To the modern comic book aficionado, the notion of Marvel and DC crossover comics must seem like a fantastical relic of the past - but there was once a time when stuff like Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man came out on a yearly basis. Marvel and DC might have been at each other’s throats both in the comic book shop and the theaters for the last decade, but they used to be a lot more comfortable collaborating - especially when it meant record sales for both publishers!
The relationship has cooled decidedly since, and it’s been nearly two decades since the last official crossover hit in the form of 2003’s JLA/Avengers. But with the entire comic book industry on the brink of collapse in 2020 thanks to a global pandemic, there have been increasingly loud calls for the two companies to let bygones be bygones - and put together another mashup adventure for the ages to save the entire medium.
‘Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man’ (1976)
1976’s Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man was the first-ever official crossover between DC and Marvel Comics - and it was all made possible by The Wizard of Oz. The two publishers had already collaborated on an adaptation of that iconic property, and so the powers that be at each company figured that they might as well combine their two most popular characters while they were at it.
Though this issue represented a milestone moment in comic book history, the actual story inside is pretty standard. Doctor Octopus and Lex Luthor meet in prison and team up to instigate a fight between Supes and Spidey - made possible because Luthor has doused Peter Parker with red sun radiation. Once that wears off, the two heroes unite forces to defeat the villains, but it proves largely unnecessary in the end because Doc Ock betrays Luthor anyway.
After this, fans would have to wait a half-decade before the next crossover classic.
‘Marvel Treasury Edition #28: Superman And Spider-Man’ And ‘DC Special Series #27 Batman Vs. The Incredible Hulk’ (1981)
In 1981, Marvel and DC decided to crossover in a different way, with each lending their characters to the other for a single issue of adventures. The Marvel side of things featured another team-up between Superman and Spider-Man - though this time around, the Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman also get involved in a plot that sees Doctor Doom and Parasite join forces.
The Hulk also showed up on the DC end of it, where he battles the Batman. Improbably, Bruce Wayne is able to knock his opponent out with gas, but once Bruce Banner emerges, the two team up in order to take on an unholy alliance between the Joker and the Shaper of Worlds, a being with untold reality-altering powers that he foolishly lends to the Crown Prince of Crime.
‘Marvel and DC Present Featuring The Uncanny X-Men And The New Teen Titans #1’ (1982)
Back in 1982, the two most popular teams at Marvel and DC were not the Avengers and Justice League, respectively - they were the Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans, so that’s who the two publishers mashed together for their final collaboration of the decade. This particular crossover was meant to take advantage of the then-new direct market, which made sales throughout the entire industry shoot through the roof.
The issue itself sees Darkseid resurrect the Dark Phoenix, which brings the X-Men and the Titans together to take on both godly threats - and Deathstroke, to boot. The combined psychic forces of Professor X and Raven are able to break through to Jean Grey long enough for her to turn on Darkseid, winning the day.
It might have been a triumphant victory on-page and in the sales column, but it was also the last crossover between the two companies for more than a decade. Editorial differences got in the way of several planned sequels, and both publishers decided that it was best for them to take their toys and go home for the time being.
‘Batman/Punisher: Lake of Fire’ And ‘Punisher/Batman: Deadly Knights’ (1994)Photo: Marvel/DC Comics
Comic books had another boom in the mid-'90s, and the siren call of the intercompany crossover - and the record-breaking sales it might represent - soon proved too tempting to resist for both DC and Marvel. Their first collaboration in more than a decade involved two of the most capable non-powered individuals in comics - the Batman and the Punisher.
The first issue, Lake of Fire, actually came at the tail end of Jean-Paul Valley’s time as the Dark Knight, which meant that Frank Castle got to team up with a significantly more violent Batman - a perfect fit for the Punisher. The sequel sees Bruce Wayne return to the role and clash with Castle until the two are able to put their differences aside and shut down an organized crime collab between Jigsaw and the Joker once and for all.