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Behind the scenes of Marvel and DC's first superhero crossover: Superman vs. Spider-Man
If comic fans went to the movies and saw Aquaman showing up in a Captain America movie, or Spider-Man swinging in to save the day in a Batman movie, or Black Panther working with Superman, minds would be blown. Today it seems unfathomable that DC and Marvel would work on a joint production, but for a while, from the mid-'70s through the early 2000s, they produced several comic books together.
Though the companies worked together for the first time in 1975, for the MGM Wizard of Oz comic book (written by Roy Thomas and drawn by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga), the first ever Marvel/DC superhero team-up came the following year. Superman vs. Spider-Man, written by Gerry Conway and Ross Andru, kicked off a trend in comic books that would last for almost three decades. After Superman and Spider-Man faced off, soon it was Darkseid vs. Galactus, X-Men vs. the Teen Titans, Batman working with the Punisher and Superman teaming up with both the Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer, ending with the JLA/Avengers crossover in 2003.
Existing outside of the canon of DC or Marvel, Superman and Spider-Man each start off defeating their respective foes, Lex Luthor and Doctor Octopus. In jail, the two villains hatch a plan to take over the world. Masquerading as Superman, Lex Luthor steals both Mary Jane and Lois Lane away. When Spider-Man catches up to the real Superman they come to blows, but as expected, finally agree to work together.
This week, Conway spoke to SYFY WIRE about how the joint venture really came to pass, what it was like working on the book with Ross Andru and why a DC/Marvel crossover is so unlikely today.
According to Lee's forward in Superman vs. Spider-Man, the book was a gift to fans, something that had been talked about for years. From Infanttino's perspective, it read more like the boxing bout of the century. But it actually started with a book agent named David Obst.
In the early 1970s, Obst was working with Stan Lee as his book agent. Obst had gained recognition and clout in the industry after he helped publish All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. According to Conway, Obst had dreams of becoming a movie producer — he married famed producer Linda Rosen, who worked on movies such as Sleepless in Seattle, Contact and The Siege — and would often talk to Lee about making a Spider-Man and Superman film.
"He was kind of a comic book nerd as well," Conway said. "I remember David was talking with Stan and asked why Marvel and DC have never done a crossover with Superman and Spider-Man. Stan said 'Well, it would be impossible. We'd never be able to make a deal.'"
But Obst wasn't satisfied, according to Conway. Pushing Lee for a commitment, Obst asked the Marvel publisher if he would agree to an arrangement if Obst could negotiate something with DC publisher Carmine Infantino. Suspecting nothing would ever come of it, Lee agreed to Obst's request. By the mid-'70s artists like John Romita, Gil Kane, Steve Ditko, Dick Ayers had established that creators could go back and forth between DC and Marvel and be successful, leaving an opening for such discussions.
Over at DC, Carmine Infantino was busy. In 1975, DC was in the middle of negotiations over the script, cast, and future of the Superman movie. Just a few years into his time as publisher, Infantino had made some major changes to the company, including signing major talent like artist Neal Adams and writer Denny O'Neil and stealing Jack Kirby and Gerry Conway away from Marvel. Shortly after Conway was hired, Obst approached Infantino and DC and made his pitch.
In the end, the book was split down the middle, with DC's Conway writing the book and Marvel's Ross Andru stepping into pencil it. It was agreed that Lee and Infantino would oversee the entire project and former DC inker Dick Giordano would ink the book. Marvel's Glynis Oliver colored the book and DC's Gaspar Saladino provided the lettering.
In addition, it was agreed that Infantino would lay out and pencil the cover for Andru finish.
Interestingly enough, at the time Conway was the only person to have written for Superman and Spider-Man, while Andru was the only person that had drawn both characters. By then Andru had already worked for DC and Marvel, joining the latter in early 1970s. Andru worked on the first appearances of The Defenders, helped launch Marvel Team-Up, and penciled The Amazing Spider-Man for a 56-issue run during his time at Marvel.
"With his credibility, [Obst] managed to bring the two companies together and make a deal," Conway said. "I had just left Marvel at that point and was kind of a feather in Carmine's cap. Carmine was very competitive with Marvel, much more than Marvel was competitive with Carmine. Carmine really wanted to poke Stan in the eye, so he offered me the book to write and edit with DC."
In 1975, Conway made the transition to DC Comics. He had been writing Spider-Man for the past three years, joining Marvel officially in 1970 with the help of then-Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas.
"I had just finished working with Ross Andru on Spider-Man," Conway said. "As the writer, I suggested my friend Roy Thomas as the editor and he said, sure do whatever you want. So it ended up, Ross and I doing it as a guerrilla project without the oversight of either company."
In 2015, John Romita, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano told the blog Oh Danny Boy touch up work on the book had been done — Stan Lee requested Peter Parker's face be tweaked by Romita and Neal Adams touched up Superman's face on his own.
As far as a new wave of crossovers at DC and Marvel, Conway said it could never happen today.
"In 1975, at Warner Bros. there was no concept that DC was anything but a minor cog in the corporate wheel. Warner Bros. wasn't even interested in making a Superman movie, had no real sense that comics could be anything more than Saturday morning cartoons," he said. "Neither company had real corporate oversight. It had no value to the people that owned them. Today they are literally multi-billion dollar intellectual properties."
In an interview with Screen Rant just last year, DC's co-publisher Dan Didio said the two companies are unlikely to do a crossover anytime soon.
"It's not that we're mortal enemies — it is competition, if you want the truth. It has to be. As we say, 'the more we compete, the better off you are.' It means that we're trying harder to make our books better so you come to our books rather than Marvel books," he said. "That's what the competition is all about. Between the two companies, we still are the industry leaders. There's a lot of companies out there, a lot of great books being created. But we really have to lead by example."
The layers of oversight imposed at both companies would surely kill any crossover, Conway said. But...
"But never say never, I could envision a time ten years from now when DC and Marvel projects have oversaturated the market and there's no excitement over the properties," he said. "Maybe a potential situation, where Disney and Warner Bros might do an equivalent of a Roger Rabbit thing. Pump up interest by doing this gigantic crossover movie. Which in 10 years could be pretty f***ing awesome to see. But, it would still be a result of corporate decisions that are financially driven and creatively strangled."