As he's risen in comics stardom over the past several years, Donny Cates has become known for his work with big name Marvel Comics heroes and villains. Venom, Thor, Thanos, and even Cosmic Ghost Rider have become synonymous with Cates' name since he began working with Marvel, and the majority of his work with the publisher has been well-received. These books are largely enjoyably and Cates is doing some wild things within the Marvel Universe, but the writer remains at his best when given the total freedom of his own imagination. When there isn't an existing world to play in, Cates delivers some of his most intriguing and poignant work, even if it can seem unfocused at times.
Such is the case with Cates' newest creator-owned series, Crossover, from Image Comics. The series begins by establishing a unique world that could only be delivered in comics, one that challenges the entire industry's mode of thinking. The issue follows Ellipsis, a young woman who believes in the power of comic books and superhero stories and who lives in a world that is at war over the medium's very existence. In this story's universe, a catastrophic event in 2017 saw the worlds of comic books come to life in a Colorado town, killing thousands of people in the process. Iconic heroes from the pages of our favorite stories arrived in the real world, somehow, and are causing chaos. A bubble has since formed around the state of Colorado and the world has entered into a period of unrest due to the ordeal.
Much like issues in our reality (specifically the ongoing coronavirus pandemic), the issue of these superheroes' invasion has become a polarizing political and religious topic. Ellipsis works in the very last real comic book store, trying to preserve the stories she believes in, while religious fanatics hurl bricks and insults at her as she approaches the establishment each day. There's a sign Elli passes at one point that simply reads, "God hates masks," and it's impossible not to draw connections with our current moment.
A lot of the conflicting ideologies in Crossover come from the writings of Fredric Wertham, who famously argued that comics were a dangerous medium. The book even opens with a quote from Wertham, a thoughtful note about how some comics may have painted a world in which human life has no meaning. It's immediately followed by a quote from Spawn creator and Image founder Todd McFarlane, "Kids love chains."
Comics can be fun and empowering and inherently ridiculous. They also contribute to our flawed, celebrity culture. Both can be simultaneously true, and it feels like that's where Cates is trying to land. This has been a theme throughout most of his work. God Country, Redneck, Venom, and even Thor and Doctor Strange have all dealt with the toxicity and arrogance that accompanies heroism, stripping protagonists down to what made them heroes in the first place. He explores the humanity of brokenness in the people we never expect to see broken. Crossover takes that thought process and widens its scale to examine its effects on the country as a whole, specifically in our very worst moments.
A great artist can bring out the best in any writer's work. That's true throughout all of comics, but especially when talking about Cates. Crossover artist Geoff Shaw has collaborated with Cates on multiple occasions and the two consistently bring out the best and most imaginative work from one another. That remains the case in this new partnership, which will seriously test the limits of both their skills as the world of Crossover opens up.
Cates unleashes a lot of big ideas in the first issue of Crossover, so many that it feels like there may be a too much going on. There's a lack of focus that could go one of two ways. Everything in Crossover #1 feels intentional, so it seems like Cates is working to set up several different pins before knocking them down all at once. If that's the case, and he can stick the landing when dealing with all of these difficult and thought-provoking topics, Crossover will deliver a grand slam. Then again, there's the chance that there really are too many big ideas at play; all of the good Crossover is aiming to accomplish could get lost in that shuffle. I'm crossing my fingers that readers discover the former to be true.
Published by Image Comics
On November 4, 2020
Written by Donny Cates
Art by Geoff Shaw
Colors by Dee Cunniffe0comments
Letters by John J. Hill
Cover by Geoff Shaw and Dave Stewart