Saturday, 23 June 2012

Omitted material: Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man

We come to another side-step to look at an issue not covered by the Essentials (although I’m not sure it would have been included even if the rights were available) – Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man, the first meeting of Marvel and DC superheroes from 1976.

Inter-company crossover stories come in two forms. Either the heroes occupy a shared universe but just haven’t encountered one another before, or else they occupy separate realities and are brought together over the inter-dimensional divide by the events of the special meeting. I have completely lost track of the positions taken by either Marvel or DC as to which crossovers do and don’t count as part of the ongoing continuity (there was a stage when the second type generally did count, albeit as events that were never actually mentioned again) or how they fit into either company’s multiverse. But to be honest that doesn’t really matter – this is just a special bringing together the two companies’ leading heroes (and their respective supporting casts and archenemies of the period) for a fun story

This was originally published as a standalone one shot in the “Treasury Edition” format, which by the standards of US comics is enormous. The regular books from both Marvel and DC were approximately A5 sized; the Treasury Edition format is tabloid A3 and squarebound (and no, I don’t know where the name comes from). To a 1970s child a Treasury Edition must have seemed like the ultimate treasure, although the price might have been more daunting – this one is US $2.00 at a time when the regular Marvels were going for US $0.25 – although some were apparently also sold through bookshops. To both retailers and collectors the format can be more of a pain than a pleasure – squarebound comics from the 1970s often used inferior glue and easily rustable staples that make even the regular sized books difficult to find in top quality, but throw in a huge size that doesn’t easily fit the bags and boxes available (and with many of the Treasury Edition comics being reprints the demand for appropriate storage facilities is reduced further) and you can understand why it’s particularly hard to find these in good nick. Fortunately this story has had a few reprints since, usually to tie in with more recent Marvel/DC collaborations.

The story is written by Gerry Conway, then recently departed from Spider-Man, and drawn by Ross Andru, the-then regular Amazing penciller. Conway had recently moved from Marvel to DC but I don’t know if either he or Andru had worked on Superman before. I have heard that Neal Adams redraw some of the Superman images to maintain visual continuity, although if so this was uncredited.

As for the story? Well we get three prologues, the first two featuring the individual heroes sending their arch enemies to jail on their home patches, then we get a shorter third one as once in jail Lex Luthor and Doctor Octopus team up to escape and have revenge on both their enemies. We also get three pages that introduce the core characters for the less familiar and they’re generally fine, but it can be a surprise to remember that this came out during the period when Clark Kent primarily worked as a TV anchorman rather than the newspaper reporter he’s been for most of his history. (Consequently, although Perry White can be seen in some backgrounds, Morgan Edge is the presented counterpart for J. Jonah Jameson.) Because of these it’s not until page 31 that the villains meet, page 36 when our heroes’ alter egos and supporting casts arrive at the same location, and page 46 when the heroes meet in costume. In a 92-page story this is an very long build up.

The plot itself is relatively simple – a villain hijacks a new piece of technology to demand money with menaces, and two heroes meet, have a misunderstanding and fight, then team up to track down the villain with a climactic fight to save the world. At the time that may have been all that was needed, but I feel it leads to some extended sequences that ultimately don’t contribute a great deal such as the whole trip to Africa. Also whilst the heroes work together and both contribute throughout the course of events, the same cannot be said of the villains. Doctor Octopus is basically superfluous to most of the plot, with everything having been planned and set in motion by Lex Luthor, and his only real contributions are to even up the numbers in the final fight and be the vehicle for saving the day when Spider-Man appeals to his humanity to stop Luthor from destroying the world. Otherwise he could have been left out completely and another way found to destroy the equipment. We also get the strange spectacle of Superman tearing off two of the tentacles, yet Doc Ock doesn’t appear to suffer any pain.

We get lots of good little moments, with an especially fun scene as Peter Parker rushes to find a phone booth only to discover they’ve been replaced with open stalls – this came two years before an equivalent moment in the first Superman movie. There’s also some classic Jonah as he orders the publication of a special edition of the Daily Bugle highlighting Peter’s photos of the capture of Doctor Octopus without checking them first. By the end of the story Peter redeems himself in his publisher’s eyes with photos of Spider-Man and Superman together. There’s a similar strand of Clark learning he’s going to be replaced as anchor when Metropolis hosts a national convention but again he proves his worth by obtaining exclusive footage. However there are some clunky moments, particularly when upon being introduced to Lois Lane for the first time Mary Jane feels the need to comment on her being “Miss” with a mini-feminist rant which feels both rude and out of character (and now very dated).

The obligatory fight between our heroes (triggered by Luthor impersonating Superman to kidnap Lois and Mary Jane, thus Spider-Man has a reason to not trust Superman) could have been either very one-sided or very silly but it’s enhanced by Luthor secretly zapping Spider-Man with red sun radiation (this was also an era when Kryptonite was deliberately made rare) which means he can fight Superman on equal terms, though the fight is inconclusive when the radiation wears off. Personally I would have thought Spider-Man should win such a fight, not because of personal preference, but because he is used to having to hone his technique and develop his fighting skills whereas Superman can rely of just strength and powers alone. So when on physically equal terms, Spidey should have had enough edge to win out. Maybe another time...

In general this is an okay comic for what it is, but there are some opportunities missed and a more original plot that presented a menace that could only be made by two villains combined would have been far more satisfactory. And it may have been published in a much larger format and have 92 pages with no adverts, but I’m not convinced it was worth eight times a regular comic of the era. Of course nowadays the price economics are a very different matter. Pick this up if you can find a copy easily at a fair price, but don’t spend ridiculous prices or amounts of time searching for it.

1 comment:

  1. One of the things that struck me on reading this at the time was just how visually 'cinematic' it was, almost as if it was the comicbook adaptation of a movie. It wasn't perfect by any means, but familiarity has dulled our sense of just what an impact this Treasury Edition had in terms of two rival companies getting together to do it. Sore, there had been The Wizard of Oz, but this was DC's and Marvel's two top heroes. Wow! It still rocks!

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