Friday, 8 August 2014

Let's Talk About Crossovers

So, I watched the trailer for the long-awaited-yet-who-really-demanded-it Simpsons/Family Guy crossover. Naturally you can tell that because of that, it led me to talk about the whole crossovers thing, and you probably think that I'm going to say something about the thought of the two being together as a whole. Well, I could but it's only a trailer, it only displays a portion. Praising it makes no sense because I haven't seen it in its entirety and ranting about it serves less of a point not only because the episode is already done but they wouldn't care about what I had to say on the matter if it was about to be made. There is certainly a few things about it that I could certainly address in relation to the elements that are present in a crossover, but I'd rather not make it much of the focus of this piece. Because unlike animation/live-action films and gritty fairy tales movies, there is a lot more that can be taken in from the crossover. There's also a lot more notable examples, and it expands to much more than movies and television. It's really quite the beautiful subject to get into, and I'm glad that these two animated sitcoms have sparked my inspiration to jump in.

For those of you unaware of what a crossover is, it's when two or more entities, environments or universes, be it fictional, fabricated or real, collide with one another. Most of the time it's kept to an episode or a two part special or very few entries, nothing more beyond that. Now, what is the point of a crossover? Some might say it's to have fun. Others might say it's to keep things interesting. A few might even say it's to combine these two creations and use each of their aspects in an engaging and thought-provoking story dynamic that can say a lot with the comparisons and contrast that both face. While those are all fine reasons, the real one comes down to cold, hard cash. I'm not simply saying that to be the cynic that says that everything the entertainment industry is all about the money (even though it kind of is) but a crossover is something whose major intent comes from that reason and sometimes that reason only. A crossover is the equivalent of a concert as you able to witness all these popular artists together in a single place, figuratively blowing your mind apart. The simple idea of taking two properties and having them join forces is able to bring so much out of a person that there are a plethora of artworks out there that illustrate hypothetical fusions that may or may not come to fruition someday.

Whether a crossover is serious or not, there are certain points that each crossover hits. For one, there is always a conflict that brings one series into another series's world. It may be archenemies, a detour or simply that the plumbing's busted. Introductions are had between the two entities, one entity tries to get used to the other one, and they either have to find a way back to their own world or stop someone who entered into the new world or the problem needs to be fixed. Sometimes the series end up in each others worlds for some time and continue to deal with their conflicts. Much of the comedy expressed above occurs or the conflict starts to become a bigger concern with either the antagonists meddling or the mere fact that the two of them are together. Characters from one series will get chummy with characters from another series and then be enemies or vice versa. Eventually the conflict gets resolved and everyone parts their own ways, the end. And then you rake in the money.

One of the most notable examples of the crossover phenomenon is in our old friend, the comic book. In the world of the comic book there are crossovers as far as the eye can see. There are crossovers between series owned by the same creator, owned by the same company, owned by different companies, series that take place in the same city, in the same country, in the same planet, in the same universe and even in different universes. Some of them are relatively straightforward, others are a little more complex, some are serious, some are enjoyable, some are intentionally funny, some are unintentionally funny and some are just painful. Serious crossovers are usually the likes of Batman and Superman, as they take the stakes and raise them with the protagonists and antagonists of those two series combating with one another. More lighthearted or humorous crossovers either stem from properties that are known for their comedic or fun elements and try to have each of them bouncing off each other. And then there are ones that take two entities that don't really deserve to be alongside each other. There the ones that people joke about with their buddies, hoping that someone from the industry was listening. Some of these involve celebrities who encapsulate their own world which somehow ends up colliding with a superhero and others are Archie Meets The Punisher. Now I'm going to get to the former later on, but the latter is something important to consider because it deals with a thing I call Crossover Juxtaposition Humor.

Crossover Juxtaposition Humor is a very self-explanatory concept. It's humor that comes from the juxtaposition of the entities in the crossover. The dissonance between the two worlds, whether subtle or blatant is going to be addressed. And since it's going to be addressed, it's possible that the creators will want to get a few laughs at how characters react to each others' customs or quirks. That kind of humor is usually what works for the comedic crossover akin to how the intensifying of the conflicts is what makes the serious crossover so great. The thing about Crossover Juxtaposition Humor is that it also can come from what the entities represent and who they are marketed towards. When the shift becomes so jarring, the amount of humor that stems from it goes from just the way that the characters bounce off each other but rather the fact that the two are in the same place. Hence, Archie Meets The Punisher. Now that's not to say that a crossover can't be serious if an innocent, innocuous series meshes with a gritty, hardcore series, but when such a difference is made it becomes a lot harder to take it as seriously. And when a crossover like that takes advantage of such immense differences, it's when Crossover Juxtaposition Humor reaches its finest level.

That's where TV crossovers come along. The thing about TV is that there aren't that many serious crossovers to speak of. And if they are, they are either using comic book entities or  become greatly overshadowed by their more comedic counterparts. Another thing is that the ones that usually end up being more memorable come from animation shows. That's not to say that live-action crossovers can't happen nor do they not exist, but they tend to respect each others worlds and only make references or cameos when its convenient for them. When it comes to the sort of humor that a TV crossover displays, there really are only two categories. The aforementioned Crossover Juxtaposition Humor and meta humor. Crossover Juxtaposition Humor in TV crossovers is very strong, especially in animated shows as they can show better the contrast of visual styles that the two shows have with the addition of animation. Sometimes it's taken even further by converting the characters from one show into the art style of the other, like the Jimmy Timmy Power Hour. That can be funny, but it can also be weird, as it could prove the point that the series is more fitting in its original form than going out of its boundaries. There is also the more jarring kind of Crossover Juxtaposition Humor like in the Green Loontern where Duck Dodgers teamed up with the Green Lantern of all things. And as for the meta humor, you need to look no further than A Star Is Burns when the Simpsons get a visit from Jay Sherman.

Now when I said that a crossover is usually made simply for the purpose of making money, that doesn't necessarily make all the crossovers in the world terrible. A lot of what the mainstream entertainment industry makes is for some sort of financial gain. But whether that is the main purpose or not, its always best to hide that fact at all costs and instead do your damn best to entertain. A good crossover does that as well as take the opportunities that the crossover can offer and makes exceptional use of Crossover Juxtaposition Humor if it needs it. One of my favorite shows, Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law can be considered a crossover as it takes various Hanna Barbara properties and revolves episodes around one of them meeting Harvey Birdman and delving into ways to make them relevant for the show. In Green Loontern, Duck Dodgers was not only able to use the power of the Green Lantern rings to hilarious effect, but the way that the characters responded to his antics allowed for a lot of funny moments to flourish because they're not used to that kind of tomfoolery. In A Star Is Burns, not only are there some funny moments that come from the similarities between Homer and Jay Sherman and how Homer feels that Sherman may be seen as the better version of himself around his own house but there is a lot of jokes poked at how begrudgingly the crossover had to come to fruition as well as making fun of crossovers in general. In more action-packed, dramatic crossovers, the greatness comes from the various conflicts. The characters not getting along, their enemies causing tons of ruckus and chaos, the gravitas of the event itself as it tears into the fabric of the world. There are a handful of comic books that relish in how destructive and intense the situation can get. Furthermore, a good crossover can use the ideas that each entity represents and play with them to express an interesting message that maybe couldn't be dealt with by simply having the two of them separate.

Having that all said, there is no denying that since crossovers are usually just made for money that there are some that just whore themselves out for your cash. You know the old saying that "if you made a movie with X and Y and all they did was drink coffee, I'd go see it?". Well, as funny as that may be, there are some who take that sentence and change drinking coffee to fighting. Yes, in the world of film, crossover is just another synonym for easy cash cow. Why try to do more with two established characters when you could just show them off in the same room and have them fight? It certainly does give the public what they want. And it may be a fun idea but the novelty ends up wearing off because they just use it as a way to show off these two characters together at last and nothing else. Had they cared more about the entities, that energy would show more in the product and the product could become something more than a subpar smackdown of the century of the week. Worse than that is when one entity ends up overpowering the other rather than letting the two work better in harmony. What's worse than that is when a crossover gets too meta. A Star Is Burns did well to keep the 4th wall breaking in check, but in another work, that wall could be broken with poor execution or it could be broken so much that what ends up happening is that you have a Panzer IV of mediocre meta-humor that steamrolls you out of any enjoyment for the product. When it's overly emphasizes it proves to the viewer just how much of a gimmick the crossover is much more than if you just had a pointless fight between them break out.

As you're reading this, I'm going to assume that you have two questions. One may be "why are crossovers usually between two entities and not more?" and another may be "what about video game crossovers?". Let's take the first one. I'm going to remind you once again about the superficial nature that crossovers are made because it is that reason that crossovers are limited to two. One of the things that makes the crossover marketable is that it's for a brief moment. It is a once-in-a-lifetime parade that must be seen by all. The thing is that like parades, crossovers can be costly. For them to be done, either well or sloppily, you need to put a lot of money and time into making it. Along with that, there may be some legal disputes here and there that will have to be addressed. It could take a very long time for the two to finally come together and be released out to the world. In that case, adding one or two or three more is starts to become a larger problem because you have to dedicate not only more time, money and maybe legal disputes but you also have to make it more episodes or movies or comics to develop it properly. It may not be all that bad to make more entries to better the effect of the crossover, but the wonder of the crossover is lost when more of them occur either because of the fear of audiences rolling their eyes at how trite the display is or fear that they'll have to put more effort into it. The restrictions is the reason that there aren't too many longer crossover series whether they be of two entities or more. Which is a shame because there are a lot more that can be explored in the crossover.

Video game crossovers, on the other hand, are along the lines of movie crossovers but more fun. Most of them really just involve characters from various different places being together in one place and either fighting, racing or being faces in a puzzle game like Tetris or Puyo Puyo. It's no doubt awesome to play a game in which you can beat up Sonic as Mario or vice versa, but they're just in the same room together and nothing else. It may be a stretch to call them crossovers as they're more like a collection of cameos. Other times the crossover has entities that aren't related to video games like when Marvel goes to fight Capcom or how Nicktoons Unite takes four different shows and throws them together in a boring action platformer. Sometimes it's the two of them together in a place for no reason like when Mario and Sonic were in the Olympics. What would make an interesting crossover is something along the likes of Professor Layton vs Pheonix Wright: Ace Attorney as it combines the gameplay mechanics that the two of them have to offer as well as making the story and confrontations between the two characters fun. Those sort of crossovers are rare in video game, but it would be great to see more of those. Considering that Mario and Sonic have become more chummy around each other lately I wouldn't be surprised if there was one between them any time. At least I hope so because that would be awesome.

Despite what I've said about crossovers being mainly about the money, there is no denying that crossovers are a wonderful thing. They make the imagination soar to incredible heights and they can be some really fun experiences. Even bad crossovers have interesting ideas to them, even if it's only because of that what if being explored a bit. It's a shame that in order for crossovers to happen they have to occur for a sense of relevance or to rile people up to spend whatever money they have to witness it or waste their time for what could be a poor payoff. Certainly if there was more integrity that came to the practice of crossovers, they could explore some greater territory and expand themselves from being a one-shot fireworks display if they so wished to tackle the crossover further. And if the universes that come together increase, it would be even better to see what could come out of it. As they stand though, they're relatively good. Sure, there's some flops here and soulless cash grabs there but there are still some that can capture the beauty behind the process and capture a lot more of the brilliance behind the concept. If they go the extra step, good for them, but if not, I'm sure they could do just fine.

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