What goes around comes around, and when it comes to the often-fannishly-induced game of dropping in references benign or malicious to a competitor’s characters, there isn’t any company who is entirely blameless in this endeavor. Here then are five times Marvel referenced DC characters in interesting fashion.
ADVENTURE INTO FEAR #17 – Steve Gerber was a bit of an anarchist when it came to his fiction. He didn’t have a lot of sacred cows, and through the course of his career he skewered or appropriated aspects of dozens of different parts of pop culture. But perhaps his first and most blatant was in this early Man-Thing story. Herein, the mindless, empathic muck-monster accidentally releases Wundarr, a super-powerful child-man who has grown up inside a space-pod that crash-landed in the Florida swamps. Wundarr’s parents shot him off into space when they discovered that their homeworld of Dakkam would be obliterated when their sun went nova. The ship made it to Earth, but the passing farmers thought it might be a communist weapon, and so nobody ever opened it up and took the child out. Rather, he grew to maturity inside the stasis of the capsule until Man-Thing releases him–and he has powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, but no real knowledge or personality. He’s as much a blank slate as Man-Thing himself, and after a scuffle with the muck-monster, whom he thinks of as his mother, Wundarr goes bounding away, to be picked up on again by Gerber over in MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE where he’ll eventually bond with the Thing and learn to speak. Later writers would eventually turn him into the Aquarian. Val Mayerik was Gerber’s partner in crime here, and apparently the release of this issue drew some sabre-rattling from rival DC, who were not amused.
AVENGERS #148 – We’ve covered the connection between the Squadron Supreme and their DC counterparts here on a number of occasions–the team came into existence as part of an unofficial crossover between marvel and DC, but largely lay fallow after that. That is until AVENGERS writer Steve Englehart reintroduced them, and used them in a compare-and-contrast fashion to spotlight the strengths of the Avengers themselves. Aided by artist George Perez, Englehart treats AVENGERS #148 as a faux issue of the Squadron’s own comic–with roll call heads down the sides of the opening splash page and the adventure broken up into chapters each spotlighting a different pairing of Squadron heroes. The whole affair is set upon the Squadron’s Other-Earth, whose President Nelson Rockefeller has been communing with the Roxxon leaders of Marvel Earth through the interdimensional Serpent Crown. Englehart frames the Squadron as simple-minded defenders of the status quo–a status quo in which big business interests enrich themselves at the expense of the common taxpayer. The Avengers are trying to escape back to their own world with the purloined Serpent Crown, and along the way they give the Squadron some things to think about. This issue is especially funny in that Englehart would go on to write JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA a few years later–and in his first JLA story he included a thinly disguised version of himself who effectively apologizes for the harsh criticisms he lays down here.
X-MEN #107 – Before he made a splash illustrating and co-plotting the breakthrough All-New All-Different X-Men, artist Dave Cockrum had become a fan favorite illustrating the adventures of DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes. His departure from that series was taken poorly, with his former editor going so far as to besmirch Cockrum on the letters page. So you can understand where this bit of nose-tweaking was coming from. Nonetheless, as he and Chris Claremont built up to the climax of their Xavier’s Nightmare storyline (which had already incorporated elements clearly swiped from both Star Wars and Star Trek), the put their team of brand new mutants up against a much larger foe: the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. Not only does the Guard outnumber them, but they are all analogues for the Legion members that Cockrum had worked on previously. Cockrum had put a lot of effort into updating the costumes of the Legionnaires, and here he does it again, making them seem slightly more alien and exotic in the process. At one point, with the intention of giving Wolverine a new costume, the pair have him strip the uniform off of the Guard’s knock-off of Timber Wolf, Fang. This costume was almost immediately discarded by incoming artist John Byrne, both because he didn’t like it and because he didn’t like the optics of stealing the clothes off of a DC character’s back. In any event, the battle continues between the two teams until it is broken up by the arrival of the Starjammers–a band of outlaws who bear a passing similarity to the Legion’s foes the Fatal Five. over time, both the Imperial Guard and the Starjammers developed beyond their original inspirations, but those connections never quite disappeared altogether.
QUASAR #17 – While he spent his entire professional life working for Marvel Comics, writer and executive editor Mark Gruenwald had grown up a fan of the DC characters as well, and had published multiple issues of a fanzine that pointed out and conjectured about connections between the various fictional universes they inhabited. And so when Gruenwald set out to depict a race between the swiftest characters within the Marvel Universe, it was almost unavoidable that he would have a ringer take the prize. In this story, the Elder of the Universe known as the Runner sets up a contest to determine the swiftest being in the Universe. Contestants for the title include Quasar’s supporting cast member Makkari of the Eternals, who desperately wants to prove himself. But in the middle of the competition, the speed energy unleashed by the race calls forth a blond-haired man in a tattered red and yellow costume. The new arrival has no knowledge of who he is–he just remembers running and having been struck down–and driven to join in the contest he smokes everybody else, winning handily. When asked his name by the Runner, the man replies that he’s not sure, but that it maybe sounded like “Buried Alien.” This story was a fun tribute to the late Flash, who was killed in the Crisis on Infinite Earths. It’s a bit of a shame, though, that Gruenwald didn’t stop there. He’d eventually do a second story with this character, christening him Fast Forward and having him come i second to Makkari upon their rematch. That second story turned this from a fitting tip of the hat into a bit of appropriation, and while I’m sure Gruenwald didn’t have any sinister motives, it does cast just a little bit of a shadow on this whole affair. Mike Manley was the artist on this initial appearance.
NIGHTSTALKERS #4 – Another tribute that worked out better was this one by Dan (D.G.) Chichester and Ron Garney. Rather than a page of their story proper, it was done as a coda at the back of this issue, and was intended as a reflection on a larger event that had impacted on all of comicdom: the 1992 Death of Superman. In this one-page vignette, vampire detective Hannibal King pays his respects to the fallen Man of Steel at a secluded graveyard. The demise of the Man of Tomorrow had rocked the world of DC, to say nothing of the Direct Market as a whole, but this was one of the few acknowledgements of it at rival Marvel. It was a classy beat, one that I had totally forgotten about until I began doing the research for this piece.