Friday, April 13, 2018

DC versus Marvel Comics #1


Strange Team-Ups
DC versus Marvel Comics #1



The biggest event ever…and kinda a letdown too

"Round One”
Writers – Ron Marz (with thanks to Peter David)
Pencillers – Dan Jurgens and Claudio Castellini
Inkers – Josef Rubinstein and Paul Neary
Letterer – Bill Oakley
Colorist – Gregory Wright with separations by Digital Chameleon
Assistant Editors – Chriss Duffy and Joe Andreani
Editors – Mike Carlin and Mark Gruenwald
1996

The first intercompany crossover between the two bigs that I remember was the Treasury edition of Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man. That marked the first official time that Marvel and DC decided to work together on a comic. it happened way back in 1979 and the more than two dollar cover price was too rich for my underage allowance.



Sadly, I passed on owning it.

And on the subsequent ones where Batman fought the Hulk, Spiderman and Superman went at it again, and the Uncanny X-Men teamed up with the New Teen Titans. I was out of the loop on most of those being released as it was years between crossovers and myself being more interested in high school girls at the time.

By the 1990’s though I was heavily into comics and had heard through various grapevines of the "ones that got away." Also, that fabled one that had yet to be made, the JLA/Avengers one that Perez was supposedly working on but had been shelved in 1981 due to the split between the big two having become a bottomless chasm. Possibly involving Jim Shooter, somewhat. Who really knows. (Luckily, we ended up getting that one and if you don’t have a copy, you NEED to go get one! STAT!)

In 1995, DC and Marvel started up again, with crossover books flying fast and furious. That year we got Darkseid vs. Glactus: The Hunger, Green Lantern/Sliver Surfer: Unholy Alliances, and Spider-Man and Batman: Disordered Minds. Now I’ve looked high and low for a good article outlining the reasons the pair of comics giants suddenly made nice and decided to work in concert with each other, and I’ve found absolutely ONE (with very little info in it). It seems Jim Shooter created lots of animosity when he helmed Marvel and after his departure, the vacuum left allowed the two to reconcile enough to work on collaboration projects. I’m sure there are articles out there covering this in more depth, just not in online form, possibly. 

Mark Gruenwald and Mike Carlin probably should take the lion's share of the credit.

 

Since I don’t have anything stating why, I’m NOT going to speculate. This was the middle 90’s, and it was a weird, wild Unspoken Decade of comic book mish-mash(and yes, you should clearly click that link to find out more).



Whatever the cause, one of the crossovers teamed up Silver Surfer and Green Lantern. Ron Marz wrote the crossover (and could probably shed some light on how all this came about) which featured the pair of cosmic heroes facing off against Parallax, Thanos, Cyborg Superman, and Terrax the Tamer. Sounds like they and Marz had their hands full.

The book ended up too full to completely investigate the plot device Marz left sitting in an alley on both company's respective Earths, a huge glowing cardboard box that would become the MacGuffin in the next two crossover series.

Those two would be DC Versus Marvel/Marvel Versus DC and the four issue Unlimited Access book. From that first crossover there spun out the mega-event that capped off the end of DC Versus Marvel: the month-long Amalgam Comics universe. The first issue of the DC-Marvel dust up is here in my hot little hands, coming directly from a bundle pack I picked up at Half-Price.

As you’ll see in a bit, the premise of this is that two cosmic entities force each of the universe’s heroes into mano-a-mano battles to determine which universe is better. One entity represents DC and the other Marvel, and they tell the heroes they will destroy the universe that has the most losses. From this paper thin plot device, fanboys across the ages got their nerd wet-dream wish of seeing which hero could take out their alternate from the opposing universe in a no-holds-barred grudge match.

It was fan-service and, frankly, not very good. The problem is with the premise and not the execution. This first issue is MUCH better than a lot of what followed because Marz gets a chance to integrate the two universes and have interactions between the characters of both. THAT is what true fans crave. To see Spider-Man talking with Joker or Peter Parker working with Clark Kent on a story…Those are portions of the story where it can go in odd, unexpected, and entertaining directions.

The story takes a steep ramp downhill once it becomes a punch-fest though, and the blame for that isn’t on Marz’s shoulders but the mandate that stated this series has to be a stream of Mortal Kombat style round matches, some won by popular vote.


A momentary aside on that bit. I am a firm believer that NO story conflict should be determined by reader vote. The story should always rest in one person’s hands ALONE and those hands are the writer’s. Turning these into votable “wins” equates their outcomes to meaningless in story terms. If every match had been won by one company’s mascots, the non-vote matches would have just gone the other direction to keep the number of wins down to that slim margin. Imagine instead that Marz had been allowed to write the story however he wanted with regard to all the matches and maybe their outcome and the climax might have felt a bit less manufactured and a bit more "earned".

So I have issues with the “event” feel of this series. I don’t like that our heroes will be used in a manner akin to a young child playing with his action figure collection by bashing them into each other to declare a winner. I feel the talent involved could be given the same property in an open-ended way and could come up with a better storyline than what’s been given. But this is what we’re doing. And the end result of all these hero vs. hero button mashers is the Amalgam Universe, a place that had some silly-fun moments.

With that I have to say: “Take it away, guys…”

We open with a full page spread of Spider-Man doing whatever a spider can, courtesy of Dan Jurgens and Josef Rubinstein. Must have been before Jurgens left over the clone saga winddown and Lo and Behold, it is! 


Marz has the unenviable task of trying to explain the present Spider-Man clone storyline before jumping into the tale this book is trying to tell. He does a decent job of it, in that we get this is NOT Peter Parker, but Ben Reilly. Which is kind of a shame, given that any interactions here won’t be with the Stan Lee character from the 1960’s.

Anyway, the mysterious cardboard packing box macguffin shown in Green Lantern/Silver Surfer starts glowing in the alleyway Spidey is swinging over and shoots out a ray that causes our webhead to vanish.


The bum wakes up just as a passer-by notices the fireworks show. He tries to contain the beams by blocking the box with his body, then notices his audience, whom he states that he’s glad to see. The box is an interdimensional gateway between DC and Marvel’s universes of course. The person at the head of the alley quickly walking away is Axel Asher, soon to be anointed the hero handle “Access” and drafted into keeping the two universes separate.


Meanwhile we shift over to where Spider-Man has ended up, which is kind of a pickle. He’s lying prone on a rooftop with this gentleman.


Well spit! Lucky for our bug-man, the Clown Prince of Crime is in a less homicidal mood. Additionally, he tangled with Spider-Man / Peter Parker the year before, teamed up with Carnage in the Spider-Man and Batman book. He’s taken aback here by the costume change, but still recognizes the motif. 


This little chat is why I dislike the “versus” premise. The audience for the DC / Marvel crossovers aren’t craving what their fanboy impulses really say they are craving. They don’t really want to know “who is stronger?” or “who would win?” in any of these matchups. The answers are typically less interesting than the questions AND are quickly disputed and dissected and, ultimately, discarded. Fans will always stick by their favorites, no matter the shown outcome.

But interactions between the heroes and villains and sidekicks ARE the real heart of these stories. This section, which Marz makes work with some great dialogue and understanding the characters, comes off as eerie and surreal. We have Marvel’s most popular hero talking with DC’s most popular villain on a rooftop. They aren’t trading blows, but chatting…trying to figure out what is happening and where each other stands. The hairs on the back of our neck are primed for them to break out fighting at any moment.

So, when they DON’T…


…we are both surprised and a bit elated by the haunting import of their meeting. I LOVED this part of the book. The non-punching part of the book. Marz made the character meet-ups feel natural and by starting off with these two characters, he let the audience know he understood what we NEEDED in a book where these two worlds would collide. That the verbal interactions would amount to MORE than the physical, which is another reason why these two NOT throwing down is so important. I feel that had the book not been titled DC Versus Marvel, Marz could have given us a crossover that would have fired on all cylinders.

Just look what he throws in next! Juggernaut is fighting the X-Men when he gets hit by a stray flashy-beam thingie. Next moment, he has just smacked the heck out of the Daily Planet building and receives a cuff on the head from Supes himself. 


Meanwhile, our bum has tried to packing tape that glowing box together, but it isn’t working. 


And for being some kind of appointed guardian of the company-spanning multiverse box, he sure seems to have no control over the thing. In fact that is one of the few elements to this and the Unlimited Access series that followed that made no sense. If Access can’t stop the crossovers and manage the two universes, what good is he really?

And the more glowy thingies that shoot out, you’d think we’d get more superheroes disappearing in one universe to run smack dab into heroes from the other company’s pantheon. About that you’d be half right. We do see lots of disappearances, like Captain America…


…Wonder Woman…


…the Hulk, Superboy, Lobo, and three of the X-Men, each given a full page to strut their stuff before the light flashes them away. However, where they end up isn’t immediately disclosed.


And while we are waiting for their much anticipated reappearances in the other universe, that isn’t forthcoming. What is coming are two pages of lazy roll calling as hero after hero disappears in a beam of yellow brilliance. This part of the book was supposed to whet your appetite for the conflict to come, but in hindsight it certainly was a wasted opportunity to show more cool crossover interactions. 


Like this one: 


Batman vs. Bullseye. Yeah, that’s what I paid my two bits to see. A face off between the dark night detective and the man who killed Electra. With Robin’s life on the line, no less.



And that boy wonder ain’t never helpless.



In fact, I could read a whole limited series of Batman and Daredevil tracking down Bullseye...who might be hired by say Two Face to kill two important members of Gotham and Hell’s Kitchen with guest appearances by Spider-Man and Elect…


Ulp! It’s already over? That makes me sad. Yet again I don’t blame Marz for this, because he is hemmed in by the title. I’m certain there was a ton of editorial mandate on how the story had to go and quite probably WHO would have to show up. Look at all the names attached to this thing:


And given that Marz had to wrap this issue up in 31 pages, the guy did the best he could at giving us a few quality interaction pages like these even at the expense of having to shove a half-dozen non-speaking cameo shots of the other heroes involved into two pages. There really wasn’t a winning formula for this thing. It was just too massive for the small page count to really do the number of characters justice.

Yet even as I appreciate it, I’m frustrated by it. Because as those three pages show (and even this brief follow-up half-page of Robin bamfing into Jubilation Lee’s room unexpectedly) that the coolest thing in the issue will NOT be the hero-on-hero smackdowns. It will always be the meeting and interaction of characters from two different companies.

Who doesn’t want to see Superman returning to the Daily Planet while the editor screams for Clark Kent only for us to discover the Editor isn’t Perry White, but is instead J. Jonah Jameson! 


A relationship that isn’t all that different as you might expect. In fact, as Marz shows us first how Lois and Jimmy react to the changes…


..and then has Kent, under the guise of writing a story, fills the reader in on how he’s dealing with all this strangeness in the next two pages we get a real hunger for this story to be the basis for the next four issues. To just abandon the plot of these punchfests and to track how Kent/Superman would view these strange new heroes and villains.



It’s an idea that gets EVEN better when Kent meets his new photographer, Peter Parker/Ben Reilly. Imagine that story, will ya? Marz hit pure gold with this idea and then had to abandon the mine shaft even though that vein ran ten feet wide and ten stories tall.



Just so we could pull back to the galaxy level and have The Spectre…


…and the Living Tribunal attempt to wrap their heads around what has happened…


…which is explained in the next graphic as the two “Brothers”, cosmic ruling entities that stand in as metaphors for the companies of DC and Marvel who have finally met and “touched”…


…and next issue will dictate that only one of their two universes will survive. The conflict’s outcome resulting in a strange event that the Crapbox is all too aware of called the Amalgam Universe that we will someday tackle in all its weird and discount-bin-filling perplexity.
As for DC Versus Marvel, I have a love-hate thing with it. I LOVE the brief moments we do get of bad guys from one universe meeting good guys of the other. Or heroes seeing each other for the first time and the promise created by those meetings.

I HATE that we get pages of what amount to cameos that do nothing but establish character “A” for the audience. Or worse, throw images of conflicts and stories the book doesn’t have time to show, but teases us with anyway. Annihilus vs Superman? So THERE! Captain America vs Bane. LIKEWISE! Spider-Man and a confused looking Man-Bat? Let’s DO that one, as my mind can already imagine it playing out with maybe a cameo by Morbius or Robin.

But these concepts become nothing but empty teases. DC and Marvel should have given Marz a 12 issue series outside of the events in this mini and let his imagination run wild. Instead, the guy did the best he could here, pinned in by the page count and the vast story he was trying to push into it.

And while we got some great one-shots and a really uneven short mini about Access that combined these characters, I suspect that Marz’s stories might have been more interesting. He certainly showed promise here.

*sigh* What could have been…

2 comments:

  1. While Superman vs. Spider-Man was the first Marvel/DC teamup using their own characters, they actually first teamed up back in the 1970s: https://www.comics.org/issue/29370/cover/4/

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    1. You are correct, sir. Pardon the omission. And I think we can all be thankful that didn't feature either of their characters.

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