Jun 7, 2018

Hidden Gems: George Perez at CrossGen

George Perez has said he's basically retired. George is my favorite artist of all time, the most important artist of my life, and I've talked about him at length. I've talked about JLA/Avengers. I've gone over his Wonder Woman. I've discussed his New Teen Titans and his run on the 1998 Avengers. Sachs and Violens was one of the first comics I reviewed for The Comics Cube. Most recently, I've gone over the Infinity Gauntlet. I've even gone over Crimson Plague. As it's pretty clear that there probably will be no new Perez series for me to read from this point forward, I can at least do the next best thing: reread his old stuff and write about them. Today, we go over some of his lesser-known stuff, from an ill-fated company called CrossGen.

George Perez at CrossGen
by Duy

I stopped collecting comic books in late 1999 due to financial constraints, and didn't get back into it until I was in college and making money working various on-campus jobs in 2005. A huge thing I missed in the interim was the rise and fall of a company called CrossGen, short for Cross Generation Entertainment.

CrossGen was notable for a number of things. Off the page, owner Mark Alessi utilized guaranteed, exclusive contracts — then a rarity for the industry — as well as a studio setup, in which all the creators moved to Florida and worked together in the same physical space, in a time when they were used to working freelance in whichever locations they wanted to work. They also provided creators with a steady salary (Perez has said the fixed salary for 10 issues a year matched what would have been his page rate) as well as medical and dental plans. This was a very forward-thinking company.

On the page, however, CrossGen was a well-oiled machine, already having their characters and universe created by Alessi and Gina M. Villa even prior to launch. The shared universe, known as the Sigilverse, has a simple concept: every single series takes place on a different planet, with the protagonist receiving a sigil branded onto their skin. The sigil would give them powers. That's it. It's that simple. It kept all their series self-contained while at the same time making it clear that at some point or another they would cross over, and there'd be a culmination.

My introduction to CrossGen happened, as with my introduction to the DC Universe and the Marvel Universe decades prior, because of George Perez. I'd discovered the DC Universe due to Crisis on Infinite Earths and George Perez's Who's Who in the DC Universe covers; the Marvel Universe got me with The Infinity Gauntlet. And the reason I got back into comics in 2005 was Infinite Crisis, which George was a part of. So of course after that, I had to see what he'd been up to, and there it was: CrossGen Chronicles.

CrossGen Chronicles was a bimonthly series where each issue was devoted to telling the history of an already-running series. Each issue was therefore written by the writer of the series being spotlighted, and ostensibly would have a different artist per issue. But out of eight total issues, George Perez drew four. And comics as a medium is all the better for it.

Let's start with issue #2, featuring Scion as written by Ron Marz (the original series artist was a young Jim Cheung, making it worth reading for that alone). Scion tells the tale of Ethan, the youngest prince of the Heron Dynasty, currently at peace with the Raven Dynasty after centuries of fighting. The coming of Ethan's sigil comes at the worst possible time, instigating war and rekindling old generations-long vendettas. This issue of Chronicles tells the tale of Admirals Edvin (Heron) and Alexi (Raven), and how they brokered the peace between the two dynasties.

For those of us used to seeing Perez for absurd detail and group shots, they're still there. But this issue allows him to stretch his wings both in terms of content (swords! boats!) and layouts.

It's really the 3rd issue, focusing on Barbara Kesel's Meridian, that's the standout of the group, however. The story takes place on Demetria, a world composed of floating island city-states. The main character, Sephie of Meridian, is one of the two sigil-bearers, the other being her uncle Ilahn, who is out for total control. This issue of Chronicles tells the tale of how Ilahn tried and failed to win over Sephie's mom, and has one of the most beautiful covers I've ever seen.

Sephie's mom was an artist and drew the story of Meridian on her scrolls, which Perez uses to great effect in this issue. Again, if you're here to see Perez with his trademark crowd shots and lavish detail, it's all here:

But it's also here where Laura DePuy's colors really come into play, as with this shot of Sephie's mom boarding a ship:

The story itself is quite touching, a tale of courtship and true love, though tragic since you know Sophie's parents don't survive. You don't need to have read Meridian to enjoy this one-off, which is actually true of all the Chronicles issues since they all stand on their own. But it's true more so for this issue than any of the others.

We meet the cast of Mark Waid's Sigil in the fourth issue, detailing main character Samandahl Rey's feud with the Tchlusarud, a Saurian of Tcharun. This one's a fairly standard sci-fi story.

But the magic (this is a pun, and you'll see why) comes back with the next issue, featuring Ron Marz's Mystic (see? I told you.). Giselle, the main character of this series, is a reluctant wielder of magicks, and thus a reluctant Guild Master in the island of Ciress. Ciress is made of six houses of magick, and this issue of Chronicles tells a hidden history. The opening sequence is one of the most inventive I've seen:

Look! It's just a book! But it's moving and it's pretty.

Turns out, there used to be eight houses of magick on Ciress, and this tells the story of how there came to be only seven.

The resulting story is, like Meridian's issue, simultaneously touching, impactful, and tragic. Mystic, if I may, is my favorite of all the CrossGen series that I've read. It's fun, it's fast-paced, and it tells a story of two sisters who grow stronger because one is given the gifts that the other one wanted. It's very human. And yet, very magical.

There were other series, such as Ruse, a sigil-based Sherlock Holmes story, or Sojourn, which has a medieval-type setting and focused on an archer named Arwyn trying to kill the sigil-bearer of her world. But as far as Perez was concerned, he drew the ongoing series Solus, with a godlike being named Solusandra.

As it turns out, Solusandra is the creator of the sigils.

So her story was supposed to lead into the big culmination, called Negation War. But it wasn't to be — due to poor management, financial troubles, and a host of other things that have nothing to do with the medium and artform of comics, CrossGen folded in 2004, eventually selling their assets to Disney. Marvel tried reviving them in 2010, but it didn't take.

And so folded CrossGen, but not before producing some pretty fine comics, including some of the best work of George Perez's career.

"I will always be grateful to Mark Alessi," Perez says in George Perez: Storyteller, "and the entire CrossGen staff for the incredible respect they paid me and all the concessions they made for me. I'm enjoying a great deal of success now, and CrossGen helped get the ball rolling."

The biggest concession Perez is referring to is a clause in his contract that said he could be released if DC and Marvel were to finally do a crossover between the Justice League of America and the Avengers, and if he'd be tapped as the artist. The contract for JLA/Avengers came at the last possible day delineated in his contract. And so the greatest crossover in comic book history was made, but not until after he'd stretched his wings farther and stepped out of his comfort zone on CrossGen Chronicles and Solus, which unfortunately will likely never be collected.

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