Today’s post- the first for some time-returns to my reviews of the Treasuries and Tabloids published by Marvel and DC in the Seventies.The Superman/Spider-Man team-up is another late addition to my collection: an online purchase from a year or so ago. Yet again, this was not a comic that I ever saw for sale anywhere in Lanarkshire in 1976.
It’s easy nowadays to forget how groundbreaking this inter-company crossover was. Yes, there had been nods to the characters from the rival companies in the past, largely in the form of parody, whether that was Not Brand Ecch or Inferior Five– or even the more sophisticated playfulness of the Englehart/Wein/Conway Rutland Hallowe’en stories. But this was the first time that two of the most recognisable heroes from the Big Two actually met- and brawled, in true Marvel style.
The tabloid is promoted as the “Battle of the Century”, a “Duel of Titans”. The prologue features a clash between Superman and Luthor’s giant robot. It’s very redolent of the rather corny, childish milieu of Seventies Superman and jock sports presenter Steve Lombard’s bucket of water prank is a groan-worthy scene. There’s also a cringe-making reference to “Truth, Justice and the Terran Way”. You can see why the Gothic horror and grotesque criminals of Gotham propelled Batman to the status of fandom’s darling.
The sequence that follows depicts Spidey taking down Doc Ock and his Flying Octopus. The campery of that gimmick aside, this is recognisably the Peter Parker of the Conway/Andru era- he’s even wearing the ghastly Xmas sweater I remember from the Jackal storyarc. Conway’s JJJ- like a lot of Merry Gerry’s high-status charcters -seems, alarmingly, on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Surprisingly, it takes nearly fifty pages before the duel of titans to take place. The story then takes on a global scope: from Kilimanjaro to the long-unseen satellite of the JLA’s Injustice Gang. There’s a sly gag about seeing “too many Bond movies” as the Ock/Luthor team unleash a series of natural disasters from the orbiting Skylab- er, Comlab. Supey’s god-like Bronze Age Kryptonian powers avert a tsunami and the adventure ends with the suggestion that Parker has guessed Clark Kent’s secret.
Despite the melodramatic and corny story, the tabloid has great charm, scale and colour. It’s a perfect all-ages book: the camaraderie of the heroes (and the villains!) would be hard to imagine in a modern teaming of , say, Woverine and Batman (which would probably be a ten-issue “event” with multiple tie-ins).
Conway’s long tenures on JLA and the LSH weren’t favourites of mine during the late 70s-early 80s. I found his writing shrill and formulaic compared to Englehart, Claremont- even Wein. However now, in middle age, I can appreciate his craftsmanship more. This is an entertaining popcorn comic with a timeless quality that makes it suitable for a wide audience, even for modern kids.
Coming soon : Jack and Stan (Kubrick, that is)
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