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The Nine-Tiered Table of Reality Crossovers

Amazing Spiderman 36

In each episode of the One Comic podcast, one of us will take a turn at doing a '3 and 1' - a list of the 3 best and 1 worst comics on a particular (generally thematically relevant) topic. In the latest episode, we poked and prodded at the controversial "Shoot" issue of Hellblazer. I was on tap for the 3 and 1, and wound up going slightly off-piste with the format.

My topic was 'comic book/real world interactions', which is, to be fair, really broad. But it does lead to some interesting thunkery about how comic books can interact with (or reflect) the real world. So, rather than the traditional format, I created the Nine-Tiered Table of Reality Crossovers: 


  Title What's up Examples
(the best)
Catalyst The comic book character is an observer with limited or no impact on the real world, but their presence as a supernatural/unnatural force prompts reflection.
  • Zot!
  • Death: The High Price of Living
2 Metaphor All activity is confined to the comic book universe, but there exist clear parallels to the real world.
  • X-Men
  • V for Vendetta
3 Origin Story A real world event provides the backdrop/stimulus for a comic book characters' motivation or background.
  • Captain America
  • Punisher
4 Flavour Crystals Real world elements are used as aspects of the setting, have no direct impact on the story.
  • Presidents Nixon in Watchmen and Reagan in Dark Knight Returns
  • New York City in Seven Soldiers of Victory
5 Heroes are People Too Comic book setting is the 'real world', with the superheroes forced to confront 'real world' challenges both in and out of costume.
  • Hawkeye (Fraction)
  • Holy Terror (Miller)
6 Be Careful What You Wish For A hyperbolic portrait of how comic book realities are unavoidably and 'grittily' hostile to the 'real world'.
  • 1985 (and others by) (Millar)
  • The Boys (and others by) (Ennis)
7 Tinkerbell Jesus Superheroes as wish-fulfilment. Comic book characters solve complex real world problems, cutting through the 'Gordian Knot' with simplified solutions.
  • The Authority
  • Superman 4: The Quest for Peace
8 Sellout An obvious commercial or celebrity tie-in, either as a sales gimmick or as the result of sponsorship.
(the worst)
WTF An in-universe reaction to real-world tragedy.


On the the podcast I referred to this as 'the pyramid of fail'. That's a rather harsh name, but it does reflect my general belief that most comic book/real world interactions aren't very good. For the most part, with 3 & 4 being the most frequently-found tiers, they're kind of inoffensive. And the examples I've given above (especially for those top tiers) contain some genuinely great comics. But there are also lots and lots and lots of failures. For every charmingly hipsterish Hawkeye there's the godawful mess of Holy Terror.

There's simply no universe as detailed, as complicated, as immersive, and as familiar to readers as the real world. It comes with a lot of baggage and continuity is a pain in the ass. That makes for a tough crossover.

No framework is perfect, but this silly table helped our conversation around a very, very tricky comic book. Does Shoot 'work'? Or doesn't it? And why? Our discussion is, of course, captured for posterity. But please share your own thoughts - on Shoot, on 'reality crossovers', on how wrong I am - in the comments.