Beyond just inspiring mischievous creators to come up with ways to have characters at rival companies Marvel and DC meet, the anarchic and rebellious spirit of the Bronze Age extended beyond the bounds of the immediate industry, prompting writers and artists to come up with ways to appropriate other characters outside of what was permissible to create even unlikelier crossovers. Here then are the Five Best Unofficial DC Crossovers.
CAPTAIN STRONG, ACTION COMICS #421 – Introduced in this issue of ACTION COMICS, Captain Strong was a salty seadog who became a mighty-muscled powerhouse capable of bending the laws of physics after he ate some of the alien seaweed called Sauncha which he grew. His girlfriend was Olivia and his enemies included a caveman from space and an ageless mystic hag, and he was clearly supposed to be E.C. Segar’s great creation Popeye the Sailor. With his cartoons playing on afternoon reruns for decades, playground talk had centered on the question of whether the Man of Steel was stronger than the one-eyed old salt, so creators Cary Bates and Curt Swan along with editor Julie Schwartz decided to give the audience an answer. They enjoyed it enough that there were a couple of follow-up stories that brought the Captain back and fleshed out his world some more.
CAPTAIN THUNDER, SUPERMAN #276 – It was a cover that got pulses racing, in particular the heartbeats of the longtime comic book fans out there who had been dying to see the Big Red Cheese who had been sued out of existence by the owners of the Man of Steel lay one upside his Kryptonian head. But despite the fact that DC had the rights to do new Captain Marvel stories at this point and were publishing SHAZAM, editor Julie Schwartz and creators Elliot S! Maggin and Curt Swan chose to create an alternative version of Superman’s greatest publishing rival–one whose fictional reality better fit in with the world of the Man of Tomorrow. Captain Thunder was really little Willie Fawcett, who had been trying to get back to his own universe after battling the Monster League of Evil across 1953 dimensions. But the Monster League had corrupted his alter ego, the unstoppable Captain Thunder, causing Willie to seek out Superman’s aid in putting things to right. While there are some skirmishes, the question of just who is stronger will have to wait for another day, because in the end Superman is able to break the Monster League’s spell and send Captain Thunder home. Or so we presume–he never appeared again after this one installment, so perhaps he’s still out there, journeying across the multiple timelines in search of his home dimension.
COLONEL FUTURE. SUPERMAN #378 – Colonel Future was a double-homage, both to a noteworthy author who had himself contributed meaningfully to the history of the Last Son of Krypton and also to his pulp magazine creation, Captain Future. Editor and longtime friend Julie Schwartz was no doubt the motivating factor in introducing Edward Hamilton, a scientist who gets a premonition of the future and kits himself up with the weaponry of tomorrow in order to prevent the tragedy he has foreseen from happening, coming into conflict with Superman along the way. The real Hamilton was affectionately known in SF fandom circles as “The World-Wrecker”, and here Colonel Future’s prediction is the result of his own actions in trying to prevent it. Fortunately, Superman (assisted by writer Paul Kupperberg and artist Curt Swan) is on hand to make sure everything comes out okay. Like Captain Strong, Colonel Future also returned a time or two after this, and even warranted an entry in DC’s WHO’S WHO.
UNNAMED GAUL. ACTION COMICS #579 – With his time on ACTION COMICS winding down as John Byrne’s reboot of the Superman line was waiting in the wings, editor Julie Schwartz allowed all sorts of crazy stories to see print, secure in the knowledge that it was all going to be wiped from continuity any day thereafter. And so came this issue of ACTION COMICS, in which a temporal accident sends Superman and his cast back to 253 AD, where they help the denizens of a hidden village escape the Romans. It’s all a magnificent homage to the great European strip ASTERIX THE GAUL, though set just a bit after the time of the adventures showcased by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo so as to avoid anything too litigious. Asterix himself doesn’t really appear except on the cover, and even there he’s changed just enough to squeak by. But for an Asterix fan, it’s a story that’s chock-full of Easter Eggs, and artist Keith Giffen channels the art style of the series just enough to pull it all off. Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier were the writers behind this one.
POG, SWAMP THING #32 – Despite appearances, it wasn’t only Superman who would meet characters from beyond the confines of the DC Universe. One of the best such stories took place in this issue of SWAMP THING, in which a spaceship full of anthropomorphic critters lands near Swamp Thing’s everglades as they search for a new home, their own having fallen into ruin thanks to neglect and greed and consumerism. It’s a full-on homage to Walt Kelly’s classic newspaper strip POGO, and writer Alan Moore obviously enjoys coming up with alien riffs on the sorts of wordplay that Kelly used to excel at. Artist Shawn McManus is able to bridge the gap between the somewhat more cartoony alien animals (who are covered head-to-toe in spacesuits but whose silhouettes are immediately recognizable) and the somewhat more realistically depicted swamp and surroundings. As in a Will Eisner Spirit story, Swamp Thing himself is almost a bystander in this tale, which manages to evoke pathos and tragedy and yet end on a note of hopefulness.