Anyone paying attention to the last round of Marvel’s advance solicitations might have noticed something unexpected in the listings for hardcover collected editions: a collection of Sigil, the forgotten flagship title from the nearly-forgotten early '00s publisher CrossGen. But… why is Sigil back, and what could possibly be the reason? Before we answer that question, a refresher might be needed.
What was CrossGen?
Founded in 1998 by businessman Mark Alessi, CrossGen Comics was a publisher with a difference — instead of relying on freelancers working from home, the majority of the company’s output was the work of salaried employees working on-site at CrossGen’s Florida headquarters, with talent including Mark Waid, Barbara Kesel, and Jim Cheung.
There was a second difference, as well; although most of the CrossGen titles were part of a shared universe — the so-called SigilVerse, named for the fantasy MacGuffins that connected each title — they were purposefully created to center around different genres outside of the dominant superhero story: Sigil was a space opera, Mystic a magical story, Ruse a detective story in a Victorian setting, and so on. In both respects, CrossGen was attempting to offer an alternative to the comic book mainstream that nonetheless spoke to mainstream tastes, using creators known for their Marvel and DC work in new and different settings.
It unfortunately didn’t work; after a sustained period of financial trouble, the company laid off its staff and filed for bankruptcy in July 2004, listing debts of over $10 million to more than 200 creditors.
The afterlife of CrossGen
A funny thing happened just before CrossGen declared bankruptcy; The Walt Disney Company started getting interested in the company. According to news reports at the time, Disney was considering licensing material from CrossGen for possible adaptation and, upon discovering that the company had gone bust, decided to simply outright purchase its intellectual property with an eye to expanding its comic book footprint in the U.S. — remember, this is five years before it bought Marvel.
Curiously enough, Disney didn’t follow through on any plans to use CrossGen to move further into comic book publishing in the U.S., with the companies properties essentially left on the shelf outside of a series of prose books based on the (non-SigilVerse) series Abadazad by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog. (There were a number of collected editions of CrossGen titles published in 2008, but those came from indie publisher Checker Books licensing the properties from Disney.) Instead, Disney’s comic plans stayed on the shelf until it bought Marvel in 2009.
A year after Disney’s purchase of Marvel, then-Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada announced that Marvel would relaunch a number of CrossGen titles under a new CrossGen imprint, beginning with Ruse and Sigil in early 2011. A third miniseries, Mystic, followed in summer 2011, but that proved to be the last anyone would see of new CrossGen material; two further titles were announced — Route 666 and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang — but cancelled ahead of launch. CrossGen, it seemed, was over.
The after-afterlife of CrossGen
And then, out of nowhere, Marvel announced CrossGen Tales #1, a reprint collection of the first issues of CrossGen’s original Ruse, Mystic, Sigil, and Sojourn titles — a move it’s followed up with the announcement of a 1000+ page Sigil hardcover omnibus, for release this August. CrossGen, against all odds, is seemingly back. But… why?
One common belief is, bluntly, that Marvel/Disney needs to maintain the trademarks on the material. That’s certainly a possibility, given that it’s coming up on 20 years since some of these properties have been in circulation. (It’s been more than a decade since even the Marvel reboots of Ruse, Sigil, and Mystic.) That would explain why something like CrossGen Tales — which is a reprint collection in a format Marvel traditionally doesn’t use, with a price point of $8.99 instead of the more expensive trade paperback editions — exists, to rush the material to market as quickly as possible.
Such a release could serve a different purpose, of course: namely, acting as a low-cost trial balloon to see if there’s still an audience out there for CrossGen material — a question that would appear to have been answered in the affirmative, given the announcement of the Sigil Omnibus hardcover. (Of course, Marvel has also reprinted all of Strikeforce Morituri in the past decade, so perhaps there’s simply a desire to push everything back to print and see if anything sticks, so maybe it’s less than there’s an affirmative answer as much as there wasn’t a definitive “no.”)
And then there’s the third possibility: that Disney is finally going to follow through on its plans of almost 20 years ago, and transform CrossGen properties into big and small screen adaptations, and a reprint program is the first sign of Marvel and Disney preparing for potential demand of the source material at some point down the line. It would make sense that, if Disney was looking to take advantage of the CrossGen properties, they’d do so in print first, considering that virtually the entire Crossgen library is out-of-print and also unavaible in modern digital formats.
Looking back, Marvel once announced a new collection of Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr.'s Eternals run just weeks before the Eternals movie was announced. But that being said, wouldn't we still know know if there was CrossGen-inspired material in the works already…?
For now, the question of just what’s brought CrossGen back to life — even in this reduced, reprint version — is likely to remain unanswered in any definitive sense. Perhaps, for now, we should put our curiosity aside and just enjoy the return of so much classic material that’s long been lost… at least until the announcement of a new cinematic universe based around sigils…
If we’re thinking about comic book history, maybe we should revisit what’s been happening in previous Januaries across the decades.