-period that are later explained in an earlier period. Like, why is Guy Gardner the Brown Hornet (a Bill Cosby reference, for those of you who didn’t catch it)? Because, while the GL Corps isn’t going to give up on Earth entirely, they’re definitely not welcome there after that fake alien invasion. About that alien invasion… the use of the Superman insignia was there entirely for the effect it had on two people, people Bizarro-Zoom doesn’t even know: Ma and Pa Kent. Bizarro-Zoom doesn’t know Superman’s secret identity, but he’s got a pretty good idea that he was raised somewhere in America. So, picture it: Earth has recently been invaded by mean aliens wearing the S-shield. They’re crazy strong. And you find a crazy strong baby in a spaceship wrapped in a blanket with the S-shield on it. What do you do with him? Bizarro-Zoom’s idea is that you turn him over to the government, but I don’t think the Kents would do that. They’d raise him. But they wouldn’t raise him to be Superman; they’d raise him to keep his freaking head down and not cause trouble.

    So the only big question left is, how did all those superheroes get to Rip’s lab? The answer is, Zoom brought them there. Grabbed them by the scruff of the neck at superspeed and manhandled them through time and space to Rip’s lab. Not Bizarro-Zoom; original Zoom. Zoom is killing two birds with one stone here: he’s countering Bizarro-Zoom’s plans, which are anathema to his own ideas, and he’s also making them all better superheroes. Because, to fight this particular fight, these guys are all going to think a lot about just why it is they do what they do, and just how they should be doing it. Anyway, the heroes Zoom recruited… some I picked just because I wanted to pick them, but others I picked because they’re characters who are struggling with their superheroism and therefore fit right in to Zoom’s motivations.

    Especially Atom-Smasher. Poor Atom-Smasher; as Nuklon in Infinity Inc. he was such a sweet, earnest guy. Since then he’s made nothing but bad decisions, always from the best of motivations, and is carrying around a lot of guilt and uncertainty about it. If Superman had gone back through time and had to debate faux-Firestorm and pseudo-Blue-Devil in the 1930s press, we know he’d be able to do it. We know no such thing about Atom-Smasher; there’s every possibility he has no answer to their vigilanteism. On the other hand, he really needs this win…

    Now. Who can identify Centrix, Flying Fox and Verner’s Vanquisher from memory?

  18. Ah! That intended effect of the “S”-shield, that’s really quite elegant, Matthew…I just missed that. Nice, in both senses of the word. I did get the Atom-Smasher having to make the “heroes are good” speech tension, but with the Zoom and Counter-Zoom plans colliding, it’s especially good. I totally forgot about the Hunter Zoloman character, which is I guess kind of funny, but that does make sense…and I love the “Memento”-style unveiling!

    You know, it strikes me that this could be a pretty neat idea in a couple of ways: for one, as I said to you before, it’d invest the standard alternate-future dystopia heroes-gone-wrong bit (which of course we’re all pretty tired of by now) with a bit more feeling, make it a bit more comprehensively orchestrated…and two, as you say it’d be a whole “why do we heroes even do the things we do?” thing, only perhaps a more incisive look into that question, and everything that surrounds it. We’ve all seen the Triumph of the Heroic Ideal stuff a million times before, Superman standing in the sunset with the American flag behind him, speechifying to the choir about the responsibility of doing right for right’s sake, after punching out some pretender…but, it would be nice, I think, to see a director’s cut of the expose of Heroic Ideal. Something that could take its time and really go into it. Get past the platitudes, and into the philosophical meat. I think I’d read that comic.

    Yes! I would! Plus it’s got Rip Hunter in it, so how could you lose?

    Great!

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