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Welcome back, superhero enthusiasts, 1990s culture enthusiasts and comic book collectors! Today we will take a look back at a certain crossover comic book that involved both Marvel Comics and DC Comics published in the mid-1990s. On my part, it’s been some time since I last reviewed a Marvel-DC crossover comic book. That being said, you can read about my retro comic book reviews of Batman versus The Incredible Hulk and Superman and Spider-Man on this website.
For this new retro review, we will focus on the 1995 crossover that brought two of Marvel and DC’s icons together for the first time – Spider-Man and Batman! To put things in perspective, the 1990s still remembered as the decade when Bane broke Batman’s back while the publishing of Spider-Man comic books became highly controversial with the Spider-Clone Saga. In the 1995 crossover produced the two comic book giants, Spider-Man and Batman are presented in their classic identities as Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne.
With those details laid down, here is a look back at Spider-Man and Batman: Disordered Minds published in 1995 by Marvel Comics and DC Comics with a story written by J.M. DeMatteis and drawn by Mark Bagley.
The story begins with a nightmare in which Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben got shot by an armed man in the presence of Aunt May inside their home. Immediately Spider-Man arrives and grabs the man by the neck. The armed man creepily laughs and his face suddenly turns into the Joker. Peter Parker wakes up in bed with Mary Jane on his side. After a short talk with his wife, Peter decides to leave their apartment and swing around the city as Spider-Man.
In another nightmare, a very young Bruce Wayne witnesses the death of his parents caused by a man with a gun. He suddenly turns into Batman and grabs the gunman by the neck. The gunman suddenly turns into the horrific Carnage. Bruce wakes up and decides to reflect. As soon as his butler Alfred opens the door to check on him, Bruce immediately leaves as Batman in the middle of the night.
Somewhere that same night inside a secret facility of the Ravencroft Institute, Cletus Kasady/Carnage is restrained in a secured chamber surrounded by armed security personnel with Spider-Man and psychotherapist Ashley Kafka watching him…
I’ll start first with the visual quality of this crossover comic book. Mark Bagley, who was the lead artist on Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man comic book series, delivered an unsurprisingly stylized look at the two superhero icons, super villains and characters, as well as on DC’s Gotham City (which was the most prominent location in the story).
While Bagley’s work on Spider-Man and the characters associated with him were typical of his Amazing Spider-Man of the decade, I can say that his take on Batman, Joker, Alfred, the Bat Cave and others on the DC Comics side resulted a unique look. Bagley drew Joker looking sinister, maniacal, clueless and even tamed as the plot progressed. Bagley’s Batman has a larger yet familiar style of muscular body compared to Spider-Man, and the visual presentation of his cape ranged from dynamic to looking authoritarian. There were however a few moments wherein Bagley went over the limit on emphasizing the length of Batman’s cape which resulted a few inaccuracies. Remember how there were times that Bagley drew Marvel characters’ thighs to look excessive with muscle? You will see that too on Batman here.
When it comes to artistic dynamism, it is clear that Bagley pushed himself hard creating some mixed results. Some scenes (action scenes and talk scenes included) had the appropriate amount of flash and style, while other scenes had an excessive amount. When it came to spectacle, Bagley succeeded in making the action, hard-hitting moments and explosions look very lively. To be clear, this comic book is entertaining to look at but ultimately it will resonate best with readers who are best familiar to the way Bagley draws.
For the storytelling, J.M. DeMatteis crafted a script that did not reach its full potential as there were obvious limits imposed to ensure equality on presenting the characters and the situations. This explains why in the beginning Spider-Man and Batman each had nightmares related to their respective past and end up seeing their respective super villains interchanged (Spider-Man sees Joker, Batman sees Carnage). The characters of Ashley Kafka and Cassandra Briar are not only looking too similar to each other (just imagine their characters having no colors), they both feel like cardboard cut-outs of a single character who specializes on analyzing people with dangerous minds and coming up with solutions to help them. The more known supporting characters from the respective sides of the two icons – Mary Jane and butler Alfred – made short appearances but did not really contribute much to the plot.
The limitations are also felt on the way Spider-Man and Batman – plus Carnage and Joker – were presented, right down to their interactions with each other. While it was expected that Batman and Spider-Man would be brought together by an unfortunate development, the complete absence of a fight between the two superhero icons was itself the biggest surprise here effectively defying crossover superhero tradition. Even without a fight, you will see Batman and Spider-Man do things separately in accordance to their respective traditions or character traits before getting back together leading to the big conflict with the super villains.
As for Joker and Carnage being together, the spotlight on them in this comic book is pretty limited. There simply is not enough space in this comic book to bring out the full potential of the two super villains who each are known to be murderers and psychologically dangerous. What is interesting in their limited time together is that the story emphasized the differences between them when it comes harming people. The Joker has his own sadistic style of leading people to their deaths in time-consuming ways which is opposite of the quick deaths Carnage enjoys. Considering their respective reputations, it is just a shame that this comic book not only failed to bring out the full potential of Carnage-Joker, it also failed to establish them as clear and present dangers to the public.
More on the plot itself in relation to the comic book sub-title “Disordered Minds”, the elements of mental instability, psycho-therapy, psychology and rehabilitation are present but they are all thrown out by the time the second half of the story begins, clearly making space for the crossover dynamics of Batman, Spider-Man, Joker and Carnage.
Spider-Man and Batman: Disordered Minds (1995) is a flawed crossover event comic book that just so happens to have more positive stuff than negative ones. It is enjoyable but not great and certainly not memorable. The imposed limits on the presentation made this comic book’s story feel very staged and predictable. With what little creative space was left, it is quite an achievement for the creative team to tell a cohesive and stuffed story (note: there is a lot of filler and some psychology related stuff may not interest some readers) while featuring Batman and Spider-Man the best way they could. It has enough superhero spectacle to be enjoyed although the interactions between Batman and Spider-Man and between Joker and Carnage could have been better.
If you are seriously planning to buy an existing hard copy of Spider-Man and Batman: Disordered Minds (1995) be aware that as of this writing, MileHighComics.com shows that a near-mint copy costs $120 while the near-mint copy of the signed-and-numbered edition is at $120.
Overall, Spider-Man and Batman: Disordered Minds (1995) is satisfactory.
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