Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Versus, crossovers and shared universes

With Marvel's impressive wave of success in theaters, it seems everyone wants to jump on the "shared universe" bandwagon, as if it was some kind of new thing. DC of course launched a Batman v Superman movie, followed by bigger crossover stories like Justice League. Universal announced a slate of monster movies set in the same universe, starting with a Tom Cruise-starring Mummy, and we even get a new King Kong movie as an introduction to an upcoming King Kong vs Godzilla. Hell, rumor has it that we will also see a Men in Black / 21 Jump Street crossover in the near future!

But none of this is really groundbreaking. At all. The original King Kong vs Godzilla was made in 1962, and was only the third episode in the Godzilla saga. Universal Monsters practically invented the concept of a shared cinematic universe in the 1940s, starting with the amazing crossover Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man. And even Marvel tried its hand at it as early as the 1980s, with the special episodes of the Incredible Hulk, co-starring Daredevil and Thor.

TV series have also been doing this for a long time: long before Flash and Arrow teamed up, viewers could watch The Pretender's Jarod visiting the Profiler squad, or Chuck Norris lending a hand to Sammo Hung in a Martial Law / Walker Texas Ranger crossover. And in the 60s, Batman and Robin crossed paths on-screen with the Green Hornet and Kato!

In fact, you don’t even have to be very old to remember a couple of relatively high-profile crossovers that hit the screens in the 2000s. Freddy vs Jason had been announced for a few years when it was finally released in 2003, and the clash of boogeymen was an entertaining revival for both franchises at once. Then in 2004, we got Alien vs Predator, followed three years later by its sequel Requiem. They kept the Aliens and Predator sagas alive during the long gaps between their respective official episodes.

But crossovers were invented way before film and TV entered our lives. Readers have seen Arsène Lupin meet Sherlock Holmes, or rather Herlock Sholmes (the name was slightly changed at Conan Doyle's request) in a couple of Maurice Leblanc’s novels. The encounter was brought to the screen in a German film serial as early as 1910, where the detective became Sherlock Holmes again.

Long before that, Ivanhoe joined forces with Robin Hood in Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe, and we can trace back the idea of crossovers to Homer’s tales of Gods and Heroes. Greek mythology was one of the first known cases of shared universes, with Zeus and Hera showing up in all kinds of stories – so it should come to no surprise that Italy would come up with a movie called Hercules, Samson and Ulysses in the 1960s!

Of course, Sherlock Holmes and Frankenstein have also had their share of cinematic crossovers: the detective met Jack the Ripper on screen twice, and Frankenstein was confronted to Dracula, Santos, Jesse James and numerous other characters. But Sherlock Holmes vs Frankenstein? Not yet. We're working on it, remember?

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