Read This Book: Commanders In Crisis Is A Masterclass In Crossovers

There are some choices in life that hit us harder than we will ever know. Part of being alive is making the hard choices that we know may haunt us the rest of our lives, and leave us wondering if we couldn’t have done something, anything different to stop ourselves from ever making those choices in the first place. Sadly, no matter how hard we try, despite our very best effort, we still know that we will all have to make hard choices we don’t want to make.

I recently had a moment like that in my own life. After years and years of dedication, justification, and disappointment, I made one of the hardest choices I have ever had to make. I dropped Batman from my pull list.

Alright, so maybe I’m being a touch dramatic, but seriously, this was a hard choice. After my comic book hiatus years ago, Batman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash were the books that got me reading again. Back when I was a Marvel addicted teen, Batman and The Flash were the only DC books that really ever made it onto my regular pull list, and one of my favorite things to do at cons is dig through back issue bins snagging up whatever Batman titles I can find.

Any yet, AND YET, it finally feels like the time has come to let Batman go. The main reason for this change: The Joker War, an entire event seemingly crafted to both distract people with flashy spolosions enough to ignore Tynion undoing everything King did with his Batman run, and introduce a ton of completely pointless characters than will one day serve as cool new action figures. Four new characters introduced, none of whom did anything of interest, and now one of them, the sexy lady, is getting her own series, because…sexy lady? Because she’s the new Harley Quinn? Kind of, but not really because she hates Harley, so even though she’s basically the same character (brilliant woman, obsessed with the Joker, fascinated with crime and evil, starts off a villain and then becomes a hero/ anti-hero. Sexy skin tight costume with gravity defying body, Unexplained athleticism that will no doubt be retconned in later, betrayed by Joker, and on and on and on).

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that Tynion is a bad writer. If anything, his writing is the only thing that kept me reading this story. He can handle a complicated plot beautifully, and craft an overall satisfying narrative almost effortlessly. No, what made me drop Batman, and sadly many other DC titles, is that once again it was part of a completely pointless crossover event.

As someone who writes about comics, I often get asked what my pitch is for my own title. So, since I doubt I’ll ever get the chance to actually write it, here is my elevator pitch:

In a world full of superheroes constantly battling super villains in a series of never ending, earth shaking battles, humanity finally bands together and opens a portal to a new world, free of any super beings at all. Everyone lives happy, peaceful lives. The End.

Alright, so it’s not the most exciting pitch in the world, but it does illustrate why these crossover events get under my skin so much.  At best they’re a reward for anyone who is reading enough titles to actually follow what’s happening in the first place, and at worst they’re a shameless cash grab meant to create some small scale shake-ups with usually little to no lasting effects.

Death Metal, X of Whatever, Into the Crisis on Multiple Verses, who cares? A lot of readers hate them because, as collectors and completionist, they often force us to buy lesser books to complete the story and actually understand what’s going on. Meanwhile a number of retailers, who might enjoy the temporary sales boost brought on by popular crossovers, also have to gamble on readers getting completely disgusted by the whole thing and dropping all the titles until they’re over.

I hate crossovers. I hate Crisises. And most of all I hate how these one time events have become such a norm that you can’t even finish one before the next one starts.

So, what does this long winded, and frankly quite self-indulgent rant have to do with today’s column? Let’s find out, with this week’s review of Commanders in Crisis!

Here’s the blurb:

The last survivors of the Multiverse live among us under new, superheroic identities, five survivors of doomed worlds…taking a second chance to ensure our world lives on. A new twist on strange superhero comics, with a bleeding-edge eye on the modern moment, COMMANDERS IN CRISIS follows in the footsteps of Doom Patrol and Thunderbolts as five unexpected heroes come together to solve a murder unlike any other. The victim? Compassion itself…This is ideacide! A new series by acclaimed writer STEVE ORLANDO (Wonder Woman, Doom Patrol: Milk Wars, Martian Manhunter) and artist DAVIDE TINTO (Marvel Action: Spider-Man), an intense, weird action thriller reminding us about the importance of compassion and hope in the present moment, and putting fists to faces along the way!

This book actually begins with a bit of a surprise. Dan Didio, avowed Dick Grayson hater and former Editor in Chief for DC Comics, has written a one page introduction to the book, letting the reader in on the premise. You see, what the blurb doesn’t reveal is that Commanders in Crisis isn’t just a wild new adventure series, it’s actually a revolutionary thought experiment. It’s a self-contained crossover event that is completely brand new, with brand new characters, and absolutely no outside continuity. Imagine if the first DC book ever published was Crisis on Infinite Earths and you kind of get where this book is coming from.

And honestly, it’s kind of amazing. Orlando has perfectly captured the essence of a crossover, so well in fact that sometimes I had to stop and remind myself that this book is more of a homage than an actual event. From the overly descriptive dialogue to the wildly unrealistic rollcalls, this book is a better crossover than most of the actual crossovers put out by the big two in the last few years.

Now wait a minute there Mac, I hear you say, you just said how much you hate crossovers, so much that you’re planning on dropping Batman because you’re so sick of the unended events that spring out of his books. You just said that crossovers are the worst thing ever! How can you be praising a book that is, at its heart, one big love letter to crossovers?!

Well first off, shut up, and secondly, because it’s great. Yes, I hate crossovers, and yes, I’m so sick of them that I have slowly been using them to justify whittling down my DC pull list for a year now, but at the same time Commanders in Crisis does something we all need, which is to essentially distill the madness of a crossover down into its purest form. By doing so, it can actually be a very helpful tool to make us all more critical readers of these events.

You see, with a lot of crossovers we come into them invested in a single, or sometimes a small handful, of the characters. Because of this, we are often so focused on that single character that we can have trouble recognizing the rest of what the author is doing, for good and bad, until it is too late. I love Scott Snyder, but to me, Death Metal is a mess. It was supposed to be a story about Wonder Woman, and four issues (and three one shots, and I don’t know how many tie ins) later, all she has really done is make the bad guy more powerful, and changed the mind of another one. As a a devoted WW fan, this has made me hate the story, and no matter what good Snyder does with it, I will always see it as a failure. I’m so focused on a handful of characters I like, and my own perception of what they should do and be, that I can’t be objective about it.

But with Commanders in Crisis I can be, because I am not invested in any of these characters. Instead, they function as archetypes, and as such it is much easier for me to appreciate the world building and narrative story telling Orlando and Tinto are crafting. It’s a master class in comic writing, and one I highly encourage you to pick up.

So there you go, a wildly self-indulgent look into my own comic prejudices, sprinkled with a hearty dose of admiration and respect for two of the most talented creators in the business. Commanders in Crisis is off to a great start, and one day I feel it will be held up next to other comic experiments like Omega Men and Squadron Supreme.

This is the kind of comic you should read if you want to be a better comic reader!

Until next time, stay safe!

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