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Why do comic companies do cross-overs, especially between universes that were originally separated to keep one simpler than the other?

I'm thinking specifically of the Spider-Men cross-over, which is (as far as I know) the first cross-over between the previously segregated Ultimate universe and the normal Marvel universe. To my mind this defeats the point of having a "simpler" universe when you have cross-overs between the two.

Is it, as I suspect, simply a case of higher sales or is there more history to it than that? Have the creators of Spider-Men addressed why they're breaking this new ground?

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    I have the correct answer to this question, but the dollar sign key is broken on my keyboard. – John O Jul 17 '12 at 4:46
  • There was a rea$on but I forget what it wa$. Perhap$ if I think about it for a while $omething will help me remember what it wa$. – Chad Jul 17 '12 at 18:27
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Crossover events are really just an intensification of the shared universe that exists in most mainstream superhero comic books these days.

One of the earliest mega-crossover events, DC's 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths, was done as a way to clean-up the mess that DC continuity had become. Of course, the relative simplicity that resulted didn't last all that long. The company-wide reboot that was done after the event wasn't even rolled out all at once. So events don't clean house, they make things more complicated. Many creators have been quoted as dreading crossover events because they're a pain in the neck to work with, and can even interrupt ongoing storylines. However, like shared universes, companies seem to demand periodic crossover events.

Superheroes appearing in each others' titles was hardly new even in the days of Crisis on Infinite Earths. In the 1960's, DC and Marvel characters were appearing in each others' titles - and it wasn't even a new idea at the time. Characters from earlier on, such as Alan Scott and Captain America and Namor, have since been folded into mainstream continuity. The reason often given by creators is that this cross-pollination results in a richer shared world for the characters to inhabit.

However, the real-world reason for a shared universe is that, if you see Spider-Man appear in your Fantastic Four issue, you may go pick up Spider-Man. (A similar logic prompted Marvel to add footnotes to events referred to by characters, in the hopes of encouraging back issue sales.) Crossovers are just a more intense way of encouraging readers to pick up other titles. And this way, fully-developed characters could then be used in team books, like the Justice League of America and the Avengers.

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In the case of the Ultimate Universe, Earth-1610, the goal was to reboot the Marvel Universe without all of the decades of continuity baggage and start fresh. Marvel hoped this would make it easier for new readers. Yes, Marvel had made a statement it would rarely cross over between their two significant continuities Earth-616 the canon Marvel Earth, and Earth-1610.

Marvel's recent decision to do a cross-over between Earth-616 and Earth 1610 in the limited series "Spider-Men" has a particular poignancy because:

  • Marvel is celebrating nearly 50 years of one of their flagship heroes, Spider-Man. Spider-Man is arguably one of Marvel most well-known and respected icons.
  • Marvel is also acknowledging the survival of their best alternative universe to date by having one of the original heroes of the Marvel Universe appear in it. Their other new universes the Marvel Comics 2 comic line, The New Universe, Heroes Reborn simply did not have the staying power of the Ultimate universe.
  • Peter Parker has been replaced on a mainstream Marvel continuity by another person, Miles Morales, as a legacy hero. The change has been considered divergent and permanent.
  • Miles Morales Earth-1610's new Spiderman is at least partially Black and that has raised significant controversy in the House of Ideas, for good or ill. For the most part it is seen as a good and necessary step toward evolving the Marvel brand.
  • It is an interesting method of taking a look at the long history of Spider-Man, Peter Parker and his list of supporting characters and questioning the validity of the choice to kill Peter Parker and move in this new direction.

Ultimately (pardon the pun) companies do cross-overs to create interest in successful products, break writers out of slumps of working with the same ideas, expand creative properties and engender interest in readers about books and products they may be overlooking. Crossovers are a money-making proposition because they draw the press and non-comic media attention, increasing their potential market visibility in places they might not otherwise be seen. Cross-overs are simply good business.

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