Back in the 16th century, Francois Rabelais wrote a series of books about a pair of rowdy giants called Pantagruel and Gargantua. These stories were wildly comical, satirical, and often scatological. The Catholic Church, among others, didn’t care for them very much.
But his books weren’t just about freewheelin’ vulgar giants. Rabelais was trying to make a point about the largeness of the soul. To him, the world was a big, messy place. And Pantagruel and Gargantua embraced humanity in all its chaotic and crude glory.
There are also a couple of giants in Crossover, the first volume of Stan Lee’s Riftwold series. But these 20-foot-tall goliaths don’t represent mankind in any meaningful way. “They’re just large,” says one disappointed observer late in the novel.
They do, however, possess “powers beyond human” (like telekinesis and clairvoyance), and that makes them perfect fodder for comic book publishers looking for a gimmick. One company, Fantasy Factory, quickly signs the pair to an exclusive deal. And before you know it, the New York giants are the stars of their very own comic book.
Riftworld was a series conceived (not written) by Stan Lee. In the introduction to this book, Lee says that Riftworld was intended as an ongoing story set in the real world but with some superheroes added to the mix. “It may sound contradictory,” he writes, “but reality is the most important element that fantasy requires.”
That may be true, but “reality” to Stan Lee is quite different than reality to everybody else. As a result, Crossover is a loopy, corny, slightly square, slightly tired version of the Marvel universe, circa 1968. And naturally, Smilin’ Stan (here thinly veiled as “Happy” Harry Sturdley and exaggerated to the absurd level of Funky Flashman) is the ringleader and “crazy genius” who becomes embroiled in making superheroes out of a mysterious bunch of giants.
Overall, Crossover is a mildly entertaining but odd little book that does one thing very well: It further promotes the legacy of Stan Lee, the man himself. In Lee’s universe, comic book companies sit at the center of the world, and comic book publishers exist as heavy-handed powerbrokers. The Riftworld giants, unfortunately, are pushed to the background to watch the carnival from the cheap seats. Rabelais would be disappointed.
[Stan Lee’s Riftworld: Crossover / By Bill McCay / First Printing: September 1993 / ISBN: 978-0451452740]