In 1996, DC and Marvel Comics made a four comic series featuring the biggest names in each of their respective comic universes doing battle. Two cosmic beings, known as "the brothers", each representing one of the universes, noticed each other for the first time. In doing this, they opened a gate between the universes, randomly moving people from one universe to another. Soon after this, a contest was initiated by the brothers: The greatest heros of each universes would battle each other until one of the two was immobilized, the other would score a win. After the battles had all ceased, the universe with the least wins would be annihilated entirely. The heros were reluctant to do battle with other heros. After the contest, instead of one destroying the other, the two universes melded into one (which basically spawned Amalgam Comics). Immediately afterward, Access, one of the "shards" of the brothers, with help from The Spectre and The Living Tribunal restored the universes to their original conditions.

The Battles:
A four-issue comic book miniseries, published jointly by DC and Marvel Comics in 1996. It was written by Ron Marz and Peter David, pencilled by Dan Jurgens and Claudio Castellini, and inked by Josef Rubinstein and Paul Neary. It happened during a period when Marvel and DC were being uncommonly cooperative and putting out a lot of crossovers between their top characters. So the managing editors of both companies -- Mike Carlin at DC and Mark Gruenwald at Marvel -- started pushing the ultimate Marvel/DC crossover: "Marvel vs. DC" (or on the weeks when DC published it, "DC vs. Marvel"), in which the biggest characters from both companies would duke it out to see which was the better company. Lame? Yes, totally, and their other gimmick made it even cheesier -- readers would get to vote on the winners of some of the battles.

One of the more interesting things they did for this series was create a character who was co-owned by both Marvel and DC. Access was a normal guy named Axel Asher until he unexpectedly learned that he had inherited a position as one of the guardians who made sure that the Marvel and DC Universes didn't crossover unexpectedly, 'cause it'd really screw up the space-time continuum. Lame? Yeah, pretty much. Access didn't have much in the superpowers area -- he could teleport himself or anyone else anywhere he wanted, and he could move between the two universes at will. Nevertheless, a good portion of the series revolved around Access as he discovered his powers and helped put an end to the crisis.

The plot of the series was decidedly odd: two cosmic brothers who embodied both of the comic book universes finally become aware of the other's existence and decide that they hate each other. After switching characters back and forth between universes for a while, the brothers decide they'll make some of the superpowered residents of their universes fight each other -- and the universe that loses the most battles will cease to exist.

The characters who got paired off against each other were:

 

 


In the quickest battles, Elektra stomped Catwoman, the Silver Surfer busted Green Lantern (in a battle that consisted of one bright flash of light -- LAME!), the Flash ran rings around Quicksilver, and Robin beat Jubilee (apparently, those two were paired up because they both had red and yellow costumes -- LAME!). Somewhat better fights were between Aquaman and the Sub-Mariner (Namor might be superstrong, but Aquaman can talk to sea animals, so he had a killer whale kick the Sub-Mariner's ass for him) and between Thor and Captain Marvel -- Thor wins after he's able to use his mystic hammer Mjolnir to short-circuit Cap's magic lightning, but he loses the hammer in the process. When Wonder Woman finds it and picks it up (Mjolnir can only be picked up if the wielder is "worthy", which makes Wondy one of the few people outside the Marvel Universe to ever pick it up), it makes her a lot more powerful, with powers that fuse Thor's and her own (a bit of subtle foreshadowing of what was coming at the end of Issue #3, maybe).

All the other battles were the ones that the readers got to vote on, and they were all generally disappointing. Wonder Woman threw Mjolnir away, because fighting Storm when she had all that extra power just wouldn't be fair (LAME!), then Storm zapped her with lightning bolts 'til Wondy went to sleep. Why? 'Cause Storm was more popular! Superman and the Hulk pounded on each other for a couple of pages 'til Hulky went to sleep. Why? 'Cause Supes was more popular! Batman knocked out Captain America with a lucky shot with a Batarang. Why? 'Cause Batman's more popular! Spider-Man beat Superboy -- which really says bad things about Superboy's popularity, 'cause at the time, Spider-Man was the infamous and much-despised Spider-Clone.

And in the lamest fight of them all, Wolverine beat Lobo. Lobo is a big alien biker thug who could go toe-to-toe with Superman, who'd killed everyone on his home planet, who could completely regenerate himself from a single drop of blood, who was serious bad news. Wolverine was a scrappy mutant with a little extra strength, a healing factor, a bad attitude, and claws -- hell, at the time, he didn't even have his indestructible adamantium claws. Wolverine should've been a stain on the floor after one punch from the Main Man. But Wolvie and Lobo rassle a little in this interstellar saloon, then they disappear behind the bar, then Wolverine reappears, smokes a cigar, and looks very satisfied with himself. Gee, I guess Wolverine beat Lobo with sex or something. That's what happens when you let readers vote on your plots -- they always suck.

Then, at the end of the third issue, the creators pulled off their biggest coup: the two universes were combined into one. (How? Can't say it was ever made clear -- in the third issue, the cosmic brothers did it; in the fourth, they didn't do it) All the characters were fused together: Batman and Wolverine were turned into Dark Claw, a millionaire playboy with metal claws; Superman and Captain America were combined into Super Soldier, World War II's greatest hero, revived in the present day and working as a mild-mannered reporter; the Joker and Sabretooth became the Hyena, a musclebound feral freak with green hair and a nasty giggle. Marvel and DC published a week's worth of "Amalgam Comics", then resolved the whole thing and got everything back to normal in the last issue of the miniseries.

Basically, this whole series was, aside from the inventive and fun Amalgam Comics issues, very disappointing. Besides the overwhelming lameness of many of the battles and the thundering illogic of the plot (the flip-flop on what caused the two universes to merge is absolutely inexcusable), there were so, so many missed opportunities -- team-ups that could have been really cool, but were only briefly pictured or wasted entirely. Iron Man and the Fantastic Four barely show up at all. Battles that could have been great -- Batman vs. Venom, Captain Marvel vs. Dr. Doom, Superman vs. Annihilus -- are given only one panel. Some of the neatest superhero team-ups -- Supergirl and the She-Hulk spring immediately to mind -- are just barely mentioned, and the only supervillains who team up are the Marvel and DC versions of the Scarecrow. Spider-Man meets the Joker, and they just talk. Everyone say it with me: LAME!

They still do Marvel and DC crossovers from time to time, and they're often not bad, mostly because they focus on only a few characters at a time. That's probably the formula for success right there.

Other than being a reoccuring series of cross over battles, Marvel Vs DC could also be seen as the pivotal question of mainstream comics. DC and Marvel have been providing, for 60 odd and 40 odd years respectively, a series of good people in garish costumes fighting with a series of bad people in garish costumes. Although both DC and Marvel have hit some artistic high points over the years, their basic fare is still super powered slug fests.

Yet comic book fans still feel that the two companies have very different approaches, and prefer one over the other. When I was growing up, I was a Marvel fan, and would have viewed reading a DC comic somewhat like wearing my shoes on the opposite feet. It just wouldn't fit. Thanks to the power of the Multnomah County Public Library, I came to appreciate DC comics. Yet I still would say there is a large difference between them.

The concentional history is this: DC comics was churning out an endless succession of square jawed heroes with gadgets and no personality, when Marvel arrived on the scene and shook things up with super-heroes who had problems and rough edges. This theory is very true, as far as it goes, Marvel's early titles did indeed far outdo the DC comics of the time in realism. However, it should also be pointed out that the lameness of the Silver Age DC comics was due to the restrictions of the Comic Code, and that as soon as Marvel started shaking things up a little, along with the general relaxation of discourse in the 1960s, DC comics soon caught up with their competitors in terms of realism. Later on, it would be DC series such as The Watchmen and The Dark Night Returns that would take the artistic torch from Marvel, and especially the artistic milestone that was the Sandman series (of which I will speak more of later).

One of the first things I thought of to try to distinguish the two was that Marvel's cosmology seemed to always be more scientific while DCs tended towards a religious or magical bent. However, this seemed to be more a function of the times than anything else. The Golden Age of DC had many magically oriented heroes, but during the early Silver Age, the faith in progress and science made Marvel and DC titles more based around science. As the nation entered the late 60s and into the 70s, magic and the occult reasserted themselves in comics.

There has been a number of other factors that have wavered within the two companies, for example the choice of having super heroes fight "real" criminals planning diamond heists (and later drug shipments) versus superheroes involved in magical cosmological adventures where they fought aliens and gods. Once again, this was often more a difference between different eras than it is a difference between the different companies.

I was at a loss until the obvious came to me, while reading a collection of Jack Kirby's Jimmy Olsen tales, where he introduced Darkseid. I was also thinking of what it means that DC has cities that don't exist. And I also, of course, thought of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, the series that showed me the artistic structure of the DC universe.

I've never visited London in my life, but for some reason, I go there at least every few weeks in my dreams, to walk around a weird version of London. I've been to New York a half dozen times, but in my dreams I am often wandering around a semi-Manhattan. It occured to me that Metropolis and the others were types of dream cities, cities that followed their own dream logic. And from there, as I read Jack Kirby's fanciful work about an underground city stocked with the clones of The Newsboy Legion, it occured to me that the entire DC universe runs on a type of dream logic, and that Neil Gaiman's Sandman was not merely tacked on to the DC universe, but is the epitome of it.

As I said earlier, Marvel and DC have 100 years of history between them, with each company putting out a dozen titles, at least, a dozen times a year, meaning that there has to be tens of thousands of issues to read. It is hard to sum up what the difference would be, but I think my view that DC comics follow a dream logic while Marvel comics at least attempt to be about "our world" is as good a guess as any. The issue of time travel is an interesting one to look at: Marvel's time travel is always fraught with paradox and logical problems. DC's time travel, from the days of the Legion of Super-Heroes up until the JSA's Hourman and the JLA's Rock of Ages storyline, has always been extremly non-linear, with time feeding upon itself in a cyclic fashion, much as time does in dreams.

I do not know if this explanation makes any sense to anyone but myself, but I think it may provide a good starting point.

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