Crossovers get a lot of flak these days, and a lot of it is vindicated.
When I started getting back into comics, the idea of the shared universe was one of the primary things that excited me. There might be an alien invasion of earth, and it impacted the Fantastic Four in their own unique way, as it did Spider-Man.
The coordination! The synchronization! The amount of reading material to prevent me from going outside!
It’s only after reading a few such stories that I realized there was a perverse opposite refrain from long-time readers.
The gall! The money-grubbing! The pointlessness!
The Good and Bad of Comic Book Crossovers
Nonetheless, I still love a good crossover. A good one. Marvel’s latest, Infinity, is a perfect example of both the good and bad of crossovers.
On the plus side, you have Jonathan Hickman’s primary story arc expertly architected between three titles: Infinity, Avengers, and New Avengers. When read together, the issues form a stronger narrative arc than any single set of a title. You couldn’t really read the main Infinity arc without a nagging feeling that you were missing key bits of plot.
This is mildly greedy (you have to purchase more titles to get the full scope), but I like that level of ambition in a crossover. If this is truly a Marvel event of cosmic proportions, I want to have more than six puny comics to read. In the case of the Infinity story as crafted by Hickman, all these stories are enjoyable as a means of consuming the whole.
And then you have the rest of the tie-ins. Marvel has a long history of tie-ins of various quality levels, and on Infinity, they mostly feel forced. This is, of course, one of the most frequent complaints against the mega-event crossover. The fact that many books don’t need to tie-in, barely have anything to do with the actual events, and most importantly detract from whatever quality comic book story a creative team may have been sharing. The event comes in and uproots everything good. It’s like the Hulk made of money.
I felt this negative effect most strongly on Kelly Sue Deconnick’s Captain Marvel. Deconnick and an assortment of artists had effectively created a fantastically down-to-earth narrative for Carol Danvers, making me care about a character that had only ever really been known to me for an absurd outfit.
And then all of a sudden, Deconnick’s Captain Marvel was caught up in a mini-Avengers crossover (The Enemy Within) and then fired straight into the cross-hairs of Infinity. The momentum of the series was completely crushed to the point that I’ve had to cancel (moving on to Deconnick and Emma Rios’ Pretty Deadly).
To my mind, this is crossover comics at its worst.
Valiant’s Early 90’s Unity Nails the Crossover
Valiant Comics’ Unity wasn’t the first universe-spanning crossover (to my knowledge that actually occurred in 1944 when Marvel blended the worlds of the Sub-Mariner and the (original) Human Torch), but it’s certainly one of the most fun to read.
Unity is bonkers, melding time-travel, chaos theory, and incest (… really) into one MAJOR event. The stakes? The Valiant universe as we know it!
One of Valiant’s biggest strengths heading into Unity (and one that remains with their relaunched imprint today) was the manageable amount of titles it had to work with. I won’t go into the full history here, but as a new upstart comic book publisher creating its own superhero universe for the modern era, Valiant only had six titles heading into this event.
As you’d expect, the quality and the focus of the stories and characters are easier to maintain.
One of my absolute favorite things about Valiant’s early 90’s mega-event was how clearly they labeled the reading order. Each title is a chapter in the Unity saga, as opposed to the modern, vague “tie-in” label we may see from the likes of Marvel or DC today.
I’ve laid out the reading order for Unity below, including some of the lead-in to the event. You don’t necessarily need to read every Valiant comic leading up to Unity, but it’s pretty reasonable to do so.
Valiant Comics’ Unity Reading Order
The Start of the Valiant Universe
Solar, Man of the Atom #1 – #7
- The Valiant Universe really begins with their relaunch of Doctor Solar. Jim Shooter and Barry Windsor-Smith’s look at superheroic godhood often reads like Miracleman-lite, and in my opinion that’s a great thing. Unfortunately, early 90’s Solar is very difficult to find in any collected form. The issues are not available on comixology, and I personally haven’t found anything on Amazon. You may need to get creative.
Magnus Robot Fighter #1 – #6
- Magnus introduces the 4001 future Valiant U. Much like Solar, these issues are almost impossibly difficult to get a hold via conventional means.
Harbinger #1 – #4
X-O Manowar #1-#4
Solar, Man of the Atom #8 – #10
Harbinger #5 – #7
X-O Manowar #5 – #6
Shadowman #1 – #3
Magnus, Robot Fighter #7 – #14
Rai – #1 – #6
Solar, Man of the Atom #11
Eternal Warrior #1
Archer & Armstrong #1
Magnus Robot Fighter #15
X-O Manowar #7
Solar Man of the Atom #12
Eternal Warrior #2
Archer & Armstrong #2
Magnus Robot Fighter #16
X-O Manowar #8
Solar Man of the Atom #13
Unity – The Lost Chapter
- This “Lost Chapter” was published years after Unity wrapped up and details parts of Aric’s arc that are overlooked in the crossover. It is absolutely inessential and for completists only. Not recommended.