Donny Cates is one of those names that comic fans get excited about, but people outside of this crazy world might never have heard of. That’s not really a surprise, because while Cates has been setting comic readers hearts aflutter for years now, he hasn’t really sought out the limelight like other creators in this business. He’s not chasing Hollywood or hocking toys, he’s just writing damn good comics that show an appreciation of the genre, and the heart of a true comic fan.
Cates built his legacy from the ground up, starting in my beloved indies where he gained praise from critics and comic fans alike for works like The Ghost Fleet, Redneck, and his most popular indie hit, God Country. He built his fandom along the way, crafting deeply personal comics set against fantastic worlds that rivalled the imagination of Jack Kirby, and eventually his work got him noticed by Marvel Comics.
Cates took Marvel by storm. He devastated the Inhumans, reinvented Carnage and Venom, and wrote the best Silver Surfer comics since Stan Lee. Along the way he has shown himself to be a consummate fan of the comics community, and has helped lay the groundwork for the future of Marvel moving forward. Even a bitter old curmudgeon like me, who has barely glanced at a Marvel book in a decade, has to admit that his work for them has been some of the best I’ve read in a long time.
But what about the indies, you might ask, if you were prone to ask questions like that? Well, never fear true believers. When he hasn’t been saving Marvel, Cates, along with his partners Dee Cunniffe, Geoff Shaw and John J. Hill, have been carefully crafting what could end up being one of the most important indie books of 2020, Crossover.
Here’s the really, really short blurb. Spoilers ahead for issue 1:
Imagine everything you thought was fantasy…was real. And now join us, in a world where reality is dead…and anything is possible…
Alright, that blurb is no help. Good thing Uncle Mac is here to take you through this little slice of genius.
Issue one begins with a question: Who is more real, you, or Superman? Seems like a pretty obvious question, of course we’re more real! Superman is fiction. He just an imaginary friend.
But then Cates starts hitting you with ideas. More people know about Superman than probably know about you. When you’re dead and gone, Superman will still have stories. When the Earth explodes and mankind travels among the star, Superman will still be part of that. So what makes something real? Is belief alone enough, or is there something more?
This thought experiment, however, is soon cut short by a disaster so epic and unexpected that it changes the very nature of reality itself. On January 11th, 2017, in the city of Denver, Colorado the skies opened up, and a massive, unbridled, unexplainable explosion of superheroes burst into the world. Now, we’re not talking about made up heroes, or new heroes for the book. No, this is an epic crossover (eh, get it!) of every hero in existence. Before the good people of Colorado know what’s happening, the entire state becomes consumed by a no hold barred, knock-down drag out superhero showdown, devastating the state and killing civilians by the thousands. One of the heroes throws a forcefield around the state, and for the last four years the battle inside the dome has raged without pause.
Cut to present day. Horrified by what happened, the government and the people of America come to the assumption that this whole thing was caused by belief, particularly belief in comic book heroes. Mass purges of comics happen across the country, with book burning that would make old Fredric Wortham dance with delight. The industry all but collapses, being replaced with propaganda comics that celebrate real heroes and their real adventures, and driving a lot of collectors and fans underground.
We’re introduced to our protagonist, a young woman named Ellipses Howell, a survivor of Colorado. She’s considered a freak among the majority of the population, not only because she works in one of the few comic shops still hanging on, but also because she insists on wearing a colorful cosplay costume as daily attire. In a world where superheroes are a nightmare threat ever looming on the periphery, someone whose whole life revolves around them is bound to draw negative attention.
I don’t want to give too much else away. Suffice it to say that events soon transpire that will push Elli and her friends back to the bubble, and no doubt some shocking revelations along the way.
I really enjoyed this book. With both Cates and Shaw onboard, the parallels to God Country would be easy to draw, ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances outside of the realm of believability, but this book feel different and unique enough to be more than that.
See, while Cates can do superhero action just as well as the next guy, where his work really shines is in the quiet moments of contemplation. This book has a lot of potential to be a serious and deep meditation on comic book culture, and on how it has served as the basis for a modern American mythology. It also will have exciting action and no shortage of gory violence, so its got a little something for everyone.
So there you go folks. With Cates’ name attached to this, issue 1 is already heating up. I highly recommend getting out there and snagging a copy if you can. If God Country was anything to go by this book is gonna have some legs to it.
Until next week, stay safe.