Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Story impact of early Image's inter company crossovers (Part 2)

Of course, the Image crossovers whose impact spilled beyond the obligatory team up extended past their joint efforts with DC. Jim Lee's WildStorm studios collaborations with Marvel and Dark Horse produced some very peculiar moments for superhero fans.

Following Jim Lee's work for the "X-Men" publisher on the 1996 Heroes Reborn relaunch, an agreement was reached to produce a crossover. The WildC.A.T.s/X-Men crossover was produced as four issues designed with the idea of introducing the Image superheroes into various parts of the mutant continuity. It's chiefly remembered for Travis ("Metabarons") Charest's superb art in the first episode, but it's the Jim Lee pencilled second issue that poses a very interesting tidbit for this retrospective.

The Scott Lobdell plot pairing Grifter and Jean Grey is quickly forgettable and could easily have been reworked to feature Gambit, another Jim Lee co-creation in Cole Cash's role, but that's also beside the point. What sticks to mind is the role of Mister Sinister in this flashback story. The controversial X-Men villain concocts another of his complicated genetic schemes, providing the crossover set up, and Lee tries his best to enliven the proceedings with some new narrative techniques.

The opening starring Grifter in the cell brings to mind Lee studying Frank Miller's and publishing the results as the early episodes of "Deathblow". It's interesting to note that even at his commercial peak, Lee was taking steps into improving his much lauded art. And while "WildC.A.T.s/X-Men: Silver age" fails as a showcase for accomplished storytelling it more than fulfills the idea of serving as a sleek presentation of two high grossing franchises at their most commercial.

For "WildC.A.T.s" this meant posing as an established superhero title, in very much the same mold as the X-Men, that first brought Lee to prominence. As for "the X-Men", they were still at a point where the audience was fascinated by the implications of their convoluted continuity, inspiring the crossover's four standalone stories. Interestingly, following Lee's brief formal experimentation at the beginning of "Silver age", the episode closes with Lobdell making a brief implication that cements the crossover's place in the X-Men chronology.

Namely, Sinister makes a reference to taking Jean Grey's DNA sample during her brief alliance with Grifter. This explains how he was able to clone Madelyne Pryor which eventually lead to "the Inferno" crossover, a major late 1980s X-Men story. Today it seems like a minor story point, but the mid 1990-ies fans were positively ravenous about Marvel's mutant heroes, enabling the company to spin story arcs and events from even the most minor of plot minutiae.

Next: the retrospective finishes with the quintessential Image inter company crossover that introduced major changes to a comics' continuity!

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