Mar 28, 2016

A Look at Why Crossovers Are So Appealing

If there is one thing to be taken away from the past few days, it's that D.C. LOVES crossovers. With Batman v. Superman currently atop the box office, it seems perfectly planned that they're chasing the same rush on the small screen with a crossover featuring characters from CBS' Supergirl and CW's The Flash. While their profiles might not be nearly as exciting, it does raise an interesting point about how appealing the concept of transfusion is, even outside of the comic book realm. A shared universe of characters almost makes pop culture a far more unifying and fascinating world because of this. It may not always work, but it definitely is a concept worthy of trying. 
Even the best of us have a certain fascination with blending two things together. Scientists mix chemicals. Chefs mix flavors. Pop culture obsessives all secretly have pairings that they would love to see happen. Sometimes it's a pair of actors; other times it's two different shows. If The Simpsons has any credit to its long legacy, it's that they aren't afraid to do crossovers with everyone; including The X-Files, Cheers, Family Guy, Futurama, Dragnet, The Critic, and several others. In those episodes, there's a certain familiarity and fun that comes with introducing tonally different shows into a comedic environment. It almost deconstructs their very existence. 
But not all crossovers are blatantly used for being self-critical. In most cases, it is merely to build a bigger world for the subjects. In the world of film, the idea is even more common as franchises begin to capitalize on things we love about film. The most successful at this point is Marvel's ever-expanding The Avengers - which started with Iron Man almost a decade ago and has expanded to feature Norse Gods (Thor and Loki), a talking tree (Groot) and raccoon (Rocket Raccoon), a cryogenic patriot (Captain America), a man who talks to ants (Ant-Man), and whatever Vision is. What's more impressive is that while this makes no sense on paper, it's become the most anticipated source of entertainment most years and has given us arguably one of the definitive crossover movie events in contemporary cinema with The Avengers.
While the modern era isn't even close to being the first time that two characters intertwined from different sources, it feels like pop culture has come to embrace it. While in the crass sense it is about money, there is something to seeing a team join forces. In the case of superheroes, it fulfills a missing link when fighting the villain. Most superheroes are lucky to have a handful of powers, so to have another cooperative ally makes a fight even more appealing. It is one of the big reasons that Captain America: Civil War is receiving such high attention as it expands the universe and brings in even more characters. 
Even on the small screen, it has become a reality. An episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has connected several Marvel movies together with loose plot details while the Netflix series is producing its own universe with the series Jessica Jones and Daredevil - with  many more promised. Even in the case of tonight's Supergirl/The Flash crossover, it's not the first time that the latter has popped up on somebody's show, though this is the first that he's crossed the network borders. The Flash is theoretically a spin-off of Arrow thanks to a brief cameo in the series. Since then, the two have split time between each other's series, even having integral plots that overlapped in The Flash's freshman season. Likewise, CW has continued to expand the D.C. universe crossover with last year's The Legends of Tomorrow. While each of these four D.C. shows have different tones, it's intriguing to watch them jump around without feeling out of place.
Of course, Marvel's Cinematic Universe is owed a lot of credit for popularizing the crossover in modern culture. There's a promise of many more series doing crossovers, such as 21 Jump Street and Men in Black, as well as the reboot of Universal Horror's iconic monsters such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolf Man. While the latter seems like a crass rip-off of The Avengers, it isn't out of line with the original monsters skewering back over 70 years. At some point, almost every character crossed over with each other for a film, including Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, The House of Frankenstein, The House of Dracula, and arguably the quintessential crossover franchise of horror comedy in which Abbott and Costello met most of the studio's big hits. 
To complain about crossovers as a crass cash-in is to ignore that it's pretty much in film's DNA to have two things join forces. In the case of Batman v. Superman, it's fascinating to see two heavyweights of pop culture finally team up with the promise of a Justice League movie not too far off. For comic book fans, it embodies a certain fantasy that has only been provided in panels in a comic book. To casual audiences, it's a chance to see a superpower team reflect hopefully the best in big budget movies and in some cases find new icons to learn about. It's baffling that Wonder Woman has only now gotten to appear in a movie despite being just as integral to D.C.'s legacy as Batman and Superman - who both have films ranging back over 50 years.
Of course, this is only scratching the surface of nutty crossover culture. St. Elsewhere famously finished with a revelation that the entire show was from a snow globe belonging to an autistic child. Since that series had several familiar faces drop by, some people believe that most all TV stems back from this child's imagination. It's a crazy idea that mostly works if you love the idea of TV being somehow unified and influencing each other. Much like how most HBO shows at some point reference each other (Six Feet Under shows someone watching Oz, Girls discusses Sex and the City), the essential appeal of crossover isn't just that we love the idea of two familiar faces butting heads, but feeling like there's limitless possibilities. Even in the case of The Simpsons, there's something endearing to live action series appearing in cartoon form.
If given time to research, there's likely an entire novel's worth of dissection and case studies as to why crossovers are so addictive. They are part of our larger identity and desire to blend things together to create something new. It is why Batman v. Superman, despite featuring familiar faces, was so successful this past weekend. It is why The Flash and Supergirl's upcoming crossover has been touted for months. Maybe none of this works if you don't care about the properties, but there's something to the power of influence and how it reflects society's interests as a whole. Maybe crossovers can be seen as lazy and at times pointless, but it still comes with a rich subtext worthy of its own conversation.

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