Or – “Marvel Vs. DC, 25 Years Or So Early…”


There was a time in comics when the creator pool was a much smaller, and much tighter knit group, and when editorial control was pretty much limited to “Hey, Marv wants to use your guy next month.”  Creators might travel back and forth between the various publishers (though there was a Big Two, even then) and carry concepts and characters with them, as Steve Englehart did with Mantis and her various counterparts throughout his work.  Eventually, this would lead to unofficial crossover stories (one of which birthed the concept known as the Squadron Supreme.)  And then, there was the case of writer Steve Skeates, who single-handedly created what may be the first inter-company crossover with issues that came out nearly two YEARS apart!  You KNOW you wanna read ‘dis…

AQUAMAN #56
Scripter: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Cover Artist: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 15 Cents
Current Near-Mint Price: $25.00

 

 

SUB-MARINER #72
Scripter: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dan Adkins
Inker: Vince Colletta
Colorist: Linda Lessmann
Letterer: Artie Simek
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 25 Cents
Current Near-Mint Price: $17.00

Previously, on Aquaman and/or Sub-Mariner: Arthur Curry is an Atlantean-human hybrid, raised by his lighthouse-keeper father on dry land, learning as he grew that he had the power to breathe underwater and telepathically control sea-life.  Namor MacKenzie is an Atlantean-human hybrid, raised by his royal mother underwater, growing up to discover that he has the power of flight, the ability to redirect electricity, and that his massive strength is uncommon on dry land.  Both eventually become the king of Atlantis, both join their world’s respective greatest super-teams, both would rather have the proportionate strength of a praying mantis than deal with the tsuris that comes with the underwater monarchy.  More importantly, each is (albeit a few months apart) getting his title cancelled…

We start with Aquaman’s book, as a beautifully rendered married couple fights over her cooking, his mother and anything else under the sun when a special bulletin breaks through during the Tonight Show, declaring that Detroit is under a state of emergency thanks to algae growth on Lake Erie…

I think that Aparo slipped in a Julius Schwartz sighting in that last panel, a practice that always makes me smile when I run into it.  Returning to regular programming, the host is stunned to see that his special guest-star, Aquaman, has fled the studio, having found bigger (you should excuse the expression) fish to fry.

Every panel of this book is awesomely put together, by the way, as Aparo reminds us that comic storytelling isn’t about big splashes or shots of the hero, but about creating a compelling world for the hero to inhabit.  Arthur quickly looks up an old friend of his, Don Powers, and gets the 411 on what’s going on:  the city has been without darkness for over a week, thanks to a mysterious satellite that provides light and also feeds the algae (much like Otter Disaster’s fishtank in college.)  Don, however, isn’t worried…

Don goes so far as to have Aquaman roughed up and thrown out, before setting off for his “night job…”

Artie’s old pal is secretly Detroit’s newest crimefighter, The Crusader, sort of a low-rent orange Batman who is losing his low-light vision.  I happen to love this particular plot-point, by the way, casting as it does an entertaining light on the current status quo of the Batman: a vigilante obsessed with protecting his city from crime, who goes to extreme lengths to save his city regardless of consequences.  As for Aquaman, he wakes up just in time to see the slime engulf an innocent little girl…

Sadly for the Crusader, his end comes ignominiously, as he fails to see an obstruction and falls to his death from a rooftop.  Aquaman discovers his old friend’s secret and barrels back to the lab to finish what he came to town to start…

This odd moment ends not only the book, but the initial run of Aquaman’s comic book, as #56 was the last issue.  (It was later relaunched with the same numbering.)  Some months later, writer Skeates made his way across town to the competition, where he ended up writing the adventure of Prince Namor, the mighty Sub-Mariner.  Namor’s wanderings bring him ashore in Detroit, aghast at the state of the rivers and lakes…

The strange alien mass makes it’s way to Earth orbit, where it ends up clinging to a particular orbital device, implicitly owned by one Don Powers…

Those five fingers, my young friends, as are the shape of Spawn/Batman’s to come, constituting what is (to my knowledge) the earliest explicit crossover reference between Marvel and DC.  The exploding satellite drops debris to Earth, including the alien creature…

Dan Adkins may not be Jim Aparo, but he was a very strong artist in his own right, and could kick some serious old-school ass when necessary.  When Namor is accosted by a pair of xenophobes who don’t want no “Aqua-Mariner” fish-men stinkin’ up their docks, the Avenging Son takes a page from…   well, actually, himself, and opens a can of Bronze Age whupass on his attacker.

The Slime Monster gets the bum rush, and attacks the Sub-Mariner in panic, as Skeates’ narrative muses on the futility of fighting and the silliness that is the comic book clusterschmozz fight scene.  It’s kind of a weird dichotomy to see a full-on hero vs. monster battle while the text asks “What is the color of battle?  Who cares?”  But it’s completely in keeping with Bronze Age Marvel, as is the symbolism when the creature robs Namor of his sight…

Also interesting are not-so-subtle bits that make me think that Namor’s attackers are a pair of gay men, making their intolerance even more ironic, possibly even in the correct sense of the word.  The creature realizes that it can’t win, and exits by launching it’s head into orbit (!!) while Subby confusedly holds it’s body.  Namor laments that he could have TRIED to understand the monster before he started throwin’ elbows, another fit of irony, as the fleeing alien somehow understands his plight…

Once again, though, such concerns are put on hold, as this issue is the last of Namor’s book as well, and his quest for his people isn’t picked up again for several years, what with him getting tied up in the Defenders and all.  I actually owned BOTH of these comics for several years, completely by coincidence, before I became aware of the fact that the stories were tied together, making for a fun back issue retcon experience for me.  Skeates is a name I better know from his time writing “Spectacular Spider-Ham” in the 80’s, but the ingenious use of this old plot hook makes me want to go dig up more of his work.  As for the art, I’d walk over glass for a good Jim Aparo story (I’ll have to Retro Review some of his superlative work on ‘The Brave and The Bold’ sometime) and Dan Adkins is no slouch, and inker Vinnie Coletta seemed to be having a good day with Subby #72.  Overall, Aquaman #56 has a more interesting setup of characters, and Jim’s art gives it a bit of an edge, leading to 3.5 out of 5 stars overall. The O’Henry ending for Crusader is both pathetic and appropriate.  As for Sub-Mariner #72, like Namor itself, it’s harder to get a handle on, earning 3 out of 5 stars overall. Stephen hates it when I give quarter stars, so we will grade on a curve, and give the entire “Steve Skeates Wraps Up The Adventures Of The Kings Of Atlantis” cliffhanger 3.5 out of 5 stars overall…

Rating: ★★★½☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Most everyone knows about the Marvel/DC story that brought us the Squadron Supreme, but did you know that The Invaders and the Freedom Fighters also had a crossover in the 70’s?  Who votes we cover that one?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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15 Comments

  1. Slappy
    March 14, 2011 at 5:49 am — Reply

    Make it so!

  2. Jimmy
    March 14, 2011 at 6:22 am — Reply

    Very interesting article! I love subtle acknowledgments of inter-company competition (ie. Beetle and Booster discussing “that guy in the armor… didn’t he have a heart condition?” in the recent JLI minis), but don’t have much experience with explicit crossovers.

    Also, I believe you made an error with the listing of the publishers of the books, unless I am greatly confused :)

    • March 14, 2011 at 8:47 pm — Reply

      Also, I believe you made an error with the listing of the publishers of the books, unless I am greatly confused :)

      Heh… I was waiting for someone to notice that. :)

  3. March 14, 2011 at 8:59 am — Reply

    I loved the Retro Review, and would love to see the Invaders/Freedom Fighters as soon as you could get around to it.

  4. TaZ
    March 14, 2011 at 12:06 pm — Reply

    I purchased both of those issues when they first came out. Thanks much for reminding me how stinking old I am! (Just kidding…I already was aware of how stinking old I am.) That issue of Sub-Mariner was also notable because when the macho-man guy with the Charles Atlas arm-bands picks a fight with Namor he throws a round-kick at him…and the accompanying quote in the panel was from Adolph Hitler (I believe). I always found that ironic since Namor was created as a Nazi-smasher.

  5. March 14, 2011 at 1:31 pm — Reply

    The Invaders/Freedom Fighters crossover is a great idea!

    J.A.P.

  6. March 14, 2011 at 1:45 pm — Reply

    I imprinted on the Aparo Batman. Whenever I think Batman, it’s the Aparo, oval-faced version with the square jaw that springs to mind.

  7. Brent
    March 14, 2011 at 2:19 pm — Reply

    I loved that black and gold Namor costume, despite the underarm fins.

    And the prose:

    – “Death be not loud”

    – “As blind as justice, yet hardly a mere statue in the lobby of a law office”

    -“It knows now that there are those who will n’er say die”

    OK, the narrator’s dialogue is a bit overwrought and overly dramatic by today’s standards. But clearly there is something to be said for the more formal and precise use of language in “kiddie books” back in the bronze age.

    Not to mention how we comic readers of that era benefited from the storytelling skills that are not always evidenced today, imo. For instance, there was no decompression to the nth degree back then. One comic book usually could contain all five dramatic arcs of a story (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement).

    Art-wise, clearly the advances in coloring and printing speak for themselves. But some Bronze Age artwork will always be tops in my book. Mike Grell’s “Disco Legion” and the George Perz Titans was around the time I first I realized that I had favorite comic artists. Saturn Girl in hot pink thigh boots and Starfire with her cleavage down to Florida will do that to a third grader. Ahh, nostalgia…

    Thanks for this review, Matthew

    • TaZ
      March 14, 2011 at 4:07 pm — Reply

      Let us not forget Jim Starlin and his bevy of inter-galactic babes.

  8. March 14, 2011 at 8:15 pm — Reply

    Ahh, how cool is that? Thanks for reviewing these. If you haven’t read more of Steve Skeates’ work, you really are missing out. The SAG (Steave Skeates, Jim Aparo, and Dick Giordano) run on the original Aquaman book is probably the best in the character’s history.

  9. Russell
    March 14, 2011 at 9:12 pm — Reply

    Cool article.

  10. Antonio Rocha
    March 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm — Reply

    I’ve heard about this, but never knew how they related, as I don’t have both books. Nice review.

  11. November 23, 2011 at 10:53 pm — Reply

    Great post. How did I never know that Namor has a last name? The sly, subtle crossover is so well-done as a nod to Aquaman that I basically don’t care that it makes no sense in continuity. Love it.

  12. February 10, 2012 at 3:27 pm — Reply

    Thanks for this review. I have the Aquaman issue, but never knew about the Sub-Mariner connections. But am I the only one who thinks that the Crusader was meant to be a Daredevil knockoff? Rooftop-hopping hero in an orange-red costume with his initial on the chest, who’s going blind?

    • February 10, 2012 at 3:40 pm — Reply

      Rooftop-hopping hero in an orange-red costume with his initial on the chest, who’s going blind?

      I never made that connection… Though I have to say that it’s not a bad theory. We should email Steve Skeates (is he still around?) and ask. :D

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