RETRO REVIEW: Superman Vs. The Amazing Spider-Man (January 1976)

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Or – “Treasury-Sized Comics Were Both A Great And A Terrible Idea…”

As with many things, my cousin Elwood was way ahead of my personal curve on comics.  In addition to introducing me to G.I. Joe, Star Wars and the Legion of Super-Heroes (my own copy of That Damned Tabloid was originally his), his comic book collection included this over-sized gem, my first real interaction with (non-television) versions of the mightiest super-heroes of two publishing companies.  what happened the first time the Man of Steel crosses paths with our friendly neighborhood Web-Head?  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review awaits!

SUPERMAN VS. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
Writer: Stan Lee/Carmine Infantino/Gerry Conway
Penciler: Ross Andru/Neal Adams/John Romita/Carmine Infantino
Inker: Dick Giordano/Terry Austin/Joe Rubinstein/Bob Wiacek/John Romita
Colorist: Jerry Serpe
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino/Sol Harrison/Jack Adler
Editor: Carmine Infantino/Stan Lee/Gerry Conway/Roy Thomas/Julius Schwartz/Marv Wolfman/E. Nelson Bridwell
Publisher: DC Comics/Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $2.00
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $50.00

Previously, in Superman Vs. The Amazing Spider-Man:  There were comic book companies before DC (Dell predates them by half a decade, I believe) but it was Superman that created the huge wave of superheroes and shaped the world of comic books that were to come.  The superhero genre went south for many publishers during the 1950s, but DC’s lineup of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and company were popular enough to keep cranking out the issues.  DC’s dominance in the industry was pretty much unchallenged until the early 1960s, when upstart Marvel Comics started making waves with the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk.  Over the course of the next decade or so, much of the competition for market share disappeared, leaving the comics industry as a battleground between two giants, with occasional bad blood between them.  Forty-five years down the line, it’s hard to imagine the kind of bolt from the blue this splash page must have been for ’70s comics fans…

It’s still pretty impressive work today, combining the talents of longtime Spider-Man penciler Ross Andru with DC stalwart (and future Editor-In-Chief) Dick Giordano, and makes both heroes look pretty darned impressive.  This book, while the first actual Marvel/DC Universe crossover, is actually the SECOND co-production by the Big Two, after a ‘Wizard Of Oz’ treasury a couple of years earlier, and actually has more editors credited than creators, as would befit the meeting of each company’s flagship hero.  First up:  The Man of Tomorrow gets the spotlight, as a rampaging giant robot menaces the city of Metropolis!

The weird thing for me, looking at this battle, is the fact that the robot seems to bear the tell-tale signs of Carmine Infantino’s artwork in its design, even though Carmine is not credited as drawing any of the interiors.  Superman takes down the robot, but Lex Luthor is seen cackling that it was only a decoy, moments before Superman slips off to work in his other identity…

At this point in his history, Superman’s job as a newspaper reporter was sidelined in favor of an anchor job with WGBS Television, owned by Morgan Edge.  (Nearly half a century ago, and print was already considered dead, which is why recent uproar about Clark quitting his job at the Daily Planet is so amusing to me.)  The creators go out of their way to give a clear view of all facets of Supey’s life, and his prologue ends with Superman carting Luthor off to jail.  The creators even provide this helpful update, for those who are buying the book from the Marvel side of things…

Meanwhile, in Manhattan, we catch up with our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, already in progress, foiling the plans of the wicked Doctor Octopus!

Just as Superman did, Spider-Man spends his prologue showing off all his moves, fighting Ock, getting mistaken for a criminal, running out of web-fluid.  He even rushes his film back to the offices of the Daily Bugle, New York’s finest parakeet cage liner, just in time to introduce us to J. Jonah Jameson…

After getting abused by Jameson, Spider-Man sets off for a date with Mary Jane Watson, only to end up once again confronted by Doc Ock…

And, of course, Gerry Conway drops a little knowledge for those on the DC side of the fence…

What’s utterly fascinating to me is that, by the time the two prologues are complete, we’re FORTY pages into the book (nearly half of it’s 100 pages) before the characters even meet up!  Part of me finds it fascinating to image what kind of negotiations must have gone on between the publishing houses to get the book on track.  “Okay, Superman gets top-billing, but we Spider-Man will be higher on the cover.”  As for the question of alternate universes and such, Conway gleefully avoids it, having Luthor and Ock end up in the same jail, putting their big rubbery heads together on a subject near and dear to their hearts:  JAILBREAK!

Being as it’s one of my earliest interactions with these particular comic characters, this is the book that helps to cement them in my mind.  I’ve always kind of equated Ock as Spider-Man’s greatest nemesis, while Lex Luthor’s purple-and-green jumpsuit with the sewn-in mechanical gimmicks will always be my favorite of his various looks over the years.  As the villains escape custody, both of our heroes (who share a vocation, loosely) arrive in New York for the “World News Conference.”  Both heroes are also thoroughly abused by their jerk-faced bosses, to which Peter responds with rage and Clark with meekness.  Lois Lane angrily stalks off, huffing about Kent’s demeanor, and ends up getting herself in standard-issue Lois Lane trouble.

Peter Parker’s sweater brought to you by ‘Missile Command of Paris.’  I’m also fairly certain that Peter’s face in the fifth panel has been redrawn by John Romita, something that seems to be confirmed by the Grand Comic Book database’s notes, indicating that Romita did redraws on “some Marvel faces” during this chapter.  Peter and Lois recognize each other from ‘the bidness’, and Pete goes so far as to ask her to help finding a new job, before the unthinkable happens!

Peter Parker is amazed to see Superman (“All my life I’ve heard about [him]“), placing this story in a world where both the DC and Marvel universes co-exist.  Part of me wants to go off on how bad an idea that is, while another part thinks that it’s utterly brilliant that they didn’t waste any time with wormholes, universal bridges or such blah blah blah, but gave us a story that gets going under its own steam.  (I believe that The Watcher unofficially identifies this as an alternate world in an issue of ‘What If?’, perhaps even the first issue, if memory serves.)  Lex and Ock watch from the sidelines as the confused heroes confront one another about the disappearances of their lady-friends, and Luthor shoots Spider-Man with a little booster shot of his own concoction.  Three words:

Red.

Sun.

Radiation.

And even a glance at that Superman figure should allow you to recognize Neal Adams artwork in play.  How’d that happen, you ask?  Inker Dick Giordano said in an interview that he was working at Neal’s Continuity Studios, where the pages were delivered, only to find that Continuity head honcho Neal had redrawn several of the Superman figures to be more consistent with what he believed the character to look like.  (Given Neal’s extensive cover work for DC back in the day, it might as well have been Superman’s house style at the time.)  An angry Spider-Man goes on full offensive, battering Superman with his radiation-enhanced (in more than one sense, here) fists, until he manages to actually make the Man of Steel MAD!

The red sun booster shot wears off soon after, but not before Spidey punches the invulnerable hero a time or two too many (“Oboy.  I broke my hands,” laments the injured Web-Head.)  The two red-and-blue heroes then join forces, tracking Luthor and Octavius to their lair, each taking his own approach to the villains hidden fortress.  Spider-Man sneaks in, using his spider-sense and agility to avoid the many death-traps, while Superman bulls in using invulnerability, with each hero making their way through at precisely the same time, but in their own manner.  (Again, I imagine the plotting session as being hilarious.  “No, Spider-Man can’t just wait for Superman to do all the work!”)

The heroes make their way to Africa, trailing the escaping villains, (Spidey gets to do the thinking work, while Superman rebuilds the computer from memory after a Luthor booby-trap explodes nearly in their faces), meeting a tribe of Masai warriors, and discovering that heat vision can turn Spidey’s webbing strong as steel.  In a fascinating turn, Conway has them end up on the Injustice Gang’s abandoned satellite (an actual piece of continuity from ‘Justice League of America’ not long before) and transforming an orbiting satellite (a stand-in for the then-extant Skylab) into a weather-controlling death ray, in return for a ransom of TEN BILLION DOLLLAAAARRRS.  Superman and Spider-Man do what every hero team knows to do in these situations:  They do-si-do their partners, leading to a satisfying resolution for Doc Ock…

Leaving Spider-Man to deal with Mama Luthor’s bald bouncing baby boy, while Superman sets out to stop a monster tsunami from destroying the United States.  (Doctor Octopus turning on his insane partner probably helps a little bit, as well…)

The villains are thwarted, the heroes triumphant, and Clark and Peter even get the scoop of the century (and possibly figure out one another’s secret identities, if you’re into reading between the lines of dialogue.)

Edge and Jameson even agree to spot our heroes the dough for a nice night out for their girlfriends (which should be a huge giveaway for Clark Kent, at least, as to who was under that webbed mask.) It’s a very nice ending for a story that does its job very well.  It’s artistically impressive, especially at giant-size.  Can it exist in either universe?  Naaah.  But that’s actually fine, as it’s not really about “universes” or “synergy” the way later crossovers would be.  This one is about how awesome it is to finally get to see the biggest heroes on the same page, sharing the same adventure and zooming around with web-skis and punching and telling off your awful boss.  The creators have walked a fine line between the corporate realities (a text piece at the back explains the evolution of the cover, noting that the figures are nearly identical in size) and fanboy wonder (Spider-Man punching the $#!+ out of Lex Luthor is immensely satisfying.)  Superman Vs. The Amazing Spider-Man is a dichotomy of a book, like all Treasury-size editions it’s impossible to store, but I can tell you from experience that it’s worth the pain in the neck, as I’m going to award this one 4.5 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★½

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