You know when you have something stuck in your head and you can’t exorcise it until you experience it? Like a song you need to listen to or a movie you have to watch? Well, inexplicably, I’ve had 1996’s Marvel Comics VERSUS DC event stuck in my head for weeks. It’s so strong I’ve even been thinking of those Amalgam Comics they ran between the third and fourth issues of the series. So, like a particularly hooky song, in order to free my random mental musings from this event I decided to reread it. Even as a kid it seemed more like a popularity contest than a legitimate story but now, as an adult, I wanted to look at that more closely. Given these match-ups, do any of the victors make sense for any reason outside of who was the clear fan favorite?
I remember the wild anticipation I had leading up to this event as a kid. Obviously, I was (and am) a pretty hardcore Marvel guy but when I was young and comics were cheaper, I read my share of DC too. Regardless of which camp you were in, there was no mistaking this was HUGE. Sure, there had been crossovers here and there but this wasn’t just Spider-Man teaming up with the Batman to battle the Joker or Carnage. This was the entirety of both UNIVERSES colliding AND we, as fans, got to vote on some of the victors!!! I remember how excited I was to go to Books Galore and get my copy of the free preview featuring the first few pages of DC VERSUS Marvel Comics #1 and a cover boasting, “Who Will Win? You Decide!” and promised an “Official BALLOT Inside.” I remember really perseverating over making my votes too. I wanted to be sure I was voting for the deserving victor. And, since Russia wasn’t overtly subverting our elections then, I had faith the votes would honestly shape the outcome. I had to play my part! And I wanted to vote correctly. I couldn’t wait to see what the results would be!
My memory of reading it is, while fun, it also felt a bit rushed and, for better or worse, it felt more like a popularity contest than a true, thoughtful narrative. Reading it as an adult I’ve found the story was better than I remembered but it naturally felt a bit rushed. With eleven battles between Marvel and DC heroes, not to mention the story of what caused this merger of universes and everyone’s reactions, there wasn’t much space to devote to anything in just a four issue miniseries. Most of the battles were no more than two or three pages. Despite the fact that so much had to be crammed into so little space, the biggest impression I took from my reread was how fun it felt. It’s obvious everyone involved relished the ability to write, draw, ink, and color these iconic characters coming together.
It begins with Spider-Man (Ben Reilly (YAY!!!! (oh how I love Ben Reilly))) swinging around New York City on patrol. On an otherwise quiet night, he notices a homeless man in an alley with a glowing box. Beams from the box strike Spidey and he wakes up on a rain-soaked rooftop in Gotham, talking to the Joker. Likewise, the Juggernaut vanishes in the middle of a battle with Wolverine, Storm, and Gambit only to appear atop The Daily Planet building where he meets Superman. As the beams of light erupt, the homeless man frantically tries to tape up the box, worried about what will happen if “those two” get together. But the box keeps rupturing and the crossing over continues.
Cap disappears while fighting Hydra soldiers; Wonder Woman vanishes while saving a police officer. Hulk zaps out in the middle of a conversation with Betty and Superboy disappears while showing off on a beach. Lobo (who I never really “got” as a kid) crosses over while roughing up space rowdies in a space bar. Wolverine, Storm, and Gambit are struck by the same light and vanish while talking to Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Beast. They’re followed by the Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner), Elektra, Flash (Wally West), Thor (Odinson), Aquaman, the Silver Surfer, Shazam (going by “Captain Marvel” at the time), the Sub-Mariner, Quicksilver, and Catwoman.
Bullseye ends up in the Batcave and, after Batman and Robin (Tim Drake) dispatch him, Robin disappears. The worlds keep blurring as J. Jonah Jameson becomes editor of The Daily Planet and Ben Reilly shows up (now inexplicably brunette and working as a photographer under the professional name of “Peter Parker” which always felt insulting and contrived to me (I mean just let Ben be Ben you know? (although I grant this was an easier way to get him and Superman together (which everyone probably wanted to see)))) as a new freelance photographer working with Clark Kent and Lois Lane.
The second issue sets the stage for the coming confrontation, explaining, “In the beginning…there were two entities…‘brothers’ although they were also sisters, sexless, and everything in between. They were yin and yang, good and evil, the Mainyu… They encompassed the whole of everything…except each other. Each was simply…‘me.’” They battled once, in the beginning of time, resulting in their ending up unconscious and leaving a multiverse where once was a universe. Over the course of eons they slowly remembered what they were and, upon noticing the other once again, began prepping for battle. Each is angry they aren’t unique so they want the other destroyed then their singularity can be maintained. Apparently taking a cue from Highlander, there can be only one.
As each universe has it’s fair share of superpowered inhabitants, the entities decide to chose eleven champions to face off against one another. Given their power levels, it won’t be combat to the death but rather the point will go to whichever hero incapacitates the other first. At the end of eleven rounds, to the victor will go existence and the loser (and their universe) will be eradicated. To facilitate the combat, the Marvel (616) and DC (Earth-One) universes merge. Due to the entities projecting the truth of what’s happening, everyone in the merging creations sees and understands what’s going on and what’s at stake…so naturally people start placing bets. Ahh, humanity.
The first battle is Thor versus Shazam and Thor takes the win.
Quicksilver faces the Flash and Flash wins.
Namor and Aquaman battle with victory going to Aquaman.
We see the Kingpin is the one who purchased The Daily Planet and forced Perry White out of the editor’s chair. For me, at least rereading this as an adult, this was the most exciting part of the series. I loved seeing JJJ running The Daily Planet, Ben Reilly hanging out with Lois Lane, Hulk battling Metallo, and Batman stalking the Lizard. Due to the amount of story that needed to be told we get all-too-short glimpses of these merged realities but it is the stuff of geek-dreams to see the Marvel and DC heroes working and living side-by-side It is especially cool to see the heroes battling the villains of the other universe. Outside of a few minor crossovers, before this miniseries these were scenes I could only have ever seen play out if David and I made it happen on the family room floor with our action figures (which, of course, we did all the time growing up).
Issue #3 featured the results of the fan-voted battles! Before those begin, Jubilee and Robin face off with Robin claiming victory. Next we see the Silver Surfer battle the Green Lantern with Silver Surfer getting the win. Elektra goes toe-to-toe with Catwoman and Elektra claims the victory. So, naturally, going into the fan voting, the universes are tied at 3-3. Then we get down to business.
Wolverine defeats Lobo. As I said above, I was never much of a Lobo fan so I can’t speak to the character or his abilities. However, googling him…I’m not sure. It hurts to say Wolverine maybe should’ve lost! But it seems like Lobo’s power set, while so similar to Wolverine’s, is significantly tougher. His strength is greater than Wolverine’s. His healing factor is stronger – allowing him to survive in deep space and regrow from a pool of his own blood. His sense of smell is far stronger, able to track people across solar systems. And he’s a bigger dick, meaning he’ll fight dirtier than Logan. I think, maybe, the only reason Wolverine won is because he’s cool and the X-Men defined the ‘90s.
Storm defeats Wonder Woman. This one, I think, is wrong too. Even though my heart has always been with Marvel, I think Storm’s victory, like Logan’s, is grounded in the fact that in 1996 the X-Men were EVERYTHING. There was the Claremont Era and then there was the boom of the ‘90s. I really think, in a fight scripted logically and based on their powers and abilities, Diana would’ve taken Ororo. Diana’s strength rivals Superman’s. Her bracelets should be able to deflect much of Ororo’s lightening and, for someone who’s tangled with gods and has an advanced healing factor and such high durability, I think she could’ve easily handled the lightening and winds that took her out. (Also it’s worth noting Diana lifted Mjölnir (something Ororo’s never been able to do) and she put it down so as not to have an unfair advantage in the fight.)
Spider-Man beats Superboy. This makes sense. Even if Ben Reilly had been out of the game for a while, by the time of this battle he’d already been around for awhile as the Scarlet Spider and he’d taken up the Spider-Man mantle. So he’s more than proven himself. Also, Superboy’s great but he’s a rookie and a bit of a hothead compared to the webhead.
Superman beats the Hulk. This makes sense too. Yes, the Hulk’s strength has no upper limit so, in theory, he’s stronger than Superman. But Superman’s too good, too polished, too professional. Even with Bruce Banner’s mind in control of the Hulk’s body (which is the version of the Hulk who faces off against Supes here) I can’t see him outthinking Superman. Superman has the broader powerset and the control to use it more effectively than the Hulk has on his best day.
Lastly, we have Captain America versus Batman. Here they really stress how evenly matched the two are and Batman only wins on a technicality. The sewer system they fight in is flushed out and Cap gets thrown off balance. Still, Batman wins and I don’t think I agree here either. I know it’s complicated because, as I’ve written before, I just don’t think Batman’s that great. But my own bias aside, he’s fighting a perfect soldier who’s battled Hitler and the Nazis and Hydra in WWII, lead the Avengers, faced down Thanos while he had the Infinity Gauntlet, lifted Mjölnir himself, and so on. Batman is paranoia (and an admittedly brilliant mind) unleashed. But Captain America is who we all should aspire to be – he’s perfect in skill and morality. He could take the Bat. The only reason Batman wins here is because more people like him/think he’s cool.
As the combat comes to a close, the brothers reach a strange verdict. As opposed to destroying one universe in favor of another, they merge. This creates the Amalgam Universe. I was originally going to write about DC VERSUS Marvel Comics #4 here too but this series, while rushed in places, was a surprising amount of fun to reread. It was also a GREAT flashback of ‘90s nostalgia. I forgot how many superheroes had shaggy mullets in those days. Ahhh, the memories. So I left out #4 because I think it might be fun to do a later post where I look at the Amalgam comics and then the conclusion of all this that followed in DC VERSUS Marvel Comics #4.
If anyone else wants to weigh in, here’s a handy recap of all the match-ups. Who do you think would’ve won in any/all of these bouts??
Thor vs. Shazam
Quicksilver vs. the Flash
Namor vs. Auquaman
Jubilee vs. Robin
Silver Surfer vs. Green Lantern
Elektra vs. Catwoman
Wolverine vs. Lobo
Storm vs. Wonder Woman
Spider-Man vs. Superboy
Hulk vs. Superman
Captain America vs. Batman