We’ve been talking a lot about the unofficial crossovers between characters and the homages that were done. But beyond that, there’s a whole other category of instances in which one company either appropriated or parodied or referenced the characters of another. These instances tended to take many different forms–there was one memorable instance, for example, where after having become a spider to defeat a menace, Chameleon Boy of the Legion of Super Heroes turns to the camera and swears he wasn’t ripping off Spider-Man’s shtick:
Here, then, are five times DC referenced Marvel characters in interesting ways.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #103 – We’ve covered this issue before, in that it was also a part of an unofficial crossover with a pair of Marvel titles. So it’s no wonder that a number of Marvel characters show up, in the persons of partygoers to Tom Fagan’s Rutland, Vermont Halloween Parade. A spell by the League’s nemesis Felix Faust turns several of the attendees into actual super-powered menaces. The affected revelers include fans dressed up as Spider-Man, Captain America (who gives his name as Commando America) and Thor, as well as the original Fawcett Captain Marvel, whom DC had just secured the rights to (but this story would have been in progress before that happened. What’s interesting about this appearance is that the costumes and appearances of the Marvel characters were so close that decades later when DC wanted to reprint this story in their Black and White SHOWCASE series, somebody felt insecure enough about the situation to have all of the Marvel characters retouched so as to have them be further away visually from their source material. The original issue was the work of Len Wein and Dick Dillin.
ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS #84 – Yeah, I don’t quite believe that a Jerry Lewis comic book ran for more than 84 issues myself–it was a different age. But this 1964 issue of the merry misanthrope’s series is noteworthy as it represents the very first parody of Spider-Man (and indeed, any Marvel character) ever done. In fairness, the story itself by Arnold Drake and Bob Oksner doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Spider-Man–Jerry is brainwashed into adopting the identity of a fictitious French comic strip super hero, and hilarity ensues. But given the timing, the look of the costume and the fact that Drake was definitely aware of the rising popularity of the Marvel heroes even this early (he tried to convince DC to change their approach to follow suit on several occasions, to no avail) I don’t have any doubt that this was a deliberate reference to Lee and Ditko’s wall-crawler. The issue also references the cartoonist’s two previous creations, Flame Farrell and Neptuna, who are clearly stand-ins for the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner, albeit the golden age versions.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #142 – Steve Englehart had made a name for himself in the comics field writing a number of key titles for Marvel, including Captain America, Doctor Strange and The Avengers. It’s that last one that concerns us here, as much of Englehart’s run on that series revolved around his creation, Mantis, who was revealed to be the Celestial Madonna and who left Earth and the Avengers for the stars. Feeling like he was not done with Mantis’ story, Englehart transplanted her whole cloth to the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA while he was writing that title. He couldn’t come right out and say exactly who the mysterious woman from space calling herself Willow really was directly, but her story lined up exactly with where Englehart had left off with Mantis, and nobody within comic book fandom was fooled for a second. Who knows what editor Julie Schwartz made of this, if he was aware of the connection or not. Art was provided by the stable Dick Dillin, who cut Mantis’ antennae down to nubs for Willow. Not yet content, Englehart went on to incarnate Mantis a third time, in the pages of SCORPIO ROSE which he did for Eclipse (and which was itself a reworking of a Madame Xanadu series he had pitched to DC.) , before eventually coming full circle and continuing Mantis’ story in Marvel titles once again–and with all of her history somehow remarkably still intact despite her frequent changes of identity.
INFERIOR FIVE #10 – It was by 1968 permissible and even expected to see rival company’s characters parodied and made fun of in the humor magazines of their rivals, so it’s not a huge surprise to see the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and the Sub-Mariner in the pages of an issue of INFERIOR FIVE–the series had already showcased its comedic takes on the Hulk, the X-Men and Thor, among others. But again here, what makes this use so interesting is exactly how thin these parodies are. Visually, the characters all look almost exactly like their source material, and there’s some evidence (particularly on the cover) that some manner of insignia was removed from the ersatz-FF’s uniforms and replaced with the stylized Q for quartet. There are several panels if not whole pages that could be excerpted from this story and anyone would think they came from a Marvel magazine (albeit possibly NOT BRAND ECHH.) The story was the work of Howie Post and Win Mortimer, though fanzines of the time credit the idea for it to E. Nelson Bridwell, possibly erroneously as Nelson had created the series and had been the regular writer. The story also guest-stars Superman, the actual DC Universe version, so how these characters fit into the DC Universe I couldn’t tell you.
ANGEL AND THE APE #1 – In comic book circles, professionals (particularly the editorial staff at DC) were perplexed by the sudden rise of Marvel under the helm of editor Stan Lee. For years, Stan had been responsible for churning out buckets worth of hackwork across dozens and dozens of fly-by-night titles, so nobody could understand why he was being hailed as a genius. Putting aside the massive contributions of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and others (none of whom DC’s editors would have credited any highly), there was a good deal of just plain envy in the mix. In the pages of ANGEL AND THE APE, this sentiment took the form of cartoonist Sam Simeon’s boss, the self-aggrandizing editor named unsubtly Stan Bragg. Bragg is a talentless, raving egotist who insists on signing his name all over everybody else’s work–the same claim that others such as Joe Simon would stake in their own jabs at the Marvel editor. Bragg was a recurring character in the feature, which also featured analogues of Roy Thomas and Flo Steinberg along the way. This was the work of writer John Albano and artist Bob Oksner.