Or – “Because Last Week’s Review Made Me Remember It Fondly…”

For all my love of unofficial crossover madness (like Nick Fury/John Steed), occasionally we see two companies working together in an official capacity to tell a story featuring two beloved icons.  Usually, this results in a watered-down tale that doesn’t do justice to EITHER property…

And then, there’s Batman/Captain America.

BATMAN/CAPTAIN AMERICA #1
Scripter: John Byrne
Penciler: John Byrne
Inker: John Byrne
Colorist: Patricia Mulvihill/Jamison (separations)
Letterer: John Byrne
Editor: Denny O’Neil/Mark Gruenwald
Publisher: Marvel Comics/DC Comics
Cover Price: $5.95 (Current Near-Mint Pricing: $6.00)

Previously, in Batman/Captain America: The careers of Bruce Wayne and Steve Rogers are somewhat similar (after the whole ‘parents murdered in the street’ bit, anyway.  Each wanted to make a difference, each sought out important symbology that would make them more effective, and each has become known as the strategist of their respective universes.  The difference between the soldier and the caped crusader breaks down mostly to their point of view.  Rogers wears his symbolic uniform to rally the people behind him, Wayne wears his to frighten the enemies against him.  In the final analysis, though, one thing is clear:  They both have ridiculous headgear.

Our story opens with a car chase through the streets of Gotham City, as the Batmobile (old-school bat-headed 1940’s sedan version) chases the always-amusing Joker-mobile through the streets.  Mistah J throws an oil-slick that takes out the Gotham City polics, but the Batman is prepared for his treachery, sweeping away the offending petroleum with a steel brush from the front of his car.  It’s classic Golden Age Batman stuff, done in a nicely modern way, somethin that writer/artist Byrne excels at.  That’s not to say that the Joker doesn’t get the upper hand on the Caped Crusader though, as The Joker races down to the Gotham City docks before engaging his escape hatch…

I’ll know that I’m successful when I can drive a car with a giant replica of my face on the front…  Batman attempts to analyze the abandoned Joker-mobile, and discovers a clue seconds before the car is destroyed by an incendiary device left behind by the Clown Prince of Crime.  As the Joker-mobile explodes, we smash-cut to another bomb burst, this on in the battlefields of the European front…

I know it’s a complete fanboy reaction, but seeing Captain America in battle alongside Sgt. Rock and the combat-happy grunts of Easy Company (against Blackhawk’s recurring nemesis, the Nazi War Wheel) makes me very happy, the equivalent of seeing two of your favorite actors teaming up for the first time, or perhaps your favorite adult actresses kissing.  (That’s a comparison for Stephen.)  The Captain and the Sarge make short work of the war-machine, giving us a moment designed to give comic fans around the world goosebumps.

Captain America’s mission takes him back stateside, specifically to Gotham City airport, where he and Bucky arrive just in time to see that a priority flight has been hijacked.  Acting quickly, as always, Captain America LEAPS OUT OF HIS PLANE to try and take control of the stolen airship, but is unsuccessful, leaving him hanging by a thread hundreds of feet above Gotham City.  Will this be Captain America’s last stand??

Not if The Batman has anything to say about it.

Say what you will about Byrne (and some have a lot to say) the man knows how to write a compelling adventure story, and his text boxes here are just about perfect for the tone of the story, verging on purple prose as they evoke the movie serials of the era.  Cap and Bats, working together, get aboard the fleeing plane and single-handedly (double-handedly?) slap down the thugs onboard to save the kidnapped American VIP: Robert Oppenheimer, head of the ‘Gotham Project’.  If you know your actual American history, that name may ring a few bells for you. Batman interrogates further to find out the name of the man behind the scenes…

But why would a criminal madman like the Joker ever get involved in a matter of national defense and terrorism?  More importantly, what is the Gotham Project?  Hang on, the story gets better.  Returning to Army brass, Captain America’s mission gets very meta for a bit, as Private Steve Rogers is assisgned to civilian duty as bodyguard for the man helping to bankroll the Gotham Project, revealed to be none other than (say it with me) millionaire Bruce Wayne!

This sequence is one of the things that makes me love this comic book, tying in more than just the sight of the two iconic characters in their uniforms, but using their entire backstories and supporting casts.  Robin and Bucky giving each other the stinkeye, Bruce Wayne keeping up appearances while Steve suffers, and the use of characters still in the wings remind us of everything that is cool about both Batman and Cap without shorting them of their appeal.  Overhearing Bruce Wayne mentioning the Joker to his ward Dick Grayson, Private Rogers tails Wayne to his penthouse in the city, and confronts him, thinking that he is working with the Joker.  A spectacularly kick-@$$ fight ensues in which both men are astonished at the skill of their opponent…

For all the talk about “realism” in modern comics, I have to say that part of me prefers the Golden Age assumption that all heroes will be pals, and that each one is perfectly safe in revealing their identities to one another  This moment is particularly acute for me, as Batman figures out the truth and doesn’t turn into a complete schmuck, instead welcoming his fellow hero as compatriot and equal.  The two heroes realization also frees up Batman to investigate the leads about The Joker, whose out-of-character actions have a very Jokery (circa 1940’s era, anyway) motive:  Cash.

The Joker’s mysterious string-puller has more in common with the erstwhile Jack Napier than just criminal intent, as he pulls off his mask to reveal his own misshapen face, the crimson headbone that marks the horrifying face of Der Roten Schädel:  The Red Skull!  (Yes, I’m aware he was on the cover, but let’s just play along & pretend it’s a stunning reveal, wouldja?)  Byrne takes great pleasure in drawing the intricate wonders of the Batcave, and even revives the original portly portrayal of James Gordon, who lights the Bat-signal for superhero help and gets something entirely different than he bargained for!

Since Batman has to complete analysis with his crime computer, Cap and Robin follow the Commisioner’s lead regarding a stolen military convoy, leaving the team of Batman and Bucky to follow the computer’s leads.  I like the fact that Bucky has the yellow collar that he sometimes sported in the Golden Age (probably due to coloring error, but still), but I like even more that following what he thought was the trail of the Joker led the Batman to a completely different foe…

Captain America and Robin encounter a group of dead men, their faces contorted in a rictus-like smile, prompting Robin to wonder why the Joker changed his venom.  Cap knows the real truth, though:  “The Joker has allied himself with the one man who may be crazier than he is.”

And here’s the point where this book goes from retro goodness to flat-out brilliance, as the Joker refuses to work alongside the Nazi war machine, being a good old fashioned American boy deep down in his black, black heart.  Joker and Skull each decide that their partnership is best dissolved, and what follows is possibly the greatest sequence of the 1990’s involving either character.

Truly, there is no honor among thieves…  The Skull treacherously has one of his men take the Joker out, and loads the secret of the Gotham Project on his plane:  A working atomic weapon.  As the Herr Skull takes off, though, he finds himself dogged by a familiar bat-shaped fighter plane, as Cap & Robin have freed Bats & Bucky from their captivity in Joker’s lair.  Batman reveals that his unseen plan when the heroes split up has been successful, and the heroes board Red Skull’s plan just in time…

The Star-Spangled Super-Soldier and The Dark Knight of Derring Do make short work of the Skull’s minions, but the Red Skull himself manages to escape into the bomb bay, intending to drop the Atomic Bomb on any part of America that he can.  The only impediment to this plan comes in the form of a just-awakened unlikely savior:  The Mime-Mugged Madman known as The Joker!

Miraculously, Captain America has piloted the ship far out into the Atlantic Ocean, but it takes the muscle-power of both heroes to pull the jet up in time to avoid the mushroom cloud that comes from the explosion of the world’s first atomic bomb.  The Captain and The Bat steady the ship and head for home, as Batman remarks, “At least we’ve seen the last of the Joker and the Red Skull…”  Captain America gives him a disbelieving look, and asks if he believes it, and Batman smiles (SMILES!  It’s really cool, too!) and replies that, no, he doesn’t really think so.  Heh…  Remember how I talked about all those awesome little moments that were rooted in a deep love for both characters, and could only come from a truly skilled craftsman working magic in comic form?

Cut to 20 years later, as a Bat-Submarine travels through the North Atlantic, and discovers a strange form trapped within an iceberg…

Aside from how incredibly awesome that ending is, I think what I love most is that Byrne draws Dick-Grayson-as-60’s-Batman in the “New Look Batman” style that Carmine Infantino created in the actual 60’s Bat-comics.  It’s that kind of attention to detail that makes this issue superior to many crossover books (especially the awful fanboy mish-mash nightmare that was Marvel Vs. DC/DC Vs. Marvel a few years earlier.)  This whole book shows a deep affection for characters and settings from both universes, without taking a stand on which are better or worse, playing with the toys and tropes of 40’s comics, and making both heroes even more awesome TOGETHER.  It’s really a shame that egos at Marvel and DC have put an end to these types of universal crossovers, because (when done correctly) they really are fun.  Batman/Captain America is why these sort of books exist, a celebration of comics that is exactly what you hope for when you see the book’s title, and earns 5 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★★

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  What unplumbed Marvel/DC crossovers sound like the most fun?  Daredevil/Batman?  Spider-Man/Blue Beetle?  JSA/Invaders?  Texas Twister/Vigilante?

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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21 Comments

  1. TaZ
    October 23, 2011 at 9:01 pm — Reply

    Thank you for bringing the memories of that book around! A truly fun time and, as you said, great fanboy “pops” for the guest appearances.

  2. October 23, 2011 at 10:31 pm — Reply

    It is a shame that this type of story has taken a back seat to the so called more “realistic” stories witch is code for making the characters more douchey and jerky.

    My top 5 most desired DC/Marvel Crossovers are:

    1) She-Hulk(Jenifer Walters)/Wonder Woman: Still feel Jenny has been a better lead character than Spider-Woman and Ms. Marvel historically. Heck, I feel she’s a better character than the Hulk.

    2) Batman(Bruce Wayne)/Spider-Man(Peter Parker): Just so I can see Joker vs Spider-Man.

    3) X-Men/Doom Patrol: Both classic versions. Before the father figures were turned into manipulative jerks and their leaders were dressed down.

    4) Guardians of the Galaxy(1969 version)/Legion of Super Heroes: Two teams from the future meet for the very first time.

    5) New Warriors(1st version)/Teen Titans: Because I want to see my original New Warriors back in new adventures.

    Any comments?

    • October 23, 2011 at 11:33 pm — Reply

      Batman/Spiderman does exist. It was actually not that bad, and the villains were Joker and Carnage, having been rehabilitated by implanted computer chips (that Carnage neutralized in both).

      It was even referenced in the opening pages of DC vs Marvel when Joker comments that Spidey’s costume had changed since they had last met (the Batman/Spidey crossover had the Ben Reiley “updated’ costume, the DC/Marvel crossover featured “classic” Spidey costume).

      • Mike Wytrykus
        October 24, 2011 at 12:34 am — Reply

        Actually, I think that’s the other way around. I think Ben Reilly was the Spider-Man in DC Vs Marvel. If I remember correctly, he was matched up against Superboy because they were both clones.

        • October 24, 2011 at 12:44 am — Reply

          That might be it, it’s been years since I read it. I mostly remember the line after Peter was told he changed, he said “Changed back, actually” so I was thinking it was one way, but it could be the other.

          • October 24, 2011 at 12:44 am — Reply

            Er, after Spidey was told he changed, rather.

      • Arbor Day
        October 24, 2011 at 1:48 am — Reply

        I read a Batman/Spiderman comic where Kingpin and Ra’s Al Ghul were the villians.

        Also, there was that Batman(Terry McGinnis)/Spidergirl crossover not too long ago.

        Oh, and Baman Piderman.

        • Mike Wytrykus
          October 24, 2011 at 10:14 am — Reply

          Baman and Piderman is the greatest team up of all time.

      • ikdks
        October 24, 2011 at 10:37 am — Reply

        There’s also one where Spidey and Batman take on Ras al’Ghul and Kingpin.

  3. floridabartaker
    October 23, 2011 at 11:05 pm — Reply

    You should have included the page immediately before the secret ID reveal and handshake, when both are analyzing the other’s move. Really brilliant writing. Moreover, I believe this crossover set up the idea for the Superman/Batman generations series, which imagined a world where Batman and Superman were from pre-WWII, and follows their lives through the years (there was a follow up series as well). The first series was dark, but still very entertaining stuff by Byrne.

  4. October 23, 2011 at 11:30 pm — Reply

    I believe this is the one book out of the multiple DC/Marvel crossovers of that time that I didn’t get. I was able to read it thanks to a friend owning it, and I’ve thought about it from time to time, but never had my own copy.

  5. October 24, 2011 at 12:14 am — Reply

    I really loved this book! It was a lot of fun. I felt it captured the mood of fun and adventure of the old second hand 80 Page Giants comics I read growing up… and as a kid in the 70s and 80s I was a big fan of John Byrne’s work.I also like the Generations series to a lesser degree.

  6. Scott Steubing
    October 24, 2011 at 5:15 am — Reply

    This is probably my favorite DC/Marvel crossover.

    • Noobian74
      October 24, 2011 at 9:55 am — Reply

      Didn’t get a chance to read this one. So far, my favorite is X-Men/Teen Titans.

  7. Antonio Sanciolo
    October 24, 2011 at 6:57 am — Reply

    brilliant,
    Loved it when Byrne drew pages where everyone had different body types and faces!

    I’d like to see a Hulk/Firestorm crossover.

  8. Noobian74
    October 24, 2011 at 9:28 am — Reply

    *steps to the podium*

    Darkseid/Thanos would’ve been fantatic, not just for the fight of the century, but for the cosmic-level skullduggery. Would’ve needed either Starlin if it were done back in the days, but Abnett/Lanning would do fine if it was to be done in the present.

    *exits the stage*

  9. Frank
    October 24, 2011 at 10:25 am — Reply

    That was fantastic.
    “I may be a criminal lunatic, but I am an American criminal lunatic” is my favorite quote.

    I would live to see Spiderman/Blue Beetle. Teenage angst galore.

  10. Belmont
    October 26, 2011 at 7:31 pm — Reply

    Thanks Matthew, for another fantastic Retro review, now I have to go hunt this comic book down to add it to my reading collection.

  11. Grotesk
    October 27, 2011 at 10:10 pm — Reply

    Darn it all that Franklin Richards stopped reading DC comics.

  12. PhunkyPhazon
    January 11, 2012 at 2:50 pm — Reply

    Am I really the only one who thinks that Joker’s sudden patriotism is completely out of character? I don’t know anything about 1945 Joker, so perhaps that’s why I’m not seeing it. I really can’t see the modern version of Joker refusing to go along with this plan just because Nazi’s are involved. I don’t think he’d give a crap about who he allies himself with so long as bombs are dropped, people die, and chaos ensues.

  13. April 17, 2016 at 9:19 am — Reply

    There are actually TWO Spider-Man/Batman crossovers. There’s also a great Superman/Hulk crossover. If you want another crossover with the same “Gee golly whiz!” feel, try Superman/Fantastic Four. There’s also Superman/Silver Surfer, which is REALLY an Impossible Man/Mr. Mxyzptlk crossover.

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