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Welcome back superhero enthusiasts, 20th century arts and culture enthusiasts, fans of Marvel and DC Comics, and comic book collectors! Today we go back to the year 1976 to examine what is truly a landmark event in the history of superhero comic book publishing – the first-ever superhero crossover event of Marvel Comics and DC Comics with Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man (also referred to as Superman vs. Spider-Man for short).
For the newcomers reading this, I previously reviewed the 2nd Superman-Spider-Man crossover comic book titled Superman and Spider-Man. That was released in 1981 and was handled by a different creative team (led by Jim Shooter as writer) compared to the 1976 crossover of the two icons of Marvel and DC. Going back to the 1970s, a crossover between Marvel and DC looked like an impossible dream as the idea of the two companies coming into agreements over the legal, creative and financial aspects was perceived to be unachievable. Indeed there were headaches and challenges during the negotiations but ultimately Marvel and DC came into an agreement to publish a special comic book featuring Superman, Spider-Man and the related supervillains and supporting characters from both sides. Take note that the two publishing giants worked together previously with publishing an official comic book adaptation of the movie The Wizard of Oz (1939).
With those details laid down, here is a look back at Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man, published in 1976 by Marvel Comics and DC Comics with a story written by Gerry Conway and Ross Andru. This crossover event was described as the battle of the century.
The story begins at the World News Conference in New York City. Separated by several feet apart, Clark Kent (Superman) and Peter Parker (Spider-Man) arrive with their respective companions and associates. What the two heroes do not know is that Lex Luthor and Doctor Octopus recently escaped from prison.
Peter Parker gets berated by his boss J. Jonah Jameson for not being good enough as a photographer while Clark Kent learns the bad news from Edge Morgan that he is not wanted for the coverage of a national convention.
Shortly after, Lois Lane climbs up a scaffold to get a good view for some photography. Just as she is about to fall down, Peter Parker suddenly grabs her and pulls her to safety. After an exchange of pleasantries, Peter introduces Lois to Mary Jane Watson. Just as MJ and Lois start conversing, Superman suddenly arrives. The Superman figure then fires beams of light from eyes to Lois and MJ, causing them to vanish into thin air. It turns out, the caped figure is an impostor as Peter Parker and Clark Kent react in shock.
Peter quickly runs to the roof of the building and changes into Spider-Man. As soon as he leaps into action, he comes face to face with Superman himself…
I can loudly say that this is one pretty enjoyable crossover tale that not only featured Superman and Spider-Man, but also gave their respective mortal enemies Luthor and Dr. Octopus a good share of the spotlight. To be very clear, the story and set-up of scenes do have a somewhat restrictive structure as the creators clearly did their best to make the spotlight on the characters more or less equal in terms of imagery, dialogue amount and the sharing of dynamic shots. While some may easily complain about the so-called old and tired formula of the major characters getting into fighting each other due to a misunderstanding followed by setting aside their differences to work together, take note that the said formula worked really well in this story written by Gerry Conway.
The story concept Conway came up was clearly made to justify Superman and Spider-Man encountering each other (note: the same goes with the super villains and supporting characters) and the way he wrote the two interacting with each other worked seamlessly and convincingly. There are lots of nice exchanges of dialogue between the Man of Steel and the webslinger.
Even though the script has this set of creative restrictions to ensure fairness on both Marvel and DC’s sides, the synergy of friendship and cooperation between Superman and Spider-Man is fantastic to read. Similar qualities are also evident with the scenes of Luthor and Dr. Octopus. Very clearly, the creative team did intense research on the Marvel and DC characters and found ways to create a unique mix that resonates with the fans of Superman and Spider-Man.
As expected, this comic book has lots of superhero spectacle for readers to enjoy. The superhero violence is not intense but the action scenes were entertaining to look at. In my opinion, the highlights of the spectacle here is when Superman and Spider-Man literally exchanged mortal enemies to fight with. As for the fight between the two icons as emphasized in the title, it definitely is a special event that really kicked the story into high gear.
While this is indeed a fun superhero crossover to read, there are some notable weak points here. For one thing, the plot itself lacks a strong concept and Luthor’s evil plan is very flawed and unconvincing. That being said, as I read and re-read this comic book, there never was a sense of danger building up nor was the Luthor-Dr. Octopus team ever a grave threat.
By today’s standards, Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man (1976) is still a fun superhero crossover comic book to read and it remains as a significant part of not just Marvel and DC’s history of collaboration but also that of inter-company superhero crossover comic book publishing in general. While it is better than many other inter-company superhero crossover comic books I have read through the decades, this one is certainly not the best one from Marvel and DC. For me, Superman and Spider-Man (1981) has a more elaborate plot, higher fun factor and deeper impact than this comic book. Meanwhile, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk (1981) exceeded this comic book in terms of plotting, character interactions, super villain portrayals and establishing a real sense of danger that requires the super heroes to solve. Still, Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man (1976) remains an enjoyable read and it definitely is worthy as the strong beginning of Marvel-DC superhero crossover projects of the 1970s and 1980s. It also has more dynamic visuals than its 1981 sequel. This one is also part of the Crossover Classics: The Marvel-DC Collection paperback.
Overall, Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man (1976) is recommended!
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