In October's Action Comics 894, the DC Universe's baldest baddie, Lex Luthor, will meet an unlikely guest star...Death from Neil Gaiman's Sandman. These characters come from two very different corners of comicdom, but their confluence is a win for readers.
In Paul Cornell's current run on Action Comics, Lex is attempting to unlock the secrets of the Black Lanterns, who unceremoniously trampled all over the DCU during Blackest Night. Cornell (Doctor Who, Captain Britain and MI:13) had this to say about Neil Gaiman allowing him use everyone's favorite (and gothiest) anthropomorphic representation of mortality:
I knew I wanted to take him to areas he hadn't been, and one of those areas was the supernatural/the theological. I initially thought, "Oh, there's the Black Racer for Kirby's Fourth World books! The guy on the skis - that's the personification of Death there." I had happily been thinking of pitching that, and then suddenly it occurred to me that there's another Death, isn't there, that's from even further across the reach of the DC Universes [...] Then I set up to talk to Neil and had a word with Neil, not expecting him to say yes, but he said yes!
This isn't the first time Neil Gaiman's Endless have crossed over into the mainstream DCU — indeed, Dream appeared in Grant Morrison's 1998 run on JLA — but this is the first time in a good long while. Also, the team up of Death and Lex is an odd mix. Death is the personification of dying (who happens to look like Siouxsie Sioux). At a certain juncture in his career, Lex was so down-and-out that he spent a good portion of his time screaming at Superman about peanut butter recipes.
The point is, these two characters come from different traditions. Death comes from the late 80s/early 90s proto-Vertigo DCU and dresses like a hot alternate dimension Robert Smith. Lex Luthor's been part of the Superman mythos for 70 years and has suffered a lifetime worth of undignified merchandising. It's the commercial meets the critically acclaimed.
At first blush, it seems downright sacrilegious to team them up. Imagine of McG — a director whose career is built on pop panache — announced that he was going to remake 2001 (but call it 4002..."because it's twice the sequel!"). The internet would have a fanbolism. Similarly, Lex has dabbled in pastry theft during his career in supervillainy. That's ain't Vertigo material.
So why am I not worried about this crossover? Two reasons. First, I happen to like Cornell as a writer (his run on Marvel's Wisdom was way underrated). And second, I don't think this crossover will devalue Death. It's already been demonstrated that a character can try out different "tenors" and still remain interesting. Just look what Marvel's done with the Punisher over the years.
Marvel's never really known what to do with the Punisher. He's too violent for overt superheroics but too lucrative and famous to exile to crime comics. He fit in during the angsty early 90s (Anyone remember Hearts of Darkness? Punisher + Ghost Rider + Wolverine = anti-hero overload!) but was later consigned to the periphery of continuity until Mark Millar brought him back in Civil War.
Since then, Marvel's been able to divide Frank Castle between two titles: Frankencastle (which depicts the Punisher as a shambling undead vigilante in the main Marvel U.) and PunisherMAX (which is a "real world" take on Frank). In a way, Marvel's imposed a form of selective continuity on Frank. Fans can take their Punisher with a side of the supernatural or leave him in a non-superheroic reality. Both are valid takes, complete with their own continuity and tenor.
What does the Punisher have to do with Death and Lex? By placing this incongruous duo in one tale, DC is increasing the spectrum of stories that can be told with these characters. Who knows? If this goes well, maybe Gaiman will greenlight more Endless tales down the road. Options are good. Some folks like their Batman dark'n'gritty. I like my Batman fighting Swamp Thing. And with DC reincorporating Vertigo-lite characters back into the DCU, such editorial barriers will appear more and more arbitrary.