Written by: Win Scott Eckert
Published by: Black Coat Press (May 2010)
Page count: 459 pages
Where to buy:
Written by: Win Scott Eckert
Published by: Black Coat Press (July 2010)
Page count: 479 pages
Where to buy::
Hello Ghouls and Boils,
I am afraid my intro will be brief tonight… I am still having a battle with my guts and the (over) 5 hours it took for me to prepare this article has taken it all out of me. Tonight we will be discussing Win Eckert’s Crossover books. I did learn quite a bit whilst fact checking and linking. I hope that you will learn a bit as well, Now I will leave things in my hubby’s (Henry Covert) capable hands! Enjoy, my fiends!
Sarah L. Covert
Two rather outre literary phenomena intersect to form the bedrock of these twin tomes by literary crossover authority and modern pulp fiction author Win Scott Eckert. The first is the fictional crossover, which, simply put, is when fictional characters or elements from two or more texts meet. Crossovers have been a sporadic tradition in literature for centuries, congealing in earnest in the 19th century in the works of Balzac, Dumas, Gaboriau, Feval, Zola, and, most notably, Jules Verne. This is explained far more lucidly by Jess Nevins in his introduction to Crossovers 2 than I could ever hope to.
The second literary exercise at play here is the “fictional biography”, a far more recent literary conceit in which one presupposes that a given fictional character is (or was) a real, living person, and a chronicle of their life is akin to any other biography or autobiography. This exercise is rooted in “The Game”, which birthed principles which have since become hallmarks of the world of fictional biographies. The Game arose among Sherlockians (devotees of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes) due to the great number of inconsistencies and continuity problems within the Holmes canon. As a reaction, Holmes began being treated as a real person; ditto Watson, the narrator of the cases and Holmes’ amenuensis, as it were. Doyle, the author of the canonical Holmes cases, is relegated to Watson’s “editor”.
And here is where the Game begins in earnest. Essentially, inconsistencies arise in the telling of tales by Watson (or any other real-life adventurer believed to be fictional) to Doyle (or any character’s “editor”; on occasion the editor and the amanuensis are one and the same) and Doyle to us. The Game explains that the stories actually occur in our real world, and endeavors to resolve the canon’s chronology and to explain Watson’s (or Doyle’s, or whichever editor in question) errors and to reconcile them. Sometimes misdirection/ misinformation is blamed as a culprit, to protect a witness or innocent parties.
As the 20th century waxed, game players moved beyond Holmes while retaining the precepts of the Game, researching and writing complete biographies of their subjects. The apotheosis of Sherlockians’ Game playing came in the biography Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: The Life of The World’s First Consulting Detective by William S. Baring-Gould, though many other such titles describing their protagonists as living, breathing people came well before and since Baring-Gould‘s seminal title.
Baring-Gould penned a follow-up volume, Nero Wolfe of West 35th Street, which posited that Rex Stout‘s portly sleuth was a son of Sherlock Holmes. Hence another layer was added to the Game – the idea that the subjects of fictional biographies could be related by blood. The Game became even more outre when Professor H.W. Starr proposed that Holmes’ arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty and Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo could be one and the same man. Such speculation sundered the Game playing community, and it has continued to fragment through numerous literary controversies over the last half century. Modern Game player Win Eckert has performed the Herculean feat of picking up the pieces and reconciling it all – literally, all of it – a monumental task and a true labour of love for any literary archaeologist. Eckert’s love of the Game, fictional biographies, massive crossovers, and the notion of our heroes being related by blood, all began with the science fiction writer Philip José Farmer, whose position in Holmes aficionados’ meeting group, the Baker Street Irregulars. is what eventually spawned Farmer’s Wold Newton concept and its core text Tarzan Alive, a fictional biography of John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, aka Tarzan of the Apes.
Farmer modeled Tarzan Alive after Baring-Gould’s Holmes biography, and, in so doing, cemented the tone for all Wold Newton works to follow. First, as noted, he followed the lead of Baring-Gould’s ‘biography’ Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street and claimed that many fictional characters were in fact real people. Second, he analyzed the ‘fictionalized’ texts and attempted to reconcile any conflicting information, much as the Holmesian canon has been scrutinized for lapses in continuity by Baring-Gould, the Baker Street Irregulars, and others. Lastly, Farmer, extrapolating from Baring-Gould but on a more Brobdingnagian scale, created the concept of the Wold Newton Family – a grouping of fictional characters that Farmer claims are blood relatives, including Tarzan, Holmes, Wolfe, Moriarty, Nemo, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Raffles, Professor Challenger, the Shadow, Doc Savage, and many others. He also accounts for the prodigious talents of Holmes, Tarzan, etc. by revealing that they are descended from a group of people traveling by coach in Wold Newton, Yorkshire, England in 1795 when a meteor struck a nearby cottage. The passengers of those coaches were exposed to radiation from the meteor, and this accounts for the benevolent mutations of their offspring (the Wold Newton meteor strike actually did occur on that date). Of course, their offspring all intermarried, and things became very complex. With the Wold Newton Family (hence WNF), Farmer put into play the final ingredient of the Game as played in Crossovers. Eckert placed the fictional crossover front and center as a means of expanding the Wold Newton concept – the Family itself constituting the most massive crossover of all.
Win coined the term ‘Wold Newton Universe‘ and put up a website, An Expansion of Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe, in August 1997. Win expanded the burgeoning Wold Newton Universe (hence WNU) by using a crossover between a character or text and an extant member of the WNF or WNU as the basal point from which to bring new blood into the world he was building around Farmer’s shared universe concept. Over time, Win established a more detailed set of ground rules to allow a new character, series, or concept into the WNU through a crossover. A character or property can usually be imported into the WNU or CU as long as their personal continuity is not so world-changing as to affect the larger WNU, or “Crossover Universe” (hence CU). Win has often called this approach the “World Outside Our Window” concept – the idea that, though the WNU obviously cannot be our world, it is a close a mirror as possible. Crossovers’ subtitle ‘A Secret Chronology of the World’ conveys this concept – that beneath the mundane world in which we live, remarkable, amazing, even potentially earth-shattering things occur, but the mass public has yet to wake up to this, and when these incredible events transpire, the human mind replies with the reflexive attitude that it was a “hoax”, an “urban legend”, or, most humorously (and predictably), a “mass hallucination.”
For instance (full disclosure), this writer submitted research to Win that linked in, through crossovers with elements from classic occult literature, the events of the television show Twin Peaks. Though Twin Peaks’s events could have affected our reality significantly, they did not, and hence TP is in regardless of its esoteric nature.
Especially problematic has been the inclusion of superheroes. A one-off joke made by Farmer in Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (his follow-up to Tarzan Alive) regarding Clark Kent was quoted as gospel by over-zealous early Game players as evidence that PJF wanted the DC Comics Universe to be part of the WNU. Quite the contrary, and molten-hot flame wars ensued for years on public online forums regarding the topic. Now that Win has become a standard bearer for the WNF and WNU with Farmer’s passing, a newer generation of players has confronted this non-issue, and the flames have been dowsed (barring an occasional maddened geek flare up). One thing can be averred: Game players take the Game very, very seriously, however much sheer fun is its arch motivation.
The levels of fictitiousness required to include or dismiss a text are dealt with by a formerly prominent Game player in the Eckert-edited anthology Myths for the Modern Age. These levels correspond to Farmer as well, as, in Tarzan Alive, he carried his “Tarzan is a real living person” hoax so far as to exclude large chunks of Tarzan’s canon as ‘fictitious’, i.e. too fantastic, too outre to be believeable. Many libraries and bookstores even shelved Tarzan Alive in their biography sections. By the end of PJF’s biography of Dr. Clark Savage, Jr., Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (hence DS:HAL), though, Farmer had allowed for fantastic elements and characters such as Solomon Kane, Manuel of Poictesme, the Cthulhu Mythos and the talking dog detective Ralph von Wau Wau.
Now to discuss the two hefty volumes themselves. The Wold Newton Universe imprimatur found on Myths for the Modern Age is absent, and, for a time, Win Eckert’s Magnum Opus was stranded without a publisher; however, Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier’s stellar French-based Black Coat Press came to the rescue and agreed to publish the project. By this time, Eckert’s work had expanded immensely from the crossover chronologies on the WNU website, and the emphasis on where the degrees of separation re: additions to the WNU had shifted enough to lead Win to retitle his massive project the ‘Crossover Universe’ (though longtime Wold Newton geeks know that, essentially, the CU = the WNU). When Black Coat picked up the book, its scope demanded it be split into two nearly 500 + page volumes. It can’t be overstated how much Wold Newton fandom owes the Lofficiers and Black Coat Press, not only for providing a home for Eckert’s dream project, but for adding immeasurably to the CU, through the numerous crossover stories featured in their Tales of the Shadowmen anthology series, now on its eighth volume. These tales have, with few exceptions, been totally compatible with the CU.
Without the WNF as the core, or first degree of separation, Eckert shifted emphasis to fictional biographies as his launch pad from which to add crossovers. While this may have excluded certain characters who were already in the CU, these characters all ended up “in” anyway, as the characters enshrined in biographies met any number of CU characters at least once. Thus, the fictional bio is ground zero, and we are still playing the “Six Degrees of Sherlock Holmes” game, albeit from a slightly different vantage point. But only slightly, as Sherlock is a core WNF member as established by PJF, and his cases permeate the CU, in that they concern everyone from Tarzan to Batman to Cthulhu. Holmes remains the core character among players of the Game. He is also the most pastiched and most crossed-over character in literary history, with Dracula a distant 2nd).
Still, the WNF/ WNU remains Eckert’s strongest device, as he notes many times that since Farmer stated a character was a member of the WNF or WNU, this would almost automatically bring in the newly crossed-over character. Which makes sense, since so many characters are WNF members or acquaintances, and so many of them have appeared in fictional biographies. And the genealogical connection is itself a crossover between the related characters.
On the other hand, the fictional biography angle does have one advantage the WNF/ WNU model did not, as certain characters who have warranted biographical sketches were not yet confirmed through a WNF/ WNU crossover. These include numerous teen detectives discussed in Nancy Drew’s Confessions of a Teen Sleuth, edited by Chelsea Cain; some of the sleuths in Four-&-Twenty Bloodhounds; Sleuths: 23 Great Detectives of Fiction and Their Best Stories; and The Private Lives of Private Eyes, Spies, Crime Fighters, and Other Good Guys by Otto Penzler.
But back to the books’ specific contents: Crossovers 1 is subtitled ‘A Secret Chronology of the World (Dawn of Time-1939)’. Both volumes are thick handsome plainly papered trade paperbacks. Both are adorned by wonderful color paintings by Mark Maddox, which are evocative of, but distinctive from, John Picacio‘s dynamite cover art for Win’s Myths for the Modern Age. A fun exercise for the reader is to the ignore the subtle (but on occasion perhaps necessary from a legal standpoint) design alterations of a few of the characters depicted and pick out who’s who and just who made the cut for a book discussing many thousands of characters. Can you spot them all?
Kim Newman provides a decent introduction to Crossovers 1 and his impeccable imprimatur as novelist (largely of crossover fiction) and film critic lends gravitas to the book. However, SNS’s editors encourage its reviewers to adhere to honest opinions in their reviews, even if they are seen as contentious. So with all due respect, I must take exception to these passages of Newman’s regarding the Wold Newton Family: “… I’ve never been entirely comfortable with this… [the genealogy that ties characters together]”; “It seems to me unnecessarily soap-operaish to have so many great characters collide with “Luke, I am your father” moments…”; “…. Holmes and Moriarty didn’t have to be related to each other to hate each other…”; “… without having the need to be descended from some useless titled twonk who tripped over a meteorite”and so on. These sentiments are all well and good, but can be easily refuted as they seem quite odd introducing a book whose core inspiration is the Wold Newton Family.
Following Newman’s intro is a piece by Win called “World-Building, Fictional Biographies, and Crossovers“, in which Win lays down the basic tenets of the CU, and then begins the bulk of both tomes, which track chronologically events transpiring in thousands of fictional media over six million years. Each entry is dated and every event in an entry is given a citation that explains from whence the reference originates, and how the entry in question ties in with other given entries.
Addendum 1 of the first volume covers TV crossovers, and though Crossovers is concerned overwhelmingly with genre fare (i.e. action, spies, westerns, explorers, pulp heroes, sci-fi/ fantasy, sword and sorcery, mystery, horror, romance, gothic, superhero, etc.), the Appendix makes sure the legion of interlocking TV crossovers are not abandoned, and add to the tapestry of a massive CU. This is highly gratifying to this author, as Farmer himself placed prominently on his WNF tree a number of exceptional characters, who were not adventurers of some stripe, from fictitious authors like Kilgore Trout to the Everyman as embodied by Leopold Bloom from James Joyce’s Ulysses. Thus Frasier Crane can share a universe with Doc Savage; Michael Bluth with Tarzan; and John Munch with Sherlock Holmes. Munch, by the way, is the most crossed over character in television history just as Holmes is in literature; almost two dozen shows are linked by Munch’s existence.
Crossovers 2, ‘1940 to The Future’, is slightly larger than its predecessor but amazingly not twice its size given the mad plethora of crossovers taking place post WWII to the present day. Jess Nevins‘ introduction to this volume is a fantastic examination of meetings between fictional characters throughout history, and, in my opinion, should have been the intro to Volume One. Jess’ encyclopedic knowledge goes deep, far, and wide, as he skillfully maneuvers us from Rookwood to Holmes vs. Lupin; from now obscure publications Wild West Weekly to The Frank Reade Library (which has connections to SNS favorite Boilerplate); The Justice Society of America to the ubiquitous Wold Newton Family; and on to contemporary massive crossover series Anno Dracula, Tales of the Shadowmen, and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Mr. Eckert generously adds two addenda to Volume 2. The first, “Alternate Universe Crossovers, Parodies, and Farces” is a section that takes note of numerous crossovers involving CU personages that didn’t quite fit into the main body of Crossovers. Addendum 2 is an accounting of the vast number of alternate universe (hence, AU) crossovers in Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula cycle (though many of Newman’s tales, especially the Holmes-linked Diogenes Club stories, are already included in the mainstream CU).
Addendum 1 is comprised of entries that invariably almost made the cut to the CU, but were incompatible with dominant CU continuity. This is especially an issue faced when a decision is made as to the validity of a crossover involving Marvel or DC Comics characters. If the Marvel or DC Universe prove too overwhelming or threaten to shatter that delicate Wold Outside Our Window, then the tale in question would be marked as taking place in an alternate universe rather than the CU. This follows previously discussed guidelines Win established regarding superhero crossovers in general.
An example of such a caveat-busting entry is included here – an item that, on first glance, should be prime fodder for a CU/ WNU entry. But, amazingly, Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, the final of three LOEG volumes published by DC/ Wildstorm, can take place in nothing but a universe alternate to the CU. Still carrying on the methodologies of The Game, the first two LOEG volumes have been reconciled at their potential points of divergence by Mr. Eckert, and thus occupy a place in the CU.
However, Black Dossier (hence, BD) is extremely problematic. As a fan of Moore’s LOEG work (BD, ironically, being my personal favourite installment), as is Win, I find BD an amazing read and that it takes Moore’s own metafictional ideas to their terminal point. But as a story occurring in the CU, it’s irreconcilable on many levels. Some of the concepts are (as in Newman’s Anno Dracula [hence, AD] AU) solidly Moore’s own, and, like those, contradict Farmer and Eckert. Moore sets the story in a mid 20th century where Big Brother‘s regime from Orwell‘s 1984 rules Great Britain. This make the tale straightaway an AU. The most controversial argument against inclusion is Moore’s depiction of cornerstone CU characters James Bond and Bulldog Drummond. Moore takes a poke at these very British characters and makes the more boorish aspects original to their characters even more boorish, draining most (as with Bulldog) or all (as with Bond) of their heroic qualities. It has been argued that these characters were simply the proverbial “product of their time”, but Moore exaggerates these qualities to a grotesque degree.
More than a grain of truth re: these characters’ qualities lies within the source texts of these characters, as Farmer surely realized when he made Drummond and Bond cornerstones of the WNF, but many realize that Ian Fleming and “Sapper” McNeille lived in a pre-PC world, for better or worse, and while Moore the author is freely skewering said products of their time in his native culture, they make an impossible fit with PJF’s reasons for including Bulldog and the literary (vice the cinematic) James Bond as core CU characters.
****END OF SPOILERS****
The Anno Dracula addendum was less useful to me personally, but Win’s love of the AD material and its plethora of crossovers caused him to create for it an addendum of its own. AD is already acknowledged as an alternate universe to the CU, and they share many characters and events. Win documents the hundreds of film, TV, and literary references that comprise the AD Universe.
There is much to Eckert’s approach regarding world-building that has inflamed the fan community. The superhero issue has been covered, but another matter of discourse has been the “canon vs. pastiche” issue. There are countless instances of crossovers with characters who, usually for legal reasons, go by a different name, but from visual depictions (film, comics) or detailed prose descriptions, is obviously intended to actually be a certain character, not just a spoof or riff on him/ her. The alterations can be almost unnoticeable, as spelling a character’s name with an extra letter or missing one; or it can extend to some physical alteration as well, but the essence of the character, and their frame of reference, make it clear it is supposed to be that character. This device brings in many, many characters to the Crossover Universe. It also can be contentious among fans, but Eckert, by his own admission, tends to err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion of a character if the reference is not ironclad, though he still applies his usual guidelines.
A fun and brain-stretching exercise is seeing which characters/ properties have made it “in” to the Crossover Universe. What is “in” is determined first by the point of origin – the fictional biography (the “zero degree of separation”), which forms the bedrock of the CU. From there, a crossover with a denizen of the CU from there brings in any character that meets Win’s previously explained guidelines. As noted, special weight is granted to the Wold Newton Family as “zero degree” characters. Also “in” are: adventures taking place in the CU; adventures involving travelers from the CU such as John Carter or Dorothy Gale to alternate universes; or vice versa (such as Elric of Melnibone traveling to the CU to cross swords with Conan the Barbarian, or the extra-dimensional Doctor Who‘s visits to the CU). Any item’s conjunction with the CU gives them a place in the book as long as there is a crossover with a denizen of the CU.
Much may be left out, as per the nature of Win’s guidelines, but between Win; his staff of researchers; pro writers from Farmer to Newman to Don Glut and so on; “next generation” Wold Newton essayists (as featured in Myths for the Modern Age); and the Lofficiers themselves (who, with their Tales of the Shadowmen series, alone have virtually kept the modern mass crossover art form alive) – the amount of material that made it “in” is formidable, especially when one includes the television crossover section.
Here is a slight (despite its rather large) sampling of persons, places, and properties included in Crossovers 1 and 2:
Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja; Elric; Rob Roy; Ivanhoe; Fanny Hill; Jack Sparrow; Solomon Kane, Kane the immortal, and Charles Foster Kane; Captain Kronos; Dracula and his many soul-clones; Gabriel van Helsing and his many descendants; Victor von Frankenstein and his many descendants and his and their many creations; Lawrence Talbot, Jack Russell, Waldemar Daninsky, and their lycanthropic kith and kin; the many Zorros and the many Phantoms; Horatio Hornblower; The Scarlet Pimpernel; Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Bennet Darcy; Orlando; Jane Eyre; C. Auguste Dupin; Sherlock Holmes; Arsene Lupin and Lupin III; Doctor Who; Captain Nemo (all four of them – at last count); Moriarty (several); Phileas Fogg; The Lone Ranger and Tonto; Hattori Hanzo and descendants; Django; Hannie Caulder; Lady Snowblood; The Rawhide Kid; the Mavericks and the Cartwrights; Kwai Chang Caine; Rhett Butler; Oliver Twist; Doctors Moreau and Jekyll; Boilerplate; Dorian Gray; Dorothy Gale; Tarzan; The Phantom of the Opera; Fantomas; Judex; Fu Manchu; Wolverine; John Carter, Gullivar Jones, and Michael Kane – all of Mars (albeit an AU one); The Wild Bunch; various Invisible Men – and Women; Leopold Bloom; Allan Quatermain; Indiana Jones; Dr. Phibes; King Kong; The Avenger, the Spider, the Shadow, the Saint, the Spirit, and the Question; Flash Gordon; Doc Savage; Batman and Robin; The Rocketeer; many Mummys; Perry Mason; Hercule Poirot; The Green Hornet and Kato; Captain America; Sam Spade; Philip Marlowe; James Bond; The Little Prince; Nancy Drew; Miss Marple; Jeeves and Wooster; Mike Hammer; Suzie Wong; The Avengers (Steed and Peel); Spider-Man; Derek Flint; The Men (and Girl) from UNCLE; Modesty Blaise; Vampirella; Dr. Strange; El Santo; Mack Bolan the Executioner and Remo Williams the Destroyer; John Shaft; Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu; Columbo; Kojak; Kolchak; The Ghostbusters; Buckaroo Banzai; Ash Williams; Blade the Vampire Slayer and Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Lara Croft, Tomb Raider; Hellboy; Austin Powers; The lands of: Oz (several), Opar, Kor, Wonderland, Narnia, Marienbad, and Alphaville; The Cthulhu Mythos; Dark Shadows; The King in Yellow; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; The Wicker Man; Twin Peaks; The X-Files; Law and Order and its many connected TV programs; Star Trek; Little House on the Prairie; The Name of the Rose; and the interconnected “sub-universes” of Stephen King, Quentin Tarantino, and Don Glut, among many others.
It took Win 13 years to assemble Crossovers and it is an impressive, some might say daunting, beast of a read. But it is worth every penny, every strained eye, every brain cell struggling to place a particular character in their head. If one buys into the shared universe predicated on the Game, then these books form an indispensable guidebook that you will use and refer to again and again. Though they are, as cited many times before, much more, the very least one can proffer regarding Crossovers is that as reference works, they are crucial to any serious creator, collector, storyteller, scholar, or fan of fantastic fiction. There are few books in these impoverished times that I can label “indispensable” and truly mean it regarding fantastic fiction, but the two volumes of Crossovers surely fall under that rubric. My copies are already getting a bit worn as I flip feverishly from entry to entry, spread throughout a volume, knowing that what occurs in Volume One may have a ripple effect in Volume Two.
For anyone seriously interested in genre and pulp literature (in all media), calling Crossovers indispensable is actually a grotesque understatement. The two-volume set is a true must-have for the pop-culture connoisseur and novice alike. You will learn reams of information about characters both gloriously classic and dazzlingly obscure, from all over the world and from all eras of time, from Earth’s dim past to its future in the stars. Black Coat Press should be especially commended for rescuing Win’s labor of love and setting a new bar – a very high one – for reference works for the fantastique.
If my editor were to allow me, I would gladly award Crossovers a higher rating, but 5 is the scale here, so I give it an ecstatic 5 out of 5.
Henry Covert – Minion (Reviewer)