A Tribute to the of

It's about time for another special review to continue to mark this, the 70th Anniversary of DC Comics.  In order to do so, we're going to set our time machine to 1976 when a bold and unprecedented undertaking took place.  DC and Marvel created a collaborative oversized comic book for a whopping $2.00 price tag under the banner:  The Greatest Superhero Team-up of all time!  The Battle of the Century.  Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man.  The credits list is somewhat lengthy:  Co-editors are Carmine Infantino and Stan Lee.  The story is by Gerry Conway with pencils courtesy of Ross Andru and inks by Dick Giordano.  Lettering comes courtesy of Gaspar Saladino and colors (how this is different from inks I have no idea) are credited to Jerry Serpe.  Speaking of confusing credit, "Production" is by Sol Harrison with assistance from Jack Adler and finally consulting editing is provided by Roy Thomas, Julius Schwartz, Marv Wolfman (the man who brought you the Crisis on Infinite Earths series) and E. Nelson Bridwell

The inside front cover contains co-introductions from our co-editors.  First up is Stan Lee: 

We were told it couldn't be done.  They said it would be impossible.  After all, Marvel and DC are the comic-book world's biggest competitors.  But we had one thing going for us.  DC's head honcho and I have been friends for years.  In fact, we actually collaborated on strips in the early days of comics—I wrote 'em and Carmine drew 'em.  And, in the past few years, whenever we'd meet at an industry dinner or a fan convention, the talk would turn to the one thing we both knew would someday have to happen; the one thing that all fandom was clamoring for.  We knew we couldn't keep our top heroes apart much longer.  Readers everywhere were demanding a team-up of the best of the old and the best of the new.  SUPERMAN, the first, most powerful, most famous caped crusader of them all—and SPIDER-MAN, the newest, most realistic, most popular wall crawler on the scene today—both together; in one titanic, unforgettable adventure!  Well, it wasn't easy, but enthusiasm can move mountains and, as you can see, we did it.  So here's a heartfelt "thanks" to the many terrific talents, both in the Marvel Bullpen and the DC Dugout, whose untiring efforts have helped produce this landmark volume.  And, a special tip of our superhero helmet to David Obst , agent extraordinaire, who single-handedly started the entire project on its wondrous way.  Now, as you eagerly settle back to enjoy one of the most momentous productions in comic book history, remember—nothing is ever too difficult if you really want to do it, and we wanted to do it—for you!  Excelsior!

You know, I've wondered for years where Stan got that tagline, so I did a little research.  If you consult Webster, you find that Excelsior has a couple of meanings.  I suspect Stan meant the one that basically means "Higher!"  It's also the motto of New York City, which of course is his home base.  On the other hand, it concurrently means wood shavings.  I find that quite amusing. 

Okay, now it's Mr. Infantino's turn:

Comics, which usually reflect history, may in this one momentous undertaking prove détente can be more than theory.  SUPERMAN, the character who created not only an industry but quickly became an intricate part of Americana, and his present-day rival, the fantastic, feisty, Amazing SPIDER-MAN had to be the co-stars of this unique first.  The pooling and producing of a potpourri of talent got underway.  With Sol Harrison of NPP coordinating the project and Sol Brodsky assisting for MARVEL, things began to happen.  By welding the extraordinary talents of Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, Dick Giordano, Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman, Gaspar Saladino and Jerry Serpe, the project soon came to fruition.  The planning and perspiring are now behind us.  The pleasure is before you.  But first, I would like to make a most important dedication.  I know I speak for Stan as well as myself when I dedicate this book to the "greats" of yesterday and today who have made comics a true art form for tomorrow.  The moment is now.  Let the epic begin!   

Nice alliteration, Carmine.  As you said, let the epic begin:

First, under the heading of Prologue 1, we join the Man of Steel in Metropolis where he comes upon a huge, several story, chrome-plated robot smashing through a building.  Superman muses that it's been equipped with a lead shield, thwarting his X-ray vision.  A voice issues from the automaton, greeting Superman and suggesting that destroying an old enemy will make the day much more meaningful.  The metallic creature then swats Superman into a nearby building, where the force of his impact breaks loose a large chunk of concrete wall.  He quickly retrieves it before it can injure any citizens below and then flies after the robot again, this time attempting infra-red vision on it, only to be rebuffed with an inertia ray that again sends the Metropolis Marvel sprawling.  The mechanized monster then continues its task, arriving at an office of Metropolis S.T.A.R. laboratories.  The roof is popped off and then a pincer-like hand is employed, removing a small device from a computer console.  It is deposited into an opening in the robot's head and then begins to depart.  Superman, meanwhile, has returned and is changing tactics, this time burrowing beneath the earth to attack from below.  He discovers, however, that the machine is equipped with a gravity beam that nearly crushes him.  It is then he realizes that the beam is to stabilize the huge mechanism, so he flies above and gives it a super powered push, burying it to its shoulders into the ground.  At that moment, the head of the robot detaches and flies away under its own jet propulsion system.  Krypton's last son pursues it and it then explodes in spectacular fashion.  Meanwhile, back at the robot's torso, a familiar figure emerges, mentioning that the flying head was obviously a decoy that worked perfectly.  Lex Luthor then flies away, coldly laughing.

We then join our hero as he enters a broom closet at the Galaxy Communications building and transforms into his alter ego of Clark Kent, who promptly encounters Lois Lane and Steve Lombard, the latter of whom, at least in the mid-70's was a thorn in Clark's side at the office as evidenced by his attempt at a practical joke.  Fortunately X-ray vision allows Clark to avoid the trap and even to cause it to be sprung on Lombard.  Right about then the other thorn shows up in the form of Kent's boss, the arrogant and obnoxious Morgan Edge.  What ever happened to Perry White?  At any rate, Edge comments that they're about to leave for New York to attend the World News Conference when he's interrupted by a broadcast of the robot menace from earlier.  The spot mentions that the robot stole a newly designed programming circuit used for the direction of satellites in orbit.

Clark suddenly has a revelation and slips away to again change personas.  Soon Superman is searching for robot tracks and they lead him to Metropolis Bay.  Plunging beneath the surface, the Man of Might soon finds a robotic undersea laboratory that immediately thrusts forth a telescopic arm, gripping Superman and drawing him inside to face a smug Lex Luthor, who announces that his robot ploy was designed to both commit a theft and to lure his greatest enemy to his doom.  As Superman lunges toward him, the evil scientist begins to work a nearby panel, releasing high intensity lasers, powerful enough to destroy Superman.  They continue to come, faster and faster, creating an ever-tightening web.  (Oddly enough, they don't affect the floor or walls of the lab.)  Superman manages to dodge his way out of the trap and reach Luthor, but just as he does, a beam manages to strike him in the eyes, temporarily blinding him, probably due to it being light from the same spectrum as a red sun, which is Krypton's native light source.

While the Man of Steel is temporarily out of commission, Luthor takes advantage of the situation and places the programming circuit into a pneumatic tube, sending it to a hideaway elsewhere.  Soon the battle ends as Superman uses heat vision to melt a bulkhead, allowing sea water inside.  Scooping up the villain, the Man of Might flies to jail and then shortly thereafter, Clark Kent meets up with his co-workers at the airport to catch their flight to New York. 

The next page is a "…pause for hero identification," and gives a brief recounting of Superman's origin, beginning with his rocket trip from doomed Krypton and concluding that his is "…an everlasting fight against crime for truth, justice and the terran way."  Terran?

And now, Prologue 2 where we join the Amazing Spider-Man, who is reclining on a flagpole and fiddling with his camera when he discovers a robbery of the Metropolitan museum.  "All week Jonah Jameson's been after me to snap some juicy news photos, and the first night I have time to look—the news comes straight to me!  Norman Mailer, eat your heart out!"  He hastily sets his camera up at the end of the flagpole with the aid of some webbing and sets it to click snapshots every ten seconds.  Now it's off to the fray, where he takes on the helmeted thieves, making short work of them, but then another arrival complicates matters for the web-slinger.  It is none other than Otto Octavius or Doctor Octopus.  Doc Ock wastes no time in showing off his latest gimmick, the Flying Octopus.  Ever quick with a glib line, Spidey replies that he thought the Spider-mobile was a fiasco.  Octavius attacks with his metallic tentacles and the fight is on until the pilot of the Flying Octopus sends forth a tentacle from the craft, knocking Spider-man unconscious.  Doc Ock and his men collect the stolen items and flee just ahead of the police, who find a dazed Spider-man on the roof.  Since the web-head is considered an outlaw in New York, the city's finest put a bead on him, but he makes a break for it, only to discover he's run out of web fluid.  Nevertheless, he still has his wall crawling abilities and manages his escape that way.

Later, at the Daily Bugle, we find Spider-Man's alter ego, photographer Peter Parker, checking in with his boss, Jonah Jameson, who, as usual, is on the verge of blowing a gasket.  Parker waves a film roll under his nose, however, explaining that it contains shots of Doc Ock battling Spider-Man and exclusive photos of the Flying Octopus and Jameson  shifts gears, ordering the roll developed and the best shot placed on the cover of the night owl edition.

Forty-five minutes later, the issue is in Jonah's hands, but something was amiss with the camera and the "best shot" is a blurred partial.  Peter barely escapes Jameson's office intact and soon he and girlfriend Mary Jane Watson are pounding the pavement together.  In moments, the famed Spider-sense begins tingling and Parker's attention is drawn to a blimp in the sky.  Mumbling an excuse to MJ, Peter bolts for the express elevator in the Empire State Building and uses it to change into his Spider-man suit.  Out on the roof, he makes his way ever higher until at the pinnacle of the building, where he makes a leap for the blimp.  It is only when airborne that he realizes he's misjudged the angle.  He then recalls that he's out of web fluid.  Not good.  He takes a chance and makes like a sky-diver, gliding his way to the blimp when he abruptly falls right through it.  It turns out to be a false outer covering for the Flying Octopus.  The battle with Octavius begins anew until they splash down into the Central Park Reservoir.  Spidey successfully kayos the criminal genius and spirits himself away ahead of the police.  The next day, Peter Parker joins his fellow Daily Bugle staffers at the World News Conference at the coliseum.

Yet another pause for hero identification on the next page where we learn the secret of Spider-Man's beginnings from the bite of the radioactive spider to the "special belt-pack," that looks remarkably like a certain utility belt of our acquaintance.

And now, Prologue 3, which begins a long way from the Northeast.  Specifically, we are taken several miles outside Deming, New Mexico, site of "…Federal Maximum-X Security Penitentiary Number One, the most escape-proof prison in the world—used for the temporary detention of certain "Super" criminals awaiting trial, such as its two most recent arrivals:  Doctor Otto Octavius and Lex Luthor!

Lex is being escorted by guards to his cell and his arrival is noted by Octavius.  The guards caution Luthor that every cell has an automatic video monitor complete with sound pickups and that the thorough search ensures he'll have no gadgets to aid him in escape.  As they pass Otto's cell, he greets Lex, who doesn't recognize him.  Ock introduces himself and as the guards leave they converse briefly and Luthor proposes joining forces pending their freedom tomorrow.  Otto agrees, though he is unconvinced that his cellmate can pull it off.

Soon Lex has lain down on his bunk, facing his cell wall and secretly rolls a sleeve up, allowing him to peel a strip of false skin from his inside forearm, containing components for an escape kit.  Placing plugs into his ears, Luthor activates a sonic disruptor, putting the guards to sleep.  He then triggers a power cell that broadcasts energy to Octavius' de-activated arms so that he can regain control of them.  Taking Lex's lead, Ock then frees them both from their cells and after getting his own ear plugs they flee the prison.

The next page is dedicated to a short recounting of the villains' origin tales:

"Once a physicist working to unlock the ultimate secrets of the atom, Doctor Octavius became a victim of his experiments when a model atomic pile exploded, grafting Otto's "work arms" to his body—and providing him with telepathic control over his new metallic limbs.  Thus was born the dread menace—Doctor Octopus!

"Young Lex Luthor, on the other hand, was a criminal since the days of his adolescence.  Like Octavius, he, too, was the victim of an experiment gone wrong—this time, indirectly, because of his childhood friend, Superboy.  As a result of the disaster, Luthor lost all his hair—permanently—and the shock of this, coupled with the explosion itself, and the loss of a vital experiment to create life, caused Luthor to hate his former pal.  Over the years he's invented many devices to defeat the Man of Steel—and has proven himself Superman's toughest and most elusive enemy!" And now, at last, on pages 36 and 37, "A Dual of Titans, Chapter One" begins. 

Things open, naturally enough, at the World News Conference where, conveniently, both the Daily Bugle personnel and the Galaxy Communications staff are arriving at the same time, though oblivious to one another. 

Speaking of the Bugle personnel, Jameson starts things with a bang by biting Peter's head off when he suggests taking the first day to relax a bit with Mary Jane.  Uncharacteristically, Parker barks back and storms off with his girlfriend pulling up the rear.

Meanwhile, elsewhere at the conference another couple is taking in the sights.  While Clark Kent and Lois Lane are chatting, however, Clark overhears Morgan Edge speaking with another executive and Kent's name is mentioned.  When Clark approaches, Edge introduces him to Tony Short, programming director for Ralson's Foods and a potential sponsor for Galaxy's coverage of the National Convention in Metropolis.  The catch is that the sponsor wants a nationally known newsman to handle things.  "Come Convention-time, I'll be replacing you with someone who has a higher viewer recognition factor.  Like Walter CronkiteRoger MuddDan Rather"  Unlike Peter, however, the taken aback Clark merely…takes it, much to Lois' disgust.  She storms away and then sees an opportunity for a photo of the massive Comlab satellite system.  She climbs a nearby scaffold, but loses her balance and begins to fall, only to be rescued by Peter Parker.  After introductions are made, mutual, professional recognition occurs and then Mary Jane arrives, coolly assessing Lois, who quickly explains that she's only got eyes for…but before she can finish her sentence, Superman arrives.  In the next incredible moment, a beam emerges from his eyes and the two women vanish.  The hero then flies away while a thoroughly stunned Peter Parker looks on in disbelief.  A short way away another set of eyes reflects the same utter shock.  They belong to Clark Kent!  Peter quickly asks Kent where the phone booths are and then sprints away, only to discover a bank of phone stalls.  (Nice little gag, guys.)  He then takes the stairs to the roof to transform into Spider-Man.  He then feels a familiar tingling and vaults into motion, ending Chapter 1.

Chapter 2, entitled "When Heroes Clash!," shows a magnificent two-page spread of the two heroes, meeting in mid-air for the first time anywhere.  Spider-Man greets the Man of Tomorrow, who promptly demands to know what he's done.  Spidey promptly retorts that Supes is the one who needs to explain himself and they then begin to follow different trajectories while a short distance away, Doc Ock and Lex Luthor, still wearing a Superman uniform, are conferring.  Luthor then aims a pistol-like device at Spider-Man, endowing him with red sun radiation, thus temporarily making him Superman's physical equal.  Now the battle is really on with the wall-crawler knocking the Man of Might silly at each turn.  The web-head is amazed at how easily he is dealing with the vaunted Superman and even though the Last Son of Krypton is also trying to reason with him, Parker is in no mood to be trifled with, so the fisticuffs continue.  Soon Superman has hit his limit and begins to deliver a haymaker, but pulls the punch at the last minute, for fear he'll kill the web-slinger.  Even at that, the wind blast in front of the aborted punch sends our friendly neighborhood Spider-man flying at high velocity.  Once he regains control, he's thoroughly steamed and returns to the rooftop to deliver a double-legged kick.  Unfortunately for him, at that precise moment, the effects of Luthor's ray wear off and he bounces off Superman with a crashing thud.  Quickly getting back to his feet, the web-head comes out swinging, demanding to know where Mary Jane has gone.  After several blows to the Man of Tomorrow's mid-section, he finally gives in to the pain in his fists and decides to listen to Superman.  They compare notes and discover they've been duped.  Time to join forces and overcome.  Chapter 2 ends on that note.

Chapter 3 is up next, "The Call of Battle!"

Superman is flying above the old Penn-Central railroad yard with Spider-Man in tow, riding some web "skis."  The Man of Tomorrow has detected some energy residue below and they've decided to investigate what they believe is the headquarters of the super imposter.  Upon landing, Spidey heads for the building's interior where he immediately encounters a series of obstacles to include an automatically sealing door, pressure sensitive machine guns in the floors, electrified walls and a red hot ceiling.  Using his famed web-shooters, he vaults himself out of the fiendish fun house into another room containing a sharp wire screen, but he uses his athleticism to escape this trap as well.

Outside, Superman decides to make his own entrance, albeit with less subtlety as he flies to the front of the warehouse and smashes in the door.  No sooner does he make his entrance than his partner comes through another door and the two heroes face their nemeses, Luthor and Octavius.  Superman demands to know where Lois is and Spider-Man reiterates, asking about the "kid" with her.  Lex motions to a nearby monitor showing them safe but restrained and as the web-slinger reaches for them, the figures of the two villains dissolve as they were mere holograms.  The wall-crawler notices a nearby computer system (classic 70's version with a huge panel and man-sized tower) and decides to try and get a printout from it to determine where the crooks are located when Superman swiftly sends a puff of super breath, blowing Spidey out of the way of the exploding computer.  Superman then uses his photographic memory and super speed to quickly rebuild the unit, at which point Spider-Man is able to get a latitude and longitude for…Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa.  Off they go.

Upon reaching the Dark Continent, they encounter a small band of tribesmen.  Superman begins to converse with them when one interrupts, introducing himself as Nu'chaka and explaining that he's studied in London.  They soon head for the nearby Masai village to meet with Nu'chaka's father, Chagga.  Chagga requests a demonstration of Superman's abilities and the Man of Might obliges by juggling several warriors.  After the rituals are completed, Nu'chaka, Spidey and Superman are off to Kilimanjaro, the site where one of the Masai warriors disappeared a few months ago.  Superman discovers a concealed stone door in a nearby boulder and in the next minute, the missing tribesman appears, full of aggression.  He knocks Nu'chaka to the ground and easily rips through the web cocoon Spider-man places on him.  The web-head tries a more conventional attack, but is again shrugged off.  Superman then joins the fray, but finds the Masai tribesman is equal to his strength and the sword he is now wielding manages to cut some of his hair.  This confirms Luthor's hand as the sword obviously contains red sun radiation, to which Superman is vulnerable.  Superman then instructs Spidey to try his webbing again.  An analysis revealed that a dose of heat vision should be able to alter the chemical balance and change it to the consistency of steel.  The experiment is successful and the warrior is incapacitated.  Now our heroes enter the doorway to find a cavernous hidden lab, closing the third chapter. 

On the following pages, Chapter 4, "The Doomsday Decision!" begins.

Our heroes briefly explore the empty lab/center and discover an empty rocket silo.  Superman believes he knows where the nefarious pair have gone and we then segue to a ship bearing the insignia of the Injustice Gang of the World heading toward the satellite headquarters of that same organization.  The ship bears Luthor and Octavius.  As they disembark through the airlock we see this satellite HQ is also the secret holding area for Mary Jane Watson and Lois Lane.  Doc Ock queries Luthor about the long range plan and Lex explains that the programming circuit he stole will allow them to destroy their foes once and for all and pull off the greatest blackmail payoff in history.

The next page bears a banner that says "Interlude:  New York, New York."  The scene is a bar where Jonah Jameson has entered and ordered a stiff drink.  He is recognized by another customer who happens to be Morgan Edge and the two banter about their respective problems, one-upping each other about their crushing responsibilities running a newspaper and a television station and the unreliability of employees such as Clark Kent and Peter Parker.  They leave the bar together and witness the launching of Comlab on a monitor, observing "mission control" as the various stages take place.  Unknown to them, however, is another set of controls being manipulated from space by the gloved hands of Lex Luthor as Otto Octavius looks on.  Once the heat shields are released, Luthor is able to use his stolen programming element to change the signals to Comlab until he finally causes a high intensity laser probe to be fired into the earth's atmosphere.  Others are on the job as well, though, as we see on the freshly turned page that Spider-Man is manning the controls to the shuttle rocket Luthor had used and Superman is flying to try to stop the havoc being created by the laser.  We're shown a scene of horrendous storm activity in the Midwest, for example.

As the Man of Steel reaches Comlab, the laser knocks him unconscious.  Spider-Man flies forward to help, but also ends up in its path and is soon out himself due to loss of the life support system onboard.

Moments later our two heroes beingin to come to in the presence of their arch-enemies aboard the satellite.  Luthor smugly explains their plot.  He's created an artificial hurricane that is sweeping the Midwest from Chicago to New Orleans and unless the U.S. Government forks over $10 billion dollars, he'll allow the storm to grow and spread.  At that little announcement, our heroes spring into action, each tackling the other's foe.  Lex manages to activate a device that negates gravity in the satellite, throwing both Superman and Spider-man off balance.  Doctor Octopus uses his tentacles to shove Superman aside and Spidey's webs won't fire straight in the zero gravity environ.  The heroes are slammed together at one point and then they manage to regroup and retaliate, with Superman ripping two of Ock's tentacles from their housing and the web-slinger using Luthor's head for a punching bag.  It is then that the Man of Steel notes a destructive tsunami headed for the east coast.  He hits the airlock and exits to try and avert tragedy.  Luthor then regains control of the satellite while Octavius has Spidey wrapped up in one of his tentacles.  Lex says that soon the earth that has held his genius in contempt will be destroyed and the wall-crawler tells Octopus that he's going to have a hard time spending his share of the loot if the home planet is destroyed.  Dawning horror grips Octavius and he turns on Luthor, destroying the programming module and soon the pair are trading blows. 

Meanwhile a red and blue figure streaks downward faster, ever faster, breaking the sound barrier and going from Mach 1 to Mach 2 to Mach 3, creating a massive wall of sound to counter the destructive tidal wave while his comrade cleans up the two villains high above in space.  Ultimately, the effort works and the Atlantic seaboard is spared.

All that is left now is to mop up.  The two heroes bid one another fond farewell with their respective criminals safely wrapped in webbing.  On the final page, the epilogue:

Clark Kent and Peter Parker have switched to their civilian identities and each had the forethought to set up automatic cameras, video in Clark's case, to catch the action.  Later, each man presents his boss with the fruits of that effort and the pleased media magnates offer them a free dinner, so the two couples head off into the Big Apple to enjoy themselves, capping the adventure and the story.

This issue clocked in at 92 pages and must have been quite the Herculean effort working between the two big Kahuna's of the comic book industry.  The oversized format was a good choice and the artistic team managed to do the characters justice.

I've got to admit that the premise, at least at first glance, seemed pretty ludicrous.  First off, the typical Marvel formula was brought into play when two heroes go at it hammer and tong and only later discover they're on the same side.  Yawn!  Then of course there was the simple absurdity of two badly mismatched sets of powers.  The high-powered Superman versus the very mortal Spider-Man?  C'mon now.  Sure, I knew they'd find a way to level the playing field, but you know what I mean.  Oh and one more minor nit to pick.  By 1976 both characters were very well established.  Superman, in fact, was coming up on his 40th birthday.  Did we really need the origin stories?  Were those for the benefit of the cave-dwellers who had never heard of Superman or Spider-Man?  Again, c'mon…

Despite that, I thought it was a very bold move and in some respects, they hit all the right notes.  Ross Andru, with his oversized action panels was a very natural choice and the two evil genius foes was another very logical move.  I think DC and Marvel took a pretty calculated gamble on making it a $2.00 issue, too.  Double the price of any comic produced to that point, even for an oversized epic.

I'm not sure how things finally shook out on the balance sheet, but to my knowledge, the experiment ended with the prototype and they never tried again. 

As usual, I don't rate outside the Silver Age, but I do tip my hat to those who rolled the dice with this interesting and heretofore untried effort.

We'll be back again at this very location in approximately two weeks with another comic review and extend again our standing invitation for you to join us and grace us with any questions or comments at professor_the@hotmail.com.

In the mean time…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2005 by B.D.S.

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