I love crossovers.
Back in 2007, I was working at a job I despised and had just released my first and only two gaming supplements which, pretty much, failed. I was no longer getting work from the various places that I had been submitting to for a decade, due to the fact that some had folded and others had evolved beyond me. Thanks to these factors, I found myself with the worst case of writers’ block I have ever experienced. Spending months unable to type a single word that interested me, I finally made the decision to force myself to write a total of 10,000 words of creative thought by the end of the year.
I discovered ‘fan-fiction,’ which I had always avoided due to the fact that I enjoy the idea of being able to, potentially, be paid for my writing. However, for the purposes of forcing myself to type words into a computer, fan-fiction seemed to be the perfect thing. I developed a series of stories called ‘Crossover,’ which detailed various heroes from many different universes; including: Hellboy, Captain Jack Sparrow, Invisible Woman, Buckaroo Banzai, Ash Williams, and many others; as they dealt with various villains from many different universes; including: a predator alien, Destro, Brainiac, and others; who were in service to a mysterious villain whose identity was kept secret. The big secrets of the series were never revealed as I managed to overcome my writers’ block and produce nearly 70,000 words of original content for ‘Crossover,’ alone.
It was around this time that I was introduced to the Wold Newton Universe.
First defined by Win Scott Eckart in 1997, the conception of the Wold Newton Universe dates back to Phillip José Farmer’s fantastic work, Tarzan Alive. The concept is that a small meteorite fell near the town of Wold Newton, in Yorkshire, and caused a mutation in various local passersby that led to the descendants having incredible intellect, strength, and drive to control or protect the world around them, depending on the specific case. Among those affected by the meteorite were the parents of John Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes. It’s possible that a minor genetic aberration could have led to the Holmes’ naming their kid, ‘Sherlock.’
This kind of crossover is not unprecedented. H.P. Lovecraft, who, pretty much, created everything that is horror for the modern age, worked with contemporary writers of his time, utilizing similar concepts in their stories, many of which were developed by Lovecraft. This group has been referred to as ‘The Lovecraft Circle’ and includes Robert Bloch (Psycho), Robert E. Howard (the Conan stories), Fritz Leiber (the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories), and pulp icons, such as Henry Kuttner, Clark Ashton, Frank Belknap Long. The commonality of ideas, concepts, and themes from story to story enabled Lovecraft to develop his original mythology, known as the ‘Cthulhu Mythos,’ in such a way that many readers believed it was based on historical fact. Ideas like the Great Old Ones (ancient, primordial gods who want to consume the world) and the Necronomicon (a scripture that can drive people mad simply by reading a page) became standardized through horror fiction.
All this was possible by Lovecraft being willing to share ideas and concepts he had invented with other writers. A handful of letters changed the course of fictional writing, forever.
In the early days of comic books, the idea of crossover was used to help low-selling books by having more popular characters guest star. This led to some comic book companies developing a shared universe but, for the most part, the stories of characters were compartmentalized within the comics, themselves. It wasn’t until 1961, when DC Comics published a story entitled ‘The Flash of Two Worlds’ that the concept of a ‘comic book crossover’ morphed into ‘Comic Book Continuity.’ It’s notable that this was two months prior to the publication of ‘Fantastic Four #1‘ by Marvel Comics, a company that would develop a strong sense of continuity from the earliest days.
Continuity enabled readers to enjoy stories that spanned several different comic book series and multiple, otherwise unrelated, characters. To put it another way, continuity forced readers to buy comics they may not have otherwise purchased in order to read the whole story. Both Marvel and DC (as well as countless other publishers, besides the ‘Big Two’) have relied on the formula of shared continuity for much of the duration of their publishing lives, at this point. This has led to crossovers that seem most unusual as Godzilla, the Micronauts, Transformers, G. I. Joe, Doctor Who, and Alf have all had interactions with mainstream Marvel Universe characters and Superman once got in a fight with He-Man of the Masters of the Universe!
However, the difference between ‘crossover’ and ‘continuity’ is dependent upon the lasting effects of the interaction between characters from different intellectual properties. The Doctor was barely affected by his integration with the Transformers, thus, that story could be considered a ‘crossover’ (by a degree of separation, as well). Spider-Man has been a member of both the Fantastic Four and the Avengers so those could all be considered to be within the same ‘continuity.’
So when does a crossover lead to altering continuity?
The Wold Newton Universe began as an experiment to determine how many heroes and villains can be situated to fall within a shared universe. Through various crossovers (some being little more than a mention), these characters exist within a realm that, to fans (and those with Farmer and Eckart’s impressive continuity skills), unusual crossover can occur within the realm of sensibility.
Thus, it’s possible, through careful consideration and study of various stories, to reasonably determine that an aging James Bond, Buckaroo Banzai, and John Shaft could, potentially, join forces to battle the armies of Fu Manchu.
Buckaroo’s arch-nemesis is a criminal mastermind named Hanoi Xan. The last name of ‘Xan’ is often anglicized as ‘Shan,’ which is the name of a foe of Doc Savage. In Farmer’s Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, it’s indicated as possible that Hanoi Shan may be related to Fu Manchu, in some way. Fu Manchu, who, by many accounts, may be immortal, is the half-brother of James Moriarty and cousin to Tarzan, in the Wold Newton family.
James Bond is descended from that same family line and his ancestor’s heroic foil, Holmes, encountered the vampire called ‘Dracula’ a number of times during his career. Dracula actually encountered many heroes of the Wold Newton Universe, including the dashing Spanish hero of Old California, Zorro.
In Dynamite Comics’ mini-series, Django/Zorro, penned by Quentin Tarantino and comic legend, Matt Wagner, the former-slave-turned-bounty-hunter encounters the an aging Diego de la Vega while plying his trade in California. Learning much from the older man who is fully unconcerned with the color of Django’s skin, he joins de la Vega’s alias, Zorro, on several adventures and even takes up a mask, himself, as the whip-cracking ‘Fox.’ His wife, Brunhilda, is safely back in Chicago and he sends money to her whenever he earns it.
Brunhilda’s full name, as noted in Django Unchained, was ‘Brunhilda von Shaft’ and Tarantino confirmed that he had every intention to indicate that Django’s descendent would be none other than John Shaft. That would be the title character from 1971 film, Shaft, by the way, who’s also been described as being ‘one bad mother…’
‘SHUT YOUR MOUTH!’
But I’m only talking about Shaft.
So, it stands to reason that, during the late-1970s, John Shaft might be working a case that takes him to San Francisco’s Chinatown where he discovers that there is more to the case than he expected with a plot far-more global-reaching than he’d encountered, prior. Despite having recently been forced into retirement (as his first adventure, Casino Royale, was published in 1953), secret agent James Bond 007 is also following the clues of a case that has brought him to Chinatown. The pair decide to team up, but determine that they lack the scientific knowledge to move forward and have limited options of trust. Thus, they encounter young astrophysicist and neurosurgeon, Buckaroo Banzai (a few years prior to his encounter with the Electroids in Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, who agrees to help them. The three of them follow the trail around the world, finally ending up face-to-face with a dying and desperate Fu Manchu.
With the fan-developed continuity of the Wold Newton Universe, alongside various speculations and crossovers, there is no reason that such an adventure could not exist. In fact, there’s not really a reason that such a thing couldn’t exist outside of fan fiction! Sure some rights would have to be secured on the part of Banzai and Shaft, and Bond’s shaky public domain status seem to indicate that it would be unlikely a compromise could be reached, but a fanboy can dream, right?
Perhaps obsessing over continuity, as I tend to do, can lead to taking continuity leaps not considered by those creating the original content. Perhaps there are ways to build universes and connections that no one even began to consider, prior.
Perhaps anything can happen.
They are just stories, after all and, when you have that crossover option, nothing is impossible.