Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Comic Buzz: The Rebirth of CrossGen

This post should have gone up a month ago, but I still think the series sound like they are worth checking out so I'm going to post this anyway. The first issues are already available, so check them out now!

Creative Team: Mark Waid (W), Mirco Pierfedeici (A)
Marvel, miniseries, 4 issues, $2.99
Available now!

Creative Team: Mike Carey (W), Leonard Kirk (A)
Marvel, miniseries, 4 issues, $2.99
Available now!

I was browsing the Marvel solicitations for March (months ago), which may surprise a few of you since I obviously have a bias toward DC. But I like looking at the solicits because, while I don’t want to dive into the Marvel universe right now for lack of budget and patience, there are some books Marvel puts out that interest me and are very accessible. And this month I found three solicits that jumped out at me as interesting. The first was the already plugged 5 Ronin. The other two were a pair of miniseries called Sigil and Ruse. Those who know more about comics than I do may recognize these names, but at the time I had no idea what they were. All I knew was that they both sounded really cool. Sigil had the added draw of being written by Mike Carey, author of one of my favorite comics the Unwritten. Ruse had the draw of being a Victorian detective story, and you know I can’t say no to that.

So since both were minis I figured I’d pick both up and I might not have thought any more about it. But later while I was browsing another internet blog that talked about the new solicits they mentioned the titles as well. The blog mentioned that these titles were Marvel’s first use of something called CrossGen. So being the curious creature I am, I searched for it on Wikipedia to see what this was all about.

I learned that CrossGen was a defunct comic book publisher that existed from 1998-2004. I learned about the many series that CrossGen put out that were all canceled when the company went bankrupt. I learned that the rights to those comics were bought by Disney, who then did nothing with them. After Disney acquired Marvel someone put two and two together and realized that Disney owned a bunch of comic book properties that they could possibly cash in on now. Marvel revealed last year that they were going to do something with CrossGen, and details trickled out slowly. The books would be introduced as their own imprint outside of the existing Marvel universe in order to help diversify the Marvel line.

Marvel is starting out slow with the re-launch. Sales will likely dictate if and when more titles are released and if we see more of these series beyond the minis. It’s also a good strategy as Marvel realizes that with the current economy most people cannot afford to add half a dozen new books to their pull list at once (I’m looking at you 16 Flashpoint miniseries). By going at a slow pace they allow new readers to try things out and allow old fans to pick up everything they want and not have to compromise due to their budget. Also appealing is that the books will have a $2.99 price tag.

When CrossGen existed I was reading Robin, but I always bought it from the magazine rack and I don’t recall ever seeing these books at the store. I didn’t know comic book shops existed, much less where to find one (how things have changed!). I’m rather sad about this fact, because there are many CrossGen titles that I can guarantee I would have bought if I had known they existed. CrossGen specialized in titles outside of the superhero genre, so called “genre titles” (a term I personally hate, since everything is part of a genre, mainstream or not). They had sci-fi space operas, sword and sorcery tales, Victorian detective stories, Bond like spy thrillers, and pirate tales among others. This is what I wish there was more of in mainstream comics and I would have devoured these books if I had known they existed the first time around. As it is, I am anxious to seek out some of the trade collections (that I’m hoping get new printings) and now I am interested in what Marvel is going to do with them.

Although CrossGen featured a variety of types of stories they did have a shared universe. This seems to have had a mixed reaction from the fan base (based on comments on the internet anyway). It seems like an interesting concept, even if it didn’t end up working out for some people. It appears that Marvel is keeping the shared universe idea, but not forcing the shared concepts that the line had previously (for example, one character in every book had to have magic powers).

This looks to be a reboot and not a continuation. Many fans of the original series will probably lament that the series they loved will still go without an ending, but it makes sense to keep things new reader friendly (especially with so many of the trades currently out of print). Although many will defend that the company went bankrupt more due to mismanagement and poor business choices than the quality of the titles, the fact remains that the company as a whole did fail. This is still a business move and Marvel is going to cherry-pick the concepts and ideas that they think can succeed for the widest possible audience. The preferences of the new creative teams will likely also play no small part in what is kept and what is reworked or cut out.

For example, Mark Waid was the original writer of Ruse and is returning for the Marvel relaunch. He is happy to be ignoring the shared universe ideas as the constraints they placed on the book never really fit into the story well (and he admits that he ignored them anyway the first time around). Waid describes Ruse as “about an arrogant, Victorian-era detective named Simon Archard, his partner, Emma Bishop, and their wild adventures debunking the supernatural," and that at its core it’s "a steampunk Sherlock Holmes with romance, witty repartee, and a hint of magic." This is pretty much identical to what the series was the first time around.  Read more of what Waid has to say about the series here.

Sigil on the other hand seems to bear little resemblance to its namesake. The original was a sci-fi space opera, but the new book is described as an epic fantasy. Based on the solicit, this book seems to take the idea of the shared universe and condense it down into a single book. In the old shared universe characters in many books possessed a sigil (also the company logo) somewhere on their bodies that gave them special powers. There was a big crossover war that involved all the characters with the marks, but it was never finished due to the company’s bankruptcy. I doubt we’ll see the sigil mark in many (any?) of the other CrossGen books that trickle out down the line but it was important to the old books and it seems like this is Marvel’s compromise to the whole idea. After all, it was an interesting idea and it is a nice homage to the company this whole new imprint came from. Also interesting to note is that the main character has a very similar name (although a different gender) as the main character of the original series. And while Sigil may not be the Sigil of old, the second issues solicit ties directly into another old CrossGen title as the main character ends up on the pirate ship El Cazador. I would guess that this book will visit several of the old series as sort of a primer for other series to come.

Carey explains the series as “the story of a young girl who has inherited a unique talent and destiny from her dead mother and has also been enlisted without her knowledge or understanding in a war that spans all of space and time.” CrossGen is known for playing within many genres and Sigil follows that tradition; “Sigil is a sci-fi fantasy, a war story and in this opening arc it's also a pirate story.” Reading an interview with Carey this was referred to many times as the initial miniseries, implying that Carey already has plans for another if the pieces fall into place.  You can find out more in this interview with Carey.

As we have one book rebooting very close to the original and one completely different I wonder what old fans of CrossGen think. Until the books come out fans can gush over this image. While on the surface it’s a teaser for Ruse, those items on the table are by no means random. I didn’t know without being told, but apparently many of those items are related to other CrossGen series. And I would have to assume that the series they chose to show on the table are not a random sampling of old CrossGen titles, but a representation of titles Marvel wishes to pursue. I’m sure fans will be speculating about this image for a while to come.

If you’re an old fan and your favorite series isn’t among the first to launch, you might consider picking up at least these first issues anyway, to show Marvel that you are interested in the CrossGen imprint. If you have never read CrossGen before (like me) the titles will be very accessible and not require any prior knowledge from the previous runs. If you think they look interesting, and want to encourage Marvel to diversify their line, consider picking these up.


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