1984: Crossfire & Co

Crossfire (1984) #1-26, Crossfire and Rainbow (1986) #1-4, Whodunnit? (1986) #1-3 by Mark Evanier, Dan Spiegle, et al.

Dear Reader; sorry for the almost one week hiatus between the last post and this one. I’ve been aiming for a post per day, but it just took so long to read these Crossfire comics. (And things were pretty busy otherwise, too.) But the next few series should be much shorter, so I should be able to keep my posts on schedule. Well, about as on schedule as Eclipse comics were published.

I’m sure you’re relieved.

ANYWAY.

Crossfire is a spin off from The DNAgents. He was introduced as a bailbondsman cum private investigator there, but with a suit that makes him able to fly. I mean, glide.

While The DNAgents was solidly a super-hero comic book, Evanier has more fun on Crossfire. All the stories are set in Hollywood, and most involve the movie business in some way or another. Evanier worked on various TV shows throughout the 70s and 80s, and wrote more than 200 hours, he says (repeatedly) in his long text pieces.

His imdb page didn’t seem to agree on that, which was a head-scratcher. But I downloaded the raw imdb data, and, yes, he seems to have credits on about 300 productions. imdb filters out things that nobody says they’ve seen or something: I’ve never understood the algorithm.

Anyway, in almost every issue there’s a long er essay about his life in show-biz. I remember reading these avidly as a teenager back in the mid-80s. Remember, this was when the Internet wasn’t very available (UUCP anyone?) and insider stories like these weren’t available in the same way they’re now. And I think that perhaps Evanier didn’t really count on very many people reading them, because some of the stories he tells (with anonymised names or not) are kinda juicy.

While the artwork on DNAgents was just kinda… there… Spiegle is a step up, at least. He’s a bit klunky, but he has fun.

I stopped reading DNAgents back then pretty fast, but I stuck with Crossfire to the very end. As Evanier wrote several times, Crossfire was his favourite project (and DNAgents was not), so the stories are more inspired, the artwork is better, and those Tales from Hollywood made you feel like you’ve been let in to a secret club where you learn all the secrets.

Spiegle’s artwork has an oldee-timee DC flavour to it, doesn’t it? Slightly cartooney but basically realistic. He does these old comedians with their rubbery faces perfectly.

On the other hand, I don’t much care for the layouts. I don’t know how Evanier and Spiegle worked together, and whether Evanier laid them out, but in any case, they’re adventurous but not cohesive.

When confronted with this double page spread, what are the signs that you’re supposed to read them across the spread and not as separate pages? You have that weird-ass border, which I think is supposed to help guide the eyes, but doesn’t really. There’s no flow from panels on the left page to the right page; quite the opposite, really, with that sheaf of papers that man is waving which is protruding into the panel beneath it.

And this isn’t an untypical example.

Here’s another spread from the same issue. So Crossfire is climbing up on that panel to the left and top… and then you follow him towards that duct… and then… er… further to the right? No. Skip back to the previous page and read that scene with the goateed guy? Yes? But do you then read across the spread or continue on the same page?

There are so many pages like this where you have to guess at what the reading order is. Compare that with Dan Day on Aztec Ace, who does a lot more ambitious layouts, but that read effortlessly.

Anyway, storywise you get all the cliches with ingénues getting discovered and stuff. For an insider book, reading this now I’m not really very taken with many of the stories.

The most jarring bits in Crossfire is when he pulls us back into the DNAgents super-hero universe. It’s so incongruous: It’s mostly a private dick book with some jumping around, and then we’re suddenly in this solidly sci-fi super-hero setting.

Did I mention that Evanier has a tendency to repeat himself? I may be repeating myself, but he did the “brains of a puka shell necklace” bit more than once. But it’s not just expressions like that: You really feel that he’s a TV writer, because every character will have A Trait, and this Trait is insisted upon in just about every episode. I mean, issue. And instead of that Trait being developed in some way when that Trait becomes bothersome, it just goes away.

So a plot point in Crossfire (like his artificial blood) will develop like this: 1) Crossfire has artificial blood! 2) Crossfire has artificial blood! 3) Crossfire has artificial blood! 4) *silence*

Insisting, then nothing.

Evanier says that they’re getting a lot of mail, but that both he and the readers prefer the Hollywood stories over reading other people’s fan letters. Which I think is totally true. At least I do.

I may be coming over hyper-critical and very annoyed in this blog post, and I didn’t mean to. I did enjoy reading these comics. But obviously they also annoyed me in a way I’m not quite sure what is.

Well, OK. This storyline was super-duper annoying. The setup: A preacher guy who’s tough on crime. Meanwhile, there’s a killer afoot! What are the chances that these two things will end up being connected!??!

Yeah.

Eclipse sure were pushing Axel Pressbutton around this time. It seems like every comic they published had at least a couple of full page ads for it. It’s a Brian Bolland cover, though, so…

Things like the bit above makes me want to have a decoder ring do determine who the director was.

A constant bug-a-boo in these comics is how evil censorship is. Here we see the effect of too-nice cartoons.

Hey, that’s a very stylish Zot! ad. It was printed in various colour combinations, but that’s a very weird purple/yellow one that’s still quite striking.

I gave that crossword a try to see whether it checked out as a real one, and it seems to? Evanier had fun doing these books, for probably not any pay whatsoever…

Like this screenplay-like one. Evanier experimented with form a lot throughout the run.

One of the most scandalous stories (about a guy that blocked a female actor from getting a job by spreading lies about her) ends with the revelation that he’s her fiancee.

Reading these stories now, I felt an impulse to google around to see whether these stories were public knowledge, or whether Evanier was really spilling secret beans here, but since he changes the name of people involved, it’s not an easy task. So I haven’t.

yronwode usually ran the same editorial in all the Eclipse comics of a certain time period, but this month she wrote one that continued from one comic to another. Buy them all to get the complete editorial!

Which I have done, so I guess I will.

Suddenly! The origin story again! Some of Evanier’s story choices are rather opaque.

Another experimental story, this time announced on the editorial page. Presumably to let us know that the issue is supposed to be that way, because I can see how people my get confused.

Because every third page or so we get a “The End” and then on the next page…

… a “new story” starts. They all tie together, of course, and it’s rather fun. The story itself, though, isn’t all that interesting, so you get these experimental formal choices foisted upon a rote story, and the effect is… not that thrilling.

In #17, we get an announcement that Crossfire is going on hiatus, but we’ll get a four-part miniseries on cheaper paper and at $1.25 instead of $1.75. And if that’s a success, Crossfire itself may go to $1.25 when it returns.

A new #1 sounds like a good idea, but Evanier chooses such a weird story to put his best foot forward with new readers. It continues on the story that’s going in Crossfire, and in addition it co-stars Rainbow from The DNAgents. I can see this appealing to absolutely no new readers.

And the story is about how vigilantes that go around killing people are really rather naff, which isn’t exactly the zeitgeist either (this was around the Dark Knight time). But it’s appreciated anyway.

By this time, Crossfire has lost his magical flying er I mean gliding suit, and just wears a trench coat and his mask. So Evanier is removing Crossfire further from super-hero tropes… but he brings in Rainbow, who’s as super-hero as they come.

So confuse.

Anyway, that page above illustrates Evanier’s writing technique: Crossfire breaks into a house every other issue (to find documents), and every every every single time, he’s discovered and either beat up or has to escape by jumping out of the window.

He’s the world’s worst at breaking in and stealing papers, and after this had happened the ninth time I started wondering whether Evanier was somehow playing this for laughs (I mean, there are plenty of jokes in Crossfire, and it’s really a comedy/action book), but I don’t think so.

Perhaps a laugh track would have helped to guide the reader.

Evanier’s text pages go into hyperdrive. From now on out, there’s often six full pages of show biz stories.

Evanier write about a producer who was so deluded that he drove his company into the ground (anonymised), and promises to send the issues to the guy in question. He never mentions if there were any repercussions.

2 of 2… Nope. To be fair, Eclipse were flooded out a while before, and it’s amazing that they had as few production glitches as they did around this time.

Did I mention that this was a humour/action book? Yes, here’s burglars dressed up as the Marx bros breaking into a pharmacy. Yes, I know, it makes no sense.

Later he writes about when Erin Fleming was trotting around a dying Groucho Marx to score jobs. For herself. I have no idea whether that’s true or not.

The plot of the mini-series is summed up by this panel, and is the one I assume all readers asked themselves: Our Hero knew who the serial murderer was, and even where he lived, but didn’t do anything about it.

What. Ever.

And whoever came up with the idea to print the text one issue with purple on purple… C’mon.

Then we’re back to the regular series, but now it’s in black and white. And instead of reducing the cover price, it’s raised to $2. Not that I care or anything.

Spiegle’s artwork improves enormously, I think. It gets a 60s newspaper adventure strip feel. Not exactly Rip Kirby, but more… British? Yeah. It looks like British adventure strips from the 60s, which is a lot more fun to look at than 70s DC comics.

Evanier explains the reason for the change: Sales were too low for a colour book, and Spiegle wanted to do black-and-white.

Sergio Aragones starts adding spot illustrations to Evanier’s text pieces. They’re not that awesome, but hey, it’s Sergio Aragones.

The editorial page lists who does what at Eclipse. Sympathetically enough, Eclipse comics rarely lists the production/editorial crew, but focuses on the creators. I find it interesting that yronwode seems to be editing quite a few of the basic breadwinners, while Mullaney is doing the more arty books.

Well, arty for Eclipse.

And speaking of arty, Spiegle goes a bit overboard with his newfound b&w freedom once in a while.

Evanier says what his favourite books he’s doing, and then says that he’s not going to bore us with his opinions. Like The Comics Journal, one assumes.

The thing about the stories where Evanier talks about his TV work… is that it’s stuff that I haven’t seen and couldn’t imagine wanting to see. It sounds like American early-80s extruded TV product. So when he writes this story about how inept the censors were, and uses as an example a variety show where the censors objected to the dancers showing too much boob…

It’s just that the stakes are so low that it’s just amazing that anyone would care enough to mind.

Which, to Evanier’s credit, he alludes to later in the article. (Spoilers: They sowed some organza over the boobs, which was then ripped out when the censor left the set, so that the American audience could get their daily TV boob quota.)

An ad for Portia Prinz of the Glamazons. This was the bust part of the black-and-white boob and bust. I mean boom.

I’ll be here all week. Try the shrimp.

Huh. What’s this then? One of the Crossfire issues has the conclusion to something called Whodunnit?

I see! That’s a series that Evanier and Spiegle did where you could win $1K if you were able to figure out the solution, and that was cancelled around this time, so they carried the solution in Crossfire instead. Which makes perfect sense, particularly since the investigator in Whodunnit? is Crossfire.

Which means that I’ll just cover Whodunnit? in this too-long blog post, too.

Oh, yeah, when Crossfire went to black and white, all mention of Crossfire being connected with DNAgents went out the window. Except this allusion to Rainbow who has many-coloured hair.

That’s a good Erik Estrada joke.

Evanier announces that Crossfire will be cancelled soon, but will return the next year in a mini-series that didn’t happen.

And it’s announced editorially, too. “Many felt it to be the most human and least contrived book in Evanier’s prolific comics career.”

Miaow.

And then Evanier gives the low-down on the cancellation. Basically: Low sales. The sales had increased when they went to b&w bizarrely enough, but then tapered off. Or perhaps it wasn’t that strange: This was during the b&w speculator frenzy, so comics shops bought stacks of anything, as long as it was b&w.

So, onto Whodunnit?, which has one mystery per issue.

You get some clues like this (quick! This 1961 note: is it a forgery or not?!).

What does that collection of chemicals spell!?

Have you figured it out?

I didn’t really try, because I didn’t know what the schtick was: Do we look for internal evidence, or was this one where we compare what the comic says to what we know about the reality where it’s supposed to take place.

Winning takes more than just naming the killer.

Spoiler: The first issue was a mixture of real-life trivia and internal evidence.

The second issue is a pure logic puzzle.

So you have to jot down a matrix of possibilities, and then you’ll find out who the killer(s) are. That seems like a more fun approach than the trivia one.

Evanier says that only a single person got all the question right on the first issue, but we’re not told the scores for the subsequent issues.

Wow! I reached the end so you don’t have to.

I was looking forward to re-reading this book, but I felt a bit impatient while reading it. Partly because I didn’t have time to dedicate to reading. So I’m perhaps a bit more critical towards it than it warrants.

I mean, it just book that tries to entertain.

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