DC and Marvel Present: Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man (1976)
"The Battle of the Century!"
Gerry Conway-Ross Andru/Dick Giordano (with Superman retouches by Neal Adams and Peter and Mary Jane retouches by John Romita)
Doug: Epic? You want epic? Well if our ongoing coverage of the many scintillating story arcs of the Bronze Age isn't enough, then how about this 92-page monster? You could have gotten this bad boy hot off the magazine racks at the grocery store (no spinner rack could hold this) during our nation's bicentennial -- that's when I got mine, and it's been well-loved (and read) over the years.
Karen: Somehow the book was sold out at our local bookstore and the other places I would buy comics -liquor stores, convenience stores - didn't carry the treasury books. I was in near-panic, convinced I was missing the most important event of my life. Thankfully, I had a very determined mother, who contacted the distributor and managed to get me a copy!
Doug: That's a great story -- doesn't top my story about my mom running me by a porn shop in search of Avengers #161, but hey, I have to admire your mom's diligence...
Doug: Let's discuss the creative team first. I would imagine there was great discussion concerning who would be given control over the flagship characters of each company -- not just anyone was going to garner this assignment. But unless you happened to read Daniel Best's article that was printed in Back Issue #11, you may not know just how deeply this whole thing involved creators at both companies. Rather than rehash Best's fine research, I've linked to the online (and expanded) version of his article. You can also find numerous examples of original art from this story. After rereading this tale for this post, I was almost left to wonder if Best's article wasn't more interesting than Conway's story that ushered in the now-many Marvel-DC crossovers? By the way, the art we've chosen for this post is supposed to generate opinions from you, the reader, as to just who had the most influence on a given sample -- Andru, Giordano, Adams, or Romita. Have fun with it.
Karen: Best's article is pretty entertaining, a little bit of lost comics history. I'm not certain if it was that article I've read or another, but I do recall hearing about some of the politics that went into this first cross-over. Of course, it really hit bottom with the original Avengers -JLA cross-over, which never saw the light of day.
Doug: So while your head is still spinning from that, let's get after the plot: Superman fights a giant robot (which happens to be controlled by Lex Luthor), Spidey fights Doc Ock and his Flying Octopus, Lex and Ock meet in jail, Lex and Ock bust out of jail, Peter Parker and Clark Kent show up at the same newsman convention, through a misunderstanding engineered by Luthor Superman and Spider-Man do battle, Supes and Spidey team-up, and the good guys win after a little tension and super-daring-do. All-in-all pretty standard team-up fare. So what sets this one apart?
Doug: This one's unique obviously because it was the first cross-company publication that involved any of their major characters (the Wizard of Oz treasury was the first effort). I can recall seeing this one on the shelf when I was little and just being swept by that "gotta have this!!" feeling. At $2.00, I'm sure there was some question from my mom on just whether or not it was going to happen. But she probably relented, and boy was I glad she did. This was such a fun read when I was 10! But I'm not sure it's held up overall.
Karen: Your description of the story is about as far as I'd want to get into it either. It's a long rambling beast that looks pretty but was a real effort to read again. Formulaic to be certain: each hero has their own little adventure, they get together , there's a misunderstanding and they fight (the red sun radiation trick was pretty silly), then they team up. As a Marvel reader at the time, I felt like Spider-Man was definitely out-matched in every way; Superman even had a super-brain and could solve problems faster than Spider-Man! But of course, the DC heroes (at that time) were all far more powerful than their Marvel counterparts.
Doug: I guess, looking back on what must have gone on in those smoke-filled rooms at the meetings between Stan and Carmine (and all of their other assistants), Gerry Conway did a good job with what he had. I mean, there aren't any risks at all taken here -- everyone's in their firmly entrenched characterization, neither company's character really gets the upper hand over the other's (although I'd certainly argue that Ock got the short end of the stick in the bad guy dept. -- he comes off looking pretty inept), and even the supporting casts are pretty vanilla. But I keep coming back to -- what would I have expected?
Karen: I agree, there's nothing very exciting here. If you weren't a regular reader of either title before you bought this, you probably wouldn't be after. Just so cut and dried. Although all these years later, I still feel like Superman comes off just way too perfect!
Doug: As for the art, if you don't like Ross Andru then you are probably disappointed with this one. I thought the comments from and about Mike Esposito in Daniel Best's article were very interesting. How much sense would that have made? Conway-Andru-Esposito: all worked on both Superman and Spider-Man. What difference did it make that both artists were employed by Marvel at the time? See, that's where politics may have crept in and diminished what got published. But then, if Dick Giordano hadn't been inking the book, then Neal Adams never would have gotten his hands on it.
Karen: I wonder how many artists who were still working had worked at both companies? Certainly there was Gil Kane, although I'm not sure if he drew Superman. It seems to me that in the 70s there was a lot of cross-pollinating of writers, but I don't recall too many artists going back and forth. Bob Brown?
Doug: Kane's certainly someone who worked for both, as was Bob Brown. Andru's work on Spidey and formerly on Wonder Woman probably made him the high-profile guy to go with. When I read this last Sunday, I was eagle-eyeing those Adams corrections the whole way. It's not even close -- as much as the various creators in that article want to say that Giordano "looks" like Adams, there was no mistaking Adams. And it was wholly obvious at times when he redrew the entire figure. Shoot -- you don't see Adams all over the cover of this book? What's your opinion on Adams "tightening things up"? At least in the case of Jazzy Johnny Romita, Marvel editorial asked him to redraw many of the Peter and MJ faces (although it seemed that the rest of the cast, including Jonah, was left alone). As to DC, wouldn't it have made more sense, if they thought Andru was not the guy, to have had Curt Swan do the corrections?
Karen: Although they say Romita only touched up Peter and Mary Jane's faces, there are a few shots of Spidey that scream Romita to me. It's harder for me to tell about the Adams' retouches of Superman, as Giordano's inking looks very much like Adams to me. But I did notice a few figures of Supes flying that felt very much like Adams to me. You got me regarding Swan. I know I never saw a Kirby-drawn Superman face in all those Fourth World stories -it was so obvious that they had Swan redraw them all! Not sure why they wouldn't do that here.
Doug: So overall, this was a fun book, and a decent enough story that I did remember it going through it again after at least a hiatus of 25 years (whoa!). Personally, I thought Marvel's style was a bit more dominant in the mood of the book than was DC's more sterile demeanor of storytelling. And if you liked what Ross Andru was turning out in Amazing Spider-Man, then you probably weren't unhappy with his performance here. And hey -- doesn't J. Jonah Jameson just carry any scene he's in? So this book had that going for it!