DC and Marvel Present Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man (part 1 of 2)

When I looked at the X-Men/Teen Titans team-up, I had said all the crossovers done before had felt like gimmicks. But after I had said that, I wondered if perhaps I had been, well, unfair. After all, it had been some years since I had looked at a couple of them, and honestly I admit that perhaps my opinions had been unfairly influenced by later crossover events such as Batman/Judge Dredd, and I thought that Silver Age stuff was just, well, silly. So I decided that maybe I should give one or more of these crossovers a second look. The one I’ve chosen is a landmark story regardless of the quality, and the first collaboration between DC and Marvel Comics: 1976’s Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man.

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We open with a nice introduction from editors-in-chiefs Stan Lee and Carmine Infantino, who both give credit to the likes of David Obst, Sol Harrison, and Sol Brodsky as well as the “Marvel Bullpen” and “DC Dugout”. Our scribe is veteran Gerry Conway, with art provided by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano. Our story opens with Superman dealing with a giant robot.

You know, a typical Wednesday in Metropolis. Superman discovers the bot is lead-lined (of course), and the robot spots Supes and starts gloating, calling Superman an “old enemy”. So Superman knows this Robot Jox reject? Supes goes in for the attack and the robot backhands him, and while it doesn’t hurt Supes, he does smash into a building and cause debris to fall upon the good Metropolonians below. The not-so-Last Son of Krypton manages to catch the conveniently intact chunk of wall and then goes after the robot again, this time attempting to use his “infra-red vision” to heat up its circuits. Is that different from heat vision? Does Superman also have UV vision, which allows him to see bodily fluids? Yes, questions like this haunt me.

The infra-red vision attack fails, and in retaliation, the robot hits Superman with an “inertia ray” which sends Superman flying back through buildings. So far, the robot has done more damage throwing Superman around than directly breaking stuff. But that soon changes as it rips off the roof at S.T.A.R. Labs. It reaches in with a tiny hand extension and rips a device off a computer console and swallows it like a Pez. Supes decides to attack from below, but the robot’s got that covered with a gravity beam. Man, it’s like Supes and the robot have fought like a million times before or something. Supes tries plan C, attacking the robot from above, and he drives it into the ground. But the robot’s head pops off and goes flying away. Superman flies after the head, but…

…it’s a clever ruse from Lex Luthor. Because of course, who else is going to build a giant robot and figure out every move Superman is going to make? Luthor flies off via jetpack, with his next criminal feat presumably to steal cakes or something. Ten minutes later, Superman finds himself at the Galaxy Communications Building. So… Lex got away? How, exactly? That jetpack is giving off a ton of fumes; couldn’t Superman use his super-sense of smell to trace it? Super-hearing to hear it? Telescopic and x-ray vision to find Luthor? But no, Supes is going to be late for his day job, so he’s gotta jet.

He slips into his favorite broom closet and changes into Clark Kent, mild mannered TV anchorman. Yes, this is that era where the editors at DC decided maybe Clark Kent’s job as a newspaper reporter was passe, and TV was where he should be. Interestingly enough, while the newspaper industry was still doing okay, I think the editors were showing some serious forward thinking in changing Clark’s job. Oddly enough, while the press is dying today, Clark Kent is still a reporter. Frankly, I think they should have kept him as a blogger.

It turns out Kent’s got himself a pain in the butt not named Lois Lane, but rather some jerk named “Steve” who likes practical jokes. Lois shows what a tool she is by not warning Clark about Steve planting the old bucket-over-the-door trick for Clark, but Kent’s got it covered by using his super-breath to keep the bucket of water in place as he walks into the other room. Steve figures somebody moved the bucket and walks in, and gets soaked for his trouble. In the other room, media mogul Morgan Edge calls Steve by his last name: Lombard, and the man’s a sportscaster. So… classic case of jocks picking on nerds, only in the real world? Edge is pissed off that another network got the scoop about the giant robot. Which means Edge is just Perry White, sans cigar. We find out the bot stole a programming circuit used for the direction of satellites. And Lex couldn’t make one of those himself? Dude built himself a giant robot with an inertia ray, gravity beam, and exploding flying head. And damn, why go through all the trouble of a giant robot? It all seems so flashy. Then again, this is the dude who thinks purple and green go good together, so…

Back in his fave broom closet, Kent’s back to being Superman again. He realizes that he made a big blunder and didn’t think about where that robot had come from. He tracks its origin to Metropolis Bay and takes a dive into the water and comes across an “undersea lab”…

…that has a giant pincer that grabs Supes and sucks him in, where Luthor is waiting for him. Ah, it turns out that Superman had no idea Luthor had been responsible before and apparently the flying head had gotten far enough away that Supes didn’t see or hear Luthor escape. And okay, fair is fair, the head exploding probably set Supes’ ears a-ringing. You can call my earlier gripes SAB (Silver Age Bias). The pair verbally spar and Superman brings up the fact that the two had been friends once. For those not in the know, Luthor grew up in Smallville, and Superboy was inadvertently responsible for Lex’s hair loss.

Superman expresses a wish for the two to become friends again someday, but today he’s taking Luthor in. Superman moves in, but Lex turns on Deathtrap #4242/C: High Intensity Lasers. Superman is enough a-feared of ‘em to inadvertently invent break dancing as he avoids the red beams. Lex gloats, pointing out that it’s only a matter of time before Superman gets his, but the Man of Steel is not just super-strong and super-tough: he’s super smart!

But Luthor gets in a lucky shot and blinds Superman long enough for him to get the circuit he stole and stick it into a pneumatic tube where it gets shot off to his alternative base. Pneumatic tube? That’s… actually, I dig the use of old school technology. If things are enough in the crapper that Lex is forced to resort to something like this, he’s going to need something simple. Points to you, Gerry Conway. Luthor shoots Supes with another laser and the Metropolis Marvel decides to cut the fight short; he uses his “heat vision” to punch a pair of holes in the hull and the seawater comes flowing in. He grabs Lex and flies him off to jail where I’m sure they have a special cell with a revolving door waiting for him. Our first prologue ends with Clark catching up to his “friends” at the TV network to hop on a plane bound for New York City.

Our next page gives us an abbreviated rundown on who and what Superman is, and how he fights for Truth, Justice and… “The Terran Way”? What the hell does that mean? There’s so many contradictory concepts and beliefs across the world that you can’t be fighting for them all. I know America ain’t perfect, but at least idealized America is a decent starting point for anyone’s belief system. Are we seeing the beginning of the modern SJW movement? Hmm…

Cut to NYC and Prologue #2, which finds our favorite wall crawler chilling on a flagpole…

…where he’s lucky enough to spot some guys trying to rob the Metropolitan Museum. Right away, I’m digging the contrast between our two heroes; where one finds fighting giant robots normal and is going up against an arch-nemesis upset about hair loss, here we have the world’s favorite working class hero dealing with mundane crime. I’m not saying one is better than the other (although, okay, the way I framed that sentence strongly implies I think otherwise), just that we’ve got ourselves two flavors and maybe, just maybe dropping somebody’s chocolate into another person’s jar of peanut butter is going to create a sensation.

Spider-Man sets up his camera at the end of the flagpole to shoot pictures every ten seconds, then he lands on the museum roof to kick some butt. Our thieves seem to have actually come dressed for a superhero fight as they’re wearing helmets. Spidey smacks them around and seems to be winning, when he narrowly avoids some familiar robotic arms. It’s Doctor Octopus behind the robbery, and he’s got a new bag: The Flying Octopus!

Is it just me, or am I getting a Brianiac brain ship vibe off that thing? The tentacles and bulbous head sort of call out to it. I can’t help but wonder if 7-8 years later somebody might have been unconsciously inspired by this. Spider-Man disses Doc Ock’s ride, saying he thought the Spider-Mobile was a bad idea. Hey, I liked the Spider-Mobile! Ock and Spidey fight and our hero almost gets killed due to showboating. But he bounces back and comes this close to beating Otto when the Flying Octopus pilot knocks Spidey out with a well-aimed tentacle. Ock and his gang part with the loot, leaving Spider-Man behind to face the cops, who at this time still think he’s a criminal. Spidey tries to swing away, but the old Parker bad luck holds and he’s out of web fluid.

Later, Peter heads to the Daily Bugle where J. Jonah Jameson is hanging out, because apparently the man has zero life outside of running this newspaper. Peter enters JJJ’s office and receives the typical dose of scorn, but soon Jameson is changing his tune when he hears the roll of film in Parker’s hand holds pics of Spidey vs. Doc Ock. Jameson has the roll sent out to be developed and for “the best picture” to be put on the front page. Without him seeing it first. I think you can guess how this is going to go. 45 minutes later, long suffering assistant editor Robbie Robertson, now sorry he actually does have a life and wasn’t here to stop Jameson’s SNAFU, delivers the bad news.

Uh, whoops? Jameson commits an act of workplace violence that would’ve gotten him sued for a million bucks today but apparently was just typical New Yorker behavior back in ’76. Mary Jane Watson shows up and Pete leaves before things get (even more) out of hand, and outside he explains how he’s just been making one blunder after another lately; he even botched the dates so Aunt May can’t come to this news convention taking place the next day. He’s taking Mary Jane Watson to Newscon? Sounds more like Snoozecon. How did MJ stick with this square for so many years, anyway?

Pete’s about to bitch and moan some more, when his Spidey-Sense tingles. He looks up and all he sees is a blimp, but years of experience (as well as a subconscious desire to drive away the hottest redhead in NYC) cause him to spring into action, citing a need for water as he dashes into the Empire State Building and into the express elevator. He Spideys up by the time he gets to the 80th floor, then spider-climbs the rest of the way to the tippy-top, then makes a leap and shoots out a string of web flu—Oh, did somebody forget to reload his web cartridges? Guess he did. So it’s time for plan B: Spidey wiggles his arms and legs like a skydiver and prays he hits the blimp. Which he does, tearing through the skin to find…

…Doc Ock and his Flying Octopus. It turns out that during the last fight, Spidey slapped one of his patented spider tracers on Doc Ock’s back, which Peter can track via Spider-Sense… somehow. The two fight it out as the second silliest Marvel vehicle crashes into the Central Park reservoir in a nice little bit of symmetry with the first prologue. Spidey decks Ock, knocking him out and leaving him for the police. And then he takes off because he’s got to go mend fences with MJ. Unfortunately, he doesn’t catch up with her until the following morning when everyone meets at the Bugle to head out to “World News Conference”. Eh, I prefer Newscon.

The following page has a nice little one-page breakdown for Spider-Man like there was for Supes earlier. Then it’s Prologue #3, where we find our villains in accommodations and clothing for which they are most familiar.

Dr. Octopus is quite shocked to find Lex in his neck of the woods, while the guards brag about how thorough the “medical exam” was (because they couldn’t say “body cavity search” in ’76) and how awesome their security system is, telling Luthor allll about it. Uh, shouldn’t you guys be keeping this stuff secret? The guards leave Luthor in the cell next to Ock’s and the two note how if it hadn’t been for their respective enemies, they’d be on top of the world. Then Lex suggests a little trade, namely the two taking on each other’s enemies. Ock says sure, convinced they’re not going anywhere. But Luthor has other ideas. It seems he’s got him self a handy-dandy escape kit attached to the skin of his forearm:

Okay, now that’s just freaking cool. Luthor dons earplugs and then sends out a sonic pulse that knocks out the guards as well as Ock, then uses another device that temporarily energizes Doc’s metal arms to free them both. Ock’s a little upset Luthor didn’t warn him first, but there’s no time to argue; they’ve got a jail break to finish.

And that’s going up on my Facebook page.

Next Week: The prologues are over and the real action begins. Stop by and see how this legendary team up from the Silver Age plays out.

Tag: DC and Marvel Present Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man

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  • “infra-red vision”

    I wonder if this was a transitional period between when Superman used his x-ray vision to heat stuff up and when he later had a separate heat-vision power.

    • GreenLuthor

      Hm, looks like the switch from “heating things up with X-ray vision” and “heat vision” was pretty much instantaneous; once “heat vision” was introduced as a separate power, the previous usage of the X-ray vision just stopped. In any case, “heat vision” was first introduced as its own ability back in 1961, so well before this story. (Which actually makes it older than Spider-Man!)

      • Weird that they didn’t have the terminology nailed down after 15 years.

        • GreenLuthor

          Thing is, I’m pretty sure they *did*; I’m honestly not aware of any other instance of “infra-red vision” being used instead of “heat vision” (though I certainly can’t claim to have read every Superman story of the era).

          Basically, I have absolutely no idea whatsoever why that was different in this story; it’s not like either Gerry Conway or the editors at DC (and Marvel, for that matter) should have been able to make that kind of mistake, but I can’t imagine it being intentional, either.

  • GreenLuthor

    Technically, this wasn’t the first collaboration between Marvel and DC, just the first crossover. The actual first collaboration, oddly enough, was a 1975 adaptation of The Wizard of Oz co-produced by the two companies. (Strange but true.)

    So… why Gerry Conway and Ross Andru? It was decided that the writer and artist should be people who had worked on both characters before. At the time, that was a very short list. (Not to take anything away from either one, they were certainly qualified for the assignment.)

    Let’s see, the Spider-Mobile first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #130 (March 1974). Hm, I wonder who the creative team on that issue was? Huh, Gerry Conway and Ross Andru? What a coincidence! (Which actually may help explain why it gets picked on here; Conway was directed to create the thing by Marvel publisher Stan Lee; a toy company had suggested giving characters their own cars for merchandising purposes. Conway thought the idea of Spider-Man having a car was ridiculous, but the publisher gets the final word, so… the Spider-Mobile. A passing derogatory reference here was nicer treatment than Conway/Andru gave it in the actual comics it appeared in.)

    (Also, the issue right before the Spider-Mobile’s first appearance was the first appearance of the Punisher. Yeah. The Punisher and the Spider-Mobile debuted in consecutive issues. Let that one sink in.)

    Gotta appreciate a comic that finally points out that Peter Parker’s photography should be TERRIBLE. “Point the camera at a random spot, put it on automatic and hope the fight stays in front of it” probably shouldn’t get pictures even half as good as the one Jonah gets here.

    Also, Luthor’s escape is cool, but it doesn’t beat the time he made an invisibility serum out of orange juice and aspirin. (But then, what could ever top that?)

    • Michael Weyer

      In the classic imaginary story “Death of Superman,” when Luthor asks for the use of the prison lab to find a cancer cure, the warden shows smarts by snapping “I’d be insane to allow you near lab equipment,” citing all the times Luthor’s broken out via some minor elements.

      • GreenLuthor

        Although a more appropriate response from warden probably should have been: “Wait, why the HELL does this prison have a chemistry lab at all? And why do ANY of the inmates have access to it? Is THAT why we haven’t been able to figure out how the prisoners are getting explosives, poisons, and drugs? Man, we suck at this job.” :D

        (I mean, that story’s great, but… a prison with that kind of lab is just WEIRD.)

    • Michael Weyer

      On Peter’s photos, I remember a mini-series where a guy is obsessed with becoming a better photographer than Peter so forges an alliance with Doc Ock to create the “perfect” photos. It all goes wrong with him arrested and when he sees Peter’s photos of the fight, it hits him why they’re so great: Because they’re not planned, not perfect, totally amateur yet capture the moment better than any professional photographer could.

      I know they want him to move on as a scientist and teacher but man, I do miss Peter as a photographer.

      • GreenLuthor

        Not the worst idea (though I’m guessing professional photographers might find the logic absurd), although Peter’s style was always less “capture the moment” and more “geez, it’s a good thing we were in frame at the right second”. (I mean, it’s not like he ever actually took the pictures himself, y’know?)

  • Lasers are monochromatic. Superman is saying he’s vulnerable to the color red. Just like Super Fuzz. (Um, spoilers?)

  • Marcus

    “Ock’s a little upset Luthor didn’t warn him first”

    Off panel, Ock told Luthor what he could do with his sonic gizmo; Luthor smirked and said, “If I’d done that, they would have found it.”

  • Michael Weyer

    The “Terran way” was an odd bit in the ’70s when, in the wake of Watergate, folks were a bit more down on America and Superman standing up for that seemed off.