The fannish desire for a unified field theory of fictional comic book universes is strong, and a fun game to play–especially when considering meetings between characters at rival publishing houses, characters who in all likelihood will never get to interact on the page (or at least not in the way the fans might desire.) Some of those fans go on to become comic book professionals themselves, and sometimes make a bit of sport out of dropping references to the characters and goings on at the competition. As before here are five more times that Marvel referenced DC characters in interesting ways.
THOR #280 – The big budget Superman movie was an exciting event for everybody within the comic book field–the first time that any four-color character was being translated to the big screen in a lavish, serious-minded production. Promotion for the film was everywhere–and taking advantage of that, writer Roy Thomas, with a plotting assist from Don and Maggie Thompson, created their own parody/pastiche in the page of THOR of all places. Therein, it’s a movie about the Squadron Supreme character Hyperion that’s being created in his home dimension, and he comes to the Marvel Universe to enlist Thor in making a cameo. Hijinks ensue when the Mu Hyperion of the squadron Sinister turns up, follows the pair and then replaces the heroic Hyperion. This is the story that introduced such concepts to the Squadron’s world as Hyperion’s love interest, Newspaper columnist Lonni Lattimer, and his greatest enemy Emil Burbank, who hates the Man of Atoms because of an accident that makes his hair grow uncontrollably and whose brother is the director of the film. It’s all a bafflingly absurd trifle–but Thomas did prevail upon longtime Superman artist (and uncle of Marvel editor Ralph Macchio) Wayne Boring to draw the issue, adding an additional layer of verisimilitude to the gag.
WHAT IF #34 – WHAT IF was typically devoted to stories showcasing the path history might have taken had key events gone a different way, but for one memorable issue, #34, the series instead became a comedy venue, with different creative teams doing single or two-page gag strips all built around the WHAT IF concept. There’s a lot of good stuff in this issue–but for our purposes, the page we want to focus on is the one produced by Mark Gruenwald. It included a gag about gender-swapping Wonder Man and Power Man that had a bit more bite to it than may have been readily apparent to most readers. years before, DC/National’s lawyers had objected to the single issue appearance of Wonder Man as being derivative of Wonder Woman, and editor Stan Lee promised not to bring the character back. Years later, when Power Girl was introduced in the revived ALL-STAR COMICS, Lee reached out, reminding DC that Marvel had been publishing a book called POWER MAN for several years. DC’s lawyers told Lee to get stuffed–so the publisher mandated that Wonder Man be brought back as soon as possible in the pages of AVENGERS. This single panel gag is also a reference to this situation.
FANTASTIC FOUR #249 – It began as a debate in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide, an argument among fans concerning the manner in which Superman’s powers worked. Creator John Byrne insisted that many of the Man of Steel’s powers had to be psionic in nature, because his many feats so defied the laws of physics, such as lifting a building by one corner and the structure not falling apart under its own weight. Nobody won that debate, of course–but inspired by it, Byrne produced this issue of FANTASTIC FOUR, in which the cosmic-irradiated foursome are attacked by Gladiator of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard, whom they’re eventually able to defeat by deducing that his powers are partially psionic in nature and tied to his own belief in their potency. Not too long afterwards, Byrne was able to subtly include the same sorts of attributes into his rebooted version of the actual Superman–and he also did a homage to his own cover for this issue on a later SUPERMAN release, substituting similar members of the Legion of Super-Heroes for the FF characters, and Superman himself for Gladiator.
THOR #341 – It was just a fun bit of business during Walt Simonson’s wonderful run crafting the adventures of the Thunder God, but it’s one of the most remembered crossover moments of the era, and referenced often whenever people are talking about this sort of thing. Having surrendered his ability to transform himself into Doctor Donald Blake to his comrade Beta Ray Bill, Thor is in need of a new civilian identity for when he is on Earth. Nick Fury helps to set him up with a cover as Sigurd Jarlson, and he suggests that the Son of Odin wear a pair of glasses when he assumes that disguise. Immediately after doing so, Thor bumps into a very familiar pair of reporters, one of whom wonders if he might be–nah, that’s crazy! Thor would maintain his Sigurd Jarlson identity for several years under Simonson, only surrendering it after the subsequent creative team made their own changes to his status quo.
UNCANNY X-MEN #245 – In the summer of 1989, Dc embarked on the line-wide crossover INVASION, illustrated in part by Todd McFarlane and centered around an attempt by alien races to set off a Gene Bomb on Earth that will unleash hidden super-powers contained in some of humanity’s newfound meta-gene. In response, X-Men writer Chris Claremont and guest penciler Rob Liefeld produced a broad parody of that concept in this issue of UNCANNY X-MEN. Here, the aliens are trying to use their “Jean Bomb” (based on Jean Grey, of course, and designed to destroy relationships) and a quartet of vacationing X-Men get drawn into what winds up being a bunch of slapstick. The whole thing parallels several plot points from the DC Event (the entire staff of the Daily Bugle, as thinly disguised as it’s possible to be, occupies an entire page.) Liefeld packs the backgrounds with cameo appearances from characters outside of both company’s stables–including characters from Dan Vado’s The Griffin. The whole thing is more playful than scathing, but it does seem like an odd thing to burn off an issue of the most popular series at Marvel on.