Monday, October 17, 2011

Somewhere in the eighties and nineties, a small child sits in his bedroom with an A3 tablet of paper, writing all the names of the superheroes and villains he can think of. He draws pictures and wonders how their chemical properties will react when smashed together in the two-dimensional collider of a universe of imagination. The boy grows up, gets hair in funny places and starts noticing girls, but never forgets those Infinite Wars waged across Secret Earths.

If you've honestly never once considered what would happen if Iron Man matched wits and resources with Lex Luthor, or Superman all his powers against the Hulk, I think you've probably been doing it wrong. No matter the art, philosophy, or science of comics, there's an undeniably inherent joy in the comparison of these wonderful, everlasting characters. Characters who burst off the page with power and colour and excitement! Characters who've thrived on the alchemy of tossing raw elements into a four-colour spread, just to see what would happen! Stan knew it, Jack knew it. Johns knows it, Bendis knows it. We all know it to be true, deep down.

The seasonless thrill of superhero comics went hand-in-hand with the internet the minute it became accessible to the common reader. By 2005, there was a whole multiverse of 24/7 fansites and blogs to stumble upon, making it the perfect time to realise the dreams of a seven year old who never had the technological means to do so. The Comic Book Fight Club was a long time coming. Discussing tiers of law enforcement, social equality issues, or the ins and outs of an artform is great on its own, but it's a unique hook with cream whipped dessert when overlayed by Powergirl v Mister Atom, or X-Men v Namor. There was, of course, another reason to finally indulge this overdue concept at the crest of 2005, which brings me back to the beginning...

With a cover date of March (1996); 2006 marked the little talked about tenth anniversary of DC versus Marvel #1 -- the perfect time to launch into the epic world of superhero smackdown! Afterall; the two biggest companies in American comics might have negotiated crossovers in decades previous, but never had they thrown their biggest icons into deliberate conflict with such reckless abandon! DC versus Marvel/Marvel versus DC wasn't just an attempt to appease the imaginations of all those ponderous six year olds -- this was a rare opportunity to actually engage them in a free-for-all of vox pop armchair editing! There would come a winner -- no draws! A daring feat for any corporate company, never seen before [in comics], and not since repeated!

For those who were there, it goes without saying that the DC vs Marvel project wasn't without its significant flaws. For those who weren't, you can glean as much from my own very flawed, oft-sourced accounts of the landmark event and it's many key (and incidental) battles. Ideally, this will serve as an introduction to an improved retrospection, as 2011 technically marks the cover dated fifteenth anniversary of the epic crossover event! Remember -- ultimate victory was decided by public vote in a best-of-five series [collectible ballot card picture above]!

This time around, the occasion has been much better recognised.
Speculation and suspicion has been relatively rampant in these uncertain times, with many fans wondering if DC's line-wide upheaval, and the general decline of industry sales, might not lead to another rare détente between the two giants. Newsarama has discussed it, iFanboy veered into clumsy conspiracy theories, and sites aplenty [including Bleeding Cool] fooled around with the idea, back in April. To say interest is alive and well is to state the bloody obvious.

There's something to be said for representing the DC and Marvel heroes at their most iconic.

Many a mistake has been made with flimsy high concepts and short-lived stunts that malform the fine archetypes that began our favourite eighty-year old universes. It's true that this can be one of the least admirable traits of this wonderous world of fiction, but sometimes, every now and then, the times pull off something completely strange, but fondly memorable.

It's fair to say that distance between the now and the nineties is only just becoming large enough for people to start forgiving. In another blog post, it would probably be intelligent to acknowledge that this reconciliation with our bombastic past is leading us down a path of repeating mistakes, but for this post, let's just assume that not every oddity of the nineties was brilliant. That said, I do rather appreciate that the DC versus Marvel crossover -- with all of its popular vote bragging rights -- didn't shy away from the strangeness some of the characters were experiencing at the time, and would gladly forget, soon after.

With Ben Reilly occupying the Spider-man suit; Aquaman bearded, angry, and missing a hand; Batman baring the registered yellow oval around his symbol; and Thor clad in futuristic bondage gear from Marvel UK's summer fashion line -- the 1996 four issue mini-series is as much a cultural yearbook, as it is an exciting, corporate phenom of a fight comic.

Superboy still had his tragic, nineties undercut, Jim Lee coat and genetically engineered ability to act like a dickhead. Catwoman was still dressed in form fitting purple; Kyle Rayner was the fresh-faced Green Lantern with no thought for a grey-templed Jordan; and truly placing it in the past, Storm manages to be relevant enough from the X-books to match-up with Wonder Woman! This really is a comic series that reminds us how much can change in fifteen years! Change that makes it all the more enticing to think about doing it again in 2011, with the characters who matter now, and who possibly missed out last time!

At the risk of partaking in another horrid comic book cliché -- the unfulfilling zero issue -- I'll simply state my intention to revisit the crossover in greater detail in the coming weeks, with a fresh look back at the battles of the original, and what it might look like today.

The odds of such a project actually existing still seem slim, even if the players who've famously stood against it are beginning to move on. Twenty years after conception, JLA/Avengers might've found its way into publication in 2003, but the previous decade will be remembered for renewed hostility between the big two. A friendly enough rivalry for the most part, spiked at times by public displays of affection, such as the 2004 Chicago convention panel, where Brian Bendis took it upon himself to air grievances about the now infamous illfated Batman/Daredevil crossover -- which in turn provoked a surprise appearance by then-DC Vice President of Sales, Bob Wayne, in a moment straight out of any Monday primetime professional wrestling programme. The project remains condemned in particular by an apparent dislike shared between then-DC President, Paul Levitz, and Marvel's enduring Editor-in-Chief and all around Sicilian rabble rouser, Joe Quesada.

Could bridges be mended as the business reform themselves? Maybe.
Then again, as much as there is mutual interest in the expansion and reconstruction of a once again flailing direct market, the two companies remain in steady competition. With the battleground moving ever more expensively into the cinema, DC and Marvel's balance between competition and industrial sustainability has never been more precarious. The perfect time for a team-up -- or the most vital time to keep separate in a war for the ideaspace?

Questions to consider, to be sure, but not here. Not when the spirit of the six year old, with his long list of characters and imagined fantasy fights must be answered! See you then, true believer.