Obviously we get the idea. These crossovers are when characters from different series meet and team up or just plain fight it out. But I’m not just talking about a series designed with a team in mind like the Justice Avengers of the Ring; no, crossovers are essentially when two or more different characters end up as special guests to each other and are generally given a fair bit of publicity like a special wrestling match. Basically, it’s the time-honoured nerd tradition of “Who would win in a fight?”
All these ideas on what sells or what’s trending come together in the meeting rooms of these big names, sometimes from the creative side, sometimes from the marketing side. They pitch it to each other, and if an idea sticks, they then approach the other party and propose it. Once that’s greenlit, they’ll collaborate and, like Frankenstein, create an abomination unto man and God.
When this happens, what follows is generally an adventure which, while open-and-shut so as not to confuse readers or complicate continuity, also serves to highlight the similarities and differences between the characters. Usually, it seldom outright answers the question of who would win in a fight, not unless they actually poll readers and honour the results (in which case they have to prepare multiple endings). Instead, it usually involves the two meeting under some remarkable circumstances, getting in some good hits, and then concluding “You know what? They’re both pretty awesome.”
Now, obviously Superman and Batman form one of the most iconic duos in fictional media, starting out as the ultimate crossovers and then developing into one of the most enduring teams if you want a power duo or a buddy cop contrast. But it doesn’t always have to be between characters under the same company. Sometimes it’s between obvious candidates like DC and Marvel, like Peter Parker and Clark Kent going on a work exchange program. More commonly, they tend to be within the same category like Alien versus Predator, Judge Dredd versus Robocop, or Star Trek versus Star Wars. If there’s even some resemblance, and ESPECIALLY if they’re commonly compared, it’s a good bet there’ll be a crossover.
It’s the big names which tend to attract a crossover (be it in SPACE, or SPACE HORROR, and so on), but that’s not the only possibility. Sometimes, crossovers are pitched as a simple fancy of “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool/hilarious if these guys met?” as in the case of the Punisher meeting Archie. Or the Predator meeting Archie. Or KISS meeting Archie.
Pictured above: And you thought I was kidding.
So why do writers create these specials? Well, the most obvious answer is supply and demand; if the characters are popular and/or iconic enough, there’s a good chance they’ll meet up in a special adventure. Popularity is a large part about this, and that popularity doesn’t actually have to come from the same audience. Unless there’s a common thread between Punisher and Archie fanbases that escapes me.
Some crossovers are made with thematic reasons in mind. Maybe there are characters which complement each other but don’t have many reasons or chances to actually meet. Of course, sometimes these reasons occur only AFTER the fact; after all, back when people were clamouring for Batman/Superman or Godzilla vs. King Kong, I doubt they were thinking about the dichotomy of an unpowered detective and a demigod farmboy, or the embodiment of nature’s wrath versus a manmade nuclear threat.
In some cases, these crossovers are even pitched as or develop into a running series. Sometimes, writers will find out that a particular team up was SO good that they’ll work it into a fuller series. Just because many of these start out as the simple whims of the powers that be chasing money or cashing in on trends, it doesn’t mean they can’t develop into something more. That’s definitely something worth exploring in the future.
But while growth from the unlikeliest beginnings is a great beauty of writing, let’s not forget that ultimately, these things come down to marketing and popularity, resulting in absolutely bonkers tie-in materials. Such as…
Pictured above: What might be the greatest piece of marketing material.