While some of the most iconic comic events in recent history were created in the early ’90s – the deaths and returns of Superman and Magneto not being the least of these – I can’t say I speak upon the late 1990s as fondly. This opinion could easily be looked upon as the whining of a fanboy who doesn’t get what he expects, but I beg you to look at the following conglomeration:
The Professor is the dominant Hulk, a cheerful being who fights with his natural and not at all rage-induced strength.
Hal Jordan is dead, after killing all of his friends.
Thor is trying to look all ’90s with his not-at-all awesome green midriff armor.
Kyle Rayner is the only Green Lantern of Earth.
The Clone Saga. It exists.
Dick Grayson is no long – okay, I’ll admit, this is just fanboy griping.
There’s a reason I am bringing all of this up. That’s because all of these details surface in this comic. It’s almost a shame that both companies restricted themselves to the status quo of their respective universes with this story. We’re already talking about a comic that’s crossing over between two universes; the same mechanics could easily have been used to revisit fan favorites like Peter Parker. It would have also made the story more timeless. Marvel and DC, however, were quite a bit more interested in promoting their current comics.
The premise is that the Marvel and DC universes come together for big fight. There’s an opening sequence that introduces us to the concept, which isn’t bad, and three branches of story that we’ll address in order of prominence. The first is essentially a meta-story, consisting of two sentient multiverses (they can’t be independent universes, considering of how many universes the Marvel and DC universes each consist of), called The Brothers. They are each humanoid in shape, created at the dawn of time and having forgotten of one another’s existence. They rediscover one another, and are each enraged. They attack each other, each determined to win the prize from Highlander, but they quickly realize that an actual fight between two such entities would destroy the inhabitants of both.
The Brothers declare to their inhabitants that their chosen champions will fight for their world, leading to the events of the true DC Versus Marvel plotline. The Spectre and the Living Tribunal, each chosen by the writers as examples of omnipotence in their particular universe despite neither exactly being the most powerful representative of their particular company, attempt to intervene, each trying to hold their Brother back without the help of those such as Galactus or the Guardians of the Universe. In order to prevent the destruction of either world, Spectre and Tribunal manage to force the Brothers into one, which lasts until the next plot branch I’m going to look at ends it. This effectively ends the Brothers plot, which has a few more mentions but eventually tapers off, having served its purpose.
The next plot is about the man who would become known as Access. This plot carries all throughout, though it is most prominent at the end of the volume, when Access becomes the protagonist of Dr Strangefate #1. Axel Asher is apparently a regular person who meets a bum in an alleyway protecting a strange box. This box is actually a fragment of the universe from which the Brothers spawned, and it is through fragments such as this that Asher, after becoming Access, manages to separate the universes.
Like the story of the Brothers, this plot serves its purpose without being too ridiculous. The weakness of Access’s plot, however, is the sudden change of tone when Marvel Comics vs DC gives way to Dr Strangefate #1. Narratively, it works, but the Strangefate title has such a different tone from the main book that it really wrenches the reader out of the story. A conclusion without needing the sudden jump would have been a better alternative, with perhaps all of the related Amalgam comics collected in a “Volume 2″ collection.
Speaking of Dr Strangefate, Amalgam was not a bad concept, but the execution in terms of both forwarding the story as well as being a part of this trade collection really lacks something to be desired. Some great combinations of characters were created out of the merging of the two universes, but there should have been a greater narrative focus where those same characters all know something is wrong and are trying to figure out what it is. Those issues should all then have been a part of this collection. As it stands, the story feels very rushed going from “the universes are merging” to “they’re separate again” in the space of just a few pages. It robs all tension out of the moment, and doesn’t feel nearly as important in book form as it was in reality at the time.
But, like the readers of the actual comic, you’re not here for the glue that holds the pages together, such as it is. You’re here for the heroes and the fights. The heroes and villains of DC and Marvel all react in their own ways to seeing the universes merging. Some try to figure out what happened, some act as if nothing changed, and some just start beating up strange superpowered beings. As they are paired off, there are several off-plot match-ups, the most noteworthy being Darkseid and Thanos. We never actually see this fight, however. What is it with comics and constantly dangling awesome fights in front of my face and then denying me them?
Another part of the setup is the non-combatant members of our respective universes. J. Jonah Jameson and the Kingpin are now in charge of the Daily Planet. But too much of this just seemed to not faze enough of the characters. “Oh, ok Peter Parker now works for the Daily Planet as a photographer for Clark Kent and Ms. Lane – sounds good, what are you doing Saturday night”. Maybe this did seem all too routine to them, what with new villains showing up in their respective books all the time – but these changes to their respective universes just seemed too big to me for them to be acting as un-surprised as they were.
The fights we do get are a little different than you’d expect as well. The comic tries very hard to make sure it’s not just a series of fights, but they go about it all wrong. Now that the premise has been established, a Marvel vs Capcom series of duels is all that’s needed. Other than that, the best option is the same excuse they use for every other crossover – set up some sort of flimsy premise where the heroes don’t recognize the other’s intentions, and they fight. Instead, we get a series of fights in which heroes elaborate on why they don’t want to fight each other. These reasons range from not liking having to fight other heroes, to having worked together in the past like Silver Surfer and Green Lantern to Tim Drake appearing in Jubilee’s bedroom and their falling in love (take that however you will).
There is way too much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over why “we shouldn’t have to fight each other” and why “we should work together”. It might have been okay if one of the fights in question went in that direction (in fact, it would have been nice if the most unexpected characters had said something to that effect, like Deadpool – who is not in this – and Lobo deciding to team up to solve the problem), but it just feels like a lot of whining when “versus” is the main point of the book.
Half of the fights were voted on by fans in advance (presumably via mail), while the other half are decided by the writers in order to not cause one of the universes to be destroyed. While it’s a valiant concept (and I don’t mean Valiant Comics!), I think anybody that has spent serious time in any fandom has come to realize that these sort of democratic plotlines always go, rather than to the average devout fan, to the most vocal and annoying minority. That, or they are pulled off in an incredibly stupid way – like the way Del Rey gave away the ending to Legacy of the Force: Sacrifice in the very announcement of the “Darth Who?” contest. I don’t know if that was the case here, but I would be surprised if it wasn’t. Remember, this is the creative team that was so in tune with their fanbase that they turned one of the most beloved characters of all time into a villain and killed him, just so that years later he could be retconned into never having really turned dark in the first place, teamed up with the creative team that is so afraid of their fans that they give us a Spider-man who says “my name is Ben Reilly, but my professional name is Peter Parker”. Mostly I thought the knock-down drag-out fights should have lasted longer and been more of a focus of the story than they really wind up being, since the “meta” parts of the story are really rather weak. The “vote” nature of the fights also ends up with some results that the artists are really unable to depict, like Wolverine somehow beating Lobo, which results in it taking place off-panel.
As for the art, there are a few things worth mentioning. The first is that it was really jarring to see Marvel and DC characters drawn in a shared art style – a rather Marvel style, to be honest. Once you get over this, the art is a bit above average, although there is one moment where they show Hal Jordan as Green Lantern and Thor in his classic blues. I’m not certain if this was meant to show classic design elements, but if so it comes off more as though the artist missed the memo.
Ultimately, this story was okay. It wasn’t an epic crossover by any means, but neither was it complete trash. The writers (and host of editors) worked hard to make a story that lived up to the larger-than-life scale of the crossover, and while it didn’t work out quite that well, it could have been a lot worse. My feeling as I finished this trade was neither one of amped up excitement nor utter distaste, but rather the disappointment of a story that over reached, got my hopes up, and delivered an average product, with a hint of avoiding things that could have been far worse.