The Sunday Salon: The Toy Box Rule

On Wednesday, news broke that the fiftieth issue of Vertigo Comics’ The Unwritten will feature a crossover with another beloved literary comic, Fables, first reported by io9. (There’s a piece of art at the link, which will presumably be used on one of the covers for one of the crossover issues.) Crossovers, naturally, are nothing new to comics or even big geek franchises—hello, official Doctor Who and Star Trek: The Next Generation crossover comics! But the idea of The Unwritten doing a crossover with another series gives me considerable pause, since crossovers—especially crossovers that seem to be dictated by editorial and not story—often work best when the Toy Box Rule is in effect. And it’s definitely not in effect for The Unwritten.

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I’ve been discussing the Toy Box Rule for quite some time, but I haven’t given it a specific name until now. The Toy Box Rule, which specifically applies to open-ended, serialized fiction (comics and television, generally), although not all open-ended, serialized fiction subscribes to this rule—Journey Into Mystery and Once Upon a Time disprove that quite handily for comics and television, respectively. The Toy Box Rule states that while you can take the characters in a story out of the toy box and play with them, they have to go into the box more or less in the same condition you took them out in. Think of Glee’s negative character development, where characters learn the same lessons over and over again because it doesn’t stick. Of course, this is an example of the dark side of the Toy Box Rule. The Toy Box Rule isn’t inherently bad. For instance, the recent Doctor Who and Star Trek: The Next Generation crossover comics worked because both television series have, at their core, the same fairly self-contained and serial premises; each week, a crew on a spaceship explore the universe and help people out. When readers of such texts encounter deviation from this, they expect that the series will eventually curve back towards the status quo, even if they enjoy the deviant material. And it’s this that midwifes the traditional crossover; while Batman battling Superman might be a big event for the reader due to its deviation from each title’s norm, it also won’t, in the long run, fundamentally change each title. I certainly didn’t feel the reverberations of the worlds of Doctor Who and Star Trek: The Next Generation colliding last year, how about you?

But The Unwritten lacks a fairly self-contained, serial premise, as, I think, does Fables. I’ve only read the first trade, so I can’t speak to its current storyline, but The Unwritten, after a slight but still enjoyable lull, is gearing up for something huge. The events leading up to it are so complex that I hardly think it a spoiler to tell you that Tom Taylor is currently seeking the gates of hell to parlay with some representatives thereof. Certainly, the world of The Unwritten, where all stories are, in one way or another, true and the reader is able to interact with them, allows for a very good reason for the world of Fables to show up. But, ultimately, I find myself agreeing with Chris Lough over at

A crossover between Fables and The Unwritten is easy, perhaps even necessary, but that doesn’t prove that it’s a good idea. Will I buy the issue? Absolutely. Will I enjoy it? Very likely. But I remain a little worried, nonetheless. The Unwritten is hinting towards a complex and emotional final act and I would hate it to see it flounder in the same way that Fables did after it concluded its overarching war story.

Just because I don’t have class on Fridays doesn’t mean I’m not always busy: class, work, extracurriculars, post-graduation plans, this blog, family… I spent most of the day yesterday with my family, which was enjoyable but very exhausting. I started on His Last Bow, as I reach the end of reading the original Sherlock Holmes canon, but I haven’t made much headway in that as of this morning. I hope to change that, but today will be devoted to yelling at the television as my friends and I protest the violent, heteronormative narratives that the Super Bowl imposes by having a high femme tea party while we watch the commercials. Any excuse to go to Party City, really.


  • Steven Hyden’s “The Winners’ History of Rock and Roll” at Grantland is a fascinating, well-written, and informative series, and its latest installment, “Aerosmith“, is no different. I also recommend contrasting and comparing the series with its 2007 abstract at the A. V. Club.
  • Illustrator Yuko Shimizu (of, funnily enough, The Unwritten fame) examines her fear of water through her art.
  • Did you publish a lesbian-themed speculative fiction short story in 2012? Then Lethe Press wants to hear about it—they’ve just posted the call for submissions for this year’s edition of Heiresses of Russ, which I had no idea was even a thing. Backlog, away!
  • Ryan Britt’s “J.J. Abrams, Star Wars, and the Homogenization of Geek Pop” is a little alarmist—I had to laugh at the idea that the prequels’ badness proved the purity of Lucas’ artistic vision—but Britt brings up some valid questions about what happens when one person’s fingerprint is all over all the geek texts and the next generation of speculative fiction filmmakers.
  • Genevieve Valentine examines how Oz the Great and Powerful takes one of the few big texts in Western imagination that focuses on strong women interacting with other strong women and makes it all about James Franco.
  • I realize I’m several months behind on the whole Rob Cantor’s “Actual Cannibal Shia LaBeouf” bandwagon, but it’s so good. The premise is so inherently silly (Shia LaBeouf is actually an animalistic cannibal while also maintaining a Hollywood career), the lyrics sound like the lovechild of the Vincent Price work on “Thriller” and a particularly sadistic choose-your-own-adventure book, and the actual music is both creepy and danceable. I want an whole album of weird, surreal songs about celebrities—”Christian Bale is at Your Party” is a good start.

Can crossovers work with two texts that don’t subscribe to the Toy Box Rule?

4 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: The Toy Box Rule

  1. I need to catch up on The Unwritten so that I can have an opinion about this crossover. I am sure I will have many feelings. I just need to discern what they’re going to be.

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