By:Arnold T. Blumberg
Date: Wednesday, November 28, 2001

CrossGen Comics has made quite a name for itself in its short life. Emerging during an uncertain period in the comic book industry, the Florida-based publisher basically set out to capture the fickle hearts and minds of comic book readers by sticking to a few simple rules: turn out quality comics, provide substantial customer and retailer support to allow everyone who wants copies to get them, and ship on time. Say what you like about that first goal (and if you've read my reviews here and in other publications, you certainly know that I have, much to the dismay of the CrossGen faithful), but let it not be said that CrossGen has violated any of its business objectives. Indeed, in such a short time, the publisher has distinguished itself as a class act all the way. They actually help dealers and collectors to find their books and keep them in stock. Now who would have thought of that?

It's sad that a mark of distinction in comics should be derived more from the timeliness of product delivery than its depth of plot or artistic innovation, but CrossGen did not create the market into which it charged with swords unsheathed it merely surveyed the lay of the land and swept in to conquer. And conquer it did. To date, CrossGen comics have been consistent sellers, drawing critical acclaim (from some quarters...sigh), high-powered talent, and solid reader support. From the start, CrossGen even decided to weave in an intriguing linking plot thread that would tie its many titles together in a cohesive universe whose secrets would not be revealed all at once. Readers would have to learn patience as the myriad plot strands unfolded across the company's many ongoing series. Well, for many only just discovering the CrossGen way of telling a tale, it may seem daunting to try to jump into a whole new fictional universe without some sort of handy guidebook. To those stalwarts eager to explore the CrossGen Universe but fearful of the steep learning curve...worry no more. CROSSGEN ILLUSTRATED has arrived.

I may have my doubts about some aspects of the CrossGen line, but I have to say, after perusing this lush volume of detailed information, artwork, and countless enticing tidbits about the vast universe that the publisher and its creative staff have built over the course of only two years or so, it is indeed an impressive achievement. While I've been pretty vocal about not finding much excitement in reading the CrossGen titles, a book like this goes a long way to making me feel like I've been missing something. Fortunately, for those of you who have not yet formulated an opinion, there's no better time to learn about what this company has to offer, and no better resource to assist you in the process.

Company founder Mark Alessi leads things off in the foreword, and the book quickly introduces a fascinating twist on the reference approach by presenting gallery artwork in black and white line art and finished full color form, the better to showcase the detailed creation that goes into every CrossGen comic. But the meat of this volume is the chronicle of the CrossGen Universe, beginning with the overarching premise the granting of power to the Sigil-Bearers who figure prominently in each and every title published by the company. There is a larger story here than that to which readers are privy in each monthly, and gathering the clues to help piece together the big picture will doubtless be a long-term project for fans.

The book provides separate sections for every current CrossGen series, starting with MYSTIC and carrying through SIGIL, SCION, MERIDIAN, THE FIRST, CRUX, SOJOURN (one of the most popular recent additions to the line), NEGATION, RUSE (the one I liked so far...thought you might want to know), and THE PATH. For every title, CROSSGEN ILLUSTRATED offers a write-up of the basic premise, cursory plot synopses, character studies, and a plethora of pin-ups, panels, and portraits. There are sections on how magic functions in the CrossGen Universe, the nature of the Saurians (a reptilian alien race, as if you couldn't guess), and the socio-political structure of Partington, the England-esque land that serves as home base for Simon Archard of RUSE (did I mention that I liked this one quite a bit? Oh, I did). Can't remember what the Five Disciplines of the Atlanteans or the Seven Weapons of Altwaal were? They're all here, enumerated and accompanied by those ubiquitous illustrations. There are also a few tantalizing clues, for those fans hardy enough to plow through the many facts and figures collected within, that just may aid in unraveling those larger mysteries of the CrossGen reality that we mentioned earlier. Far more than a simple guidebook, CROSSGEN ILLUSTRATED pushes things forward, illuminating the boundaries and as yet undiscovered corners of the CrossGen line.

This is an attractive album that showcases the talents of the many writers and artists who have labored for the last two years to create a unique world of characters and adventures set apart from the familiar Marvel and DC pantheons. While the CrossGen line borrows liberally from mythological, fantasy and science fiction motifs, it does so with calculated cleverness, shaping an expanding saga that entices readers by being at once familiar and fresh.


Grade: A

Issue: N/A

Author(s): Ed.: Brandon Peterson; Text: Barbara Kesel; Artwork by a cast of dozens

Publisher: CrossGen Comics

Price: $24.95