Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"A webslinger and a man of steel walk into a news convention..."

It took about 4 decades for DC and Marvel to get around to it, but during the 1970s, they finally agreed to let their characters team up. The first of these (not counting a collaborative adaptation of The Wizard of Oz) was Superman vs the Amazing Spider Man, cover-dated 1976.  And, though later crossovers were often good, this is still one of the best.

It was published as one of those oversized "Treasury Editions" that both companies were putting out during the 1970s. Because of that, my opinion of this story might be colored a little by nostalgia. I loved those Treasury Editions. It was within the covers of those that I first came across the original Galactus battle, Thor's epic battle with Hercules, and Superman's first adventure from Action Comics #1. It was through the Treasury Editions (as well as reprinted stories in the backs of annuals and Giant-Sized comics) that I was introduced to the rich histories of both the Marvel and DC universes.

Besides, the over-sized format really allowed Ross Andru to go to town with the art in Supes vs. Spidey. The story looks magnificent, with a generous helping of large panels and splash pages that took full advantage of the large size.

The writer was Gerry Conway, who had a lot of experience working with both characters. And he took an interesting approach in bringing Clark and Peter together. Later crossovers often used inter-dimensional travel to shove Marvel and DC characters together. That's fine by itself and can make for a great story. But this initial team-up simply tossed the protagonists into the same world without further explanation, allowing Conway to move on with the story without a lot of lengthy exposition. He once wrote:"Purists may complain that we never explained how Superman and Spider-Man ended up in the same 'universe'...; to our minds, how they got there was beside the point." The presumption is that this story takes place in a universe in which DC and Marvel coexist and know about one another. They just don't run into each other very often.

The tale is nicely structured as well. We get a short but effective Superman short story in which he confronts Lex Luthor, who is using a giant robot to steal a satellite component from S.T.A.R. Labs. The Man of Steel catches his arch-enemy, but Lex manages to stash the component awayto be recovered later. Meanwhile, in New York, Spidey takes down Dr. Octopus.

The two are taken to the same prison, where we are reminded that in every comic book universe, prison wardens are idiots. The two brilliant but evil scientists are locked up in the same cell block, because there's no way that can possibly end badly, is there?  It takes them maybe five minutes to escape together.

They decide to team up, with the twin goals of destroying their arch enemies and black-mailing the world out of ten billion dollars.

Soon after, Clark, Lois Lane and several other Metropolis newshounds are in New York for a convention. But it really is impossible to take Lois anywhere. In fact, it's pretty much impossible to take Mary Jane Watson anywhere. Both are kidnapped and teleported away in a manner that makes Spider Man think Superman is responsible.

But what can the webslinger do about that? As cool a superhero as he is (and he is indeed cool), he can't stand up to Superman in a straight fight. Or can he? Lex and Ock secretly zap Spidey with a red sun ray, giving him power equivalent to Superman for a few minutes. So Peter and Clark tussle on equal terms for a few pages, until the red sun radiation wears off and we get what might very well be the funniest few panels in the history of comic books.

By the time the two heroes realize they've been had and start to follow up clues, Lex and Ock are already aboard an old Injustice League satellite, where Lex uses the component he stole earlier to
take over a NASA satellite and use its laser probe to generate a hurricane powerful enough to wipe out mankind. This, obviously, is were the ten billion dollar blackmail scheme kicks in.

So it's up to Superman to stop a giant tidal wave whipped up by the storm while Spidey fights the villains aboard the satellite. Fortunately, Spider Man finds an unlikely ally when Dr. Octopus realized Lex is insane enough to actually destroy the Earth for holding "my genius in contempt!" (Lex is even more nuts than he is in DC's regular universe. But that's okay with me--it simply means that the Lex in the mixed DC/Marvel universe has driven a little farther into Crazy Town than the Earth-1 Lex.)

I already mentioned Conway's skillful story construction, using the introductory short stories to set up plot elements that would pay off later in the tale. Ross Andru's art is always great, but whether it was the large page format or simply the fun story material,  he really shines here. The brief but epic fight between the two heroes is superbly choreographed and very exciting. I also like the designs of the various robots, vehicles and satellites that appear throughout the book--each of them looks awesome and unashamedly comic booky without seeming at all silly.

There was a Batman/Hulk team-up soon after this one, which was also fun. Later crossover events run the gamut in quality. The 2003 JLA/Avengers mini-series was actually quite good and gave us some magnificent George Perez art. But I'll always consider Superman vs. The Amazing Spider Man to be the best. Yes, that opinion is filtered through boyhood nostalgia, but I can re-read it as a grown-up and still have enormous fun with it, so there you go.


  1. The second team up was even better, I thought.

    1. I never did read the second one. It's one of the few Treasury Editions I missed.

  2. It had Dr. Doom and the Parasite and cameos with the Hulk and Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman calls Spiderman's persona creepy.

  3. I still remember the chills I got reading that for the first time, in the pre-internet age when you were genuinely surprised. The over-sized pages only helped to make it more exciting especially since we NEVER thought DC and Marvel would ever team up like this. The build up to the first meeting (a lost art in comics today) and the giant splash page when then finally meet was exhilarating.

    The second one was great too, especially two very memorable scenes. First, Doom's henchmens' reactions to Superman and his power was perfectly written. Second was the build up for the Hulk in Metropolis! Every comic fan had that debate and waited for this battle and they did it so well. While they did give some consideration to Marvel and the Hulk, the battle was exactly how it would go between the Hulk and the pre-Crisis Superman.

    1. I really need to dig up a copy of the second one and read it.

  4. Check out those two scenes Tim. The Daily Planet shaking from the Hulk and when Superman goes up against Doom's henchmen. GREAT stuff.

    1. I will. Thanks for your comments. You make an excellent point, by the way, about how much easier it was to be surprised in the pre-Internet days. Our culture seems to be forgetting how much fun that was.

  5. And combine that with the waiting a whole month for the next issue of a comic, not knowing what would was the good old days. Now with 6+ titles for a character, internet spoilers all over, it's been watered down.


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