Marvel Madness

That Time Superman and Spider-Man Stopped Planetary Blackmail

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Last August I decided, rather spontaneously, to devote that month’s two Marvel Madness posts to a very strange pair of comics. Inter-company cross-over stories between the Big Two superhero comics companies, Marvel and DC. Sadly, it doesn’t happen much any more, but over the decades the Big Two have played around with the concept of letting their characters intermingle, often in ways that are vaguely defined at best. Last year we talked about two incredibly 90’s stories, one with Batman hanging out with Daredevil and the other with Batman and the Punisher stopping a gang war. Neither stories were particularly great, but it was a fun little experiment to play around with these cross-over stories for the first time. An experiment that went well enough that I’ve spent the ensuing year tracking down some more cross-over stories to share with you. But, this time instead of playing around with the comics industry’s most excessive and boisterous decade,  we’re going back to two of the earliest cross-overs the two companies ever attempted. And we’re starting things off with the very first time Marvel and DC decided to share toys (other than a weird Wizard of Oz venture), pitting their two most popular characters together. It began life as an even more insane proposal which would have made a movie in the late seventies featuring the two characters, but that proved too impossible to pull off, so it was settled to make a comic. Which, seems to be the more logical first step any way. And you know what? It’s a delight.

The story begins in the beautiful city of Metropolis, which is currently being destroyed by a giant robotic mech that’s just crashing through buildings, causing untold amounts of damage. Which, obviously draws the attention Metropolis’ favorite son, Superman. The Man of Steel comes flying towards the giant robot as fast as he can, only to get swatted away by its surprising strength. Superman attempts to destroy the robot several times, but it proves to be shockingly well-designed, equipped with all sorts of counter-measures for Superman’s vast powers, consistently pushing Superman away before he can do anything of substance. And, during one such attempted attack, the robot uses some sort of “inertia ray” on Superman, sending him careening off in the opposite direction long enough for the robot to reach its destination, S.T.A.R. Labs. The robot rips the roof off of the laboratory, and is able to steal a very specific item from inside the lab. Which is when Superman returns, just in time to see the head of the robot detach and launch into orbit. Superman chases after the head, which turns out to be a distraction, letting the pilot flee from the real command-center in the center of the robot. And, guess who it is?

 

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Yep, it’s been a crazy plot by none other than Lex Luthor, firmly in crazy supervillain mode for this story. He’s successfully stolen something from S.T.A.R. Labs and has outwitted the Man of Steel, flying off with his ill-gotten gains, much to the annoyance of Superman. He decides to give up on the robot, and flies off to his job at the Galaxy Communications Building, because apparently during this period of Superman’s career he was a TV news anchor working for a conglomerate that swallowed up the Daily Planet. I’m not sure, I’m not the biggest Superman scholar. But, he gets to work, hoping to ignore his weird failing, only to immediately get frustrated with those around him.

The sportscaster at the station attempts to play a prank on him, and the rich jerk who owns the company, Mr. Edge, starts giving Clark crap about not being there to film the giant fight between Superman and the robot, which is now being considered the greatest disaster to ever occur in Metropolis. Clark manages to keep his cool, but eventually slips out to clear his head and do some more patrolling. He gets into costume and flies back to the scene of the attack, following the path of destruction to attempt and locate the source of the robot. He follows this path all the way to a secret underwater laboratory off shore of Metropolis, which is when he’s promptly abducted by Lex Luthor, who has been waiting for him with his latest invention. Some form of laser that utilizes the same radiation from Krypton’s sun, meaning they can actually harm Superman, which Luthor uses to create a maze of lasers he can hide behind. Unfortunately, Superman is kind of the best.

 

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Yeah, Superman was able to get through Lex’s cunning plan, although Lex does succeed in blasting Superman point-blank in the face with one of the lasers, temporarily blinding  the Big Boy Scout. And, in that moment of opportunity, Lex quickly grabs the item he stole from S.T.A.R. Labs, a specifically manufactured circuit, and sends it fleeing from this hideout to a different one through a series of pneumatic tubes. And, with that little chore taken care of, he begins attacking Superman once more, blasting him again and again with his red-sun laser gun. It’s actually doing a number on Superman, who decides to come up with a new tactic. He uses his heat-vision to melt through the bulk-head of Lexs base, causing the ocean to come flooding in, sending Lex into a panic. And, one he stops pelting him with laser-fire, Superman is able to apprehend his villain and fly him off to prison.

Our story then abruptly shifts away from Metropolis to the less impressive city of New York, specifically the island of Manhattan. See, these early cross-over events didn’t really make any attempt to make sense of the hows and whys of these characters interacting. Technically, withing the continuity of each company, these stories take place on alternate planets where all of these superheros live together, which explains why Superman can exist in the same country as Spider-Man, who is just hanging out, looking for crimes to photograph. And, as luck would have it, he spots a couple goons who are robbing a museum. So, after setting up his camera, Spider-Man swings into action, and begins fighting the goons, waiting for the boss to show up. And, it turns out to be none other than Doctor Otto Octavius. And he’s brought along a new gadget to show off.

 

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Cool. Doctor Octopus had devised some sort of flying octopus craft, which is a little sweaty thematically, and he’s apparently just flying around town, stealing antiquities with it. Which, obviously isn’t going to be okay with Spider-Man. He swoops into action, and begins fighting both Ock and his flying Octomobile. Which, sadly, doesn’t go very well. Spider-Man is just too outnumbered when it comes to metallic tentacles, and he’s eventually over-whelmed enough to catch a tentacle to the side of the head, knocking him out and giving Ock the time to load up his goods and escape, leaving Spider-Man defenseless. Which, becomes problematic when some cops show up, and assume Spider-Man was involved in the crime, causing him to flee for his life, running out of web-fluid in the process.

He eventually makes his way to the office of the Daily Bugle though, just in time to drop off the film he took of his fight with Ock, looking for a little cash. He explains the fight to J Jonah Jameson, who is basically salivating at the prospect of selling papers based on these photos, and just tells his men to print the best picture on the paper, sight-unseen. Which, as you can probably guess, wasn’t the best call, because it turns out that something went wrong with Peter’s camera, causing it to take a series of blurry photos, leading Jonah to flip out and attack Peter, the two getting into a huge fight.

 

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Peter flees for his life, escaping the Daily Bugle while also confirming that he’s set to attend a journalism conference that’s being held in town. Peter then meets up with Mary Jane, and the pair begin walking off to find some dinner while just chatting. And, in typical Parker luck, this is almost immediately ruined. Because as Peter is walking with MJ he suddenly gets a very strong reaction from his spider-sense in the direction of a blimp that’s passing by overhead. The blimp appears to be attempting to dock with a nearby skyscraper, so Peter excuses himself from his evening with MJ, claiming he’s about to be sick and needs water, and races to the top of the building, donning his tights in the process.

Peter eventually gets to the roof of the skyscraper, and sees the blimp getting ever closer. So, he decides to leap off the building and web-sling over to it. Unfortunately, he’s forgotten that he’s out of web-fluid, which leads to Spider-Man crashing headfirst into the blimp. Luckily though, the whole blimp this is an elaborate ruse, just a tissue paper facade that’s covering up Doctor Octopus’ weird flying machine. See, Peter planted a spider-tracer on Ock when they fought, which was what was pinging his spider-sense, and it drew him straight to the villain. And, gaining the upper hand, Spider-Man is able to take Doc Ock down pretty quick, crashing his flying machine and getting him arrested. Doctor Octopus is then sent to a very special penitentiary for supervillains until his trial can arrive. And, he’s not the only inmate.

 

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That’s right, Lex Luthor and Otto Octavius are sharing cells right across from each other, which means they get a chance to chat and complain about their respective superheroes. And, over the course of their conversation, Lex proposes an idea. He suggests that he and Otto begin working together, and even attempt to switch heroes to see what they can accomplish. Lex really starts to get into the idea, even going so far as to starts saying that they can get started in the morning, already acting like they had gotten themselves freed from prison, and were ready to take over the world together. Otto laughs along to this, but slowly starts to realize that Lex has a plan up his sleeve. Literally.

See, they’re being kept in a very advanced facility, full of cameras and technology that keeps them from breaking out. But, Lex Luthor has smuggled in a variety of gadgets, all hidden below a strip of fake skin on his arm. So, Lex just rips some arm skin off, gets to his gadget pocket, and creates a high-frequency device that is powerful enough to take out the cameras, and knock the guards unconscious. Otto also gets hurt by the sound that Lex creates, which makes it that much easier for Lex to operate some other machine that gains him control of Otto’s tentacles, using them to free the two men. He then wakes Otto up, and they manage to flee from the prison, with Lex riding on Doc Ock’s back.

 

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So, that’s less than ideal. But, before we see how this epic team-up of villainy turns out, we need to head back to Manhattan to see that journalism exposition that Peter and the rest of the Daily Bugle folks were going to go check out. Because, as you maybe can guess, they aren’t the only intrepid journalists attending. That’s right, the Superman cast is there too! We get to see Clark Kent and Lois Lane walking around New York, complaining about how dirty and crime-ridden it is, while Peter gets some quality time with Jonah, the pair getting right back into the screaming match they’d been having at the Bugle. Peter yells at Jonah about what a shit he always is, and storms off to pout with Mary Jane.

And, while that’s going on, Clark Kent and Lois Lane are geeking out over the biggest event of the exposition, a large space station known as Comlab which is about to be launched into space, gaining all sorts of benefits to journalism. What kind of benefit? No idea, it’s vague at best. Lois really wants to get a better look at the station, but Clark is the eternal boy scout. However, when Clark gets drawn into an argument with Mr. Edge that results in Edge saying that he’s thinking about replacing Clark as the anchor of the news for someone like Walter Cronkite, Lois is able to sneak off and check the station out. And, while lurking behind the scenes, she ends up running into Peter Parker, who was also trying to get a peek. Peter and Lois get talking while hanging out, and it turns out that they’re both very aware of each other’s work, and are actually big fans. The pair then wander back out onto the convention floor, and Peter introduces Lois to Mary Jane. The two don’t really make quick friends, but while they’re talking something strange happens. Superman comes flying in and instantly vaporizes Lois Lane and Mary Jane Watson right in front of Peter Parker’s eyes.

 

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Huh. Well, that was unexpected.

Peter obviously responds to this rather negatively. As does Clark Kent, who has even more questions than Peter maybe does. The two men then both flee from the building as fast as they can, surreptitiously putting their costumes on in the progress. And, they both end up reaching the rooftops at the same time. The only problem is, this is the real Superman, and he sees Spider-Man as a potential ally to figure out what just happened to Lois, while Spider-Man thinks he’s encountering the man who just killed his girlfriend. And, as you can guess, that makes Spider-Man a little hard to talk to.

And, what’s more, Lex Luthor has yet another trick up his sleeve. See, that Superman who flew in and vaporized MJ and Lois was actually Lex, using some sort of teleportation ray, and has another special surprise. Because apparently Lex Luthor has gotten really into experimenting with red solar radiation, and in the process had devised a ray gun which can temporarily give a human being powers equatable to a Kryptonian. So, while Spider-Man is all hot and bothered, Lex blasts him with the ray gun, giving the old webhead a huge power-boost. Which results in a much bigger punch than Spider-Man was anticipating.

 

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 So, Spider-Man is full of fury, and actually has the strength to back that anger up, albeit temporarily. Which means he’s going to absolutely lose it on Superman. And, because Superman is a good guy, he kind of pulls his punches while desperately trying to figure out how to talk Spider-Man down. Superman keeps trying to calm Spider-Man down and get the situation under control, but Spider-Man just keeps ignoring everything Superman says, taking every opportunity to punch the Man of Steel in his face. And, this eventually gets a little tiresome for Superman, who ends up rearing up one of his strongest punches.

However, he realizes what a mistake this would be at the last second, and pull his punch, which surely would have decapitated our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. However, Superman threw the punch with such force that it still created a veritable hurricane-force blast of wind. And this results in Spider-Man being launched several blocks away from the fight. He keeps himself safe, but then quickly scampers his way back to Superman. However, in the time it took Spider-Man to get back to Superman, the radiation has worn off, and Spider-Man has lost his enhanced powers. Which, Spider-Man learns the hard way after a few incredibly painful punches. And, seeing he no longer has a chance against Superman, Spider-Man finally decides to listen to what Supes has to say, and gets filled in on everything. The two then decide to stop fighting, and work together to figure out what in the world is actually going on.

 

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Superman then begins using his amazing senses to get a read on the strange energy that seemed to swallow Lois and MJ up. And, once he identifies it, he’s able to track it like a bloodhound, flying towards its source while Spider-Man just kind of clings to his back for dear life. This eventually brings them to an old train-yard, which seems like a beaten down old relic, but which is also lined in lead, making Superman’s x-ray vision worthless. This is worrisome, so Spider-Man offers to sneak into the building first to investigate, telling Superman to give him a few minutes before blasting in. So, Spider-Man sneaks into the building, and finds himself immediately forced into a whole bunch of death-traps.

Spider-Man is eventually able to extricate himself from the traps, but it takes a little too long for Superman’s taste, meaning that he comes smashing through the walls at the same time that Spider-Man is able to stealthily enter the building, kind of ruining the surprise. But, regardless, Lex and Otto are waiting for them, ready to monologue while showing off the fact that they have Lois and MJ locked up, alive and well. But, before our heroes can do anything about it, it’s revealed that the villains are just holograms. They then trigger an explosion in the laboratory, destroying any chance the heroes have of learning more about them. Luckily though, Superman is able to use his speed and photographic memory to completely recreate the computer, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but whatever. They’re then able to locate where the villains are next.

Mount Kilamanjaro.

 

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Which is where this story gets a tad problematic. You know, lots of incredibly stereotypical portrayals of Africans, even though it kind of tries to turn it on its head by having one of them speak fluent English after having studied in England, but it’s still pretty rough. Not like, Tin Tin in the Congo rough, but definitely something that I would hope wouldn’t have been in a comic from 1976. But, sadly, that’s just kind of how things work. Regardless, they meet with some locals who agree to help take them to a nearby location where some mysterious things have been happening, which certainly seems to point towards Lex and Otto.

They end up finding a secret cave hidden by a massive boulder, guarded by a random African man who has been given the red sun radiation just like Spider-Man. Which means it’s time for a crazy brawl. Spider-Man and Superman do their best to fight this incredibly powerful man, but they only end up succeeding when they work together. Because it turns out that Superman was able to identify a property in Spider-Man’s webbing that would make it virtually unbreakable when exposed to his heat-vision. So, they encase the guy in webs, Superman heats it up, and he gets caked into the goop long enough for the radiation to wear off. They then enter the cave he was protecting, and find themselves in a secret base of Lex Luthor’s, with one very interesting element. An empty rocket silo. That’s right, Lex and Otto have gone to space!

 

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Yep. Lex Luthor has gotten his hand on a rocket, and has blasted off into space with Doctor Octopus so that they can reach the derelict space station belonging to the Injustice Gang, one of Lex’s previous attempts to take over the world. The two men dock into the station, and find Lois Lane and Mary Jane captive aboard the ship, waiting for them. Which is when they can finally get to work. Lex takes out a small case containing the device that he broke into S.T.A.R. Labs to get in the beginning of the story, which is the final piece to an invention he’s created which will be able to take control of the Comlab station which they all gawked at in the journalism conference.

Lex and Otto then prepare themselves for the launch of Comlab, watching as it blasts off from New York and enters orbit. But, once it gets into space Lex is able to activate his machine, and take control of its systems. And, you may wonder what this is going to do for him. Especially since this is a space station devoted to journalism? Well, like a majority of the elements of this story, it all comes back to a fundamental misunderstanding of lasers. Because apparently there’s a special laser on board the Comlab which Lex can calibrate in such a way to trigger a massive hurricane, which suddenly appears over an entire quarter of the United States. So, it’s up to Spider-Man and Superman to stop them! The pair borrow a space-ship and give chase, approaching the Injustice Gang’s station. But, they’re almost immediately both knocked unconscious by some defenses, and are brought on board so that the villains can explain their very strange plan.

 

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So, yeah. It basically all boils down to planetary blackmail, with Lex Luthor holding the world hostage with a weather machine. Pretty diabolical. Too bad that there are two of the world’s greatest heroes on board the station now. They spring into action, ready to pummel Lex and Ock, when Lex decides to even the playing field a little, and shuts off the gravity. He also begins pummeling Superman with those stunning lasers, keeping the big guy from just ending things immediately. Which leaves poor Spider-Man, floating sadly in the void while watching his webbing unable to even contact with the villains.

But, after some perseverance, Superman finally gets a lucky shot. He’s able to grab a hold of Doctor Octopus’ tentacles, and uses them to swing the little scientist around smashing him into a wall, and ripping two of the tentacles off. Which mainly results in Ock losing his glasses. Luthor is able to grab them for him, but by this time they’ve been shattered, making Otto the most pathetic guy on this space ship. And, while Superman is dealing with Ock, Spider-Man is doing his best to beat the crap out of Luthor, all the while trying to convince him that this entire plan is absurd, and that he should just give it up.

 

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But, while grappling with Luthor, Superman notices that a massive wave is being created by Luthor’s laser, which threatens to destroy the entire East Coast. So, Superman decides that his talents are needed elsewhere, and he slips out of the space station, flying down to Earth to do whatever he can to stop the tidal wave, while Spider-Man is left behind to deal with Lex and Otto. Which, you’d think would be a pretty difficult task. But, fortunately for Spider-Man, Lex starts to get a little more unhinged now that his plan is in place and his nemesis is out trying to thwart it.

Because at this point Lex just kind of cracks, and starts talking about how the laser has almost reached a point where it will be impossible to save it. The world will be destroyed, and no amount of money can satiate him, because apparently Lex was in this whole thing just to destroy the world. Which, turns out to be a bridge too far for Doctor Octopus. He’s crazy, but not that crazy. So, he decides to actually help Spider-Man. The two begin fighting Lex, while Superman is down stopping the tidal wave from destroying the East Coast. And, after a while, Spider-Man is able to knock out Lex, and stop the machine. Our heroes then arrest the villains, save their ladies, and part as friends, never to speak of this again!

 

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Listen, the bar for these inter-company cross-over comics is pretty low for me. Last year I talked about two incredibly lackluster stories, one much worse than the other, but neither of them particularly great. I had the most fun just talking about the novelty of them. So, when I decided to do this cross-over thing again this year, I figured I’d be in for a similar experience. But, you know what? This comic kind of rules. Yeah, there are some problems with it, namely that super uncomfortable African section, but by and large this comic is kind of exactly what I’d want from a comic that attempts to tell a story featuring both Spider-Man and Superman. Yeah, they don’t attempt to make any sense of how it makes sense, but that doesn’t matter. We get a story about two journalists meeting at a convention and getting involved in an evil scheme involving their two greatest foes. And I really love that! There are some really corny elements, like all the magical lasers, and whatever the hell this Comlab thing was supposed to be, but none of that was able to spoi what is otherwise a hell of a comic. It’s full of great art, all the characters are acting like they should, and it’s just a fun little superhero adventure. It should always be this simple. Superman hasn’t always been a character that I’ve connected with in the past, but I’ve really started to appreciate him more and more as time has gone on, and I think he’s really fun in this story, even though I’m not necessarily familiar with what the character was going through around this time in his history. And, as we’ve talked about numerous times, I love Spider-Man, so I’m always going to be happy to see him. Their pairing is a little odd, clearly just designed because at the time they were each of the company’s most marketable characters, thus ensuring this would be the most profitable cross-over possible, but they ended up being a surprisingly solid pairing. I mean, when you have a pair of crime-fighting journalists working together, what’s the worst that can happen?

 

Superman vs the Amazing Spider-Man was written by Gerry Conway, penciled by Ross Andru, inked by Dick Giordano, colored by Jerry Serpe, and edited by Gaspar Saladino, 1976.

 

 

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