You know what I love? Crossovers.
Really, when you look at it, it’s such a fun concept. Write a story where the main selling point is that two pre-existing parties cross paths and interact. It says a lot about the power of fiction and the properties that come from it that you can even do that. At worst, it’s a cheap cash-in. At best, it’s an interesting character study.
I think my admiration for crossovers is similar to why I’m drawn to Marvel’s What If series and to a lesser extent DC’s Elseworlds. It’s a celebration of the characters and ideas that have been built up over time while lovingly stretching them in fantastic ways. Like, I’ve never seen Star Trek. At all. Never watched any of the shows or seen any of the movies. I think I tried watching the cartoon when I was really young, but it bored me into a coma. Anything I know about the series comes from pop culture. That said, when they did an X-Men/Star Trek crossover and had a scene of someone busting into the room to yell, “DR. MCCOY?!” and both Leonard McCoy and Beast react to it and then glare back at each other, I still laugh about it because it’s almost like that was the entire reasoning for doing the comic. If it wasn’t, you know that writer had that on the top of his idea list, just over, “Spock takes out Wolverine with the Vulcan Neck Pinch and then Wolverine gets back up because of his healing factor.” Story came secondary at best.
I figured that if crossovers are a celebration of the characters, then maybe it’s about time that I celebrate the crossovers. One of the great things about crossovers – and another similarity with What If – is that they’re all so damn fascinating. It’s hard to make one that’s dull and uninteresting. You might find a crossover that works out great for everyone involved and tells a good story to boot. More than likely, you’ll get a bizarre mess that’s fun to look back at.
I’m not going to strictly talk about comics here. I’m talking crossovers in all media, whether it be comics, TV, movies and so on. I’ll only count stuff that’s official. Fan works and the like don’t count. Avengers fighting the Squadron Supreme, who themselves are Marvel’s stand-ins for the Justice League, doesn’t count. Also, in-universe crossovers don’t really rate here. Spider-Man meeting the Hulk isn’t very special. Regular Spider-Man meeting Ultimate Spider-Man? Yeah, maybe. I’ll at least use DC/Wildstorm crossovers.
For this debut entry, I’m going to go with JLA vs. Predators from 2001, drawn by Graham Nolan and written by John Ostrander. Ostrander’s a guy who I respect enough that I did a double-take when I realized he was behind it because he’s better than this.
This is one of the six times the Predators have crossed over with DC, five of the times in stories involving Batman. It hits me how safe the Predators are in this situation as the story is already written the moment you come up with the title. The Predators have a little more substance and likability than the Alien xenomorphs, but at the end of the day, in situations like this, they’re just high-profile cannon fodder. It’s a race of nameless creatures made up of some loose traits created from scenes from the first movie and, to a lesser extent, the sequel. When the xenomorphs aren’t around to make them the lesser evil, the Predators are simply, “those assholes from space”. They’re cool as hell, but there’s no mystery on who will win and who will die while laughing and exploding.
This is released during the Justice League’s resurgence at the hands of Grant Morrison. Our team is Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern (Kyle), Martian Manhunter, Flash (Wally), Atom, Aquaman (hook hand and beard), Plastic Man and Oracle. Our story begins with Martian Manhunter hanging out in the Watchtower as a highly-damaged Dominator ship is flying by, doomed to explode. The Dominators are another race of “space assholes” who exist purely for antagonistic purposes. Against Oracle’s wishes, the three aliens are brought on-board and they immediately attack J’onn because they’re, like I said, space assholes. One of them starts to panic because by saving them, J’onn has doomed them all. That’s when a mysterious fourth visitor shows up and fires at J’onn. The Martian escapes through a couple floors and tries to assess the situation, but his stalker has already caught up with him.
Oracle loses contact with him and calls in the League. The teleporters are locked out, so Superman and Green Lantern fly in. Batman makes sure to get everyone involved as anything that can take down J’onn is a major threat. Superman and Lantern find the place empty… until they stumble upon the rather gruesome image of J’onn’s decapitated head on a pike. Superman knows what they’re up against while Kyle proceeds to vomit… or sniff a green flower. Either way.
It’s a pretty big deal that J’onn’s dead, but Superman makes sure to give us exposition on the Predators before any sentimental stuff is said. Not that it matters, as J’onn wanders in headless with his face on his chest. Yeah, turns out that doesn’t kill a Martian. With the teleporters back on-line, Batman shows up, checks up on J’onn and it’s talked about how that Predator was shielded from J’onn’s mental powers. They all wonder: how is that possible?
It hits me now how weird it is that Batman notes that blocking mind powers is a new trick for Predators. I mean, he’s right and all, but how would he know? These creatures are armed to the teeth with crazy alien tech, including the power to turn invisible, so a mind shield isn’t that crazy. But it wasn’t in any of the movies so Batman knows.
Anyway, he points out that the three Dominators have used the teleporters to escape to three different destinations on Earth. The JLA is split into three search parties while J’onn will remain at the Watchtower.
Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Plastic Man head to Venice. As they carouse through the canals and Aquaman insults the water quality, they’re attacked. Aquaman’s knocked into the water and is antagonized by what looks like an invisible torpedo. Wonder Woman contends with a gold-plated Predator with a retractable, electric lasso whip. Plastic Man, meanwhile? Get a load of this.
Yes. We have a goddamn Plastic Predator. Not only are there more Predators than the League expected, but they all have their specific power sets!
The same happens when Flash, Green Lantern and Atom go to the ruins of the Amazon. Flash finds the Dominator quickly, but they’re challenged by a speedster Predator, a shrinking Predator and a Predator with a yellow power ring. Although that Predator doesn’t come up with any constructs, it is able to power through Kyle’s shields. Flash is the only character in the story who questions any of the weird shit going on by wondering how this Predator is able to keep up with him. Is it tapping into the Speed Force or into the Flash himself? Not that this is ever answered.
The Atom Predator would make for a cool threat, but Atom depowers him quite handily. Although this party and the Venice group get their Dominators, they call for J’onn to teleport them in and get no answer. On the Watchtower, J’onn notices that the Predator Manhunter is still around and smirks, saying that he knew it wasn’t truly gone.
Superman and Batman chill in the great outdoors of England, where Batman gives a history lesson about how author Beatrix Potter is behind the preservation of this place. They catch the Dominator with no problem, but then get ambushed by their Predator counterparts. Naturally, that means Super Predator.
The comic seems to overuse the gimmick of Predators taking what they hear and repeating it ominously out of context. It’s cool, but in an attempt to give any of the Predators a sense of personality, the dead horse gets beaten pretty badly.
Now, a Superman version of the Predator works well enough. As does a Predator based on Martian Manhunter, Flash, Atom, Plastic Man and even Aquaman. But then you realize it means that this has to exist…
What… what the fuck? A Bat Predator? There already is a Bat Predator. You know what it’s called? It’s called a PREDATOR! What, does this Predator have stock options? Does he share a forbidden love with a xenomorph with cat ears? Does his clicky dolphin voice have extra gravel to it? Even if you gave him Batman’s gadgets, it would still be a step down from Predator tech.
Before Batman can get jumped, all the JLA members and the three Dominators reappear on the Watchtower. J’onn shows that he was busy fighting off his Predator counterpart. How did he win? We’re never told. The fight is never shown and all we get is a shadowy shot of a Predator sitting in the corner like he just got called out by his teacher.
A Predator with Martian Manhunter’s power set is seriously a frightening threat. Think of it. All the stuff the Predator can do plus shape-shifting, various mind powers, laser vision, super strength, etc. They could have done the entire story about that creature hunting down the Justice League without having to go into “everyone gets an evil clone” territory. Instead, he doesn’t use any of those powers outside of mental shielding and gets taken out off-panel with zero explanation. I guess he did use his morph power to turn his arm into a blade, but that’s plenty redundant when you remember that Predators already have blades on their arms.
Oh, but it gets better!
No, sorry. I said that wrong. What’s the word that means not bet—worse! It gets worse!
The Dominators explain what’s going on. To combat the JLA, they took some Predators and genetically engineered them into Meta-Predators, each with the powers of a Justice League member. The Predators got loose and killed a whole bunch of Dominators in that lab, causing them to fly off to Earth and seek out the League. Rather than simply ask for help, they figured that the Predators would discard the Dominators for the bigger game.
Now, then. Let’s go back to their plan for a second. The Dominators are so advanced that they’re able to create Predator clones of some of the most powerful beings in the universe. And they went for the complete set. See, I’m not a super-smart alien with Baraka teeth and all, but I’d think that if you have the technology to create a Predator with Superman powers… you’d keep on that. Don’t worry about the Wonder Woman and the Green Lantern and especially the Batman. An army of Super Predators. Toss in a couple Predator Manhunters and maybe a Plastic Predator for flavor. Do that and you have it made!
Granted, they’d be dead already because their plan backfired in the whole control aspect, but they’d have something capable of crushing the League. Superman notices that the Predators are on the Watchtower and a big fight breaks out. It goes on for nine pages and it’s completely one-sided in the League’s favor. Why shouldn’t it be? They have them outnumbered thanks to Martian Manhunter being freed up. They do the whole bit where they decide to change dance partners, easily taking apart the galaxy’s greatest hunters.
There is some fun stuff in there. Like when Flash offers his half-beaten Predator to Aquaman to finish off.
The Super Predator, though. That has to give them some trouble right? Wrong. Just like with Martian Manhunter earlier, Superman announces that only he is qualified to fight his counterpart and goes in swinging. The two aren’t seen for the rest of the fight until Superman stands there with a beaten Predator in hand. I’m surprised such a fight would be so low-key. You’d think Superman vs. Superman would be more explosive and damaging to the surroundings.
Because of loose ends, one of the Predators performs hara-kiri through blasting a hole through the wall and breeching the hull. The Predators fly out into space to die as Green Lantern plugs up the hole. Several of those Predators should survive the incident because of their powers, but we’re probably not supposed to notice that.
The Dominators are sent on their way and given a verbal scolding. They’re confused over why they’re set free despite what they tried to do, but Superman gives a speech about how maybe if they can realize that life is important, then there’s hope for everyone. But the Dominators are still space assholes in the distant future, so I guess life is truly hopeless. Shucks.
JLA vs. Predators is one of the lazier crossover concepts out there. There are some aspects that look like they can almost work, but simply don’t. That’s a shame, since I’ve read the first Batman vs. Predator story and that one got it right. Maybe I’ll go into that another day.
Next time I’m going to discuss fools and the pitying thereof. In the meantime, are there any crossovers you’d like to see me cover? Remember, I’m not bounding myself to just comics here.
…Now that I think about it, that comic never did give us a quirky Predator hacker in a wheelchair. I feel robbed.