1 out of 5
If you’ve read comics for any length of time, chances are you’ve read through at least one crossover event. I’ve snarked on these before – that I really don’t understand them – but, in general, I can accept that if you’re invested in a large swath of a publisher’s line, they can be degrees of fun, or of interest. The nature of crossovers, though, with a whole bunch of characters inter-mingling, makes them hard to write as effective stories, shortening your time with any given character down to a panel at a time. So you’d better hope whatever crossoverness is occurring is intriguing enough to carry things.
Malibu’s ‘Ultraverse’ has a company ad on the back of issue #2 of Break-Thru, their big crossover event for all of their Ultraverse heroes / anti-heroes, which reminds us that the ‘Verse boasts “origin stories in every issue.” Malibu came at a time when promising tighter inter-connectiveness amongst their titles was a stand out trait, and so they went hard on that, really making everything mix and mingle, and then also overloading their universe with characters to make it as robust as possible in a short amount of time. Some titles were okay. But heroes are tough to make stand out. We got some pretty dang good templates several decades ago, and in the years hence, a lot of quality followups, but also a lot of here-today-gone-tomorrow types. And that mostly defined the Malibu line: most characters were shades of some other character, only with a less distinctive costume and a mysterious origin that could be dangled in front of readers for an inevitable reveal in Break-Thru.
Still: if you were following along, then the crossover could have been fun, right?
Except as far as crossovers go, this one is really a mess. Sticking to the publisher’s interweaving, the bulk of this story takes place across the other series, making these bookend issues a sequence of one-panel recaps of who’s doing what – and there were a lot of Malibu characters and so a lot of recaps – accompanied by an editor’s asterisked note to go check out issue whatever. Break-Thru #1 stumbles its many characters towards the moon; Break-Thru #2 admittedly “reveals” the big Ultraverse origin secret, but we’re so cluttered, cast-wise, that even that reveal seems to happen between panels, with someone exposition-dumping what happened afterwards. And because of the general lack of distinctiveness of these many, many all-talk-and-act-the-same muscleheads, it’s a guessing game who’s on what side, and why every goddamn page seems to be the person who was just punching someone getting punched by someone else, and then passing that punch on and on. True, crossovers are not the place for new readers to start, but even if you’re following along at this point, good luck parsing the various motivations here, and even the mighty George Perez on art seems to be struggling with what the beats are, since characters in the Malibu-verse react with shock to, like, their toes getting stubbed.
The last page of Break-Thru has the typical “everything’s changed” prattle, but that was even less the case here than it has been in any other company’s crossovers, during which someone at least dies or somehow affects the status quo temporarily. Here, we find out that – spoiler – they got their powers from aliens. Did anyone die along the way? Did we go from 100 similar characters to 99? I have no idea. This was a tough to get through 80 pages of indiscernible and uninteresting smackdowns and dramaturgy.