DC Histories: DC Versus Marvel

Welcome back to another DC History. Normally, this feature is a way for us to showcase a particular character or team involved somewhere in the New 52. That’s not the plan today. To celebrate that the first issue of Avengers Versus X-Men is officially hitting comic stands, we’re looking back on 1996′s greatest Versus series. That’s right, today’s DC History is all about DC Versus Marvel / Marvel Versus DC.

DC Versus Marvel #1 (1996) Cover

Written by Ron Marz and Peter David with pencils by Dan Jurgens and Claudio Castellini, DC Versus Marvel was a four-issue miniseries. It was easily the most exciting thing my 14 year-old self had ever seen. This was a battle between publishers. This was the final word in deciding just who would win in a fight: Superman or Hulk? Aquaman or Namor? It was everything I wanted in a superhero comic.

The plot of the piece was absurdly simple. Somehow, the walls of the DC and Marvel universes were unstable. Characters from each world began popping into the other publisher’s world with little rhyme or reason. Spider-Man found himself swinging through Gotham City unexpectedly. Bullseye found himself in the Bat Cave. Tim Drake woke up in Jubilee’s bed. Since this was a four-issue miniseries, and there had to be plenty of room in these issues for fisticuffs, everyone took this development in stride. For instance, the then-current Spider-Man Ben Reilly immediately got a job at the Daily Planet. J. Jonah Jameson inexplicably became the Planet’s editor-in-chief.

From DC Versus Marvel #1 (1996)

This was all just a ton of fun for fans. It was silly and implausible, played fast and loose with several characterizations, and I ate it up with a spoon.

Among the shenanigans on display in these pages was a moment where Wolverine and Gambit stole the Batmobile while Batman and Nightwing were distracted in a Warner Brothers Store. How were these two mutants able to overcome the Batmobile’s defenses and figure out a way to start it without Batman noticing? Was this some sort of new mutation that we didn’t know about yet? There was simply no time for questions like that. There was only time for fan service.

From Marvel Versus DC #2 (1996)

With only four issues to play with, compressed storytelling was the way to go. In fact, there was so little time for story that most meetings between universes were relegated to single images. Hearing the interactions between characters like Iron Man and Steel, Black Widow and Black Canary, and Jack Knight and Dr. Strange would have been wonderful, but standalone static images were all fans were given. Looking back on it, the fact that we never got a conversation between the two Captain Marvels is the greatest shame of all.

From Marvel Versus DC #3 (1996)

It turned out that two cosmic beings were behind this mess. A red being and a blue being, each responsible for a different publishing company, existed. Since time began, they had ignored each other but now they were beginning to interact and to challenge the other one. In order to decide who was the better being, they agreed to pit their mightiest champions against each other. A brand new character from the Marvel Universe named Access was the only person who had the ability to jump between worlds at will and he tried his best to stop everything from going crazy.

The red and blue beings each choose eleven champions to represent their world. The champions had to battle each other until one could immobilize the other. This wasn’t a battle to the death.

Choosing eleven battles was integral to the story. An odd number of fights meant that there simply had to be a winner and a loser. Usually when these types of crossovers happen, publishers bend over backwards to make sure that both sides come off looking completely equal. That couldn’t happen here.

The first six bouts in the book were decided upon by the writers and editors of the story. These fights were between Thor and Captain Marvel, Aquaman and Namor, Flash and Quicksilver, Robin and Jubilee, Catwoman and Elektra, and Silver Surfer and Green Lantern.

From Marvel Versus DC #3 (1996)

After each fight, which only lasted two or three pages, a victor was declared. For the Marvel Universe, the winners were Thor, Elektra, and Silver Surfer. For the DC side, Aquaman, Flash, and Robin were the victors. The universes were all tied up going in the final five battles.

By the way, the best part of the entire miniseries came during the Aquaman / Namor battle. Knowing that he was physically outmatched by his opponent, Aquaman used his ability to communicate with sea life to drop an orca whale on Namor. It was glorious.

From Marvel Versus DC #2 (1996)

The genius of this event came with the final five brawls. Instead of fighting amongst themselves in the futile effort to decide if the Hulk or Superman would win in a fight, the editors of the book turned it over to the fans to decide who would win. Ballots were sent out with the first issue of the miniseries. These had to be mailed in. Fans could also vote on an America Online page dedicated to the event. It all came down to a simple popularity contest.

These battles were among the heaviest of heavy-hitters. Lobo fought Wolverine, Wonder Woman fought Storm, Spider-Man fought Superboy, Hulk fought Superman, and Batman took on Captain America. The Wonder Woman / Storm fight was very nearly unfair when Wonder Woman found herself in possession of Thor’s Mjolnir. Strangely, picking up the weapon caused her to lose nearly all of her clothing.

From Marvel Versus DC #3 (1996)

She dropped the hammer before the battle got underway and Storm sped to an easy victory. In the popularity contest of Wolverine and Lobo, it should come as no surprise when Wolverine pulled out a win. In what was probably a much closer battle, Spider-Man beat Superboy even if the Spider-Man under the mask was the much maligned Ben Reilly and not Peter Parker. Hulk proved to not be the strongest one there is when Superman super-punched him into unconsciousness. Finally, a well placed Batarang was able to incapacitate Captain America.

From Marvel Versus DC #3 (1996)

For those keeping score at home, Marvel won six matches. DC won only five. Marvel was the clear victor in this inter-publisher rivalry. Though this could have meant that DC was forced to quit publishing its comics and never show its face again, Access was able to fuse the two universes into a single shared space. Characters were suddenly smooched together. Character designs were instantly less about aesthetics and more about easy identification. The Amalgam Universe was born.

From Marvel Versus DC #3 (1996)

During Leap Week of 1996, DC and Marvel ceased publishing all of their titles. Instead, they jointly published twelve one-shots which chronicled the characters of the Amalgam Universe. Superman and Captain America became Super Solider. Wolverine and Batman became Dark Claw. Dr. Doom and Doomsday became Dr. Doomsday. Dr. Strange and Dr. Fate became Dr. Strangefate. Most enjoyably for me, Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel became Captain Marvel, though he now had Kree-green in his costume.

From JLX #1 (1996)

As you can see, things got weird.

Just like the DC Versus Marvel miniseries that these comics spun out of, fan service was what each of these titles were all about. It was a game that creators were playing with readers. Utau the Watcher became a Guardian of the Universe. Wanda Zatara was, of course, a mix between the Scarlet Witch and Zatanna. Spider-Boy was an on-the-nose combination of Spider-Man and Superboy.

From Spider-Boy #1 (1996)

Everything was gaudy and tongue-in-cheek but oh, what fun it was. No one bothered to pretend that a character like Bizarnage, a mashup of Bizarro and Carnage, was a great name or a great character. It was just fun. Nowhere was this as obvious as in the letter columns of each issue. That’s right, most of these one-shots had a letters page. Fake letters written by fake fans discussing fake continuity were found at the back of these stories. This was world building on a meta level.

After these initial twelve issues, the Amalgam characters cropped up again in two Access miniseries released the following year. Finally, in 1997, a brand new batch of Amalgam Comics was released. Featuring such new character pairings as the Challengers of the Fantastic and their sworn enemy Galactiac, this second round of comics delivered.

From Challengers of the Fantastic #1 (1997)

Perhaps the moodiest of these titles was a comic by Keith Giffen and John Romita Jr. A mix of the Kirby creations Thor and Orion, son of Darkseid, Thorion was a cosmic blast.

From Thorion of the New Asgods #1 (1997)

After the first round of Amalgam comics were published, DC Versus Marvel concluded with its fourth issue. Access was able to split the Amalgam Universe back into the DC and Marvel universes and reset things to normal. The cosmic beings saw just how awesome each other’s world and characters were, shook hands, and called it a day.

From DC Versus Marvel #4 (1996)

This was a big, stupid story with no consequences. It was also a very enjoyable read. The art styles of Jurgens and Castellini were completely different and could give readers whiplash when they traded off art chores from page to page. According to Mike Carlin’s introduction to the DC Versus Marvel collected edition, over thirty editors from DC and Marvel had to agree to this story. It had to have been a nightmare for Marz and David to write. But for all its blemishes and strange story beats, this miniseries was really a love letter to silly corporate superhero comics and the simple joy of getting a bunch of friends together and asking, “Who’d win in a fight…?”


Jeff Reid wonders what kind of behind-the-scenes bet DC owed Marvel for losing this series 6-to-5. It had to be something. Speculate with him on Twitter.

Comments

  1. stevetwo stevetwo says:

    As soon as you said “Ben Reilly,” I remembered why I never read these: I had quit comics during this dark time (re: Reilly years). However, I do recall people talking about the battles enthusiastically. They were just plain fun as long as you didn’t take them too seriously. I would be intrigued to see how today’s writers and artists would repeat those two series. However, I doubt reader reaction would be as innocent since they would have the Internet in which to “share their feelings.”

    I have to play old guy now (even though I’m not old) and say that the original meetings – the Marvel/DC Treasury Editions of Supes vs. Spidey, Batman vs. Hulk, Teen Titans and X-Men, etc., which inspired every concept of future meetings, were LEGENDARY. Talk about readers’ wish fulfillment times one million!

  2. JDC JDC says:

    I’d love to see the Amalgam Universe return with today’s artists (better costumes) and writers (more intricate fusings of backstory) working on it.

  3. uvayankee1 uvayankee1 says:

    I still have these comics kicking around somewhere in the remnants of my old collection. This story captivated me growing up. I was a true-blue Marvel Zombie as a kid, and suddenly I saw Supes and Batman taking on these Marvel characters and winning. It was so cool. I must have reread it at least 5 times, so all those panels are like old friends. I never gave a thought to the corporate machinations that must have been required, I just thought it was something they did every few years. If they ever did this again, I’d like to see Morrison and Hickman collaborate to really bring out the wacky science-fun of the merging universes. Although that might make for a massive mind-bender of a comic.

  4. wangman31888 wangman31888 says:

    Alright guys, I figured out the best game ever: Imagine there’s a thought balloon coming out of the killer whale’s head in the last panel of the Aquaman vs. Namor fight

    What is the whale thinking?

    “I can’t believe you called me in for this S***, aquaman”

  5. RobotZombie RobotZombie says:

    These were a ton of fun.
    One of my favorite moments of the series was a great little piece of character work on Thanos who, as he watched what appeared to be the end of everything, was grinning about how beautiful it was.

    • RoiVampire RoiVampire says:

      YES! When the blood was raining down. How about that for a fun comic for the whole family. “Hey a few panels after Robin and Jubilee have a heart to heart we cut to blood raining down from the sky and Thanos smiling like a jackass.”

  6. CaseyJustice CaseyJustice says:

    God, what a blast. I have a vivid memory of reading issue #3 in the little bookstore by the spinner rack, unable to wait until I got home to find out if my boy Silver Surfer would beat this green joker in a crab mask. I let out an inappropriate yell when I got to the panel above.

    I own the Amalgam collections and I still re-read them when I need a fun comics fix. They are pure joy, and some are actually pretty damned clever. Folks are saying that they’d like to see what top-notch talent would do with the concept, but we had Kesel, Busiek, Giffen, Wieringo, Byrne, Marz, Waid, Porter, Dixon, Ostrander, Frank, Larroca, Templeton, Milligan, Hitch, Kitson and Romita on the books the first time around. Nothing to sneeze at.

    Highlights include Kesel and Wieringo’s Spider-Boy, Busiek’s Iron Lantern, the meta adventures of Dr. Strangefate with killer art by José Luis García-López and Dixon on Bruce Wayne: Agent of SHIELD. Yes, really.

  7. RoiVampire RoiVampire says:

    God i loved this series so much.

  8. Firevine Firevine says:

    I have GOT to go back and read all this stuff. This came out when I was just a broke high school kid. I think we still have a trade sitting on the shelf at work. (We have some OLD stuff that should have been Amazoned YEARS ago) Going to grab it this week!

  9. comixfan comixfan says:

    Issue number 3 of this series was the first comic book I ever bought. So great!

  10. Neb Neb says:

    I totally bought every single thing associated with this when I was a kid. I was around 13 at the time, and this was incredible to my adolescent mind. If this happened today, the Internet would die. In the end, it was a load of fun and they’re worth checking out, if only for the nostalgia factor.

  11. buzzguy76 buzzguy76 (@k_kosie) says:

    Ah yes… I remember most of these titles. Having to buy titles from the newsstand back then, I missed a few. Glad younger comic readers can take a peak into a sample of the insanity that were 90′s comics. Good memories!

  12. Metamorphic Metamorphic says:

    I couldn’t help myself. At a time when I didn’t have much extra cash, I found the money for these. Straightforward fun for anyone, fans of either company. And it taught me the word “amalgam” so there’s that too!

  13. player1 player1 says:

    I remember buying these and not reading them.

    I must have about three long boxes from the Nineties I haven’t read yet.

    • RoiVampire RoiVampire says:

      Do you actually read your books? Every time I see you talking about a book you mention that you have stacks of it from your subscription sitting around? I’m not harassing you by the way it just seems odd to own books and not read them

  14. Yes.

    Iron Lantern.

    Spider-Boy

    (I have the entire Amalgam trading card set.)

    Also DC Tangent Comics was the most interesting thing of this kind they did in the 90s I think. It was genuinely freaky.

  15. Also JLA Avengers is pretty great.

  16. sphinx69 sphinx69 says:

    Loved everything about this crossover, but there is no way Storm could beat Wonder Woman.

  17. MarkCWarner MarkCWarner (@MarkCWarner) says:

    DAMN GREAT Article. I hardly paid attention to this and smiled as I both was not interested and was happy that it existed. It was big, stupid, messy and fun. Reminded me of the XMen – Age of Apocolypse cross hero craziness.

    More to the point, this comprehensive detailing of the event was amazing work. Very impressive and much appreciated

  18. r3v r3v says:

    I’m glad that at least this happened during my hiatus from reading Marvel and DC. The mid-90s were a bad time for character designs.

  19. nastysnow nastysnow says:

    I left comics in the 90s. Doesn’t look like I missed much

  20. Djinn says:

    I was off comics back then but I got issue #3 of DC vs. Marvel a few years ago it wasn’t bad but JLA vs.Avengers was the real deal compared to DC vs. M.

  21. These Jeff Reid articles are getting better and better. I didn’t think you could make this slop of a story interesting, but you did!

    Seriously though DC Vs Marvel is pretty terrible. It’s a testament to just how ‘Dark’ the ‘Dark Ages’ of the 90s were. The writing is atrocious and the art is serviceable at best. But I gotta admit…I am a sucker for the Amalgam characters. Some are incredibly terrible, like Darkclaw, but a good chunk are great ideas. Such as:

    Bruce Wayne: Agent of SHIELD
    Magneto and the Magnet Men
    Scarecrow (The stupidest, yet hilarious, pairing of both universe’s Scarecrow)
    Dial H.U.S.K.
    Black Tom Savage
    Iron Lantern

    Although looking on the wikipedia page on ALL the mix of characters, maybe saying ‘good chunk’ is putting it kindly.

  22. rayclark rayclark says:

    This was one of the FIRST series that I had bought like religiously. Perfect for such a young boy who LOVED both universes. I likes Super Soldier at the time and it was my favorite! I miss the AMALGAM universe!!

  23. BCDX97 BCDX97 says:

    “With only four issues to play with, compressed storytelling was the way to go”

    Damn the 90s and their compressed storytelling! This should have been at least 18 compiled into 3 TPBs!

    They really could have done a lot more with this. And it was kind of cool but kind of weak all at once. Maybe I was just bitter Wonder Woman got robbed.

  24. tdp17 says:

    I’ve always been a fan of crossovers since my dad got me the 1st Marvel-DC crossover, Superman vs Spider-Man in 1976 (I was 6). I found all 4 of the DC Versus Marvel and picked them up along with some of the Amalgam issues about a year ago when I was getting back into comics, and although they haven’t made it to the top of my “read pile”, my 10-yr old son has read DC Versus Marvel several times.
    Obviously theres something in the joining of two fantasy universes that really captures the imagination.

  25. TheFlashr TheFlashr says:

    I wish I was I was a part of this; sounds like it was superb fun. I’ve bought a couple of the Amalgam issues (JLX and Super Soldier) but I haven’t read them yet. If they did something like this today I think I would piss my pants with excitement, so I can only imagine what it would be like as a kid.

  26. jonnyfrag says:

    I’d love to see this idea revisited with today’s writers and artists. Yes, some of it was a bit cheesy, but some of it was gold too. With all the nostalgia going revisiting 90s ideas (see Marvel’s Age of Apocalypse miniseries, one of my fav storylines back in the day but not sold on this new version yet honestly) a big crossover event could be really cool to see… but I doubt either company would see the benefit of doing this now.

  27. mickmac59 mickmac59 says:

    Divine madness.

  28. DoctorDP DoctorDP says:

    I think it would fun if instead of fusing similar characters, they’d fuse characters with their polar opposits.

    Superman + Deadpool = Superfreak

    Spider-Man + Batman = Bat-Man

    Wonder Woman + Wolverine = Wonder Wolf!

  29. ckl ckl says:

    The strangest of the Amalgam mash-ups had to be the genius/insanity that was Lobo the Duck…