Talking Movies [Crossover Crisis]: AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem

In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Tuesday in April in an event I call “Crossover Crisis”.

Released: 25 December 2007
Director: The Brothers Strause
20th Century Fox
Budget: $40 million
Steven Pasquale, Ian Whyte, Johnny Lewis, Reiko Aylesworth, Kristen Hager, and Tom Woodruff Jr.

The Plot:
Following the last clash between Xenomorph and Predator, a “Predalien” (Woodruff Jr.) hybrid begins a bloody rampage in a small Colorado town. While former convict Dallas Howard (Rasquale), his troublesome younger brother Ricky (Lewis), and soldier Kelly O’Brien (Aylesworth) desperately try to survive as their town is overrun with viscous alien drones, a lone Predator, “Wolf” (Whyte), is dispatched to remove all traces of the creatures from the town by any means necessary.

The Background:
Starting life in the pages of Dark Horse Comics with a three-issue short story courtesy of writer Chris Warner, the Aliens vs. Predator concept quickly expanded into multiple follow-up stories, an expansive toy line, and videogames. After a lengthy stint in Development Hell in which notable figureheads from the Alien franchise (Various, 1977 to present) openly criticised a crossover between the two horror icons, Paul W. S. Anderson won over the studio with his pitch and turned a tidy profit with AVP: Alien vs. Predator (ibid, 2004). Though the film was subjected to largely negative reviews, brothers Colin and Greg Strause were brought in to helm a follow-up, having previously unsuccessfully pitched a similar crossover and making a mark in Hollywood with their work as visual effects supervisors. Excited at the prospect on working on such a film, the two insisted that the bulk of the film’s effects were achieved practically, with CGI being used sparingly to render alien spacecraft, the more elaborate sets, and to bolster the practical effects wherever possible. Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. created the monstrous Predalien suit, which incorporated visually recognisable aspects of both species and was brought to life using an animatronic head and practical suit. Despite the brothers’ attention to detail and clear love of both franchises, and making a respectable $130.2 million worldwide gross, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem failed to impress critics: many have cited it as one of the worst films in either franchise and critics dismissed the film as a mindless, violent mess akin to a videogame that suffered from dull human characters and poor lighting. While some were impressed by the film, especially compared to the first one, plans for another movie was indefinitely suspended and fans would have to settle for the 2010 videogame as a quasi-third entry as both franchises have continued on separately on the silver screen.

The Review:
As a big fan of both the Alien and Predator franchises, and of their crossover comic books and videogames, I was left pretty disappointed with the first AVP film. While I believe that the premise of pitting these two iconic extraterrestrial monsters against each other has a lot of potential, and should be a license to print money, the execution of their long-awaited clash fell flat thanks to a by-the-numbers, toothless effort on behalf of all involved. Despite some decent practical effects and an interesting expansion of the Predator lore, the film just played things far too safe and couldn’t live up to either the standards of its predecessors or the expectations set by other meetings between the two. Unfortunately, AVP: R had a bit of a mountain to climb in that regard as many audiences went into it with low expectations after the last film and because it picks up immediately where AVP left off, meaning the entire film beyond the opening sequence is set on then-modern-day Earth. And in the suburbs, no less! While I’ll never agree with the decision to set the conflict between the two creatures on Earth in the mid-2000s rather than in the far future and on another world, at least AVP: R doesn’t shy away from the gore and immediately delivers something new by quickly accelerating the birth of Scar’s (Whyte) progeny and bringing to life a truly gruesome Alien/Predator hybrid, the Predalien.

Sadly, AVP: R falters with its human characters, who are far too generic to make an impression.

After slaughtering the Predator’s on their shuttle and causing it to crash-land in the forests of Gunnison, Colorado, the Predalien immediately sets about establishing a nest for itself in the sewers under the town, while the ship’s payload of Facehuggers gets to work impregnating the unsuspecting townsfolk…including a little boy, showing that AVP: R really isn’t pulling any punches compared to the last film. One of the things I criticised about the first film was the strength and quality of its cast; however, at least AVP had Colin Salmon and Lance Henricksen to add some gravitas to the proceedings. AVP: R is completely robbed of this benefit, giving us a cast of no-name television actors who struggle to offer any kind of dimension or intrigue to the largely expendable human characters. The film ties to focus itself around Ricky, a normal, everyday high schooler who works a shitty job, is the target of farcical jock-like bullies, and pines after the unreasonably attractive Jesse Salinger (Hager). I guess we’re supposed to like and connect with Ricky because he’s just a regular kid, but he’s basically just every semi-rebellious, resentful teenager you’ve ever seen. While he’s not very appealing by himself, I ironically didn’t mind the relationship between him and his older, far more interesting brother, Dallas. A former convict with a no-nonsense attitude who’s trying to turn his life around, Dallas might be burdened by desperate attempts to make him appealing (he’s a rugged ex-con, he shares his name with Tom Skerritt’s Alien character, he shares an awkward flirtation with Kelly, and he even gets the iconic “Get to the chopper!” line) but at least he demonstrates a brief glimmer of character through his practical, if blunt, solutions to the escalating horror. Kelly is shoehorned into the mandatory “tough female protagonist” role made synonymous with the Alien films by Lieutenant Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver); sadly, like Lex Woods (Sanaa Lathan) before her, Kelly struggles in this role; she’s not nearly dynamic or captivating enough to be a strong female protagonist, despite her being given a layer of vulnerability and maternal appeal in her strained relationship with her young daughter, Molly (Gade). Kelly is barely seen processing the death of her husband, Tim (Sam Trammell), before she’s flirting with ex-cons and blasting shotguns and Xenomorphs and it seems she’s primarily there in a half-hearted attempt to call-back to the far ore memorable Ripley and to have someone in the group who can pilot them to safety in the finale.

Gunnison is caught not just between the Aliens and Predator but the rampage of the monstrous hybrid.

Gunnison is naturally a central focus of the film; the Xenomorphs nest and rampage through the town and its inhabitants are picked off and impregnated by them for the first half of the film, with the town’s homeless and gung-ho hunters particularly suffering in the early going. Law and order is maintained in the town by Sheriff Eddie Morales (John Ortiz), a childhood friend of Dallas’s and former problem child himself who makes efforts to help him get his life back on track but who’s soon overwhelmed by the sudden invasion of bloodthirsty biomechanical monstrosities. Completely out of his depth, Morales calls in the National Guard (who are promptly slaughtered) and desperately radios for military aid; however, he refuses to heed Dallas and Kelly’s advice that Colonel Stevens (Robert Joy) is misleading them with the promise of an air evacuation and therefore dooms himself and his posse, who are so terrified that they’re focused only on escaping rather than using rational thought. Gunnison is also home to some disreputable characters; bullies Dale Collins (David Paetkau), Mark (Matt Ward), and Nick (Michal Suchánek) give Ricky more than his fair share of grief, with Dale beating him in the street for giving him backchat and eyeing up his girl, Jesse. Despite their differences, they’re forced to band together when they’re attack by a Xenomorph in the school pool and hunted through the school corridors, with the bullies soon paying for their misguided machismo. For all the focus AVP: R puts on the mutual attraction between Ricky and Jesse, it’s absolutely brutal when she is unceremoniously cut in half by Wolf’s shuriken-like Smart Disc; her death is so spontaneous that it’s both shocking and amusing and indicates just how much more ruthless AVP: R is compared to its predecessor. However, nowhere is this more evident when the Predalien stalks through a maternity ward at the local hospital, where it uses its proboscis to lay a bunch of Chestbursters into the bellies of the pregnant women in there! While this kind of cruelty may understandable frowned upon by some, I’m actually a big fan of shock value and AVP: R certainly delivers in that regard thanks to being unapologetically gory and violent.

Wolf comes to clean up the Alien infestation and proves to be the film’s most interesting character.

Similar to the last film, and true to the nature of the concept, the Predator takes an active role as an anti-hero throughout the film’s events, however I’d argue that Wolf is such a presence here that he’s almost portrayed as the film’s primary character. After the Predator shuttle crashes and the Facehuggers and Predalien escape into the wild, Wolf picks up the signal (giving us our first live-action glimpse of the Predator home world) and immediately sets out to contain the outbreak. An accomplished hunter and veteran, Wolf is far more capable and experienced compared to the rookies seen in the last film; carrying the acid scars on his face and missing a mandible, Wolf is portrayed as something of a “cleaner” and damage control for unwanted or unsanctioned Xenomorph infestations, but comes across more like a detective in his investigation of the crash site, which sees him arm himself with two shoulder cannons, and his meticulous destruction of all traces of either species using a corrosive blue goop. Though largely surreptitious and focused on this mission, Wolf does stray to partake in a little hunting, recreating scenes from Predator when interrupted by the Gunnison search party in the  forest (actually skinning his victims rather than just stringing them up as in the last film) and bringing undue attention to himself by causing a blackout when picking off Xenomorph’s at the town power plant. However, humans are of little interest to this Predator, meaning we’re thankfully spared any awkward and cheesy team ups between Wolf and Dallas; indeed, Wolf is largely nonplussed when the townsfolk get caught in the crossfire between him and his prey and he’s perfectly happy to blast their heads off if it means containing the outbreak. Sporting all the tried-and-true weapons and tactics associated with the alien hunter, Wolfe is given the tactical and technological edge that the humans sorely lack; he can view multiple spectrums and review recorded footage from his fallen comrades using his helmet, has all the tools and toys of his predecessors (but with two shoulder cannons), and is far more adept at dealing with Xenomorphs than any other Predator we’ve seen before.

Led by the grotesque Predalien, the Xenomorphs swarm through the sleepy, unassuming town.

As before, the Xenomorphs are portrayed as being more stereotypically and recognisably “bad” compared to Wolf, who’s firmly entrenched as a bad-ass anti-hero. Alien acid severs limbs and melts faces, and Facehuggers and scurrying to the sewers to set up a nest. The fully-grown Xenomorphs seem largely unfazed at their urban settings, easily skulking through town in the dead of night to pick off victims and being framed in a suffocating, near constant darkness that really helps to add to their terror (when you can actually see them, that is). In a nice change of pace, AVP: R doesn’t rely on the cliché of a Xenomorph Queen and instead has the creatures directed by a far more mobile and altogether more versatile and horrifying alpha, the Predalien. A hulking, drooling nightmarish mish-mash of Alien and Predator biology, the Predalien is framed very much like the original Xenomorph drone (Bolaji Badejo) and a figure of disgusting, uncomfortable sexually-charged horror rather than some disposable, squealing drone. Although I often think of the Predalien as being a masculine counterpart to the Alien Queen, it’s actually an asexual creature, able to impregnate multiple Chestbursters directly into a host using its proboscis. Not only does the Predalien sport the mandibles and dreadlocks of a Predator but it also rips the spines out of its prey much like the alien hunter; seen as an abomination by Wolf, the two have a deep-rooted instinctual hatred of one another and their inevitable conflict is so brutal that it would be a fight to the death even without the impending threat of nuclear destruction.

The Nitty-Gritty:
AVP: R tends to get a bad name primarily because of its poor lighting; when I went to see it in the cinema, I don’t remember it being that dark or difficult to make out what’s happening but it’s hard to deny that sections of the film are all-but impossible to see since they’re bathed in a pitch-black darkness. On the one hand, I don’t actually mind this; it recalls the dark atmospheric horror of the first Alien film and returns these creatures to their roots as frightening monsters rather than lessening their threat through over exposure, however I think the Brothers Strause went a little too far into the dark, perhaps in an attempt to keep the film from upsetting the censors by adding unnecessary monster horror to its gore, swearing, and violence. Fiddling with your TV settings and the lighting in your home can improve things, for sure, but it’s a shame that so much of the film, suits, and brutality is lost to this impenetrable blackness. Unlike the last film, AVP: R is unapologetically R-rated; characters swear throughout the film and blood and gore are far more prevalent, bringing the film more in line with the standards set by previous entries in the series. As alluded to, this also can be taken as a detriment as the Brothers Strause go super dark by having Chestbursters burst out of children and pregnant women, but these films have always had some uncomfortable gory scenes and I’m certainly not going to complain about this considering how toothless the first AVP film was. I also have to commend the Brothers Strause for their clear affection for the source material; this is evident right from the start, where the film’s credits are a mixture of both franchise’s fonts and the ambient sound is a mash-up of the classic motion tracker beeping and the Predator’s thermal vision, and the amalgamation of the franchises continues to be felt throughout the film in Brian Tyler’s score.

The increased focus on gore and recreating both franchise’s atmospheres is very much appreciated.

As ever, the main appeal of the film are the practical effects used to bring both species to life; again, this is why the low lighting is such a drawback as the Aliens finally include their most memorable design (the rigged skull variant from the second film) and we never really get a decent look at the Predalien thanks to the all-encompassing darkness and wash of rain throughout the movie. Still, the suits, puppets, and animatronics are as good as they’ve ever been and sometimes benefit from the darkness; Wolf sticks very closely to the classic Predator look defined in the first two films, though with a more visually interesting helmet and sporting the battle scars of his many hunts. The cloaking effect is much improved this time around, as are the CGI blasts used to represent his shoulder cannon projectiles, both of which harken back to the first two films and Wolf even uses the trajectory tracking system seen in the first Predator. Best of all, his face more resembles the classic Stan Winston design rather than the butt-ugly travesty we saw in AVP, and we get an all-too-brief glimpse of the Predator home world, a searing hot planet of ancient pyramids and structures that just cries out to be revisited in more detail some time, and the additional toys Wolf gets to play with. Wolf has the spear and the gauntlets but also has little mapping devices that double as laser traps he to cover his back and cut down any Xenomorphs, he can charge up his gauntlet to burst through solid concrete, has a slick razor-sharp whip, and he’s also easily powerful and adept enough to hold multiple Xenomorphs off at once. The Aliens not only have their signature squeal, but we also get to see them feeding on human brains; they’re also slimier and more grotesque than ever, though none more so than the Predalien. This thing is absolutely abhorrent to look at, drooling and stomping about with a real weight. In many ways, it reminds me of the Newborn (Tom Woodruff Jr./Joan La Barbara/Archie Hahn) in that it’s an even more monstrous variant of one of cinema’s classic creatures, though the Predalien enforces its will far more aggressively than the Queen, striking Xenomorphs when they try to eat or act before it and slashing at its victims with its huge claw-like hands and prehensile tail.

Sadly, the brawl is interrupted by a nuke that kills the town and puts an end to the alien threat.

Many of the human survivors are whittled down in their efforts to arm themselves thanks to Wolf using them as bait and picking them off simply for being armed; the National Guard and absolutely massacred by the Xenomorphs as well, and the remaining survivors split up after disagreeing about Colonel Steven’s evacuation plan. Colonel Stevens directs the survivors to the centre of town on the pretence of an evacuation but it’s actually to ensure that the Aliens all congregate on ground zero of his tactical nuclear strike, which obliterates the entire town and all traces of the alien infestation save for Wolf’s shoulder blaster. Before the town is destroyed, however, Dallas, Kelly, Molly, and a wounded Ricky fight their way to the roof of the town hospital (which has been partially converted into a horrific Alien nest) to get to the helicopter and escape the incoming blast in tense scenes awash in darkness and flickering lights that recall Ripley’s desperate last-minute escapes as much as Kelly’s drive through the wrecked streets calls back to Ripley’s rescue of the Colonial Marines in their armoured transports. Barely able to fend off the skulking Xenomorphs with their weapons, Dallas covers their escape by wielding Wolf’s repurposed shoulder cannon, but ultimately it comes down to a one-on-one, hand-to-hand slugfest between Wolf and the Predalien. This takes place on the rooftop of the hospital, in the dead of night, and amidst a torrential downpour with their destruction an inarguable guarantee since we know Stevens has a missile inbound. And yet, as in the last film, actually seeing the Predator go at it with the Aliens and that horrific hybrid are the highlight of the film despite the low lighting; overpowered by the Predalien and ready to fight to the death, Wolf discards his weapons and battles his rival in a test of strength that sees him rip out its inner mouth, stab it through the head, and be left impaling on its spear-like tail. Unfortunately, Wolf is incinerated along with his foe and the entire town by Stevens’ missile; although our human protagonists escape, the shockwave causes their helicopter to crash and they’re apprehended by military police shortly afterwards. In the aftermath, Colonel Stevens recovers Wolf’s damage cannon from Dallas and presents it to Ms. Yutani (Françoise Yip) of the Yutani Corporation, awkwardly implying that they were somehow able to reverse-engineer enough technology from this one weapon to eventually become a universe-spanning colonising force alongside the Weyland Industries some two-hundred years in the future.

The Summary:
I’m a firm believer that AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem isn’t as bad as people make it out to be, but also that it still has plenty of undeniable flaws that keep it from being classified as under-rated and which also make me hesitate to rate it much higher. I’ve always enjoyed that the film veers back to the horror atmosphere that popularised each franchise; the swearing, blood, gore, and shocking violence all make quite an impact and make this film the extreme other end of the spectrum compared to the first AVP movie. I also enjoy Wolf’s character and presence throughout the film; in many ways, I almost wish that we’d followed him more as he’s far more interesting a character than any of the disposable humans, but I would be surprised if we ever saw something like that in a live-action movie. I also really enjoyed the Prealien; as much as I love the Xenomorph Queen, she’s very played out and it’s nice when the franchise uses a similar concept but in a different, uniquely grotesque way and the Predalien is such a striking character design and vicious concept that it really helps to up the ante in a more visceral way. In these regards, AVP: R is worlds better than its predecessor; the tone, presentation, and atmosphere are far more in line with what I expect from each franchise and I would choose to watch this one out of the two on any day of the week…but sadly it’s still a mess of a movie. The film’s just way too dark, there’s no denying it; some scenes are just a blank screen of darkness with the vaguest hint of movement and the sounds of gnashing, slobbering teeth, and the impressive practical effects are almost entirely lost in this death shroud. Furthermore, the characters and setting are just awful; an urban environment might be something different from the franchise but a present-day setting just doesn’t work for this concept and the lack of any strong, recognisable faces and human protagonists means it’s almost impossible to give a damn when they’re in danger or die. Overall, this was a step in the right direction in many ways but the execution again fell short of the mark; it’s a shame that we probably won’t see a proper Aliens versus Predator film set in space and in the future and that we’re left with these two largely disappointing live-action adaptations as the premise has so much potential but the studio clearly didn’t have faith to put the money and effort behind it so we’re left with these sub-par efforts that really could’ve, and should’ve, been much better.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem? How do you think it compares to the first film and other films in each franchise? Were you disappointed that it continued the modern-day setting? Did the poor lighting and shock value of the gore and horror bother you? Which of the humans was your favourite? What did you think to Wolf and his mission to erase all traces of the Aliens? Were you a fan of the Prealien or do you find it to be a little too unrealistic? Which of the Aliens vs. Predator stories or adaptations was your favourite? Would you like to see the two cross paths again in some form or another? Whatever you think about Alien vs. Predator, leave a comment down below or share your thoughts on my social media.

Talking Movies [Crossover Crisis]: AVP: Alien vs. Predator: Extreme Edition

In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Tuesday in April in an event I call “Crossover Crisis”.

Released: 7 March 2005
Originally Released: 12 August 2004
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
20th Century Fox
Budget: $60 to 70 million
Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, Colin Salmon, Ewen Bremner, Ian Whyte, Tom Woodruff Jr., and Lance Henriksen

The Plot:
When sickly, wealthy industrialist Charles Weyland (Henriksen) discovers a pyramid buried off the coast of Antarctica, he coerces experienced guide Alexa “Lex” Woods (Lathan) to lead a team of scientists, mercenaries, and archaeologists in an expedition to investigate. However, they soon find themselves caught in the middle of a war between two viscous alien races as three Predators (Whyte) come looking to prove their worthy in battle against the ultimate prey, the ferocious Xenomorphs (Woodruff Jr.), whom they breed within the ancient structure.

The Background:
The concept of Aliens vs. Predator originated in the pages of Dark Horse Comics; founded in 1980 by Mike Richardson, Dark Horse Comics stood out from its competition by by primarily publishing creator-owned titles and achieved mainstream success with its licensed adaptations of horror and science-fiction films, such as the original meeting of these two icons in a three-issue short story, courtesy of writer Chris Warner, which was then followed by multiple follow-ups, action figures, and videogames. Although it appears that plans for a live-action adaptation can be traced back to the late-nineties, these were paused to focus on Alien Resurrection (Jeunet, 1997) and, despite director James Cameron and actor Sigourney Weaver openly criticising the idea of diluting both creatures with a crossover, with director Paul W. S. Anderson spearheading the production after pursuing the project for eight years and winning over the studio with his pitch. While the comic books were set in the future like the Alien films (Various, 1977 to present), AVP was set in the then-modern day, but Anderson strived to maintain continuity by setting the film in the wilderness of Antarctica. Anderson’s focus on continuity and paying homage to the existing franchise compelled him to bring star Lance Henriksen back to play an ancestor of the Bishop seen in previous films, though star Arnold Schwarzenegger was unable to make an appearance. Amalgamated Dynamics Incorporated (ADI), who had worked on the last two Alien films, created AVP’s special effects, which focused on practical suits as often as possible, which led to ADI re-using many of the suits and animatronics from the previous movies. Although Alien vs. Predator eventually grossed over $177 million at the box office, it was met with overwhelmingly negative reviews; while some found it to be an enjoyably dumb action/horror flick, others saw it as a boring film filled with one-dimensional characters and lacking in either franchise’s trademark gore. The box office was clearly enough to convince the studio to push forward with a sequel, however, and, prior to that film’s release, this “Extreme Edition” of AVP was released on home video and contained a few extended scenes for home audiences.

The Review:
In all honesty, AVP was off to a bad start in my book right away with its rating; while it’s possible to have violent, gory, and sweary 15-rated films, scary monsters and subject matter need to be factored into the equation, meaning AVP lacks not only the iconic soundtracks from its forefathers but also completely wastes its one f-bomb and denies us the signature “Ugly motherfucker” line. This method of playing things way too safe extends to the film’s setting, which, unlike the comic books and videogames, takes place on then-present-day Earth, a decision that works for the Predator narrative but somewhat conflicted with the Alien timeline as we know it back then. It tries to get around this by having the bulk of the plot take place in secluded Antarctica, but it just doesn’t work for me. I feel like the simplest solution would’ve been to set it in the future, perhaps between the second and third Alien film, and have it take place on a remote ice world; you replace Weyland’s mercenaries with renegade Colonial Marines, splice in a bit more of the malevolent designs of his corporation, and maybe throw in an android (Maxwell Stafford (Salmon) would be my pick) and you’d already be on a better path than shoehorning Xenomorphs onto Earth long before their existence was discovered. Instead, we get the briefest tease of a space-based film before a Weyland satellite picks up an unexplained heat flare at a whaling station way down South and then we’re meeting Weyland’s recruits for an expedition to investigate. Just when you feel you can accept the setting presented, AVP immediately throws a few idiotic decisions at you within the first five minutes; Lex is supposed to be this experienced Arctic explorer and yet she’s climbing up a mountain without any face coverings and she somehow failed to hear Stafford’s helicopter land above her. Later, she even rushes out in the dark, bitterly cold temperatures of the whaling station in little more than a body suit, surely inviting hypothermia despite the scattered fires, but these are the least of AVP’s problems.

Lex and Sebastian are stuck between an age-old conflict between two alien races.

Lex is the best at what she does; she’s climbed everything and is highly recommended, so naturally Weyland seeks her out the lead his expedition. A hardened veteran of numerous climbs, Lex believes in being prepared; she’s far from intimidated or impressed by Weyland’s wealth or Stafford’s guns and balks at the idea of heading to the site without proper training or preparation. In fact, she chooses to abandon the expedition entirely when the two ignore her warnings and is only convinced to stay when archaeologist Professor Sebastian De Rosa (Bova) and chemical engineer Doctor Graeme Miller (Bremner) point out that they spend a better chance of surviving with her there and without her and, once they reach the site, she’s quick to enforce her rules to ensure their survival no mater how much it irks Stafford. There’s a subtle romantic tension between Lex and Sebastian, but thankfully it’s not dwelled upon all that much; a down on his luck digger who’s just about ran out of money for his excavations, he jumps at the chance to be a part of Weyland’s team and his expertise is invaluable first in recognising that the pyramid contains elements of Cambodian, Egyptian, and Aztec structures and, later, in translating the hieroglyphics contained within, though his warnings go unheeded by Weyland’s gung-ho mercenaries. Against his better judgement, Sebastian is left with no choice but to go along with Lex’s plan to side (or, at least, appease) the Predators since their true targets are the Xenomorphs infesting the pyramid; her entire character is built around survival, by any means necessary, while he’s more inclined towards braving the odds to find a way out. While I never for a second believed they had any chemistry, it was still a sad moment when Lex was forced to mercy kill him rather than let him suffer the agony of a Chestburster, but I can’t help but feel like this would’ve landed better if there’d been less disposable mercenaries and more time spent on developing their characters and interactions (and a better script…and a couple of better actors to boot…) Miller is primarily part of the group to be the somewhat awkward, likeable everyman who we will feel sorry for when he inevitably falls victim to the extraterrestrial menaces within the pyramid; you know he’s destined for a bad ending the moment he whips out pictures of his kids and, while he lasts a fair amount of time, this eventually comes to pass when he’s cocooned up for a Facehugger buffet.

Stafford and Weyland just about manage to stand out against a bunch of forgettable characters.

Still, at least he shows a bit of character, however cliché, which is a bit more than can be said about most of Weyland’s team; Adele Rousseau (Agathe de La Boulaye) seems like she’s channelling a bit of Private First Class Jenette Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) in her snarky, non-nonsense attitude but she never even gets the chance to put up a fight and is the first of the team to be imploded from within by a disappointingly bloodless Chestburster. Mark Verheiden (Tommy Flanagan) cuts an intimidating figure with his facial scar and surly demeanour and for a second it seems like him and Miller are going to be to odd couple pairing of the group but then he’s unceremoniously offed in a scene that apes the fate of Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt). Thankfully, Colin Salmon is on hand to lend some gravitas and presence to the proceedings; Stafford comes across as an arrogant, conceited mercenary who always believes that he’s right and that his weapons and training are more valuable than expert knowledge, but he’s sadly wasted here. It’s fun seeing his icy demeanour crack as the pyramid constantly shifts and changes around him; I also liked that he ends up giving Weyland some backchat after his obsession costs so many lives and that he met a suitably gruesome end, but I can always do with more Colin Salmon in my films and he was criminally underutilised here. That just leaves Charles Bishop Weyland himself; it’s always a blast seeing Lance Henriksen and he really lends a legitimacy to this farce of a film. Although incredibly wealthy, and powerful and influential enough to do almost anything, Weyland can see the end of his life coming and knows that his legacy will only be remembered as a businessman rather than anything tangible. Having witnessed her father die from his obsession with climbing and exploration, she recognises the condition in the deathly ill Weyland and cautions him about pursuing his fixation when he’s physically incapable of taking the strain; however, just as she earns his respect through her expertise, so too does he manage to convince her that he needs to explore the strange pyramid to feel like his life was actually worth something. His need to show that he’s not out of the fight just yet comes to bite him, however, when he angrily confronts the lead Predator (known as “Scar”) and ends up skewered after forcing the alien hunter to recognise him as a threat, thereby becoming one of only two actors to be killed by a Xenomorph, Predator, and a T-800.

With his comrades easily offed, Scar is left to achieve glory in the great hunt.

More than ever, the Predator is naturally a key character in the film; a novice hunter compared to the Predators we’ve seen before, Scar and his comrades – “Chopper” and “Celtic” (both also played by Whyte) – make landfall hoping to prove their mettle by hunting the ultimate prey. The pyramid is thousands of years old and the film very blatantly shows that the Predators were instrumental in the development of the human race; worshipped as Gods and using ancient humanity as slave workers and sacrificial victims to the Xenomorphs, the Predators are recast as being the inspiration for, at the very least, the Egyptian deities of lore. Scar and his comrades might be much bigger and sport shinier armaments but, without the ritual scar that one earns from a Xenomorph kill, they’re far less experienced than their predecessors. Indeed, these rookies don’t even come equipped with their signature shoulder blasters; these weapons are hidden within the pyramid and act as the trigger to set off the automated process that sees their captive Xenomorph Queen literally thawed out and laying eggs ready for the hunt. Still, that’s not to say that they’re completely useless; they sport all the same weaponry and technology as the “City Hunter” (Kevin Peter Hall), meaning they can bend light to appear invisible, have wrist-mounted blades, an extendable lance, an alternative version of the Smart Disc that appears more like a shuriken, and their razor-sharp net. As ever, they’re also afforded the benefits of their helmets, which allows them to see in a variety of spectrums and stalk their prey, but they’re woefully ineffectual against even a single Xenomorph; only Scar proves capable enough to earn his mark and even then he’s impregnated by a Facehugger with a ridiculous amount of ease and essentially a dead Predator walking for the rest of the film.

Lex and Scar team up against a hoard of Aliens led by their enraged Queen.

With all of her comrades dead, Lex is left no choice but to force a team up with Scar, something he’s understandably disinterested in. not only is there an obvious language barrier between the two, there’s also a cultural one; the Predator clearly sees her (and all humans) as little more than cannon fodder and he’s ready to kill her before she impresses him by killing a Xenomorph. Thus, in easily one of the cheesiest scenes in the film, franchise, and all of cinema, Scar cobbles together a weapon and shield for her and the two literally run off into the pyramid to fight their way out. As is often the case in these types of movies, one of the two monsters are cast as being more recognisably “evil” and, in this case, it’s the Xenomorphs. Vicious, brutal, and animalistic in nature, the Xenomorphs are little more than a swarm of near-mindless locusts intent only on killing, feeding, and defending their Queen. Since the Predators are more recognisably humanoid, and obviously have a twisted code of honour of sorts, it makes sense for them to be the more heroic of the two, but Scar is more of an anti-hero and his partnership with Lex is one of convenience more than anything. Also, it can’t be forgotten that the film makes it very explicitly clear that the Predators bred the Xenomorphs using humans and that the film’s entire events happen because they returned to embark on their great hunt, meaning that they’re just as destructive and dangerous as the more voracious Xenomorphs. Although largely interchangeable and disposable, one Xenomorph manages to stay out from the pack after being scarred by the Predator’s net; “Grid” crops up as a recurring threat throughout the film, but is naturally supplanted by the fearsome Alien Queen once she breaks free from her shackles and goes on a rampage for the film’s bombastic finale.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I’m not really sure that this “Extreme Edition” really makes the best use of its rare second chance to improve upon the theatrical release; this version of the film adds a very brief opening sequence showing a cloaked Predator chasing down some poor fool at the whaling station in 1904 but that really doesn’t add a whole hell of a lot to the film. We know the whaling station’s been abandoned, it’s said in the script, and the fact that a fuckin’ Predator pyramid is hidden beneath it kind of heavily implies that the creatures slaughtered whoever was there a hundred-plus years ago so it basically adds nothing except the short thrill of hearing that iconic Predator gurgle within the first two minutes. There’s a little bit ore time spent with some of the characters at the start of the film, none of which really amounts to all that much; we already know Sebastian is struggling for financing and that Verheiden is an asshole, though I did like the clarification that Sebastian was planning to decline and return to his dig with Weyland’s money). The main addition beyond the useless opening is some extra gore courtesy of some CGI blood; it’s not enough to salvage the film or bring it on par with its predecessors, but it helps to add a bit of colour to the proceedings and at least pretend to be an Alien/Predator film. The issue is, however, that there are fundamental missteps with the entire film from a script and concept level; AVP betrays its gory roots in favour of trying to capture a wider audience, reducing both franchises to a mindless action/monster film full of one-dimensional and forgettable characters. Try as she might, Lex is no Lieutenant Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Sanaa Lathan fails to impress as a tough leading lady. Of course, it doesn’t help that characters are constantly just saying the obvious simply to spell out what’s happening and to have something to say; subtlety was never Paul W.S. Anderson’s strong suit but he abandons it entirely for endless diatribes about the nature of the pyramid and its monstrous inhabitants just in case the kids watching can’t keep track of what’s happening.

When the two monsters actually go at it, it’s a pretty impressive and brutal physical affair.

AVP is a strange contradiction; on the one hand, the film is awash with CGI and green screen, shots, with the Predators’ cloaking effects and shoulder cannon being the most egregious, but, on the other hand, it employs traditional practical effects and composite shots. The result is that, for much of the film, the two creatures are brought to life using men in suits; specifically, the Xenomorphs recall (or are perhaps ripped straight from) Alien Resurrection and the Xenomorph Queen is a bigger and more complex animatronic than the original, though I can’t say that I’m a fan of the woeful redesign of the Predator’s face, which somehow looks even worse than the 1987 original thanks to a misguided attempt to make Scar appear more sympathetic. Other missteps can be found when the Predators slaughter the drilling team on the surface; this scene plays out like a rushed and toothless rendition of its predecessors, made all the more obvious by the bodies being strewn up but not skinned. When the two monsters do finally do battle, however, the film largely delivers; the scuffles we do see are primarily suit-on-suit or suit-on-animatronic action, though some odd creative licenses were made regarding the length of the Xenomorph’s tails and the Predators are disappointingly neutered in these conflicts. Chopper is impaled through the back like a loser and, despite Celtic absolutely dominating Grid during their destructive brawl, he ends up being pounced up and having his brains blasted out. Although Scar dispatches of a Xenomorph with a deft skill and earns his mark, even he’s unable to keep himself from being impregnated, though he is able to use his self-destruct device to destroy the pyramid and contain the Xenomorph outbreak in keeping with the traditions of his people. While I’m unimpressed with the digital coat of paint given to the Predator’s technology, it’s the impotent portrayal of the Xenomorphs that really lets this film down; the incubation time of the Chestbursters has been shortened from days or hours to mere minutes and they pop out with barely a splash of blood, and the only time we really see them splattering gore is when they’re spilling the vivid neon green blood of the Predators.

Although Lex earns the clan’s respect, Scar doesn’t make it and gives birth to an even greater threat…

Eventually, of course, Lex is the only human left standing; armed with the gutted skull of a Xenomorph and a modified spear, she accompanies her newfound partner to the exit of the pyramid, with Scar destroying the entire structure but getting injured following a surprise attack by a Xenomorph. Still, the two manage to escape to the surface, burying all evidence behind them and, in a moment of respect, Scar brands Lex with the sacred mark in recognition of her Xenomorph kill (despite the fact that she got lucky, something I’m pretty sure the Predators would’ve acknowledged). However, the Xenomorph Queen somehow escaped the blast to menace them in the film’s finale; here, the Queen is a combination of a massive animatronic, puppetry, and CGI and the result isn’t actually half bad, making for a pretty impressive last few minutes as Scar and Lex desperately try to fight it off with their weaponry. With Scar having lost his shoulder cannon during the escape, the two have to improvise somewhat; Lex takes cover in a frozen bone yard and the remains of the whaling station, which only riles the Queen up more, but Scar is able to impale her through the head with his lance. Unfortunately for the young hunter, Scar is run through from behind just like Weyland’s android counterpart while helping Lex to tangle the Queen up in a water tower; it’s thus Lex who not only delivers the coup de grâce to the rampaging matriarch, sending her plunging to the frigid depths of the ocean, but who is honoured by the Predator Elder (Whyte). Just like in Predator 2 (Hopkins, 1990), a group of Predators decloak before her and grant her a gift for her bravery before departing with Scar’s body, which I have to give props to as any film that actually acknowledges the under-rated Predator 2 gets a nod from me. While Lex’s fate is unknown (there’s a snowmobile nearby so presumably she uses that to get back to civilisation), Scar is taken back aboard the Predator ship and left on a ceremonial alter in reverence to his accomplishments (such as they are)…only for a disgusting little Alien/Predator hybrid Chestburster to emerge from his chest to set up for the sequel…

The Summary:
As a fan of both franchises, and the concept of Aliens Versus Predator, I was pretty disappointed by AVP: Alien vs. Predator. Everything that made the two franchises great has been stripped away and replaced by a by-the-number monster/action flickthat has none of the nuance of the Alien series or the machismo of the Predator films. It comes to something when the comic books are gorier than the movies and I think AVP really let itself and its honestly impressive practical effects down by toning back the violence and blood and slipping in some unnecessary CGI. Although it massively contradicted the mythology we’d seen in the films up until that point; I enjoyed the flashback to the conflict between the Predators and Aliens; I’ve always liked the idea of the Xenomorphs being the ultimate prey and even the idea that the Predators were frequent visitors to Earth has sone legs, I just find it questionable depicted the Aliens being on Earth in 2004. Still, there are still quite a few elements from the Dark Horse Comics here, most notably the Predator using a strung-up Xenomorph Queen to breed their prey and depositing them across the galaxy. Aesthetically, there’s a few noteworthy elements too; I like that the film’s set in the frozen wilderness as I think it’s important to place the Predators in new environments and the dark, claustrophobic corridors of the ever-shifting pyramid recall the atmospheric, oppressive nature of the first and third Alien film. Scar is a notable highlight of the film, for sure, and I did enjoy his brutal throwdown with the Xenomorph Queen and the inclusion of Lance Henricksen, but the overall toothless nature of the film really stops it from being everything it could’ve been. There’s enough here to like if you’re just looking for a mindless monster romp but, as both franchises are capable of so much more, I can’t help but remain disappointed by the end product, especially as it would’ve been so easy to bring it more in line with the standards set by its predecessors.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to the live-action version of Alien vs. Predator? Were you disappointed by the lack of gore, the modern-day setting, and the toothless execution of its titular monsters? Which of the humans was your favourite and what did you think to Lex and her alliance with Scar? What did you think to the alternations made to the Predator lore and the relationship/conflict between the two species? Which of the Aliens vs. Predator stories or adaptations was your favourite? Would you like to see the two battle again in some form or another? Whatever your thoughts on Alien vs. Predator, drop a comment down below or share your thoughts on my social media.

Back Issues [Crossover Crisis]: Spider-Man and Batman

In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Tuesday in April in an event I call “Crossover Crisis”.

Story Title: “Disordered Minds”
Published: September 1995
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Artist: Mark Bagley

The Background:
You might be surprised to learn, considering they’re in direct competition with each other, that DC Comics and Marvel Comics have had a reasonably collaborative and amicable relationship over the years. Obviously, there’s been lawsuits and underhanded tactics from both, but not only were legendary Stan Lee and disreputable sham Bob Kane close friends but both comic giants borrowed from and inspired each other and they’ve even collaborated on many joint publications in the past. Having already had Clark Kent/Superman and Peter Parker/Spider-Man come to blows in Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century (Conway, et al, 1976) and Bruce Wayne/Batman test his mettle against Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk in Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk (Wein, et al, 1981), DC and Marvel brought together their two most popular characters for the first time in this 1995 one-shot adventure. As is the case with many of these DC/Marvel crossovers, Spider-Man and Batman can fetch a pretty high price for collectors, and it also wouldn’t be the last time that the web-slinger and the Dark Knight crossed in one form or another.

The Review:
Our story begins with Peter Parker wrestling with the guilt and shame of being partially responsible for the death of his beloved Uncle Ben. In a nightmarish revisitation of the fateful night when Dennis Carradine broke into the Parker home and gunned down Ben, Peter (as Spider-Man) is on hand to strike with a furious vengeance, viewing the gunman as some maniacal monster who simply laughs at his murderous actions so hard that he eventually turns into the Joker! Peter awakens in horror, eased through the aftermath of this oft-recurring nightmare by his beautiful and busty wife, Mary Jane Watson-Parker. As ever in times of emotional crisis, Peter takes to web-slinging to help clear his head and ventures out into the night reaffirming his commitment to using his powers responsibility in order to live up to the examples set by his doting aunt and uncle. Coincidentally enough, that very same night, Bruce Wayne is also reliving the night that his parents died, gunned down in an alley in a senseless act of violence. Similar to Peter, Bruce’s dream sees him (as Batman) leaping into action, hatred for the inhumane monster boiling in his veins, and awakens to find himself, as ever, alone in his vast mansion with only his heartache and faithful butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth. However, while he appreciates Alfred’s concern and loyalty, he heads out into the night as Batman without a word, determined to ensure that none should suffer as he did from random acts of violence. With our characters and their motivations firmly established, the story jumps over to the Ravencroft Institute, where Spider-Man is accompanying Doctor Ashley Kafka for a visit to the imprisoned Cletus Kasady/Carnage, who’s being held in a specially-constructed cell that keeps his violent symbiote at bay presumably using heat. The purpose of this is similar to the opening panels as Kasady simply taunts Dr. Kafka with a summary of his abusive and disturbing childhood, some of which may be true and some of which may just be another aspect of his twisted personality since Kasady is obsessed with murder, mayhem, and (quite fittingly) carnage.

Batman is less than thrilled when Spidey swings in to help after Carnage breaks free.

Carnage surprises both of them by breaking out of his cage, claiming himself to be a “walking impossibility” beyond logic and reason, but luckily Spider-Man and a security force led by Colonel John Jameson are on hand to subdue the serial killer with their fists and microwave guns, respectively, though newcomer Cassandra Briar proposes a far more permanent (if radical) solution to Kasady’s frequent maniacal outbursts. Utilising a “bio-technic cure” for Kasady’s insanity, Briar has a computer chip installed in his cerebral cortex, which promises to render him for more docile and stable, though Dr. Kafka likens it to the equivalent of a modern-day lobotomy and Spidey remains doubtful that it’ll stick since he’s more than familiar with Kasady’s volatile nature. Similarly, over in Gotham City, Batman puts a stop to the Joker’s latest scheme to infect millions of people with a deadly virus transmitted through bats and returns the Harlequin of Hate to Arkham Asylum (though he’s disgusted when the Joker lands a bite on him during their scuffle). There, Briar proudly shows off how meek and timid Kasady has become from her controversial treatment and uses this success as all the justification she needs to implant a similar chip into the Joker’s head, thus becoming a media sensation for rendering two of the country’s most violent and sadistic supervillains “as harmless as a puppy”. Determined to ride these successes to a wider rollout of her “miracle cure” and receive Presidential approval to eradicate psychopaths everywhere, Briar receives the shock of her life when the Carnage symbiote suddenly bursts out of Kasady’s body after shorting out her chip, taking both her and the terrified and submissive Joker hostage. Thankfully, the Batman is on hand (having disguised himself as a guard) to confront the demented killer, but his usual tactic of goading a villain into discarding their hostages in favour of him fails to work since Carnage has no interest in prioritising Batman over anyone else. Luckily, Spider-Man makes a surprise appearance to whisk Briar out of the maniac’s clawed grip and the two masked heroes take the fight to Carnage, despite Batman’s assertion that he doesn’t need the help.

While the villains’ alliance is short-lived, Batman is soon recruiting Spidey’s help in dealing with Carnage.

Regardless, the two briefly knock Carnage off balance, but he’s able to slip away by firing shards of his symbiote at the nearby cops and strangling the others with his bloody tendrils, creating an effective distraction to cover his escape. Naturally, Batman is less than thrilled to see Spider-Man encroaching on his turf, both out of a desire to keep the web-slinger from getting hurt due to his unfamiliarity with the city’s unique dangers and because he doesn’t need or want his help or him getting in the way, though Spidey naturally ignores this warning. In comparison, Carnage admits to an admiration for the Joker’s “homicidal genius [and] shameless depravity” and uses a small fragment of his suit to short out the chip and return the Clown Prince of Crime to what asses for normal. Although initially confused, frustrated, and angered at the Joker’s babbling and insolence, Carnage quickly gleefully rejoices in the Joker’s commitment to the absurd meaningless of anarchy. However, their partnership is short-lived. When the Joker takes Carnage to his secret, fairground-themed hideout to retrieve the remainder of his virus, joyfully expositing his plan to douse hundreds of Joker-themed jack-in-the-boxes with the toxin and distribute them to kids, Carnage is disgusted since it would take too long for the bodies to start piling up and he delights in getting his hands bloody from up-close-and-personal slaughter. The two come to blows over their differing methods and mentalities, with the Joker easily slipping away through a hidden trapdoor and even attempting to kill Carnage by blowing up his lair. In contrast after Batman contemplates Carnage’s unique brand of madness and sadistic nature in the Batcave and Spider-Man sees first-hand how different things are in Gotham when nobody bats an eyelid when a random civilian is screaming bloody murder in the streets, our heroes finally come together when Batman not only picks Spider-Man up in the Batmobile but even apologises for giving him the brush off.

Though pushed to their limits, Batman and Spider-Man are ultimately victorious and part as allies.

Though he has no time for Spider-Man’s quips and jokes, Batman recognises that he has unique insight into Carnage, and the two are able to track him to the wreckage of the Joker’s lair, where they find what appears to be his dead body but is, in fact, a decoy Carnage set up to trick the Joker. Delighted to have the Batman in his coils instead, Carnage plans to publicly execute Batman on top of Gotham Towers and, while comparing Carnage to Death itself, which passed him by back in Crime Alley, Batman orders Spider-Man to stop Carnage despite the threat to his life. However, it’s the Joker who actually intervenes in the tense showdown; claiming ownership over the Batman and determined to drop his virus on the four of them, killing all of them and everyone else in the city simply to spite Carnage, Kasady’s briefest flicker of fear is all the opening Batman needs to break free from his grip and leap into action. Spider-Man easily webs up the threat and, despite it taking the combined might of Spider-Man and Eddie Brock/Venom and many others in the past, the Batman is easily able to pummel Carnage into unconsciousness since, for all his powers and bloodlust, he’s simply another sloppy punk and a “scared little boy”. With Carnage subdued, Spider-Man chases down the Joker with an uncharacteristic rage; easily manhandling the Clown Prince of Crime, Spider-Man is barely able to stop himself from killing the Joker since he’s too great a threat, too dedicated to violence and chaos, to be left alive. While his better nature prevails and he ultimately spares the Joker, Spidey does deliver a knock-out punch to the cackling villain, finally bringing the story’s combined threat to an end. As if seeing Spider-Man pushed to the point of killing wasn’t surprising enough, Spidey is unusually quiet in his final confrontation with the Batman; weary from the night’s events, the two choose not to ruin the moment with words and instead part ways with a hearty handshake having found a common ground and a mutual respect through their conduct and escapades.

The Summary:
“Disordered Minds” is an interesting approach to take for an intercompany crossover. You might think with characters as wildly different as Spider-Man and Batman that the focus would be on their different methods; if Dick Grayson/Nightwing is an athletic chatterbox and the various Robins are brightly-coloured distractions to throw criminals off from Batman’s darker, more measured approach, then Spider-Man should drive the Dark Knight absolutely batty (heh!) with his constant chatter, quips, and annoying tendencies. Instead, there’s actually not much in the way of banter between the two; Spider-Man mouths off a little in the Batmobile, but that’s about it and the rest of their interactions basically boil down to Batman telling Spidey to fuck off and Spider-Man sticking around because of his innate sense of responsibility. This is a bit of a shame as I would’ve liked to see their contrasting personalities and methods more on show beyond “Gotham’s not what you’re used to sod off!” and “Boy, you’re grim” but the story does have to two united in their shared grief. Both carry a tremendous amount of survivor’s guilt, though for different reasons; Bruce was too young to do anything about his parents’ murder whereas Peter chose not to use his powers responsibly, so both are on the same path towards safeguarding others to ease their guilt and pain but have very different outlooks on the world. This comes up multiple times, with Spider-Man raging against the chaos and violence around him and Batman lashing out at “Death” and determined to rally against it however he can.

While the writing is a bit dodgy and there’s some wasted potential, the art work in phenomenal.

The art is where the story really shines; Mark Bagley is one of the top Spider-Man artists and, thanks to his work on the character and his various run-ins with symbiotes before, has more than proven himself capable of delivering a dynamic and visually exciting Spider-Man and menacing and dangerous Carnage. His Batman and Joker fare really well too, naturally, and the art is absolutely stunning all throughout even if the writing fails it somewhat. We spend no less than eleven pages recapping the origins of Spider-Man, Batman, and Carnage, which is probably great for newcomers but somewhat unnecessary for long-term readers when, normally, a simple text box sums it all up nicely. Thankfully, all of this is rendered in an interesting way through the use of nightmares and Carnage’s dramatic escape from custody, but the writing stumbles a bit mid-way through, too, since Cassandra Briar basically disappears after being rescued despite so much time being spent on her computer chip cure. I feel like a simple story about Kasady or the Joker being transferred across the country might’ve been a much simpler and faster way to get things moving since the chip is easily destroyed by Carnage and doesn’t factor into the plot beyond being a contrived way to get him and the Joker to cross paths. There’s also not a huge amount of interaction between Batman and Spider-Man; they don’t physically fight (which is unusual at the best of times but even more so for a crossover like this), join forces pretty quickly after Batman stops being irrationally stubborn, and it doesn’t really take much at all for them to defeat the villainous duo despite Carnage being so powerful that Spider-Man alone usually struggles to defeat him. there’s a promise of a twisted partnership between Carnage and the Joker but it’s almost immediately squandered simply because Carnage gets impatient, which is in keeping with his character but basically means the villains don’t actually do anything besides compliment each other, scuffle a bit, and then get taken out by the heroes. All in all, this was relatively entertaining and interesting first meeting between my two favourite comic book heroes but it didn’t quite deliver on its potential, despite the fantastic art work and some fun moments.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read Spider-Man and Batman? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? Were you surprised that there wasn’t more time spent on contrasting the different methods and personalities of the two heroes? What did you think to the brief team-up between the Joker and Carnage the ease that they were defeated? Would you like to see DC and Marvel collaborate again in the future and, if so, what stories would you like to see? Whatever your thoughts on Spider-Man and Batman, and comic book crossovers of this kind, sign up to share them below or comment on my social media and check back next Tuesday as Crossover Crisis continues!

Game Corner [Crossover Crisis]: Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (Xbox 360)

In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’ll be taking a look at multiversal crossovers every Tuesday in April in an event I call “Crossover Crisis”.

Released: 16 November 2008
Developer: Midway Games
Also Available For: PlayStation 3

The Background:
Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) stood out from the competition at the time with its focus on gore and violence and unique digitised graphics; the game was a massive success for Midway and the first real competition for Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991) in arcades and on home consoles. However, while the franchise went from strength to strength during the 2D era of gaming, Mortal Kombat struggled to find a footing in the emerging 3D fighter arena, leading to the developers desperately trying to be innovative and appealing in an increasingly competitive business. Since Capcom had seen some success with crossovers with Marvel Comics and other fighting game developers, Mortal Kombat co-developer Ed Boon scrapped plans for a back-to-basics reboot of his violent fighting series in favour of a crossover with DC Comics. While incorporating popular DC characters like Bruce Wayne/Batman and Clark Kent/Superman had the potential to broaden Mortal Kombat’s mainstream appeal, the license carried many restrictions for the developers; Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was hampered by a “Teen” rating, which substantially neutered the series’ trademark violence. This, as much as anything, greatly contributed to the game’s mediocre reception; while some found the title surprisingly enjoyable, despite its bonkers premise, others found the gameplay and variety frustratingly tedious. Although the game received a “Kollector’s Edition” release, this was Midway Games’ last project before they went bankrupt and plans for downloadable content were subsequently scrapped. Thankfully, this wasn’t the final nail in the coffin for the franchise; the association with DC’ s parent company, Warner Bros, saw Midway being purchased by Warner and restructured into NetherRealm Studios, and the ultra violent was not only soon back on track but the new studio also eventually found success with the DC license in a separate series of fighting games.

The Plot:
After Raiden and Superman repel invasions from both their worlds simultaneously in their separate universes, villains, Shao Kahn and Darkseid are unexpectedly merged into “Dark Kahn” and the two universes to begin merging, with catastrophic events. With characters from both universes wildly fluctuating in power, representatives from both worlds come together to stop the merger by any means necessary.

Mirroring the style and presentation of its mainline series, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is a 2.5D fighting game in which players pick from a roster initially comprised of twenty fighters of iconic characters from both franchise’s and battle through the game’s single-player story mode, fight one-on-one against another player or computer-controlled opponent, battle their way through an arcade ladder, or take on a series of increasingly difficult combo challenges. By default, fights take place in a best-of-three format and against a time limit but you can alter these settings (and many others, including the game’s difficulty and the use of blood) in the game’s main options menu to speed up gameplay or make it more accessible to you. Rather than employing different fighting styles and weapon combat like its predecessors, or properly incorporate different variations like in the later games, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe takes a very barebones approach to combat and gameplay options: controls are fully customisable but, by default, you can throw with X or Y, kicks with A or B, toss them aside with a generic throw with Left Bumper, block incoming attacks by holding the Right Trigger, dash towards (but not away from) your opponent, jump in or crouch down to attack or avoid incoming attacks, and string together combos by quickly pressing the attack buttons alongside directional inputs. The game includes a practice mode to help you get to grips with this, and a “Kombo Challenge” feature that helps you practice the game’s tricky combo system, but you can bring up your fighter’s moves at any time by pausing the game. It has to be said that combat is quite a hurdle here; you’ll sometimes jump or dash when you don’t mean to, even when using the directional pad, jumping punches can be very floaty and often miss, and the game seems weighted in the CPU’s favour even when playing on the easiest setting as they have no difficulty pulling off some of the ridiculous combos on offer here.

Unleash your Rage, pummel opponents in Free-Fall, or smash them through walls.

Each fighter can pull off a number of unique special moves with simple button and directional inputs (back, back, X, for example, or left, down, B); while these can be stringed together with combos, they can’t be enhanced like in subsequent games as your “Rage Meter” only allows you to pull of the ever-annoying breakers to interrupt combos and attacks when filled to the first tier and activate the game’s “Rage Mode” by pressing RT and LT at the same time. This will put you into “Rage” mode, which powers up your attacks and coats you in a glowing armour that weakens the damage you receive, shrugs off projectiles, and keeps you from being stunned or knocked over. This doesn’t last for very long but it can easily make short work of your opponent, and activating it will even see you unleash a burst of energy that knocks your foe away, so properly timing the burning of your Rage Meter can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The game also features a few unique gameplay mechanics: if you grab your opponent with the Right Bumper , you’ll activate “Klose Combat” mode, which sees you pummelling or breaking your opponent’s limbs with successive presses of the face buttons. They (and you) can counter these attacks by pressing the right button at the right time, and these quasi-quick-time events (QTEs) also crop up in the “Free-Fall Kombat” and stage transition moments. In some stages, you can send your opponent plummeting down to a new part of the arena; while in free fall, you can mash different face buttons to deal damage and finish them off with RB, but they’ll turn the tide against you if they hit the right buttons. Similarly, some stages allow you to charge your opponent through a way, whereupon you’re asked to “Test Your Might!” in a tug-of-way style button mashing sequence that inflicts more damage the more of the bar you manage to fill. These mechanics can be fun ways to spice up the somewhat lacklustre in-game combat and definitely open up the otherwise bland and empty arenas a bit more since you can literally smash your opponent to new areas, but they’re a far cry from the stage transitions seen in the Injustice series (NetherRealm Studios, 2013 to present).

While you can get up close and personal with foes, the dull finishing moves will leave you disappointed.

Sadly, that’s about it for in-game options; some stages very destructible elements you can smash into, and all of the game’s characters sport special moves befitting of them (Sub-Zero’s ice blast, for example, and Bruce Wayne/Batman’s Batarangs) but, since the game is hampered by a lower rating, there is very little blood and none of the gore you’d expect from a Mortal Kombat. That’s not to say that Fatalities aren’t present, however, they’re just…what’s the word..?…oh yes! Shit. Unlike in subsequent games, you can’t view your character’s finisher inputs from the pause screen, which makes finishing your opponent a real chore, but very few of these moves are even worth your time pulling off. All of the Mortal Kombat characters can execute two Fatalities that will see them murder their opponent in the most PG way imaginable; while some leave the opponent an exceptionally dry and clean skeleton, most boil down to you simply stabbing, shooting, or crushing them with very little bloodshed. The more morally pure DC superheroes will opt to finish their opponent with one of two “Heroic Brutalities”, though many of these would no doubt leave the foe severely crippled or dead since we see the likes of Clark Kent/Superman driving them into the ground and Barry Allen/The Flash pummelling them at superspeed. Unlike in previous (and subsequent) Mortal Kombat videogames, there are no mini games to distract you and is no in-game currency to earn, no player profile or fighter card to customise, and no Krypt to explore to send your coins. There aren’t even alternate skins for the fighters beyond a very minor palette swap when choosing the same character, and the best the game offers is allowing you to view bios, character models, and endings in the “Extras” menu, all of which makes for a very stripped down title even compared to its predecessor, Mortal Kombat: Armageddon (Midway Games, 2006).

While there’s not much to the arcade mode, the story mode is decent enough, if limited and tedious.

This also means that there are no challenge towers or option combat modes like “Test Your Luck” or tag-team combat to spice up multi-player gameplay; you can play locally or online (well, I assume you can’t do this latter any more) in ranked and “King of the Hill” style matches but the arcade ladder is a standard, ten-fight challenge where the extent of the game’s variety is offering you the choice between facing all Mortal Kombat or all DC Universe opponents or a mixture of the two. Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe does, however, feature a single-player story mode but, strangely, it only allows you to play as up to eight characters from either side. After picking either the Mortal Kombat or DC Universe story, you’ll take control of a specific character and battle anywhere from three to five opponents as part of the campaign. This remains a great way to familiarise players with the vast majority of the game’s fighters and their unique combos and special moves, but you cannot perform finishing moves when playing the story mode. Although you can’t skip any of the cutscenes, or jump to specific chapters and fights after completion, you can save and quit…which is definitely something, though the game’s difficulty can become frustrating as the computer-controlled characters love to block your attacks, uppercut you out of nowhere, and jump-kick you out of the air, and can seemingly juggle you in an inescapable combo at will! Unlike in later NetherRealm Studios games, the story mode is as basic as it gets; the only time it actually tries anything remotely different is during Major Jackson “Jax” Briggs’ chapter as you’re forced to battle Diana Prince/Wonder Woman without your machine gun, which means you’re robbed of on of your ranged attacks. If you’re defeated, you have ten in-game seconds to choose between continuing and quitting, which is true of the arcade and two-player bouts as well. Unfortunately, winning or losing in two-player mode simply dumps you back to the fighter select screen and, as far as I could tell, there isn’t even a way to select your stage let alone input Kombat Kodes or activate anything interesting to make the fights less of a chore.

Graphics and Sound:
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe looks pretty good, for the most part; the character models are very similar to those seen in Mortal Kombat (NetherRealm Studios, 2011), meaning they hold up about as well, but some suffer more than others. Women, for example, look particularly off; sure, it’s great seeing Selina Kyle/Catwoman’s amply cleavage and Lieutenant Sonya Blade’s nipples poking through her top, but they’re all impossibly sexualised and their hair is very blocky and static. Unlike later NetherRealm Studios offerings, character’s don’t have unique intros or dialogue with each other before a fight; the camera simply pans the arena and zooms in to find the combatants ready to go and, while they do have little animations between rounds, these don’t seem particularly unique to any fighter. Post-fight animations are a little more unique, but there’s a definite lack of variety and character in each fighter which reminds me of the cut-and-paste job seen in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon (with the exception of the Joker, who dances and prances all over the place at every opportunity). On the plus side, characters do take battle damage; you’ll see their clothes rip, blood and bruises form on skin, and even uncover Scorpion’s skull as inflict damage on your opponent, which is fun, but the lack of any alternate attires or skins is a major tick in the “Con” column for this barebones title.

Stages are quite bland, but character models and cutscenes are okay, save for the poor endings.

There are some other notable little details on offer, however; when you toss Kano’s dagger at an opponent, it’ll stay stuck in their chest for a bit, you can sheath and unsheathe Baraka’s arm-claws with a press of B, you’ll see Sub-Zero’s icy breath, and there’s even a reference to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Meyer, 1982) thrown in for good measure. Another thing in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe’s favour, however, is that the CGI cutscenes are basically indistinguishable from the in-fight graphics; while the character models might be a little less detailed than in later games and have that action figure sheen that is common in this generation of games, it’s still impressive that there’s little distinction between the two, though the voice acting leaves a lot to be desired (the DC Animated Universe this is not!) and there’s very little to inspire you in the soundtrack, either. Similarly, stages are quite a let-down; the majority of them have this half-and-half theme going on where the DC Universe is split or merging with that of Outworld, NetherRealm, or Earthrealm but, even with that, there’s hardly anything to see or do and the stages are disappointingly bland and empty considering how big they are and the fat that you can navigate them in a 3D space. The likes of Oa, Themyscira, and the Fortress of Solitude probably stand out the most and have a few things to see in the background, but there’s a distinct and disappointing lack of Easter Eggs and visually interesting stages. Probably the most interesting one is the asteroid stage that sees you transitioning above and below thanks to the messed up gravity, but the game continues to bug me with presenting all these passable CGI cutscenes and relegating the arcade mode endings to a series of still pictures with narration.

Enemies and Bosses:
Since this is a fighting game, every character will inevitably be your enemy at some point so it can be useful to get an idea of what each one is capable of by playing through the story mode and completing their arcade ladders. However, there isn’t really too much to distinguish each character; you’ think the Flash would be faster and slippery to control compared to Liu Kang but he really isn’t and, while Jax and Billy Batson/Captain Marvel may utilise powerful grabs, they don’t feel any slower than someone like Kano or Hal Jordan/Green Lantern. Every character has a few simple combos that it’s best to learn so you can leap in, mash X three times or X, X, Y and then hit a special move or a throw to deal some decent damage, and they’re obviously made a bit more unique by their individual special moves. Characters will invariably have a projectile or some kind of range attack, a rush or grapple of some kind, and sometimes even disorientating gadgets like flash or smoke grenades. Some have more special moves on offer than others; Shang Tsung, for example, can toss flaming skulls across the screen and from above, suck his opponent’s health to fill his own, swap places (but not bodies) with them, and pull off a slide while other characters, like Batman, Sub-Zero, and the Joker, have parry moves in their arsenal that can interrupt attacks. Some characters are also a little more versatile than others; Superman can suck enemies in for a big punch, rush at them and smack them out of the air, fry them with his heat vision, freeze them with his breath, and perform flying attacks while Lex Luthor relies on his mech suit to fire missiles and blast away from danger. It’s when playing or fighting against the Mortal Kombat characters that long-time series fans will be at their most familiar: Liu Kang tosses his trademark fireballs and flying kicks, Jax grabs his foe and causes shockwaves, Kane launches himself like a cannonball, Scorpion throws his trademark spear, and Kitana uses her fans and dashes about in the air to be her usual annoying self.

Overcome the largely interchangeable fighters to chip away at the monstrous despots.

The lack of powered-up attacks, unique throws, and the generic effects of Rage Mode mean that you really don’t have to tailor your fighting style all that much against different opponents; Raiden’s abilities don’t really make him all that different from Slade Wilson/Deathstroke as both can be jumped over, ducked under, and attacked even if one has a dash and teleport and the other relies more on ranged attacks. You also won’t have to worry about any secret fighters cropping up in the arcade ladder; what you see is basically what you get but you do have to watch for characters like Sonya stringing together their multi-kick attacks in a cheap-ass combo. The exception to this comes in the form of the game’s big bad, Dark Kahn, who basically just looks like a slightly tweaked version of Blaze from Mortal Kombat: Armageddon and fights with a combination of moves from Shao Kahn and Darkseid. Dark Kahn awaits at the end of the story mode and arcade tower and is easily the biggest challenge you’ll face outside of the harder difficulties and opponents getting cheaper and more aggressive. A lumbering, monstrous foe, Dark Kahn can absorb a great deal of damage, gains armour and invincibility frames, and can drain your health bar to nothing in just a few basic swipes to say nothing of his energy barrier, shoulder charge, rising knee, and Warhammer attacks. Your best bet against him is to soften him up with ranged attacks and projectiles and stay moving; hop in, land a combo, and follow it up with a jump kick and then back away to avoid him stringing together his devastating moves in an inescapable barrage. The same is true of Shao Kahn and Darkseid, who act as sub-bosses in the arcade ladder; individually, they’re almost as formidable as their merged form, with both able to stun you with their hammer, fry you with their eye lasers, and smash you into the ground with a leaping attack. While you can’t play as Dark Kahn or perform your finishing moves on him, you can perform your finishing moves against Shao Kahn and Darkseid but, while both of these characters are unlocked after finishing the story mode (and, confusingly, pressing RB on the character select screen rather than adding them to the roster), neither of them have Fatalities of their own. Ultimately, while these three aren’t as impossible or as cheap as other Mortal Kombat bosses and sub-bosses, none of them really challenge your combat skills beyond relying on hit-and-run and spam tactics much like the previous two Mortal Kombat videogames that just ended with this hulking beast that could wreck you if given a chance rather than something that actually requires a bit more skill.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
There’s absolutely nothing on offer in this regard in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe beyond the individual character’s special moves; this game is severely lacking even for a one-on-one fighter as there are no codes or options to spice up gameplay, no weapons to grab, barely anything to interact with in stages, and characters don’t even get buffs or anything with their special moves the closest they get is teleporting, surrounding themselves in a damaging aura for a bit, or tossing bombs or grenades either close, mid-range, or far away.

Additional Features:
There are fifty Achievements on offer in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe; many of these are obtained simply by playing through the story mode, with Achievements popping after certain chapters and completing each (and both) stories. Simpler ones are acquired by performing a ten-hit combat, initiating Klose- and Free-Fall Kombat, and performing one Fatality or Heroic Brutality. Things get a little more complicated and frustrating when you try to perform all of these moments as a handful of them require you to press up, which makes you jump and interrupts the sequence, and in trying to get the 5G Achievements from completing each character’s Kombo Challenge otherwise, you’ll get Achievements for finishing the arcade ladder with all characters and competing in online fights, which are probably impossible to get these days. These involved standard fare that you might expect, as mentioned, and you can fight locally, but beyond unlocking every character’s ending and trying to finish their Kombo Challenges, there really isn’t anything else on offer here once you’ve finished the story mode and a few arcade ladders. There’s no concept art, character models, or extras to unlock, no gear or skins or arenas to unlock, and no downloadable fighters on offer, making for an extremely barebones and lacklustre fighting title that struggles to compete against others in the genre or even its predecessors.

The Summary:  
There was a lot of promise in the concept of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe; after the success that Capcom had with their ventures with Marvel Comics, this could’ve been a great springboard to a more mainstream audience. Sadly the game is let-down at almost every turn: everything from the music to the visuals and the depths of the combat is just lacking, to say nothing of the additional features and options for replayability. It’s interesting revisiting this after playing Mortal Kombat ’11 since that game was supposed to be the franchise’s back-to-basics approach but it’s hard to get more barebones than Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. Even some of the 2D games had little extras, mini games or cheats or options to tweak the gameplay, but there’s absolutely nothing here, not even alternate skins for the fighters! The story mode is okay; it’s a paper thin excuse to mash these worlds together but it works, but I have no idea why it’s not a twenty-chapter mode that lets you play as each character from both sides. I’m actually a bit lenient on the lacklustre finishing moves; I get that the game couldn’t show spines being ripped out and flash being melted, but I think a little more effort could’ve gone into these and I really don’t like the term “Heroic Brutality”. The Free-Fall Kombat, Klose Kombat, and stage transitions are somewhat interesting, but the stages are so bland and empty that they’re completely wasted here. similarly, the lack of individuality to these colourful characters and the generic nature of their special moves and the Rage Mode really make this probably the most mediocre game in the entire franchise. Ultimately, this feels like a rushed, budget title that was hampered by pressing deadlines and financial pressure and a complete waste of the DC license. If you can get it cheap, give it a try and nab some easy Achievements, but otherwise you’re better off playing NetherRealm’s later games as this is just such a throwaway disappointment of a game.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.


What did you think to Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe? Were you disappointed by its use of the DC license? What were your thoughts on the game’s story and its depiction of these worlds merging? Which of the game’s fighters was your favourite and why? What did you think to the Free-Fall and Klose Kombat features? Were you disappointed by the lack of special features and the Rage Mode mechanic? Which characters or features would you have liked to see added to the game? Which Mortal Kombat and/or DC Comics videogame, movie, comic, or other piece of media is your favourite? Are you a fan of multiverse stories and crossovers? Whatever you think about Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, sign up to leave a comment down below or leave your thoughts on my social media and be sure to check back in next Tuesday for more Crossover Crisis content!

Back Issues [Crossover Crisis]: Dark Horse Presents #34-36

In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’ve been looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’ve dubbed “Crossover Crisis”.

Writer: Randy Stradley – Artist: Phill Norwood

Story Title: “Aliens vs Predator: Aliens”
Published: November 1989

Story Title: “Aliens vs Predator: Predator”
Published: December1989

Story Title: “Aliens vs Predator”
Published: February 1990

The Background:
Founded in 1980 by Mike Richardson, Dark Horse Comics separated itself from the heavy-hitters like DC Comics and Marvel Comics by primarily publishing creator-owned titles. In 1988, the company achieved greater mainstream success by publishing licensed stories and adaptations of horror and science-fiction films and franchises, the most prominent of these being the merging of the Alien franchise (Various, 1977 to present) and the Predator films (Various, 1987 to present). About a year before a Xenomorph skull appeared as a trophy in Predator 2 (Hopkins, 1990), the two alien species clashed in this three-issue short story that was the brainchild of writer Chris Warner. This story served as the basis for a five-issue follow-up that greatly expanded upon the premise, which soon exploded into a slew of additional publications, action figures, videogames, and (eventually) live-action movies that pitted the two creatures against each other.

The Review:
Our story begins “some time in the future” where the commercial transport vessel Lecter is making its way to the ranching outpost of Prosperity Wells on the planet Ryishi. Pilots Scott and Tom provide the entirety of the story’s narration, and are deeply engaged in a debate about the ethics and morals of mining other worlds for their resources, especially after humanity used up Earth’s in such a short space of time. Tom believes that it’s irresponsible to strip other worlds of their resources as it could stunt or even prevent the evolution of entire species, while Scott believes that it’s absolutely necessary to ensure the long-term survival of the human race.

Against the backdrop of a philosophical debate, Predators forcibly harvest Xenomorph eggs.

Their debate is briefly interrupted by what they assume is a meteor but is actually a Predator spacecraft darting through the cosmos. Scott and Tom’s discussion about the morals of harvesting unintelligent species for food and such are paralleled by the Predator’s harvesting on Xenomorph eggs aboard their ship; as Scott delivers a lecture about survival of the fittest and the strong overpowering the weak, the eggs and their Facehugger contents are scanned and processed and placed into pods to be seeded on other worlds. The eggs are all being forcibly harvested from a captive Xenomorph Queen, here an allegory for the “bitch” that is Mother Nature, who has no choice but to pump out egg after egg and watch as they are summarily processed and shot into space in a clean and efficient system.

Broken Tusk fends off a challenge by the upstart Top-Knot.

As Scott and Tom move their philosophical debate on to the merits of technology versus man’s primal nature, the story introduces us to a Predator warrior known colloquially as “Broken Tusk”. As Broken Tusk arms himself with all the standard Predator weaponry we’ve come to know and love over the years, Scott and Tom endlessly comment on the difference between passive leaders and active combatants. Broken Tusk observes a bout of ritual combat between other Predators and we catch a glimpse of just how many worlds have been seeded with Xenomorphs by the creatures in order to give them something worthwhile to hunt. When upstart Predator “Top-Knot” wins the bout, he’s not content with just choosing which hunting ground he gets to visit and challenges Broken Tusk’s position, which results in the rookie being bested by his superior.

The Predators engage in a successful hunt and gain their ritual markings.

One of the Predator’s seeding pods touches down on a marsh-like alien world; the automated, tank-like vehicle drives around the environment dropping off Xenomorph eggs in its wake before finally exploding, ensuring that many of the native creatures become impregnated by the Facehuggers. As Scott and Tom move their discussion to safari hunts and the like, Top-Knot and his hunting party make landing to begin their hunt, quickly and efficiently moving through the foliage and tracking their Xenomorph prey by following the exploded dead bodies. Soon, the Predators are attacked by the full-grown Xenomorphs; despite the Aliens’ greater numbers, the Predators have the benefit of their advanced weapons and their absolute devotion to the thrill of the hunt. They emerge victorious, having suffered only one casualty, and Top-Knot brands one of his subordinates with the Xenomorph’s acid blood for successfully executing his first kill.

The Summary:
The original, three-issue run of Aliens vs. Predator is basically just a prelude to greater things to come in the subsequent Aliens vs. Predator (Stradley, et al, 1990) comics series. Consequently, it’s quite the brief and tantalising glimpse into this shared universe of the two popular, sci-fi/horror franchises, but establishes a lot of the themes for how these franchises would crossover going forward. Rather than being set in the present day or on Earth, like the Predator films tend to be, Aliens vs. Predator takes place in the future like the Aliens films; it also heavily borrows from the aesthetics of Alien (Scott, 1977), especially in the depiction of the Lecter, which is essentially the same kind of vessel as the Nostromo. Similarly, the Predator’s spaceship and appearances are heavily inspired by what we see in the first two films, but the comic greatly expands upon their society and depiction even while utilising a philosophical debate between two humans for the entirety of its dialogue.

The story provides a glimpse into the Predator’s society and lore.

Aliens vs. Predator took the idea of the Xenomorphs being this biomechanical infestation, a swarm of vicious insect-like creatures, and really ran with it; because they lack the higher levels of intelligence seen in the Predators, they are reduced to being forcibly bred specifically for young Predators to test their mettle. The visual of the Xenomorph Queen being strung up and held captive is a powerful one, and one that subsequent comics, and movie and videogame adaptations would heavily borrow from, and is a humbling visual considering how formidable the Alien Queen was depicted in Aliens (Cameron, 1986). The implication is clear: The Predators, with their greater intelligence and superior technology and weapons, were easily able to overpower and capture a Xenomorph Queen and make a regular routine of harvesting her eggs for their own ends. They’re so efficient at it that the entire process is completely automated, with the eggs being forcibly removed, processed, and seeded without any manual intervention on the Predators’ part. Predator society is expanded upon greatly here; we see the hierarchy and feudal nature of the species, with ritual combat being the norm and the younger, less experienced hunters having to fight against their peers for recognition and the chance to hunt. Like lions and other members of the animal kingdom, it’s common for the young upstarts to challenge their betters in an attempt to claim the top position. While this doesn’t go well for Top-Knot, as he’s easily bested by Broken Tusk, he’s still dispatched to lead a hunting party, so it seems as though making the challenge isn’t necessarily a sign of disrespect. During the hunt, even the inexperienced Predators are formidable and capable warriors; while we don’t get to see much of their traditional strategies (there’s no cloaking, no need to modulate their prey’s voices, and very little use of the plasma cannon), we do get to see them working in a co-ordinated effort to eradicate their prey. Although the Aliens are fast and strong and have the numbers advantage, the Predators are keen hunters and superior warriors, meaning they are victorious with minimal effort, and the honour that comes from killing a Xenomorph is of high standing in their society (which, again, would be a crucial plot point in later stories).

A decent story, but clearly just a taste of greater things to come for this crossover.

However, it has to be said that the concept of bringing together the Aliens and Predator franchises probably sounded better on paper than it worked in execution. I have read the subsequent comic series, and it’s definitely a lot better and more in-depth, but I didn’t want to get into that without first tackling the three-issue arc that kick-started this entire sub-franchise and Aliens vs. Predator, while a novelty, is really just an appetiser for the main course. Dark Horse Comics teased readers by framed the first two stories as Aliens and Predator tales, so the actual Aliens on Predator action doesn’t kick in until right at the end, and it’s very brief when it does happen. I applaud the creative use of Scott and Tom’s philosophical debate as a parallel to the events of the story, but I found myself tuning the text boxes out and focusing more on the visuals. While the art does tell us a lot about what the Predators and even the Xenomorph Queen are thinking and feeling, I am not a massive fan of the art on show here. It’s both messy and yet simple, oddly coloured (I get that we hadn’t seen much of the Predator society or their ships but there’s a lot of odd purples and yellows and blues here), and it’s not that easy to tell the Predators apart. Obviously, this is in keeping with the aliens as depicted in the movies, which had very subtle differences, but I think for a comic you need a little more than just a barely distinguishable broken tusk or hair being styled differently. It’s also a little disappointing that we don’t get more variations of the Xenomorphs; considering they were all born from alien lifeforms, it’s a little odd that they are just carbon copies of the drones seen in Aliens, but again I can understand why this decision was made as it makes sense to focus on the familiar visual of a Predator we recognise from the movies fighting Aliens as they appear in the films. Overall, it’s a fun little novelty that’s worth checking out as long as you read it as a prelude to the longer, far more exciting and visually interesting follow-up.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever read the original, three-issue Aliens vs. Predator story? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comics or did you pick up the collected edition as I did? Were you also disappointed by the brevity of the story and the artwork or did it get you excited to see subsequent clashes between the two aliens? Which of the two creatures, and franchises, was/is your preference? Which of the Aliens vs. Predator stories or adaptations was your favourite? Would you like to see the two battle again in some form or another? Whatever your thoughts on Aliens vs. Predator, and comic book crossovers of this kind, sign up to drop a comment down below or share your thoughts on my social media.

Back Issues [Crossover Crisis]: The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans

In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.

Story Title: “Apokolips… Now!”
Published: January 1982
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Walt Simonson

The Background:
As I’ve mentioned on a couple of occasions, DC Comics and Marvel Comics have had a surprisingly collaborative and amicable relationship over the years that has led to some inter-company friendships, homages, and co-publications between the two comic book giants. By 1982, both Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men and DC’s Teen Titans were seeing a resurgence in popularity thanks to both teams featuring an exciting new creative and character line-up. Over in Marvel Comics, writer Chris Claremont had revitalised Marvel’s Mutant team by introducing a group of diverse and multi-cultural new characters while the New Teen Titans, under the pen of Marv Wolfman, had been aged up and also included some of the title’s most synonymous characters. With so many similarities between the two teams, and considering the success of the two titles were selling at the time, a crossover between the two was a smart business move for both parties.

The Review:
“Apokolips… Now!” begins at the Source Wall, an impossibly large stone wall that represents the edge of the known universe and which is comprised of the legendary Promethean Giants, who were turned to stone for trying to breach the boundaries of the cosmos. There, we find Metron, the generally impartial intellectual of the New Gods, conversing with all-mighty Darkseid, who gifts him with the “Omega-Phase Helmet”, a highly advanced crown that allows Metron’s Mobius Chair to achieve the impossible and penetrate the great stone wall in order for them both to achieve their heart’s desire (Metron for knowledge and Darkseid for power).

A normal day at the X-Mansion is interrupted by a vision of Jean.

The story then jumps to Westchester, New York where Professor Xavier’s X-Men are engaging in a training session within the Danger Room, an exercise that grates on Logan/Wolverine’s patience despite his respect for the professor. After impressing Xavier with their teamwork, the Mutants retire for dinner and the story takes the opportunity to catch us up not only with the current X-Men roster and their powers (the aforementioned Wolverine, Scott Summers/Cyclops, Ororo Munroe/Storm, Piotr “Peter” Rasputin/Colossus, Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler, and Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat) but also the tragic rise and downfall of Jean Grey, who attained incredible cosmic powers as the Phoenix that eventually corrupted and consumed her. The X-Men’s memories of Jean are extracted by Darkseid and the Phoenix briefly assumes a corporeal form where she begs for help from Cyclops much like Barry Allen/The Flash did in Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Raven and Starfire are spooked by Phoenix while Robin is jumped by Deathstroke!

Meanwhile, over at Titans Tower (yes, in this story, the Marvel and DC universes again exist in a shared world rather than being separate, parallel worlds), Rachel Roth/Raven of the New Teen Titans finds her dreams interrupted by a prophetic nightmare of a woman, taking the shape of a flaming bird, destroying their world. When Garfield Logan/Changeling assumes the form of a similar bird, Koriand’r/Starfire randomly loses control of herself and attacks him; well aware of the threat that the Phoenix poses, Starfire summons the remaining members of the team (Wally West/Kid Flash, Donna Troy/Wonder Girl, and Victor Stone/Cyborg) away from their procrastinations, personal lives, and crimefighting antics to bring them up to speed on the Phoenix’s destructive power. Dick Grayson/Robin, however, is kept from joining his team mates when he butts heads with one of Darkseid’s Parademons only to be attacked by Slade Wilson/Deathstroke the Terminator, who not only reveals that he’s in cahoots with Darkseid but is easily able to knock Robin unconscious thanks to his superior physical and mental abilities. The X-Men discover that Jean’s parents and other areas across the world have also witnessed visions of Jean and mysterious incidents all linked to Jean’s past. After locating Robin, Starfire relates Phoenix’s legend as the “chaos-bringer” and a cataclysmic force; although Robin points out that cosmic threats are a little out of their league, and the more pressing issue of Deathstroke’s current plot, he promises Starfire that they’ll do everything they can to track down and stop Phoenix. The story then introduces us to Ravok the Ravager, another of Darkseid’s henchmen who he recruits as part of his plot to siphon the Phoenix’s vast cosmic powers.

Both the X-Men and Teen Titans are captured with a ridiculous amount of ease.

Weary from pushing himself too far, Xavier enters a deep sleep and barely has enough time to defend himself when Starfire bursts into the X-Mansion and attacks him in a rage. Xavier’s unparalleled psychic powers are subdued by a combination of Cyborg’s ultrasonic blasts and Raven’s dark “Soul-Self”, however Robin is disturbed and irritated at his team’s recklessness in breaking into the mansion and attacking Xavier without provocation. His reprimanding is interrupted by the arrival of Ravok and his Shock Commandos, who storm the mansion looking for the X-Men but quickly adapt to defeat and kidnap all of the Teen Titans but Changeling, who follows along undetected. While investigating New Mexico, the X-Men comes across Deathstroke and one of Darkseid’s “Psi-phons”; although they easily destroy the Psi-phon and are able to fend off the Parademons, Deathstroke quickly recovers from Wolverine’s initial attack to take each of the Mutants out with a “fear ray” that grounds Storm, a “toxi-grenade” that renders Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, and even Wolverine unconscious while a Parademon blasts Cyclops, and overpowers even Colossus’ hulking metallic form. Deathstroke and Ravok bring their captives to all-mighty Darkseid, who waits at the Source Wall and immediately sees through Changeling’s deception to subdue him, and then kills Ravok for his ineptitude with his destructive “Omega Beams”.

Darkseid summons Dark Phoenix but the heroes quickly join forces to confront the New God.

Darkseid secures his captives to a gigantic machine, the “Psychon-Wave”, which painfully and forcefully draws upon their superhuman powers and the Mutants’ memories of Jean, concentrating them on the breach in the Source Wall to bring Dark Phoenix back to life. He then regales the inquisitive Changeling with the reason for this plot (basically, he wants to use the Phoenix to transform the Earth into a new Apokolips that will allow him to conquer first New Genesis and then the length and breadth of reality itself). Hungry for destruction, Phoenix willingly accompanies Darkseid through a Boom Tube to begin this plot but, quite ludicrously, the heroes’ restraints disappear when Darkseid departs! Freed from captivity, the Teen Titans and the X-Men immediately agree to work together to stop Darkseid and Phoenix despite Wolverine not being happy about working with kids. While Shadowcat tries to flirt with Changeling and Kid Flash comments on the diversity of the X-Men, Cyborg, Xavier, Starfire, and Cyclops locate and acquire the Mobius Chair, which Shadowcat and Changeling accidentally activate to provide them with a means of escape. Tensions are stirred when Colossus sees Shadowcat flirting with Changeling and when Starfire kisses Colossus in order to learn Russian, but the team are soon carried back to New York in order to fulfil Cyclops’ solemn vow to make Darkseid pay for violating Jean’s memory and peace. They follow Phoenix’s unique psychic trail to a series of underground tunnels beneath the city where they are attacked by Deathstroke’s Parademons once more. Rather than waste time in a pointless battle, Robin and Cyclops give the order to collapse the tunnel and blast an escape route for their two teams, which conveniently brings them out right at Darkseid’s main base.

Dark Phoenix threatens the Earth’s safety so is subjected to a psychic attack.

Impressed at the tenacity of his foes, Darkseid dispatches Deathstroke and Dark Phoenix to hold the two groups off while he complete his work; although Starfire attacks Dark Phoenix in a fury, her starbolts succeed only in further empowering the corrupted Jean, who vehemently resists Nightcrawler’s attempts to reason with her and equally overwhelms even Raven’s Soul-Self. Dark Phoenix then powers up Darkseid’s “Hellpit” and Darkseid boasts about how this will transform Earth into Apokolips within mere minutes. Interestingly, he actually offers the X-Men and the Teen Titans the opportunity to yield and join his cause, which isn’t something I’ve ever seen Darkseid do before, but Shadowcat and Changeling opt instead to use their powers to try and disrupt and destroy the technology powering the Hellpit. For their insubordination, Darkseid commands Dark Phoenix to destroy them but they are saved at the last second by the combined power of Raven, Xavier, and the Mobius Chair. After Cyclops subdues Deathstroke and Robin spirits Shadowcat and Changeling out of danger, Dark Phoenix is bombarded by a psychic assault that simultaneously drains her rage and hatred and overwhelms her with love and affection.

Darkseid is defeated when the Phoenix Force is unleashed against him.

Drained, and close to unravelling, Dark Phoenix is easily goaded into reabsorbing the blast she fired at the Earth to sustain herself. When Darkseid moves to intervene, he is assaulted first by Kid Flash and then the combined forces of Cyborg, Wonder Girl, Colossus, and Starfire, who force his Omega Beams back into his eyes and therefore keep him from stopping Dark Phoenix from empowering herself and thus sparing the Earth. However, still at risk from being consumed by her raging power, Phoenix heeds Darkseid’s advice to focus her energies through a physical form and bonds herself to Cyclops. This, however, proves to be her undoing as Cyclops channels her powers with his undying devotion to his lost love and then turns the full Phoenix Force against Darkseid. The chaotic, flaming energy blasts itself, and Darkseid, across the vast cosmos of the universe to return to the Source Wall and thus imprison the New God within the Wall alongside the doomed giants of yore. Victorious, the two teams revel in how close they came to being destroyed and how fantastic their triumph was, while Scott finds some solace in Storm’s suggestion that Jean’s good soul ultimately saved them in the end. Finally, Metron returns to his chair and bids farewell to the imprisoned Darkseid, commenting that everything has returned as it once was as is to be expected.

The Summary:
“Apokolips…Now!” is quite the chaotic story; considering how many characters it has to juggle, it’s honestly surprising how coherent the story ends up being. If there’s one thing that always puts me off about team-based comics, especially X-Men and the Teen Titans, it’s the sheer abundance of characters and lore a single issue has to deal with so to mash the two together is no mean feat. The result is that no one single character from either team really gets any focus; indeed, many of the characters have next to nothing to do and the focus is, instead, on the meeting of the two teams rather than a bunch of separate interactions between them.

There are a lot of characters who don’t always get time to shine and whose interactions are a bit limited.

This is best seen in the fact that neither Robin or Cyclops get much of a chance to act as a field leader; Nightcrawler is basically a non-factor, and Wonder Girl may as well not be there. Sure, most of the characters are assumed to be busy in fisticuffs with the Parademons and the Shock Commandos but we don’t really get to see much of this. Indeed, we’re even denied a proper fight involving Deathstroke; he takes out Robin with a ridiculous amount of ease, subdues all of the X-Men largely single-handedly, and his fight with Wolverine all takes place off-panel! These days, I like to believe that you’d never see that happen given how prominent Deathstroke and Wolverine are but, in this, Deathstroke is little more than one of Darkseid’s minions who gets taken out pretty quickly to continue the focus on Dark Phoenix. Indeed, Jean’s presence gets more play here than a lot of the other characters; her death was still relatively new at the time and hadn’t been driven into the ground yet so her reappearance is a particularly emotional moment for the X-Men, particularly Cyclops. However, while it’s pretty cool to see Dark Phoenix enamoured with Darkseid and willing to commit global destruction on his behalf, it’s not really enough to elevate this story for me.

While the art is great, the story is just okay and wastes a lot of potential.

I’m not entirely sure where Metron went or what happened to him when he breached the Source Wall and Darkseid’s plot basically boils down to every other plan he has (he’s either seeking out the Anti-Life Equation or trying to conquer the universe, it seems) and, again, he really doesn’t do all that much. This isn’t entirely out of character for Darkseid, who typically allows his underlings to do his work for him, but it’s kind of weird to see him team up with Deathstroke. Like…did Darkseid pay Slade off? I can’t help but feel Trigon might have been a more suitable villain for the New God to ally with. Overall, it’s a pretty decent tale; we don’t get to see the X-Men and the Teen Titans facing off against each other (the closest we get to that is when the Teen Titans attack a weakened Xavier), which is a shame, but it’s fun seeing the teams co-operate. There’s a little tension in the brief Colossus/Shadowcat/Changeling “love triangle” but that’s about all the dissention we get; I would have liked to see how Robin and Cyclop’s leadership styles differ and more interactions from Kid Flash, Wolverine, Wonder Girl, and Storm. Instead, the comic is all about the spectacle of seeing these different comic publisher’s heroes and villains interact in as unspectacular a way as possible. A fun adventure, to be sure, but maybe a little too “safe” and it could very easily be any one of a hundred other X-Men or Teen Titan stories with a few tweaks…but at least the artwork is good.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever read The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? Were you disappointed that the two teams didn’t come to blows or were you happy to see them just working together with no issues? Would you have preferred to see different characters in each team’s line-ups? What did you think to Darkseid’s plan and the return of Dark Phoenix? Would you like to see the X-Men interact with Marvel heroes again in the future and, if so, what stories would you like to see? Whatever your thoughts on The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans, and comic book crossovers of this kind, drop a comment down below and check back next Wednesday for the final instalment of Crossover Crisis.

Back Issues [Crossover Crisis]: Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk

In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.

Story Title: “The Monster and the Madman”
Published: September 1981
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: José Luis García-López

The Background:
Although the two companies both publish stories of colourful, superpowered heroes in a cut-throat industry, the relationship between DC Comics and Marvel Comics has been surprisingly collaborative and amicable over the years (especially compared to many of the toxic fans” who argue on social media every day…) Sure, there’s been lawsuits and underhanded tactics from both companies, but not only were the legendary Stan Lee and the disreputable sham Bob Kane actually good friends but both companies borrowed from and inspired each other and they’ve even collaborated on many joint publications in the past.

DC Comics and Marvel Comics had a number of crossovers and joint ventures over the years.

Having already pitted Clark Kent/Superman against Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century (Conway, et al, 1976), DC and Marvel brought these two characters together again in 1981. That same year, the two companies also produced a sixty-four-page “Treasury Edition” comic book that pitted Bruce Wayne/Batman against Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk. At the time, graphic novels were nowhere near as commonplace as they are today and both characters were experienced a way of renewed mainstream interest off the back of a popular television series and moving away from the camp aesthetic of the 1960s, respectively. Like many of these early DC/Marvel crossovers, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk can fetch a pretty high price these days, and it also wouldn’t be the last time that their paths crossed in one form or another.

The Review:
One of the most reliable constants of many comic books, especially back in the 1960s through to the mid-1990s, was that many stories derail or pad out their narrative with a recap of their character’s origins and background. This seems to mostly happen to Spider-Man, who often interrupts whatever problem he’s having in the issue to recap his iconic origin and, don’t get me wrong, I get why this happens (you can’t expect every reader to be familiar with your characters, after all) but I much prefer it when comics simply have a bit of text before the story to catch readers up. Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk opts for this latter option and is all the better for it; before the story starts, we get a one page, two-column spread the recaps how Bruce Wayne saw his parents shot and trained his body and mind to become Batman and how Dr. Banner was bombarded with Gamma radiation and subsequently transforms into the rampaging Hulk whenever stressed or angry.

Banner raises the alarm when the Joker storms into a Wayne facility.

Like Superman vs. Spider-Man, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk begins with a prologue that establishes the villains of the story; the first is more of an abstract introduction as people all over Gotham City suffer from horrific and disturbing nightmares while the second is far more tangible as is shows that the Joker is back in town and has joined forces with a disembodied voice for nefarious reasons. The story then shifts to find Banner, under the pseudonym of “David Banks”, working a menial job for Wayne Research in order to get close to their “experimental Gamma-Gun”, and who is the only person to act fast enough to slip into a radiation suit and avoid the Joker’s debilitating laughing gas when the Harlequin of Hate and his goons show up to steal that same device!

Outmatched against the Hulk’s sheer power, Batman out-thinks the brute to take him down.

When Banner moves to raise the alarm, he is tackled and beaten by Joker’s thugs which, of course, causes him to transform into the Hulk! Quickly realising that their firepower is absolutely useless against the creature, the Joker orders his men to grab the Gamma-Gun and flee but their escape is impeded by the sudden arrival of the Batman! Unfortunately for Batman, the Joker immediately takes advantage of the Hulk’s child-like demeanour to convince the Green Goliath that Batman is his enemy and thus the two engage in fist fight! Batman initially holds back from confusing and potentially further antagonising the Hulk but finds his attempts to paralyse his foe by striking his nerve centres fruitless. Unable to harm the Hulk, Batman tries to keep his distance and out-think the creature and almost gets his spine snapped as a result! Batman is finally able to subdue the Hulk, however, by forcing him to breathe in a big lungful of his special Bat-gas but, though the Hulk is finally toppled, the Joker escapes with the Gamma-Gun. Batman returns to the facility as Bruce Wayne and immediately enlists the services of the grief-stricken Banner in the construction of a replacement Gamma-Gun.

The Joker and the Shaper conspire to capture the help using fake soldiers.

Back at the docks, the Joker activates the Gamma-Gun and allows his newfound friend, the Shaper of Worlds, to partially manifest in the real world and give us all a run-down on his origin as a parasite who feeds upon the dreams of others and bring them to life. He’s struck a bargain with the Joker (whose insane mind makes him “unique in all the universe”) to help restore the Shaper’s failing abilities, though exactly what the Joker is getting out of this deal is left unclear (and it is heavily implied that the Shaper scares even the Joker!) While Batman hits up Gotham’s underworld in search of the Joker, Banner finds the stress of his assignment putting him on edge. Although he’s briefly calmed down by a cup of Alfred Pennyworth’s tea, he continues to push himself without food or proper rest. Thus, when the Joker’s men arrive disguised as military officials charged with arresting Banner, it isn’t long before he turns green once again. When a specially-designed taser-rifle fails to have the desired effect on the Hulk, a massive blob-like creature enters the fray. Despite the Hulk’s increasing rage and best attempts, the creature is effectively able to absorb and contain the Hulk and spirit him away and Batman arrives in time only to hear Commissioner Jim Gordon receiving confirmation from General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross that the soldiers were fakes.

When the Hulk escapes from them, Joker enlists Batman’s aid in tracking the Jade Giant down.

Back at the Joker’s warehouse, the Hulk goes on a rampage when he hears the Clown Prince of Crime’s plan to revert him to Banner in order to make adjustments to the Gamma-Gun; despite the Shaper’s best efforts to quell the beast’s rage, both he and the Hulk are tormented by disturbing nightmares that leave the two physically and emotionally drained. Bored by the conflict, the Hulk flees but the Shaper comes to the conclusion that the crippling pain and madness his condition brings him can be cured not by the Gamma-Gun…but by the Hulk himself thanks to his unique Gamma properties and orders the Joker to recapture the beast. To facilitate this, the Joker explains the bind he’s in to Batman and enlists his aid, which soon leads to a second confrontation between the two characters. Bored of Batman and being constantly hounded by “puny humans”, the Hulk chooses to flee but a fight soon inevitably breaks out.

Following another fight, Batman is finally able to get the Hulk on side.

Once again, Batman chooses to fight smarter rather than harder, rolling with and doing everything he can to avoid or survive the Hulk’s attacks while trying to talk sense into the increasingly-enraged Hulk. Batman’s tricks result in the Hulk demolishing the building the two were fighting in and once again fleeing in order to be left in peace. Batman is finally able to get through to the Hulk by posing as a harmless old blind man and offering the creature his friendship, which calms the Hulk enough to the point where he willingly goes along with the Joker to confront the Shaper. However, angered that the Joker is willing to let the Hulk face this foe alone, Batman slaps his archenemy down and finally joins forces with the Jade Giant to battle a legion of their enemies brought to life by the Shaper’s powers. Finally on the same page, the two are easily able to overcome the living nightmares and fight their way to the Shaper, who holds them at bay with an impenetrable barrier. Angered at the idea of anything being stronger than he is, the Hulk charges ahead at full speed and exhausts his Gamma energy, reverting to Banner and curing the Shaper.

Despite his vast cosmic powers, Batman is able to trick the Joker into leaving himself vulnerable.

Despite Batman’s pleas, the Shaper honours the bargain he made with the Joker and, having been cured, bestows the Joker with “limitless, infinite power”. Effectively acting as a genie for the Joker, the Shaper makes all of the Joker’s wishes come true, transforming him into a God-like jester who unleashes chaos and madness throughout Gotham City and uses his reality-warping powers to shape the city, its people, and even Batman however he sees fit. When the Shaper refuses to renege on his word, Banner transforms back into the Hulk and finds himself transported to the Joker’s increasingly mental world. Batman goads the Joker into pushing his powers to the limit by criticising his creativity and lack of imagination; although this results in things becoming even more warped and abstract, it also has the intended side effect of overwhelming the Joker, leaving him wide open for a knockout punch. In the aftermath, the Shaper takes his leave, the Joker is confined to Arkham Asylum once again, and Batman allows Banner to slip away in order to find the peace he so desperately desires.

The Summary:
Given that I grew up mainly reading DC and Marvel Comics and annuals published in the seventies and eighties, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk’s presentation is immediately recognisable to me and these are the quintessential representations of these characters at that time, in my opinon. Batman is much more of a stoic tactician and a fair-minded vigilante than a grim, overly paranoid avenger of the night and the Hulk speaks with a child-like demeanour and, while he just wants to be left alone, is more than ready to throw hands when provoked.

Batman and Hulk tangle more than once in a brain vs. brawn bouts.

Thanks to the Hulk’s unpredictable and explosive demeanour, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk features a couple of fights between the two characters that are instantly believable. It’s not the first time that someone/a villain has manipulated the Hulk into trusting them or going nuts on a specific target and Batman is smart enough to not try and match the Hulk blow for blow. Instead, their fights are more about Batman trying to outmanoeuvre his foe, trying to reason with him, and using his physical skills and gadgets to stay out of the Hulk’s reach and to subdue him. It’s definitely a battle of brains versus brawn, which isn’t unusual when characters fight the Hulk but it’s definitely a spectacle seeing Batman trying to take on such an overwhelming foe. Superman versus the Hulk obviously makes more sense on paper but I don’t think it would have resulted in as interesting a story and probably would have descended into a slugfest instead.

Joker plays a vital role as an opportunistic and manipulative villain.

I’m not familiar with the Shaper of Worlds but the story does a pretty good job of establishing his powers and what he wants; desperate to cure the crippling pain and madness caused by his fading abilities, he enters into a partnership with the Joker to use Gamma radiation to stabilise him. It’s unusual to see the Joker acting out of fear or subordinate to another but his characterisation remains completely on point and he never seems to be a diminished threat. Instead, he remains in control and a tangible menace throughout; he’s smart enough to manipulate the Hulk and even convince Batman to help him, and then obtains God-like power and goes berserk bending and twisting reality, forcing Batman to think of ways to outsmart him, which is always fun to see.

The story avoids being an all-out slugfest for some interesting character interactions.

Overall, it was quite a decent crossover between the two. The Hulk typically doesn’t have one set location so setting the entire story in Gotham City was a good idea; seeing Banner and Wayne (and Alfred) interact was a nice little inclusion and something missing from Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man. While neither character’s supporting cast have very much to do, it was nice to see Gordon show up (and to have him communicate with Ross) and having the Shaper conjure up nightmarish visions of both character’s foes was pretty awesome, especially when the Hulk reacted to Batman’s enemies with disinterested rage. There could have been more interactions between Batman and the Hulk; entire pages and chapters go past without the two interacting at all, either in or out of costume/form, which is in contrast to Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man but I think this was done to keep the story from descending into a series of one-sided fights. After all, there’s only so many ways you can show Batman avoiding being pummeled by the Hulk before it gets repetitive, and we do get to see interesting character combinations and interactions (and a pretty decent Batman story featuring the Hulk) as a result.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? Were you surprised that Batman was pitted against the Hulk? Do you think he should have met a different Marvel character instead? What did you think to the team-up between the Joker and the Shaper and the Joker’s acquisition of phenomenal cosmic powers? Would you like to see DC and Marvel collaborate again in the future and, if so, what stories would you like to see? Whatever your thoughts on Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk, and comic book crossovers of this kind, drop a comment down below and check back next Wednesday as Crossover Crisis continues!

Game Corner [Crossover Crisis]: Injustice: Gods Among Us (Xbox 360)

In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’ll be taking a look at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.

Released: 16 April 2013
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Also Available For: Arcade, Mobile, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One and Xbox Series One X/S (Backwards Compatible), Wii U

The Background:
When it was first released, Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) was a phenomenal success for Midway because of its focus on gore and violence, and it offered some real competition for Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991) in arcades and on home consoles. For a time, the series seemed unstoppable during the 2D era of gaming but struggled to find a footing in the emerging 3D fighter arena and Mortal Kombat seemed to be in jeopardy after Midway went bankrupt in 2010. The main reason for this was the poor reception of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (Midway Games, 2008), the first collaboration between Midway’s Mortal Kombat and the DC Comics characters owned by Warner Bros. Interactive, which was hampered by age-related restrictions. Luckily, Warner Bros. Interactive stepped in and the team, now rebranded to NetherRealm Studios, immediately set about getting their violent franchise back on track; Mortal Kombat (NetherRealm Studios, 2011) was subsequently very well-received for its “back to basics” approach and, bolstered by the reboot’s success and eager to take advantage of the vast library of characters of their parent company, NetherRealm Studios sought to expand upon the game’s mechanics with a new, all-DC brawler. Although the game wasn’t as bloody and violent as its sister series, Injustice: Gods Among Us was a massive critical and commercial success that was followed up by not only a bunch of additional fighters and skins added as downloadable content (DLC) but also a sequel in 2017 and a critically-acclaimed comic book series.

The Plot:
In an alternate reality, Clark Kent/Superman has become a tyrant and established a new world order after the Joker tricked him into killing Lois Lane before destroying Metropolis with a nuclear bomb. In an effort to stop him, Bruce Wayne/Batman summons counterparts of the Justice League’s members from another universe to join his insurgency and end the totalitarian regime that threatens to subjugate the entire world.

Just like Mortal Kombat, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a 2.5D fighting game; however, this time you’re able to select one of twenty-four characters from the DC Universe and battle it out in the game’s single-player story mode, one-on-one against another player or computer-controlled opponent (both on- and offline), tackle numerous arcade-style ladders, or take on character-specific missions in Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories (S.T.A.R. Labs) training scenarios. Just as you’d expect from a Mortal Kombat videogame, Injustice’s fights take place in a best-of-three format (although there are no longer announcements or screen text between each round) and against a time limit, though you can alter these settings (and many others, such as the game’s difficulty) to your heart’s desire in the game’s options to suit your playstyle.

Attack with strikes, grapples, and combos to pummel a number of DC’s most recognisable characters.

If you’ve played the Mortal Kombat reboot then you’ll be immediately familiar with this game’s fighting mechanics and controls, although there are subtle differences: X, Y, and A are assigned to light, medium, and heavy strikes, for example, and may be either punches, kicks, or weapon-based melee attacks depending on which character you’re playing as. You can still grapple and throw your opponent with the Left Bumper (or X and Y and a directional input), dash towards or away from the opponent with a double tap of the directional pad (D-Pad), but now you must hold back on the D-Pad while standing or crouching to block, which can make blocking a bit trickier as sometimes you’ll simply walk or dash backwards when trying to block. If your opponent is crouch-blocking, you can land an attack by pressing towards and A for an Overhead Attack, and string together light, medium, and heavy attacks with directional inputs and your various special moves to pull off quick and easy combos. As is the standard for NetherRealm Studios’ releases these days, you can practise the game’s controls and mechanics as often as you like and take part in a very user-friendly tutorial to learn the basics of the game’s simple, but increasingly complex, fighting mechanics. You can also view your character’s moves, combos, special attacks, and “Character Power” from the pause menu at any time, allowing you to also see a range of information (such as where and how to pull of certain moves, the damage they inflict, and frame data).

Utilise Character Powers and the always-annoying Clash Breakers to whittle down your foe.

Each character has a range of special attacks that are unique to them; these mostly consist of certain projectiles or grapples and strikes but can also include various buffs for your character or to slow down your opponent. Each character also has a specific Character Power that is performed by pressing B; this sees Batman summon and attack with a swarm of bats, Oliver Queen/Green Arrow fire different trick arrows at his opponent, Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn gain various random buffs, and allows characters like Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and Rachel Roth/Raven to switch between different fighting styles and thus access different special attacks. While some Character Powers have a cool-down period, others don’t, but they can also be detrimental to you; for example, Slade Wilson/Deathstroke can briefly give his shots perfect aim but, once the Character Power is expended, he’ll miss every shot until it refills. Another new addition to the game is the annoying “Wager” system; when the Super Meter is filled up by two bars, you can press towards and RT when blocking an attack to play a quick mini game where you and your opponent select how much of your Super Meter to gamble. If you win, you’ll regain some health; if you lose, the opponent regains health; and if you tie then you both lose. Personally, if find these “Clash Breakers” even more annoying than the usual “Breakers” seen in the modern Mortal Kombat games as I never win them and they generally just unnecessarily prolong a fight (and, even worse, there’s no option to turn them off).

Different characters attack and interact in different ways according to their strengths.

In a bridge between the differing character movesets of Mortal Kombat and the “Variation” mechanic seen in Mortal Kombat X (NetherRealm Studios, 2013), Injustice features a limited “Class” system whereby characters are split into two camps: Gadget- or Power-class characters. Gadget characters are generally smaller, faster, and rely on various tricks and weapons in fights while Power-class characters are typically bigger, often slower, and rely more on brute strength. One of the main ways you’ll notice the difference between playing as, say, Barry Allen/The Flash and Cyrus Gold/Solomon Grundy is that they interact with the game’s fighting stages in different ways. As in Mortal Kombat X, you can press the Right Bumper when indicated to use (or attack your opponent with) various environmental hazards, such as firing missiles at them or knocking them into the background. But, whereas Superman will wrench a car out of the air and slam it on his opponent, someone like Dick Grayson/Nightwing will rig the same car to explode or somersault off the environment to get behind their foe rather than try to crush them with a wall.

In addition to powerful Super moves, you can bash your foe into new areas using stage transitions.

As you might naturally expect, there are no Fatalities or gruesome finishing moves in Injustice (not even “Heroic Brutalities”). However, when your Super Meter is full, you can still press LT and RT together to pull off a devastating Super Move; while you won’t see bones breaking and organs shattering like in Mortal Kombat’s X-Ray Moves, it’s still pretty fun to see Hal Jordan/Green Lantern transport his opponent to Oa to pummel them with his constructs, Ares shower his foe with arrows and stamp on them while grown to gigantic proportions, Arthur Curry/Aquaman force his enemy into the jaws of a ferocious shark, and Bane demolish his opposition with a series of throws and grapples, culminating in his iconic backbreaker. Another way the game separates itself from Mortal Kombat is stage transitions; when near the far edge of certain stages, you can hold back and A to wallop your opponent through the wall or off into the background where they’ll be smashed up, down, or across to an entirely new area of the stage which often allows more stage interactions and new stage transitions available for your use.

The story involves multiverse shenanigans against corrupted heroes and features some QTEs.

You might wonder exactly how someone like Louise Lincoln/Killer Frost can survive being blasting through the brick walls of Wayne Manor or go toe-to-toe with the likes of Doomsday but the game’s entertaining story mode explains that, on this alternative world, the tyrant-like Superman has developed special pills that bestow superhuman strength and dexterity to his generals. As is also the standard in NetherRealm’s titles, the story mode is broken down into twelve character-specific chapters, which is again a great way to experience a wide variety of the game’s roster (though Batman does feature as a playable character in two chapters, which seems a bit lazy). You can replay any chapter and fight you’ve cleared at any time, which is great, and skip through the cutscenes after they’ve loaded a bit, and the story mode isn’t all constant fighting either as you’re asked to pull off a handful of quick-time events (QTEs) at various points, such as blasting cars with Superman’s heat vision. The story is a fairly standard multiverse tale of the main canon heroes fighting against their corrupted or misled counterparts but it’s pretty fun and easy to blast through in no time at all.

Fight to earn XP and level-up, unlock additional perks and modes, and take on a series of challenges.

Every time you win a fight, you’ll earn experience points (XP) that will eventually level-up your character profile. This, and performing a certain number of specific attacks, playing through the story mode, and tackling the game’s other modes and mechanics, unlocks icons and backgrounds for your profile card as well as additional skins in certain circumstances. You’ll also be awarded “Armour Keys” and “Access Cards” to spend in the “Archives”, which allows you to unlock concept art, music, more skins, and certain boosts that will increase how much XP you earn, to name just one example. Like in Mortal Kombat, you can also take on ten opponents in arcade ladders in the “Battle” mode; these range from the basic tournament-style ladder to specific challenges against heroes, villains, or battling while poisoned, injured, or with certain buffs (such as a constantly full Super Meter or health falling from the sky). We’d see a similar system be incorporated into the “Towers” modes in later Mortal Kombat games and similar scenarios exist here, such as a survival mode, battling two opponents, or being forced to fight against the computer set to the hardest difficulty.

Graphics and Sound:
Like its violent sister-series, Injustice looks fantastic; there’s almost no difference between the high-quality story mode cutscenes and the in-fight graphics (which, again, makes it all the more frustrating that NetherRealm Studios insist on having character’s endings represented by partially-animated artwork and voiceovers), though it has to be said that the graphics are much more palatable when in a violent fight. I say this purely because I am not a big fan of some of Injustice’s character designs: The Flash looks a bit too “busy”, for example, and Batman’s suit (and cowl, especially) look really janky to me, though I love the representation of Green Lantern and Thaal Sinestro.

In addition to various intros, outros, and Wager dialogue, characters also take on battle damage.

Each character gets a nice little fitting intro and outro for each fight and, between rounds, will perform and quip a variety of taunts to the opponent. In a nice little touch, different character skins get different intros and outros; when playing as the evil Superman, for example, he enters and exits the fight differently to his more heroic counterpart. When playing as different skins, like John Stewart or Hank Henshaw/Cyborg Superman, you’ll also be treated to slightly different dialogue and animations, which is a much-appreciated touch on the developer’s part. Although there aren’t any character-specific interactions in the intros, there are during the Wager cutscenes and, even better, both characters and the arenas will accrue battle damage as the fight progresses! This means that you’ll not only see Selina Kyle/Catwoman’s cat suit rip and her skin be blemished by bruises and blood but arenas will degenerate or change around you the more damage you dish out, which can also allow different intractable options to become available to you.

Stages include a range of recognisable DC locations and take damage as you fight.

Speaking of the stages, Injustice really goes above and beyond to make the best use of the DC license; while it’s a little disappointing to see Arkham Asylum and Wayne Manor feature twice in the game, they are made distinctive by having Joker-ised and night-time variants, respectively (and also being clearly modelled after, and featuring cameos by, the Batman: Arkham (Rocksteady Studios/Various, 2009 to 2015) videogames and villains). Additionally, the use of stage transitions really helps to add a whole new dimension to combat, with some stages featuring more than others (or even none at all), to help ensure that every fight can be a little different. Stages also feature a bevy of other little cameos and DC references, such as the Fortress of Solitude being clearly modelled after Superman (Donner, 1978) while also featuring a portal to the Phantom Zone and a cameo from Starro the Conqueror. Similarly, J’onn J’onnz/Martian Manhunter floats in the background of the Watchtower space station, Floyd Lawton/Deadshot is just hanging out at Stryker’s prison, and Amazons are preparing a boat to launch on Themyscira. Every single stage has a number of intractable elements and changes as you fight, cause damage, or smash foes around, with Gotham City being my favourite as you can battle on the roof with the Bat-Signal and then down to the grimy streets below and then blast your foe back up to the roof using a nearby truck!

Enemies and Bosses:
Injustice helpfully separates its character-selection screen into heroes (on the left) and villains (on the right) but, despite their different alignments (and that their loyalties change due to the multiverse shenanigans of the story), every single one of them will be an enemy of yours at some point as you play through the story, Battles, S.T.A.R. Labs missions, and on- or offline. Consequently, it’s worth keeping track of which character suits your playstyle as some have easier combos and special moves to pull off compared to others, or more useful Super Moves and Character Powers.

Play as, and against, the game’s characters to learn their strengths, weaknesses, and skills.

Additionally, the Class system should also be factored in; Lex Luthor, Doomsday, and Solomon Gundy may be powerful and capable of gaining armour to tank through attacks but they’re also a lot slower on their feet and with their jumps. Superman and Shiera Hall/Hawkgirl are much faster Power-class characters but can also have their own drawbacks at times depending on your playstyle (Superman’s Character Power, for example, simply powers up his attacks rather than being a more offensive move like, say, Areas being able to conjure massive magical weapons). Personally, I tend to lean more towards Gadget-based characters, like Nightwing (who can switch between using quick batons or a longer bo staff to attack) or Green Arrow (whose arrows and bow allow for both ranged attacks and blindingly fast melee attacks).

Take on the corrupted Superman and banish him to the Phantom Zone for his crimes!

Unlike Mortal Kombat, Injustice doesn’t really feature any secret or hidden fights or unplayable sub-bosses or boss characters; the story mode and basic arcade ladder culminates in a battle against the corrupted Superman that is a far fairer and more competitive fight compared to the finales of NetherRealm’s recent Mortal Kombat games. While Superman is definitely a bit more of an aggressive foe, even on the game’s easiest difficulty, he doesn’t gain inexplicable armour, can be stunned, and doesn’t deal ungodly amounts of damage or spam his attacks like a cheap bitch. Additionally, he doesn’t transform into some monstrous final form and, instead, the final battle is a far better use of the skills you’ve built up through regular gameplay rather than forcing you to resort to cheap tactics and tricks.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Because it lacks a “Test Your Luck” mode and “Kombat Kodes” for multiplayer fights, there aren’t really any in-game power-ups available to you outside of the various status effects seen in the Battle mode. As before, though, some characters can gain in-game buffs with their special attacks and Character Powers: Lex Luthor, for example, can erect a shield, Doomsday can cover himself in impenetrable armour for a brief period, and Solomon Grundy slows time down and drains his opponent’s health with his swamp gas. However, you’ll earn yourself additional XP if you mix up your fighting style and take advantage of stage interactions and transitions, which will allow you to unlock further customisation options for your profile card, and you can also earn additional skins and rewards by playing and linking up to the mobile version of the game.

Additional Features:
There are fifty Achievements up for grabs in Injustice, with three of which being directly tied to the story mode (50- and 100% completion and succeeding at all of the QTE mini games). Others are tied to the game’s online modes, levelling-up to specific levels, customising your profile card, and finishing Classic Battle with one (and every) character. There are also some character-specific Achievements on offer, including performing every character’s Super Move or a ten-hit combat and winning a fight using only arrows as Green Arrow, or landing at least twelve shots without missing as Deathstroke. Batman is the only character to have two specific Achievements tied to him, though, as you’ll get some G for winning a match using all of his special moves and his Super Moves and for defeating every villain as him.

Injustice included some surprising DLC fighters; even Scorpion showed up!

Another standard of NetherRealm Studios is their addition of further skins and characters through DLC; you can get skins to play as John Stewart, Cyborg Superman, and the Flashpoint (Johns, et al, 2011) Batman, among others, and they’re all easily applicable when selecting a character (no need for extraneous “Gear” here). While the game’s DLC characters have no additional Achievements tied to them, Injustice included some fun and interesting extra fighters; Lobo, General Dru-Zod (who also sports his Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013) look as a skin), Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, Zatanna Zatara, and the Martian Manhunter were all great choices to add to the roster and it was nice to see NetherRealm Studios exercise a little restraint and not overload the DLC with additional Batman characters. By far the most exciting DLC fighter was the inclusion of Scorpion, who sports a Jim Lee redesign and began a trend of DC and Mortal Kombat characters appearing in each other’s games.

Take your fight online or complete a series of increasingly tricky S.T.AR. Labs challenges.

When you’ve had enough of the story mode and regular battle options, you can take the fight online in a series of matches; here; you can participate in ranked and unranked fights and “King of the Hill” tournaments where you watch other players fight until it’s your turn and bet on who’s going to win. The S.T.A.R. Labs missions will also keep us offline, solo players occupied for some time; these are expanded upon when you download the DLC fighters, which is much appreciated and, similar to Mortal Kombat’s “Challenge Tower” mode, basically serve as extended tutorials for each of the game’s characters. You’ll take on ten character-specific missions, with each one getting a little bit of text and maybe a picture to set the context of the mission, and these range from performing certain combos or attacks, winning fights, or completing tricky challenges (such as guiding Catwoman’s cat through laser trip wires, avoiding damage or debris, or racing against Superman).

The Summary:
Injustice: Gods Among Us is a far better marriage of Mortal Kombat and DC Comics than Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe and a fantastic expansion of the gameplay mechanics and features NetherRealm Studios revitalised their violent fighting game series with in Mortal Kombat (2009). While Injustice is obviously not as gory or violent as its sister-series, that doesn’t make it any less fun and it’s still a very brutal fighter; the Super Moves, especially, and certain character’s outros (such as the Joker’s) are definitely in the Mortal Kombat mould. With gorgeous in-game graphics, a fantastic amount of variety thanks to all of the character’s different special attacks and gameplay mechanics and the stage transitions, and a simple to learn, easy to master fighting system, Injustice is an extremely enjoyable game for anyone who’s a fan of either franchise or fighting games in general. The story is a breeze to get through (thought it is essentially every basic multiverse story ever told in comics) and nicely varied with some QTE sequences; the S.T.A.R. Labs missions and different arcade ladders are much more enjoyable and challenging than in its sister-series and there are plenty of character options, variety, and unlockables to keep you busy. Best of all, the game isn’t bogged down by endless grinding to unlock Gear, skins, or other perks and is a much more user-friendly and accessible fighting game, and overall experience, than its sequel.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Were you a fan of Injustice: Gods Among Us? What did you think to it as a blend of Mortal Kombat and DC Comics? What were your thoughts on the game’s story and its depiction of a parallel world terrorised by a corrupted Superman? Which of the game’s fighters was your favourite and why? Did you buy the base game and all the DLC packs separately or did you pick up the Ultimate Edition when it released later? What did you think to the additional DLC characters and skins? Were there any characters or features missing from the game for you? Which DC Comics videogame, movie, comic, or other piece of media is your favourite? Are you a fan of multiverse stories and crossovers? Whatever you think about Injustice, leave a comment down below and be sure to check back in next Wednesday for more Crossover Crisis content!

Talking Movies [Multiverse Madness]: Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

In September 1961, DC Comics published a little story called “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al), a landmark story that featured in The Flash #123 and brought together two generations of the Flash: the Golden Age Jay Garrick and the Silver Age Barry Allen. In the process, DC Comics created the concept of the multiverse, the idea that DC Comics continuity was comprised of an infinite number of parallel universes that allowed any and all stories and characters to exist and, more importantly, interact and I’ve been celebrating this ground-breaking concept every Sunday of this month!

Talking Movies

Released: 23 February 2010
Director: Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery
Distributor: Warner Home Video
Budget: Unknown
Stars: William Baldwin, Mark Harmon, Gina Torres, James Woods, Brian Bloom, and Chris Noth

The Plot:
In an alternate version of Earth, the Crime Syndicate (evil doppelgängers to the Justice League) rule with an iron fist. When the Lex Luthor (Noth) of this parallel world travels across the dimensions, the Justice League find themselves battling against their dark mirrors to decide the fate of all worlds.

The Background:
Following the much-lauded Batman: The Animated Series (1992 to 1999) and the conclusion of Batman Beyond (1999 to 2001), co-creator Bruce Timm spearheaded easily the biggest and most ambitious DC animated show of that era, Justice League (2001 to 2004), and then out did himself with the exhaustive roster of Justice League Unlimited (2004 to 2006). Both cartoons were incredibly well-received and helped contribute to the continued success and popularity of the DC Animated Universe.

Timm looked to “Crisis on Earth-Three!” to bridge the gap between his Justice League cartoons.

Originally, Timm intended to produce an animated feature named Justice League: Worlds Collide to bridge the gap between Justice League and Justice League Unlimited that would draw inspiration from the seminal story “Crisis on Earth-Three!” (Fox, et al, 1964). However, these plans were scrapped by Warner Brothers, who were in the middle of producing a series of direct-to-video animated films with no ties to any existing continuity, and the script was consequently rewritten to avoid directly referencing either show. Despite this, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths shared a very similar style to Timm’s earlier works and, considering the first issue of the ground-breaking Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was first publish in this month back in 1986 I figured this would be as good a time as any to look back at this often overlooked animated feature.

The Review:
The multiverse is quite a daunting and confusing concept, to be honest; even I, a self-confessed comic book enthusiast, struggle with the notion at times and I feel it only really works in comics, where readers are used to the idea after a few decades of dimensional-hopping antics, and television (especially cartoons), since long-running series’ just have more time to introduce and explore the concept. In that regard, Crisis of Two Earths eases viewers into the idea of parallel worlds by primarily focusing on the idea of two alternative worlds and also its opening sequence, in which we see our beloved heroes radically changed, monstrous even, and killing a heroic version of the Joker, the Jester (James Patrick Stuart), and being opposed by a far more virtuous incarnation of Lex Luthor.

Batman and the Flash get a decent amount of the film’s disparate focus.

We then switch over to our Earth, where a more recognisable version of the Justice League are finishing up the construction of their Watchtower space station and their teleportation device; right away, we’re introduced to two concepts that form the basis of the film: the Flash (Josh Keaton) is the comic relief and Batman (Baldwin) is a bit of a grouch. Flash is full of the quips and amusing pop culture references but Batman is a stubborn pragmatist; even when clearly outmatched by Superwoman’s (Torres) power, he preserves through a broken rib and is able to subdue her with anaesthetic gas, proving his capability despite his lack of super powers.

An alternative Lex Luthor recruits the Justice League to help liberate his world.

When the alternative Luthor arrives, he is immediately apprehended and brought to the attention of the League; Superman (Harmon) confirms that the duplicate isn’t their Lex and the Luthor brings the League up to speed with the issue of the Crime Syndicate of his Earth. On this alternate world, Luthor was the leader of the Justice League but the Syndicate has rendered their world a virtual dictatorship thanks to their power and maliciousness, held in check only by the threat of a nuclear retaliation. Superman, naturally, doesn’t trust Luthor but J’onn (Jonathan Adams) confirms that the alternative refuge is telling the truth. The League debate the merits, logistics, and morals of assisting Luthor’s world and, though Green Lantern (Nolan North) is opposed to it, it is Batman who is most against the mission since they struggle to maintain order on their world. Regardless, the majority agree to assist.

Owlman and Superwoman exercise the Syndicate’s diabolical will with relish.

The Crime Syndicate, specifically Owlman (Woods), are interrupted in their search for the “Quantum Trigger” by the arrival of the Justice League and a fight breaks out. This gives the film a chance to showcase a variety of evil versions of classic heroes, “Made Men”, such as Black Lightning, Vixen, and Elongated Man. Though the League are able to get the upper hand, Luthor forces them to retreat to avoid facing even more of the Syndicate’s Made Men and, in the process, they end up in a battle with the Captain Super family (evil versions of the Shazam/Captain Marvel family). This takes the battle from inside to the cloudy skies of this parallel world as Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall) is able to commandeer Owlman’s ship and use its cloaking device to escape the fray.

The Crime Syndicate functions very much like a mob family.

The Crime Syndicate are revealed to run their organisation like a super-powered crime family, with Ultraman (Bloom, using a bit of a stereotypical Italian mobster accent) acting as the head of the “family”, who have thousands of lieutenants working beneath them (the aforementioned Made Men) and dividing their territories between them. Thanks to their power, they are able to bribe and forcible coerce the world’s government and other officials into bowing to their every whim but Owlman takes this to the next level by constructing the Quantum Eigenstate Device (Q.E.D.), a bomb that will give them the ability to hold the entire world hostage. While the public largely wishes to simply acquiesce to the Syndicate’s demands to maintain some kind of peace, their dictatorship is openly challenged by Rose Wilson (Freddi Rogers), daughter of Slade Wilson (Brice Davison), who is the President of the United States in this world.

Owlman has plans of his own to destroy all life on every Earth.

Unlike the League, which is a largely unified team ruled by democracy, the Syndicate is a fragile alliance of egos and greed; Ultraman rules through sheer power and intimidation but Owlman and Superwoman conspire behind his back. Owlman plans to use the Q.E.D. to destroy all life without mercy or conscious since the discovery of an infinite number of parallel worlds has shattered his grasp on reality. Believing that no decision he, or anyone, makes has any meaning since whatever they accomplish means nothing elsewhere in the multiverse, he plans to find “Earth-Prime” in order to use the Q.E.D. to annihilate all life everywhere, which Superman, a self-confessed murdering psychopath, finds to be one hell of a turn on.

Luthor insists on defeating Ultraman himself in order to humble the super-powered dictator.

Although Luthor recruits the League to help, he insists on taking on and defeating Ultraman himself since “if it’s going to mean anything after [the League] is gone, it has to be [Luthor]”. Luthor is able to match blows with Ultraman thanks to his armoured suit and having acquired a piece of Blue Kryptonite, the only substance that can hurt and weaken Ultraman. Because of this, Luthor is able to defeat and humiliate Ultraman in public and have him arrested for his crimes; however, as gallant as his actions are, he is chewed out by the President for risking further retaliations from the remaining members of the Syndicate and Ultraman is allowed to go free in a desperate attempt to keep a shaky truce with the Syndicate.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Many of the film’s action sequences, though exciting, are, understandably, all too lacking in context; thanks to the wildly different designs of the parallel worlds Made Men, it’s not always easy to tell who is cameoing when and most of them don’t have any speaking lines, making them little more than disposable grunts who exist simply to showcase the stranglehold the Syndicate have on their world and give the League someone to beat up without fighting the same handful of Syndicate members all the time. Because of the large roster and many different characters running around the film, there’s obviously not enough time for everyone to really get much to do; Green Lantern, for example, is a bit of a non-factor and, while J’onn does get an interesting side plot revolving a romantic attraction to Rose, the majority of the League exist simply to battle with the evil doppelgängers. This is exacerbated when Batman calls in heroes from his world to help fend off Superwoman and the Super family, resulting in yet more cameos and characters taking up the film’s run time; don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see so many heroes onscreen at once and all these villainous versions of normally heroic characters but I also feel like the focus should have been more on the League/Syndicate members since those are the only fights that really mean anything.

As you might expect, the film (eventually) degenerates into an all-out brawl.

Thankfully, the film does eventually focus up once Rose provides the League with the location of the Syndicate’s headquarters (spoilers: it’s on the Moon) and the two teams engage in an all-out brawl with their doppelgängers. Green Lantern’s evil counterpart, Power Ring (North), is about as useless as heroic double; Superman, for all her strength and aggression, lacks the finesse and combat acumen of Wonder Woman; and Ultraman’s sadistic focus on destruction means he not only destroys much of the environment but is easily outwitted by Superman. Of course, the battle between the Flash and Johnny Quick (Stuart) comes down to a test of their super speed but, amidst all the mindless brawling, Owlman is able to escape with the Q.E.D. to enact his insane plan to destroy all realities. Faced with the threat of mutually assured destruction, the League and the Syndicate form a shaky truce simply to save their own hides.

Batman ultimately sacrifices Johnny Quick and kills his counterpart to save the multiverse.

A side plot throughout the film is that the Flash believes Batman doesn’t like or respect him and the idea that Batman is this irritable, obstinate loner. However, when they need someone to power the Quantum Trigger, Batman has Johnny Quick take the Flash’s place as the conduit to spare his teammate’s life since he knows that the effort will kill the speedster. While this is a great way to show that Batman does truly care for the Flash and his teammates, it’s a little out of character since he knew that the effort would kill Johnny so he willingly sacrificed a life to confront Owlman and then, rather hypocritically, lectured his counterpart about his willingness to kill untold numbers of people with the Q.E.D. Somewhat unsurprisingly, given that Batman is generally the focus of all of DC’s animated endeavours, the film culminates in a battle of ideologies and skill between him and Owlman, with the depths of his doppelgänger’s psychosis revealed so completely that Batman has no choice but to doom Owlman to destruction on a desolate, barren alternate world, saving the multiverse in the process but at the cost of Johnny’s life.

The Summery:
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is a pretty decent little animated film; it’s full of action and lots of big, explosive, and visually interesting fights but the main draw of the film, for me, is the philosophical and ideological differences between the Justice League and the Crime Syndicate, specifically between Batman and Owlman, this dichotomy is given the most focus throughout the film, which is probably the right choice but it does mean that we don’t really get to see just how different the Syndicate are to their heroic counterparts beyond them being super-powered mobsters and psychopaths. If you watched any of the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited episodes based around the Justice Lords, it’s arguable that you could say the film’s concept is somewhat redundant and has already been explored but I think there’s enough here to separate the film from those episodes, mostly thanks to the abundance of cameos and the iconography of the Crime Syndicate. While the film doesn’t complete align with those cartoons, I think you can easily suspend disbelief to see it as a bridge between Justice League and Justice League Unlimited since it ends with the League preparing for a massive recruitment drive but it also works pretty well as a standalone animated feature…as long as you’re already somewhat familiar with DC’s characters and some of their more complex concepts.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever seen Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths; if so, what did you think to it and where would you rank it against the other DC animated movies? Which character was your favourite and what did you think to the film’s voice cast? Which evil doppelgänger would have liked to see more of and what do you think about the concept of the Crime Syndicate and the DC multiverse? Did you ever watch the Justice League cartoons and, if so, what were some of your favourite characters and moments? How are you celebrating the publication of Crisis on Infinite Earths this month? Whatever your thoughts on DC’s animated ventures, the multiverse, and the Justice League, feel free to leave a comment below.

Screen Time [Crossover Crisis]: Crisis on Infinite Earths

In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’ve spent every Sunday this month discussing multiversal crossovers in an event I dubbed “Crossover Crisis”.

Air Date: 8 December 2019 to 14 January 2020
UK Network: Sky One and (eventually) E4
Original Network: The CW
Stars: Stephen Amell, Grant Gustin, Melissa Benoist, Ruby Rose, LaMonica Garrett, Tyler Hoechlin, David Ramsey, Carlos Valdes, Chyler Leigh, Caity Lotz, Brandon Routh, Tom Cavanagh, and Jon Cryer

The Background:
Crisis on Infinite Earths was, easily, the biggest and most influential crossover in DC Comics history back when it was first published; even now, the reality-changing events of the twelve issue series can be felt in DC and cosmic events and crossovers are an important part of the comics industry. Still, such an event seemed irrevocably tied to the comics books; even DC’s animated ventures rarely attempted to tackle an event of such magnitude so to say that I never expected Arrow (2012 to 2020), of all things, to led to, and end with, a massive crossover between not just the “Arrowverse” but also the wide spectrum of live-action DC adaptations would be an understatement, to say the least. Crisis on Infinite Earths was first hinted at in the first episode of The Flash (2014 to present) but was explicitly referenced throughout the Elseworlds (Various, 2018) crossover and revealed in the conclusion of that event. The Crisis then become the focal point of the entire Arrowverse, with almost the entirety of Arrow’s eighth season and The Flash’s sixth season specifically preparing characters for the oncoming Crisis, visiting and destroying parallel worlds, featuring Mar Novu/The Monitor (Garrett) as a frequent guest star, and setting the stage for the biggest comic book crossover in television history as the writers and showrunners crammed in cameos and references galore to pay homage to DC’s many live-action adaptations. The result was some of the best-received and highly-praised episodes in all of the Arrowverse and a significant change in the presentation of the Arrowverse going forward as worlds lived, died, and were forever changed by the event, which saw both Supergirl (2015 to present) and Black Lightning (2018 to present) merged into a new version of the Arrowverse Earth.

The Plot:
When a wave of destructive anti-matter threatens all life in the multiverse, the Monitor gathers seven heroes – Oliver Queen/Green Arrow (Amell), Barry Allen/The Flash (Gustin), Kara Danvers/Supergirl (Benoist), Sara Lance/White Canary (Lotz), Kate Kane/Batwoman (Rose), Doctor Ray Palmer/The Atom (Routh), and Clark Kent/Superman (Hoechlin) – to face the crisis. Facing overwhelming odds, the team must journey across time, space, and the expanse of the remaining multiverse to find seven “Paragons” who will decide the fate of all reality!

The Review:
Crisis on Infinite Earths hits the ground running and kicks off with a massive bang in “Part One” (Warn, 2019), which was the ninth episode of Supergirl’s fifth season and saw the devastating wave of anti-matter obliterate Argo City and threaten the very fabric of Supergirl’s world, Earth-38. In a change for these crossovers, Supergirl and her supporting cast are given a prominent role right off the bat as she is forced to watch her home and family be destroyed by the mysterious, unstoppable wave of energy. She is overjoyed to see that Superman and Lois Lane (Elizabeth Tulloch) survived the destruction but deeply affected by the death of her mother, Alura Zor-El (Erica Durance), and the loss of her home, and the fact that the entire first episode actually takes place on her Earth allows her supporting characters to actually contribute in a meaningful way towards the Crisis.

Supergirl is heartbroken when Argo City is destroyed and is tempted to rewrite reality.

Faced with the impending destruction of their world, Alex Danvers (Leigh), J’onn J’onnz/Martian Manhunter (David Harewood), and Querl Dox/Brainiac 5 (Jesse Rath) are forced to call in every debt they are owed, and even turn to the unscrupulous Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath) for help evacuating as many people as possible to Earth-1. Interestingly, it is Superman who has the crisis of conscience in this first episode and finds his resolve faltering after failing to save Argo City and out of concern for his baby son, Jonathan; despite the losses she has suffered in such a short space of time, it is Supergirl who lifts his spirits and encourages him to remain hopeful in their ability to succeed. After discovering that the Book of Destiny has been recovered, Kara, as the Paragon of Hope, makes every effort she can, despite the incredible risk, to use the Book to restore her Earth, bringing her into a moral conflict with Kate.

Oliver has spent the last season preparing for the Crisis and to make the ultimate sacrifice.

The anti-matter wave spreads throughout all of time and space, however; throughout the most recent seasons of Arrow and The Flash, Oliver and Barry have been struggling with their impending deaths since the Monitor foretold that each of them would die in the coming Crisis. This has been particularly trying for Oliver, who, like Barry, has been trying to prepare for the coming event and get his team ready to operate without him once he’s gone but has been struggling with time travel shenanigans, which saw him meet his future daughter, Mia Smoak (Katherine McNamara). Normally the more grounded and pragmatic of the Arrowverse heroes, Oliver has had extensive experience not just with multiversal events by this point but also with the anti-matter’s effects thanks to his travels with the Monitor in preparation for the Crisis.

Even in death, Oliver finds a way to continue fighting and decide the fate of all reality.

Despite his lack of superpowers and being more of a tactician, Oliver plays a vital role throughout the Crisis as we seen his disillusioned Earth-16 counterpart run through some of this greatest hits (again…), and see that he is less than impressed to find that the deal he made with the Monitor to sacrifice his life in exchange for Barry and Kara’s is no longer valid. Though Oliver is angered at the deception, the Monitor purposely arranged for this to ensure that Oliver would be at his most prepared by planning for every eventuality; as if seeing multiple worlds be destroyed in short order wasn’t proof that the stakes for Crisis on Infinite Earths was unimaginably high, Oliver’s untimely sacrifice to cover the evacuation of Earth-38 certainly is. Of course, Oliver’s story doesn’t end there as he ultimately sacrifices himself again, first by taking on the role of the Spectre and then by giving his life once more to end the Anti-Montor’s threat.

Kate is horrified to see the disillusioned wreck Bruce has become on Earth-99.

Since Oliver is now well-versed in multiversal crossovers and events, and unexpectedly killed before his time, it is Batwoman who brings the pragmatic cynicism and is the fish out of water in Crisis on Infinite Earths. “Part Two” (Belsey, 2019), which was the ninth episode of Batwoman’s (2019 to present) first season (although it was the last episode here in the United Kingdom), explores her attempts to adapt to the unusual situation she finds herself in. Failing to see how her abilities, as vast as they are, can measure up to cosmic threats, Kate is distrustful of her colourful associates and begrudgingly agrees to tag along purely on Kara’s word and in the face of a clear and present threat. The revelation of the Paragons drives Kate into an unexpected voyage of self-discovery; initially, she believes her destiny is to recruit the Bruce Wayne of Earth-99 (Kevin Conroy) and, in the process, comes across a jaded and broken version of her cousin who has descended into a murderous and disillusioned crusade. Rattled by this incarnation of Bruce, and her actions in contributing to his death (to keep him from killing Supergirl), Kate is somewhat sceptical to learn that she is the Paragon of Courage.

Tired of killing Superman, Luthor compels the Earth-96 Kal to kill his Earth-38 counterpart.

The quest for the Paragons takes Superman, Lois, and Iris West-Allen (Candice Patton) to first Earth-167, where they briefly encounter a depowered version of Clark (Tom Welling), and then to Earth-96 and an older, far more troubled incarnation of the Man of Steel (Routh). In possession of the Book of Destiny, Lex Luthor (Cryer), who was returned to life to play a vital role in the Crisis, travels throughout the multiverse killing Superman and, ultimately, forces Superman to fight his Earth-96 counterpart in a brief, exhilarating moment before Lois and Iris wake up and realise that they can just punch Lex out. Lex, however, gets the last laugh by manipulating the Book of Destiny to replace the Earth-96 Superman with himself as the Paragon of Courage

Although fully prepared to meet his destiny, Barry’s Earth-90 counterpart takes his place.

As mentioned, Barry has also been trying to prepare for his untimely end; he’s been aware that he disappears, most likely due to his death, in a red-sky Crisis and he is so angered at Oliver’s death and the Monitor’s manipulations that he is driven to using the restorative nature of the Lazarus Pits to bring Oliver back to life in a crazed state with the help of John Constantine (Matt Ryan). “Part Three” (McWhirter, 2019), which aired as episode nine of season six of The Flash (2014 to present), leads Barry to facing his fate in the worst way possible when he is forced to watch the Earth-90 Flash (John Wesley Shipp) sacrifice himself to destroy an anti-matter cannon. Although Barry is more than willing to fulfil what he believes is his destiny, his counterpart takes his place willingly and, in the process, allows Barry to live on for his friends and family while also providing a fantastic excuse to showcase some highlights from Shipp’s turn as the Flash back in the nineties.

Both Luthor and Harbinger become brief secondary threats amidst the Crisis.

Of course, the intangible threat of the destructive anti-matter wave and the ominous fate that awaits Oliver and Barry isn’t the only threat facing the Arrowverse characters; throughout their journey across the multiverse to defend the Monitor’s Quantum Towers, they must battle against fittingly Grim Reaper-like “Shadow Demons” that, despite being easily destroyed, have the advantage through sheer numbers and their threat is escalated by the fact that Oliver was practically torn apart by them offscreen. Additionally, thanks to messing around with the Book of Destiny, Luthor manages to position himself as a man of incredible metahuman powers who first attempts to kill Supergirl in an effort to usurp the Monitor’s destiny and then, reluctantly and unwillingly, to join forces with the heroes. Lyla Michaels/Harbinger (Audrey Marie Anderson) also takes on a brief antagonistic role when she ends up falling under the influence of the crossover’s primary, physical antagonist, Mobius/The Anti-Monitor (Garrett), which causes her to betray and murder the Monitor against her will and set in motion the final days of all reality.

As secretive as the Monitor is, the Anti-Monitor craves nothing but complete annihilation.

The Monitor himself is a deceptive and mysterious character; thanks to Luthor’s manipulations, we learn in “Part Four” (Winter, 2020) that it was he, in his far more mortal form, who birthed the Anti-Monitor in a desperate and misguided attempt to view the creation of the universe. Of course, while the Monitor inspires much distrust and anger from the heroes (especially Barry), the Anti-Monitor is a form of pure, unadulterated evil; similar to other crossover threats, the Anti-Monitor is an elusive and ominous being who isn’t revealed in full until the conclusion of “Part 2”. His motivations are nothing less than pure destruction, making for a decidedly one-dimensional villain but, in truth, the Anti-Monitor has always been that way; he simply exists as a singular, cosmic force of evil for the heroes to unite against.

The stakes have never been higher or dourer than in Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Fittingly, for an adaptation of the greatest and most devastating storyline in DC Comics history, the stakes couldn’t be higher in Crisis on Infinite Earths; though a prevailing concept throughout the crossover is the idea of hope conquering above all, the odds are constantly against our heroes as entire worlds are wiped from existence, killing many of the supporting characters, and leaving the handful of remaining characters trapped at the Vanishing Point with no hope of escape and alongside Luthor, of all people. In their darkest hour, Oliver, as the Spectre, comes to them with a vague shot in the dark at reversing their fortunes but, even then, the cost is high. This, again, gives the crossover another excuse to run through some of Arrow’s greatest hits so that the disparate parts of his personality can be reunited in the speed force and empower him to transport them to the anti-matter universe and the inevitable showdown with the Anti-Monitor. I won’t lie; I can’t say that I’m a massive fan of the grim, gritty, grounded vigilante ultimately being to one to save and restore the entire multiverse and being the saviour of all humanity but even I have to admit that it’s an almost peerless heroic end for the character.

At great cost, reality is saved and the Arrowverse’s Justice League officially forms.

In the end, with all seven Paragons gathered and united (however reluctantly, in Luthor’s case) and the Spectre locked in a dual with the Anti-Monitor, the heroes are able to light the spark that reignites a new version of not just Earth-1 but the entire multiverse. Though he dies in the process, Oliver is finally at peace and leaves the future to his friends and family who, in “Part Five” (Smith, 2020), find their world has radically changed as a result; for one thing, many characters and locations are now on an amalgamated world dubbed “Earth-Prime” and, for another, Luthor is a world-renowned hero, and no one has any memory of what happened except the seven Paragons. Thanks to J’onn’s psychic powers, they are able to piece together what happened but, while they are able to ultimately banish the Anti-Monitor to the microverse, they are heart-broken to discover that Oliver is not among those restored by the entire process. In celebration of Oliver’s sacrifice, the Flash, Supergirl, J’onn, Batwoman, and Black Lightning hold a memorial service for their fallen comrade and officially give birth to the Arrowverse incarnation of the Justice League that, sadly, will look decidedly different in the near future.

The Summary:
For such a large and ambitious crossover, Crisis on Infinite Earths does pretty well when it comes to its special effects; again, as we’ve seen in the other Arrowverse crossovers, some of these hold up better than others (Ray Terrill/The Ray (Russell Tovey) still looks terrible even in his brief appearance, as does Lyla’s teleporting effects and the “temporal zone”, but the destruction of the infinite worlds is disturbingly effective) but I’d say the CW did really well, especially when you consider that Marvel Studios spent billions of dollars on its big screen crossovers and it’s frankly ludicrous that they ever decided to greenlight an adaptation of Crisis on Infinite Earths. As you might expect, costume design is absolutely spot on; Nash Wells/Pariah (Cavanagh), the Monitor, and Anti-Monitor look a little goofy but I can’t fault the fidelity to the source material and the crossover delivers an absolutely fantastic adaptation of Bruce’s exoskeleton armour and the Kingdom Come (Waid, et al, 1996) Super-suit.

It probably should have been called Cameos on Infinite Earths…No? Just me?… Okay…

Of course, one of the most appealing and entertaining aspects of Crisis on Infinite Earths is the sheer abundance of cameos and references to other live-action adaptations of DC Comics; most of these are fleeting, appearing onscreen simply to be destroyed in seconds, but some are prominent aspects to the crossover’s massive narrative. Accordingly, we get much-appreciated and surprising appearances by Dick Grayson (Burt Ward) from the Batman sixties show, Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) from Batman (Burton, 1989), Hank Hall/Hawk (Alan Ritchson) and Jason Todd/Robin (Curran Walters) from Titans (2018 to present), Helena Kyle/The Huntress (Ashley Scott) and Barbara Gordon/Oracle (Dina Meyer) from Birds of Prey (2002 to 2003), Alec Holland/Swamp Thing (Derek Mears) from Swamp Thing (2019) and the cast of both Stargirl (2020 to present) and Doom Patrol (2019 to present). The crossover also splices in surprise appearances by Wil Wheaton, Wentworth Miller, comic creator Marv Wolfman, and even Ezra Miller alongside numerous references and allusions to comic book arcs such as the Death of Superman (Jurgens, et al, 1992 to 1993), and even setting up a potential spin-off for John Diggle (David Ramsey) after he appears to find a Green Lantern ring.

Sadly, not every character gets a large role in the massive crossover…

Interestingly, despite all these cameos (and more) and the myriad of characters from across the Arrowverse, Crisis on Infinite Earths does a surprisingly good job of balancing its pace, action, and cast; in the beginning, things are very rushed and frantic but, once everyone is gathered together, the story focuses up quite nicely. The stakes stay high and ominous throughout as we’re constantly reminded of the impending doom but there’s still time for a few amusing character moments, such as Mick Rory/Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell) realising his paternal instincts. Of course, with so many characters included and so much at stake, Crisis on Infinite Earths features a wide array of action and fight scenes; to make the best use of the many powers and characters in the crossover, these are largely ensemble pieces that truly unite the Arrowverse in a way we haven’t seen before. Even those who are largely side-lined throughout the crossover, like Diggle, for example, get something to do (he is incensed at Oliver’s death and joins Constantine, and Mia in journeying to Purgatory to retrieve Oliver’s soul) and many of the supporting characters contribute to the overarching plot even though their efforts are ultimately in vain. Some cameos, however, are all-too-brief; many of the Legends and Team Arrow get short-changed this time around, Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis) was a welcome and unexpected inclusion but, sadly, the crossover chose not to bring Emmett J. Scanlan back as Jim Corrigan and, despite Ryan Choi (Osric Chau) and Black Lightning’s pivotal roles in the larger narrative, they’re not as heavily showcased as the more recognisable and established Arrowverse characters.

Such an elaborate crossover would never have been possible without time and dedication.

I said at the start that I never expected to see Crisis on Infinite Earths ever be the basis for an adaptation, much less a live-action adaptation; it barely works in the comics, to be honest, as it requires quite a lot of knowledge about DC Comics and outlandish concepts like the multiverse. Thankfully, the Arrowverse version of events focuses its adaptation by concentrating on the main Arrowverse characters, surrounding them with a myriad of cameos and references, and buildings its concept around these familiar aspects. If you’ve never watched an Arrowverse show before then of course it’ll be quite a daunting first start but, like its comic book namesake, it is clearly not intended for casual fans or newcomers. It’s interesting watching these Arrowverse crossovers back-to-back as Invasion! (Various, 2016) feels so rushed and frantic in comparison and Crisis on Infinite Earths does a much better job of balancing a far bigger and more diverse cast, which I honestly wouldn’t expect considering how daunting its concept is. Of course, this crossover would never have been possible without the long-running, episodic nature of the CW shows and that’s exactly why it works in a way that DC’s cinematic films often fail; rather than trying to cram everything into a couple of films, or tossing it all into a four-hour long epic, the Arrowverse was able to naturally build towards this crossover and deliver from start to finish and it’s honestly a shame that the films couldn’t have followed suit and that the Arrowverse is basically coming to an end now.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


What are your thoughts on Crisis on Infinite Earths? Did you ever expect to see the Arrowverse culminate in an adaptation of one of comics’ biggest crossover events? How do you feel the adaptation was handled? Which cameo was your favourite and which would you have preferred to see be featured more prominently? How did Oliver’s death affect you, if at all, and which of the CW Arrowverse shows is/was your favourite? Are you sad to see that the Arrowverse has changed following this event or do you feel it’s time for it to move on? Do you agree that building towards such an elaborate crossover is a matter of time, patience, and character development or were you not bothered by Zack Snyder’s attempts to cram it all into a couple of movies? Which of the many multiversal crossover events was your favourite, whether in comics, videogames, TV, or movies? Whatever your thoughts, go ahead and drop a comment down below and check back in again for more superhero content throughout the year.