Thursday 25 November 2010

Superman vs the Amazing Spider-Man. Worlds apart.

Superman meets the Amazing Spider-Man Marvel DC Treasury Edition, Ross Andru, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano
Plenty of other people on the Blogosphere seem to have been talking about this lately, so I may as well leap on that wagon they call band and give my own thoughts on the matter.

I got my copy of Superman Vs The Amazing Spider-Man back when it first came out. That was hardly amazing, I'd already got a few Marvel Treasury Editions by that point and if there was one I wasn't going to miss out on, it was the first ever senses-shattering, epoch-making encounter between Superman and Spider-Man. I'm pretty sure I got my copy from Sheffield's Sheaf Market, as I remember reading parts of it on the bus on the way home but, even before I'd bought it, it was clear to my twelve year old brain that there were inherent problems with the concept.

One was that Superman and Spider-Man clearly lived in different worlds, so how could they possibly meet?

The other was that Superman was a gazillion times more powerful than Spider-Man so how could they possibly fight?

Superman vs The Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel/DC Treasury Edition
As it turned out, the second question was easily dealt with, as Lex Luthor fired a beam at Spidey that temporarily boosted his power.

The other matter was completely ignored as we were seemingly meant to take it for granted that Superman and Spider-Man actually do inhabit the same world - it's just that they inhabit different cities in that world and had therefore never before met.

It was a less than satisfactory solution and, given that both Marvel and DC had in the past been willing to send their heroes off into alternate worlds, a somewhat surprising one. Maybe neither company wanted their hero to pass into the other company's world because that'd raise questions as to which company's world was the real one? Well, clearly Marvel's is because it's set in  places that actually exist, whereas the DC universe is full of cities that don't. Perhaps there was a fear on DC's part that acknowledging this'd establish their universe as false and therefore subordinate? Or maybe I'm just reading too much into it and they just couldn't be bothered to make up an explanation.

Despite the historic nature of the publication, the plotting's pretty workmanlike. We get to meet each hero and his arch-villain, then those villains meet up, then, thanks to the villains, Superman and Spider-Man meet and fight before uniting to tackle the villains. In other words, it's the standard Marvel approach whenever two heroes bump into each other. That's the thing; although it's a joint venture, it feels more like a Marvel comic than a DC one - especially in the scenes involving the heroes' everyday lives.The fact that it's written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Ross Andru - both strongly associated with the monthly Spider-Man mag - adds to this sense that what we're reading is actually a giant-sized version of Marvel Team-Up.

What reminds you that we aren't is the treatment of the two main Marvel characters. In Spider-Man's case, this was inevitable. Spider-Man was always going to seem redundant in a partnership with Superman but a bigger crime was the treatment of  Dr Octopus. Octopus, as we all know, is highly dangerous and a genius but his role in the comic seemed mainly to be to stand there going, "Incredible," and, "Amazing," every time Lex Luthor did anything. It's Dr Octopus, you lunatics! He's a scientific genius too! Let him get at least get a share of the super-villain glory!

But if the story's a little lacking, the book's main selling-point is the look of the thing. It's huge! I've had smaller carpets. It has that magnificent cover that alone makes you feel the astronomical price of $2 is justified. It's also pencilled by Ross Andru, who, as I said a few days ago, was my favourite Spider-Man artist, and inked by Dick Giordano who, along with Tom Palmer, was my favourite inker, so it was always going to find favour with me on that score. What I didn't know at the time was the pencils had been touched up by Neal Adams and John Romita. Once it's pointed out, it's obvious but I was clearly a very trusting soul back then and, because neither were credited, it never occurred to me.

So, overall, it's a mixed bag. A somewhat workmanlike story with visuals that were anything but workmanlike. Clearly comics are a visual medium but there was something about the encounter that never sat right with me; so much so that when Marvel and DC did other cross-overs, I never had any desire to read them. The first meeting of the two companies' standard bearers had convinced me that, however exciting it might seem, such an idea was not a good one.


Kid said...

I remember that I was ill in bed when this first came out in 1976(?), but - by prior arrangement - a friend brought me a copy on his way home from work. I was so excited, I forgot I was ill.

The thing that I remember is that it was very "cinematic" - it read like a movie - or a comics adaptation of a movie, to be precise. I thought that it was pretty good.

Regarding the "crossover" - I remember Peter Parker once referring to "Clark Kent" (in one of his own magazines) as if he was merly a comic character (Marvel characters read DC Comics? Who'da thunk it?), so I was a little surprised at first that they both seemingly lived in the same universe. However, I just decided to regard it as "an imaginary tale" or "what if" story (although I'm not sure if that comic even existed then) and got on with it.

Interestingly (if confusingly), subsequent company crossovers sometimes treated the characters as living in the same world, and sometimes portrayed them as belonging to alternate universes. They shoulda just picked one approach and stuck with it, in my opinion.

Cracking cover 'though, Gromit.

Steve said...

It's interesting that you mention the cinematic feel of it because I was tempted to say the same in my review. The scene where Peter Parker's taking photos at the exhibition, and first encounters Lois Lane, really did feel like it was from a movie. And, of course, the climax with Luthor's death ray is pure James Bond.

Boston Bill said...

When I first learned of this it blew my mind. It was vacation time (Summer perhaps) and my mother was taking me and my twin brother to a science museum with another boy who I didn't know well (5 years later he would be one of my best friends, but that's another story). He was catapulted to the peak of coolness because he had Superman vs Spider-Man. Nowadays (I'm startin' to talk like Grandpa) crossovers are no surprise, even expected - but this was unprecedented except for, perhaps, King Kong vs Godzilla. And just like KK vs Gz, it was a big disappointment. The plot was so cookie-cutter: x pages for a Solo Spider-Man tale, x pages for a Superman tale; villains meet; superheroes have an unlikely battle with a full page splash for each hero to punch the other hero. Worse, it was like a Superman story with Spidey shoe-horned in. Spiderman goes through great danger breaking into the bad guys hideout, only to have Supes get bored and smash his way in, taking about 2 seconds. The worst moment was when Spider-Man started to activate a booby trapped computer only to have Superman save his life by blowing Spidey across the room as if he were a spider! Didn't anyone even remember that Spider-Man has Spider-Sense to warn him of such dangers? I mean, it's the only power that Spider-Man has that Superman doesn't have a better one (Spider-Man can lift a car, Superman can lift a building; Spider-Man can stick to walls, Superman can fly, etc.)
But I still spent hours re-reading when I got my own. It was the only comic book of its kind and no matter what, it was amazing to see the two company big shots share an adventure together. Thank heavens much better crossovers were to come (the follow up 'Superman and Spider-Man' and 'JLA Avengers' to name two).

john said...

the first time dc and marvel teamed-up was actually on a wizard of oz comic, return to oz, i think prior to superman meeting spider-man.

Steve W. said...

This is true. I remember seeing the adverts at the time.

john said...

yes, that is how i knew of it/the marvel-dc crossover, but i had no interest in it. as you stated the dc-marvel crossovers since have held little interest to me. i agree with your statement about superman vs. spider-man in it's presentation. it was very cinematic. it was much like story boards for a movie. great article! keep up the good work. thank you.

Steve W. said...

Thanks to you too, John.

john said...

you are very, very welcome.