UP UNTIL THE MID-1970s, the rivalry
between DC and Marvel Comics, the two largest comic publishers
in North America, meant that any collaboration was unthinkable.
There were plenty of stories showing Batman and Superman working
together, but fans of, say, Batman and Spider-Man hoping to see
the two of them work together were just plain out of luck.
But in this oversized book, the first-ever major crossover
between Marvel and DC, comic fans finally got to see the
companies' top two heroes in the same story. Billed as "the
battle of the century," the story saw Superman and
Spider-Man apprehending their respective archenemies, Lex Luthor
and Doctor Octopus. The two criminal geniuses promptly escape
from jail to plot a new evil plan. After the requisite
misunderstanding and fistfight between Superman and Spider-Man
(whose strength was temporarily boosted to Superman's level by
Luthor), the two heroes join forces to foil the villains'
scheme, save their girlfriends, and avert a planetary disaster
caused by Luthor's latest evil device.
All in all, it was a fairly standard outing for both heroes,
with scripts and art by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, and Dick
Giordano. The story was plainly outside the "official"
history of either hero; in the story, both the heroes and
villains acted as if they had always lived in the same universe.
It doesn't take a lot of effort to wonder why Marvel and DC
co-published this book. Everything about it, from the inclusion
of their flagship characters to the oversized format (10 inches
by 13 1/2 inches) was designed to make it a guaranteed sales
blockbuster. Stan Lee and Carmine Infantino, respectively the
heads of Marvel and DC at that point, put aside their companies'
competitiveness for the simple reason that they hoped to have a
bestseller on their hands. By combining their two greatest
heroes in one package, they were reaching out to each other's
fans and attempting to attract new ones by publishing a book
starring the two characters that everyone, fans and
non-fans alike, had heard of.
Despite the initial interest, the sales figures weren't as
high as they had hoped. DC and Marvel went back to the well with
a second Superman/Spider-Man team-up and a Batman/Hulk story in
1981, but neither issue delivered impressive sales results. They
had better luck with a 1982 crossover between the hugely popular
Teen Titans super-teams, but by that time the companies
decided the benefits of inter-company crossovers just weren't
worth the effort. (As well, the old rivalry was still a factor
-- during the mid-1980s, a proposed JLA/Avengers crossover was
scrapped when the two companies couldn't agree on how to produce
Fast forward to 1996. The "Big Two" (as they're
called in collectors' circles) still had a firm hold on the top
two spots in the business, but their supremacy was threatened by
a number of factors. The arrival of the independent comics
movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s turned many fans away
from the old superheroes, and the 1990s saw a succession of
smaller companies -- Image, Malibu, Valiant, and Dark Horse, to
name just a few -- grabbing readers and headlines with their
bold marketing campaigns, fresh new artwork, and lucrative
licensing deals. Dark Horse, for example, used its right to
publish the comic adventures of such popular movies as Alien,
Predator, and Star Wars
to win readers away from Marvel and DC.
Faced with the increasing competition, Marvel and DC put
aside their differences and went for broke, publishing in 1996
the "Marvel vs. DC/DC vs. Marvel" four-issue
mini-series. The admittedly contrived story saw the major heroes
from each company pitted against each other in a series of
matches that would (of course) determine the fate of their
universes. As a bonus, the mini-series was accompanied by a
dozen "Amalgam Comics," which introduced new heroes
that incorporated characteristics of both Marvel and DC heroes
("Super-Soldier," for example, was an amalgam of
Superman and Captain America). This time, Marvel and DC struck
gold, and the issues flew off the shelves, prompting several
mini-series sequels and a new batch of Amalgam titles the
Superman vs. Spider-Man, the crossover that started it
all, deserves a space on this list because of what it
represents. Comic publishers have always used gimmicks to drum
up fan interest in their books, but this issue is perhaps the
first tangible piece of evidence that Marvel and DC were serious
about staying on top. The lessons they learned in producing and
marketing this title would serve them well in the years to
follow, when they would attempt to consolidate their hold on the
Finally, on a lighter note, the book was just a helluva lot
of fun. For the first time, fans of both the Webbed
Wall-Crawler and the Man of Steel could enjoy a story with both
of them in it. Make no mistake, comics are first and foremost a
business, but they're also a pleasure to produce and to read...
and it's nice to know that, just like our favourite heroes, the
two can mix every once in a while.