The Art of the Usurped Crossover

DAREDEVIL #275-276, Marvel Comics, December 1989 to January 1990"Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!" - Rage Against the Machine

It's summer and we're in the throes of crossover season (season? how about "crossover handful of years"?), when your favorite series is likely to get hijacked by an editorially mandated event. Quality drop, tone shifts, and it just looks like an expanded chapter of a crossover book you'd rather not be thinking about. So you can imagine how much I admire writers who nominally toe the line and take part in said crossover, but instead of phoning it in, craft something beautiful and unexpected from it. So that's the theme for this week.

To start us off: Acts of Vengeance. This was an actually pretty ok Marvel crossover based on the premise that all the major villains get together to trade opponents. Imagine a number of conversations like this:

Red Skull: Captain America keeps handing me my ass!

Doctor Doom: Well, he's got that metal shield, maybe Magneto can help you.

Magneto: Fuck you, you ugly Nazi bastard.

And so on...

The most memorable of these, for me, was Daredevil #275 and 276. I'm a big Daredevil fan to start with, but he gets to square off against Ultron. ULTRON. For those who don't know, this killer robot has his outside made of adamantium (read: the same metal Wolverine's bones and claws are made of) and regularly wipes his shiny metal ass with the Avengers. And I don't mean Hawkeye, Black Knight and Dr. Druid. I mean Iron Man, Hercules and Thor! How's a blind hard luck hero going to survive that?

When you think of Daredevil, people will usually think of Frank Miller, and with good reason. Maybe Denny O'Neil, or Bendis or Brubaker now, or perhaps the high profile though brief run by Kevin Smith. They don't think of Ann Nocenti. I do. Her run was literary, strange and magical, and it featured some of the best art on the book, period. I've fawned over John Romita Jr.'s art in these pages before, so I'll be brief: He is the best artist ever to work on Marvel's books. I've bought way too many comics based on the fact he was drawing them, and I don't usually put art before story.

But the story is still what makes this Act of Vengeance memorable. Instead of the by-the-numbers claptrap she was asked to deliver, Nocenti has practically Vertigo-ized Daredevil and used his fight with Ultron to discuss themes of identity.

The story goes that Doctor Doom puts Ultron-12 back together after his last defeat at the Avengers' hands, but programs him with the best bits of each of his versions. Ultron-13 thus has a pretty big multiple personality disorder problem. He fills a bag full of Ultron heads and comes to this conclusion:
He heads for upstate New York where Daredevil is taking a break from the superhero life (or trying to) and falls in love with Number 9, a genetically-created perfect girl whose subplot in Daredevil has just been interrupted by Marvel's editorial staff. As an artificial being, the naive Number 9 helps us empathize with Ultron. I think I feel more badly for Ultron than I do that robot in Short Circuit.
But despite the strong interior monologues, the shamanic cemetery of heads, and the exploration of what it means to be programmed (is there such a thing as free will?), we're not quite ready for the Vertigo style. So Daredevil climbs up the mountain of Ultron heads and whacks Ultron-13 with a stick until his head flies off and we get back to our regularly scheduled plotlines. That's what happens when your innards aren't made of adamantium and you still insist on showing them off.

Still, a great subversion of a crossover, and not the only time Nocenti's done it. Fight the power, girl!


Austin Gorton said…
"He is the best artist ever to work on Marvel's books. I've bought way too many comics based on the fact he was drawing them, and I don't usually put art before story."

I agree 100%; it's like you took the words right out of my mouth.

Also agreed that Nocenti and the "Acts" crossover were quite awesome. As you mentioned, I particularly liked the conflict between concentration camp-survivor Magneto and Nazi Red Skull, which culminated, I believe, with Magneto locking Red Skull in a basement or something (it was cooler than I'm making it sound).
Unknown said…
Nocenti had one of the most underrated runs on a comics. I think she did some crazy stories with the inhumans, mephisto, typhoid mary. Great stories and now that you mentioned it, they did kind of have a "Vertigo" feel to them.
Unknown said…
I think I would like those stories alot more today then I did at the time.

I disliked the Nocenti / JRJR Daredevil at first because of a post-Miller hangover on my part, and shortly thereafter I stopped reading Marvel altogether, so alot of those stories got ignored by yours truly.

Nice writeup. I would never think that an Ultron story in Daredevil would work, but now I'm convinced.
Siskoid said…
That DD run was so unusual, I was immediately charmed by it, even coming off the Borg Again storyline which had gotten me into this book.