Way back in 1976, it was already old hat to tout that this
or that new comic as the "most important" or "amazing"
or "greatest" thing in the history of the medium,
but even the most jaded of readers must have dropped their
jaws at this one; the two most famous characters of the
two biggest rivals in the business, ready to duke it out
on the cover of a single, giant-size book. It doesn't get
much bigger than that.
"They said it couldn't be done!" crows Stan
Lee on the inside cover to Superman vs. The
Amazing Spider-Man. Whether it could or not, I was
pretty sure it wouldn't. Everyone knew
DC and Marvel were oil and water, chalk and cheese, night
and day. No way could they mix. Surely a crossover between
those two oppositely-charged universes would be like mingling
matter and anti-matter; end of the world stuff, dogs and
cats living together, mass hysteria.
And yet, there they were, right there on that wonderful
cover; Supes and Spidey sharing the limelight, DC and Marvel
sharing a box in the corner. For me, the cover remains the
coolest part of the whole project: iconic in its very simplicity,
vibrantly colorful, fairly crackling with potential energy
and yet in its own way understated, with no blurbs, no word
balloons and just those two hyperbolic lines above the title:
"The Greatest Superhero Team-Up Of All Time!
The Battle of the Century!"
Our story opens in Metropolis, where Superman smashes a
giant robot and delivers Lex Luthor to
jail, but not before the evil genius stashes away a computer
chip stolen from STAR Labs. Cut to New York City, where
Spider-Man defeats Doctor Octopus, soaring
over the city in a flying octopus ship hidden inside the
Goodyear blimp (yes, we had product placements in 1976,
In prison, Otto and Lex recognize each other by reputation,
and when Luthor breaks out using an old Doc Savage trick
(escape tools hidden under a false layer of skin), he takes
Doc Ock with him.
Meanwhile, Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Morgan
Edge attend an international conference for journalists
and cross paths with Peter Parker, Mary Jane Watson
and J.Jonah Jameson. As Lois and M.J. exchange
catty digs over "cute" Pete, "Superman"
suddenly swoops in and zaps both women with his heat vision,
apparently disintegrating them. Then he flies off again.
Peter makes off to change into his Spider-Man togs, but
not before giving us a fun sight gag that will be brazenly
stolen two years later for Superman: The Movie.
Dashing to the roof, Spidey spots Superman, and the fun
begins. Superman assumes that "given his reputation"
Spider-Man must somehow be connected to the impostor who
attacked the girls. Spider-Man meanwhile knows what he's
seen -- or thinks he does -- and so lights into Superman.
We learn the fake Superman was actually Luthor, who along
with Doc Ock is gleefully anticipating the imminent battle
between the two heroes. Luthor aims an energy ray at Spider-Man
and temporarily boosts his power levels to the point where
he can give Superman a run for his money. Giant-size mayhem
The fight runs on for several pages, which is fine as this
is the part most fans paid to see. Everyone gets their money's
worth as a whole page is devoted to a giant panel of Spider-Man
knocking Superman for a loop, then a few pages later Superman
gets equal time, clobbering Spidey (although he doesn't
actually hit him; he stops an inch short and the resulting
shockwave sends the wall-crawler flying).
Realizing he came close to killing Spider-Man, Superman
quickly cools off. Spidey doesn't, but as the effects of
Luthor's ray wear off, he returns to his normal power levels,
with predictable results:
Cooler heads prevail and the heroes team up to fight the
villains. They trace the villains to Africa, then to outer
space (and the abandoned satellite of the "Injustice
Gang of the World"), where we at last find
the kidnapped Lois and Mary Jane (remember them?). Luthor
takes control of the just-launched "ComLab" satellite
using that computer chip he stole from STAR Labs. His plan
is to control the Earth's weather, creating hurricanes and
tidal waves that will destroy the human race in retaliation
for never appreciating his genius (I guess he's planning
to relocate to Lexor).
Doctor Octopus decides that evil plans are cool and everything,
but all his favorite restaurants are on the Earth, so he
turns against Luthor to aid the heroes. Spidey mops up the
baddies while Superman races to Earth to stop a massive
tidal wave headed for the East Coast. The good guys win,
Clark Kent and Peter Parker produce film and photos of the
action to the delight of their respective bosses, and then
take Lois and Mary Jane out to dinner. The End.
there you have it. The book ends and the world is still
spinning, dogs and cats are not living together and tomorrow
I still have to go to school. It is, in the end, a fairly
pedestrian comic story, despite the boundless potential
of that cover. Gerry Conway writes the
tale in a "user-friendly" style no doubt in hopes
of attracting an audience who normally wouldn't bother with
comics, but knew the heroes from their various media incarnations.
There are some fun moments for the side characters, notably
Morgan Edge and J. Jonah Jameson, who share a drink and
complain about their employees. Spidey gets in his trademark
one-liners, notably in the scene where Superman asks, "Can
you hold down the fort?" and Spidey answers, "Does
Warner Brothers make movies?"
The weird part, of course, is that everyone seems so unamazed
to meet each other. There's no attempt to explain things
away with multiple Earths or alternate dimensions: Superman
and Spider-Man live on the same world, they just haven't
gotten around to meeting each other yet. It can't be reconciled
with established continuity at either company, but again
it's written for a more general audience.
Seeing as how he was (in 1976) one of the very few writers
to have worked on both characters, Conway was the logical
choice for this book, as was artist Ross Andru,
a Superman veteran and Spidey's official artist at the time
this book came out. Dick Giordano's inks
add polish (though I swear some of the backgrounds look
like the work of Terry Austin) and as has
been revealed in various places, an uncredited Neal
Adams redrew many of Andru's Superman figures
and heads throughout the book.
The ultimate result is a "generic"-feeling book
-- neither DC nor Marvel, just a standard superhero story,
like one of those Power Records books or the "Giant
Comics to Color." It's harmless fun, but hardly the
epochal, life-changing tale my younger self expected.
The cover still rocks, though.