Here at DC Histories, we try to make sense of the continuity that perplexes, befuddles, and intimidates. We discuss what worked and what didn’t. This week, we’re talking about the many times that Batman crossed over with characters owned by other comic book companies.
Crossovers have become a common occurrence in comic book pages. To see Spider-Man teaming up with Wolverine to take out a common enemy doesn’t raise much of an eyebrow from fans. Comic publishers tend to throw their most popular creations together regularly. Just look at this year’s Avengers vs. X-Men. However, it is exceedingly more rare for competing publishers to allow their creations to interact. Both sides have to agree to the story being told. Both sides have to come together in a spirit of camaraderie. Both sides need to have the desire to potentially sell a lot of comic books.
Of all the characters who have been included in intercompany crossovers, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who has had as many as Batman. Those crossovers can actually be traced back to the 1940s and the Justice Society of America.
Not only was the JSA the very first superhero team ever created, they were also among the earliest intercompany comics ever made. A deal between National Comics and All-American Publications allowed the characters owned by these two companies to appear together on a single team. While National Comics owned characters like JSA reservists Superman and Batman, All-American owned Green Lantern, the Flash, Hawkman, and many others. In 1946, National Comics bought out All-American, which resulted in National Periodical Publications, the company which would go on to be named DC Comics. All of this meant that Batman’s few appearances alongside the JSA were, officially, intercompany crossovers.
Batman’s next such crossover came in 1981. After DC and Marvel had great success with a crossover between Spider-Man and Superman in 1976, they decided to do similar crossovers in 1981. The first was another pairing between Superman and Spider-Man, which Marvel published, while the second was the first meeting between the Hulk and Batman, which DC published.
As was the case for the Spider-Man and Superman tales, this meeting made it clear that these two heroes existed in the same world but that they’d never happened to meet before. This was the tactic that most of these crossovers take, as that’s a simpler explanation than having to explain the mechanics of world jumping. It was the pairing of the Joker and the Shaper of Worlds gave a reason Batman and Hulk a reason to finally meet. This story is a ton of fun though its ending seems eerily similar to 2000′s Emperor Joker mini-event.
After that story finished, Batman hit a bit of a dry spell in terms of intercompany crossovers. The desire to have their characters crossover faded in the offices of DC and Marvel. Their characters remained firmly in their separate universes for years. In 1989, Dark Horse Comics gained the comics publishing rights to the Predator franchise. Just one year after Predator 2 hit theaters, Dark Horse and DC teamed up to publish Batman Versus Predator, a three issue miniseries.
Written by Dave Gibbons and drawn by Andy Kubert, this story owed a lot to that second film in the Predator series. There are several parallel story beats, including a very similar ending. As Batman was a unique character and there could potentially be an unlimited amount of the Predator aliens, Batman prevailed in the story and the Predator died. Two future miniseries expanded the fight between Batman and the Predator race with the third one involving Mr. Freeze in a wonderful way and it even got Tim Drake in on the fun.
The same year that a Predator first hunted Batman, the Dark Knight first ran into Judge Dredd. That book would prove to be so popular that three more crossovers between the two were written. Today, a massive collection of these comics is being released to comic shops and your standard online retailers. I need to pick that up because I haven’t read any of those stories.
In 1993, things started blasting into high gear on the intercompany crossover front. For the first time, Batman crossed over with a creator owned character. Matt Wagner’s Grendel was a fairly popular indie comic published by Comico. This series focused on the millionaire Hunter Rose and his alter ego, the thief named Grendel. Wagner wrote and drew a two-issue story in which Grendel came to Gotham City. The art was top notch and Wagner crafted a gripping tale.
A few years later, Wagner brought a future version of his character, named Grendel-Prime, to Gotham in order to steal the bones of his dead predecessor. While the story was less involving this second time around, it did feature even more expressive art by Wagner.
In 1994, Image had recently become a publishing force with which to be reckoned. DC agreed to a crossover between Spawn and Batman. Not content with just publishing a single crossover, Image and DC published separate tales featuring these two characters. It was obvious who had produced which comic as each publisher put their character’s name first in the title.
DC’s version of this crossover had three of the current Batman writers telling the story with Klaus Janson handling both pencils and inks. Spawn was new to the scene and his inexperience was played up against the more mature Caped Crusader. After a brief fight, the pair teamed up in order to stop a magic-welding madman.
Meanwhile, Image’s version of this crossover had absolutely nothing to do with this one. For the second time, Batman and Spawn met for the first time. However, the creative team of Frank Miller doing his Sin City-esque writing and Todd McFarlane doing art makes this an almost perfect time capsule of this period.
It’s not too far of a jump to go from the Frank Miller seen here to the Frank Miller who wrote All-Star Batman and Robin.
The same year that Spawn and Batman teamed up, Marvel allowed Batman to interact with their characters again. This time, Batman met up with the Punisher. It wasn’t Bruce Wayne that was behind the cowl though. At the time this crossover happened, a man named Jean-Paul Valley was running around the DCU in a highly modified Batman outfit. Frank Castle was able to defeat this Batman in the story’s obligatory fight scene.
Just as had been done with the Spawn crossovers, a second crossover between Batman and Punisher was published that same year. This time, the Punisher got top billing but Bruce Wayne was now back as Batman. Unlike what had been done with the Spawn issues, this was a direct sequel to the story that had come before. Here it was revealed that even though Frank Castle could defeat Jean-Paul Valley, he was really no match for the recently restored Bruce Wayne.
The DC and Marvel crossovers rolled into high gear in the mid-90s. Everyone seemed to be crossing over. Superman met the Silver Surfer, Darkseid met Galactus, and everyone punched everyone else in DC Versus Marvel.
Intercompany crossovers were never just about having different heroes meet, fight, and then work together. They were also about seeing favorite heroes from one company fight favorite villains from another. For instance, most of the fun in the first Spider-Man and Batman team up was seeing Spider-Man battle the Joker. Because he wasn’t used to fighting someone so undeniably evil as the Joker, the encounter unnerved Spider-Man.
Batman’s battle against Carnage during that same story didn’t quite affect the Dark Knight in the same way.
A few years later, the duo teamed up once again. This time, their opponents were a united Ra’s al Ghul and the Kingpin. These types of stories allowed for readers to see the commonalities and differences between not only the heroes of the different comics publishers but the villains as well.
My favorite intercompany crossover staring Batman came in 1996. In that year, John Byrne wrote, penciled, inked, and lettered the only full length story featuring a team up between Batman and Captain America. Set during World War II, the story featured the heroes at the top of their game.
These heroes looked like they were having a good time. They were smiling while fighting crime! That was just not something you saw very much in 1996 superhero comics. It’s not even something you see very much these days. It was refreshing and, darn it, fun. True, the stakes were high what with the Red Skull and the Joker having stolen a nuclear bomb and their threatening to use it against the United States, but it still had an enjoyable tone.
One of my favorite moments in the story came when the Joker realized that the Red Skull was actually a Nazi. The Joker may have been insane, he may have wanted to kill whole cities full of citizens, but he loved his country. He was no Nazi.
Batman’s crossovers with his Marvel counterparts didn’t end there. During one of his jaunts to New York, Batman found himself working alongside Daredevil. The pair teamed up to take on Two-Face and Mr. Hyde. Featuring expressive art by Scott McDaniel, this was a nice little tale.
A followup meeting between the two crime fighters came about in 2000. A third meeting was publicly discussed by Brian Michael Bendis in 2003 and 2004, but relations between the two publishing companies had deteriorated severely in the ensuing years. Nothing came of it.
It wasn’t all about the Marvel and DC crossovers for Batman during the 1990s. Batman headed down to the Mexico / Guatemala border in 1997 only to discover that Aliens had invaded that area of the jungle. Written by Ron Marz with some lovely art by Bernie Wrightson, this was actually quite the fun two-issue miniseries.
A sequel came in 2003. Truth be told, I don’t remember much about that one or even whether or not I’ve read it.
Two more collaborations between DC and Dark Horse closed out the decade for Batman’s crossovers. First came the epic Batman / Hellboy / Starman. Written by James Robinson, the writer of the then current Starman series, and illustrated by Mike Mignola, this two-issue series was a treat.
Sadly, the three heroes spent very little on-panel time together, but it was great to see Mignola return to drawing DC characters again. Mignola had spent a fair amount of the late-1980s and early-1990s doing freelance work for both DC and Marvel before devoting himself towards his most famous creation, Hellboy. This return to drawing corporate comic characters for two issues was a nice reunion.
Also that year, Batman met Tarzan. During a fundraising event in Gotham City, Bruce Wayne and John Clayton learned they had more in common than might be readily apparent on the surface.
Written by Ron Marz, who also wrote the first Batman battle against Aliens, this tale was a nice examination of these two legendary heroes. At the story’s end, the pair went off to protect their respective jungles.
Also in 1999 was a meeting between Batman and Top Cow’s The Darkness. Unfortunately, I’ve not read that one so I can’t comment on it.
When the 1990s wrapped up, so did the era of Batman crossing over with characters from other companies. Aside from the occasional sequel to past works, including a 2007 adventure which pitted Superman and Batman against Aliens and Predators and Batman’s crossing over with a few Wildstorm properties, Batman was left to only headline his own titles. True, he appeared in several JLA intercompany crossovers, including JLA / Avengers, but Batman didn’t get the spotlight.
The intercompany crossover is a rare species in the current DC offices. While the occasional title like Tiny Titans / Little Archie, JLA / The 99, or Star Trek / Legion of Super-Heroes is released, the impact on comics fans and sales seem to be relatively faint these days. It’s not hard to imagine that putting Batman directly in the mix by having his name on the title and having him face off against someone like Wolverine would be an industry event. Here’s hoping it happens sooner rather than later.
Jeff Reid enjoys a good crossover and Batman has had more than his fair share. Jeff occasionally speculates about other crossovers he’d enjoy reading on Twitter.