While it’s perhaps lost its uniqueness a little bit given the sheer number of latter day crossovers between characters originating at different companies (and in some cases, in different forms of media) it would he difficult to understate the significance of SUPERMAN VS THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. For those who were there when it came out, this enormous Treasury Edition pairing DC’s Man of Tomorrow with rival Marvel’s Web-Slinging Wonder was both unprecedented and unmatched. It was like seeing a unicorn (even if, eventually, a lot of other unicorns came along.) Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a number of people who were involved in the making of this historic release, and one thing they all seem to agree upon was that it was a difficult build. Because there were twice as many chefs in the kitchen, and each company was determined that their superstar character wasn’t going to receive second billing. Literally, the number of panels the two lead characters appear in is exactly the same, and even their relative sizes in each image were scrutinized and argued over. Not exactly the environment for the makings of a classic.
The person chosen to write this groundbreaking special was Gerry Conway. He was an obvious selection, in that at that particular moment he was the only writer in the field who had regularly written both characters at their respective companies. Additionally, DC editorial director Carmine Infantino, who had writer selection, wanted to jab a thumb into the eye of his Marvel competition, from whom he’d recently hired Conway away. Conway undertook this difficult assignment, striving to make both outfits happy and deliver a story that was worthy of such an epoch-making event. His initial attempt at an outline, reproduced here, if anything goes a bit too far in this regard. But it does give us a unique insight into the crafting of this signature story. Here, his preamble amounts to, in essence, asking the editors at both outfits not to nickel-and-dime him on the plot construction at this early stage before diving into the storyline specifics he has in mind.
In this simpler time, no effort is made to reconcile the DC Universe with the Marvel Universe. For this story, it is assumed that the two worlds are one, and that Clark Kent and Peter Parker have simply never run into one another before. In all honesty, while my 9-year-old self wasn’t satisfied with that, I do think it was certainly the smartest choice, especially in 1976. Having to get everybody across dimensional boundaries and the like would have saddled this adventure with a hell of a lot more dull exposition before getting to the stuff that every reader was there to see. Most readers weren’t going to be bothered by this in the first place.
As you can see here, other aspects of the story were simplified as well. In Conway’s initial conception, the villains would have posed as both Superman and Spider-Man rather than just the former. Making it a single impersonation definitely simplifies things, while also getting around the question of why anybody would abduct Mary Jane Watson in an attempt to draw out Spider-Man–any connection between the two wasn’t known to the public. Also changed was the idea that Spider-Man would be able to stand up to Superman thanks to some residual magic residue in his system from a MARVEL TEAM-UP story that Conway had earlier written. This was very much in the Marvel approach of the era, but it would have been a hell of a stretch for a more universal project such as this one, editorial note notwithstanding.
Here’s where another plot thread that was ultimately discarded is introduced; the idea that, having captured Lois Lane and Mary Jane Watson, the villains imprisoned them not together, but rather stranded one of them in the distant past, and the other somewhere on Earth. If the story had infinite pages, maybe all of these avenues could have been explored, but given that even this book’s 100 page length almost wasn’t enough to contain it, keeping the number of side-quests to a minimum makes sense.
This bit about Lois and MJ having been implanted with the instruments of Luthor’s mind-destroying device, which will need to be removed simultaneously if at all, is another complication that thankfully went by the wayside. The villains’ plot in this story is already bananas–in the final book, Luthor is looking to wipe out the Earth, unbeknownst to his partner Dr. Octopus–and this just made it more so. Especially since one of the girls is in the past–how was that supposed to work? This entire dogleg also serves to separate the two heroes for another extended period, when what we want to see in this book is them working together, side-by-side.
And as we learn here, those side missions were all a decoy anyway. Dopey heroes! it turns out in this earlier version of the plot that Luthor and Ock are hiding out in the Bottled City of Kandor, which is another strange complication. What makes this even odder is that, according to Conway, for no easily-explainable reason, Spider-Man will be even more powerful than he usually is within Kandor, whereas Superman will be rendered powerless. This doesn’t make any sense and was eventually dispensed with, as was the entire trip into Kandor. Clearly, Conway was looking for ways to give the less-powerful Spider-Man an opportunity to show off his stuff, a difficulty Batman often encountered in WORLD’S FINEST stories.
Conway does have the clever moment where Doctor Octopus becomes aware of the true scope of his ally Luthor’s plans and turns against him figured out, even if the specifics of this moment will change in the final story. It’s a good beat, and a bit better constructed than the typical instance were bad guys fall out.
That said, it is a bit ridiculous that Superman and Spider-Man leave Lois and MJ behind to be operated on by Doctor Doctopus because he’s so trustworthy now that he’s against Luthor’s plan while they race off to the moon. Also, I got a chuckle at the notion that Luthor covered his satellites with Green Kryptonite paint in order to keep Superman from destroying them. Here’s a hint, Supes: throw an asteroid at them!
I’ve been taking a few cheap shots at the weak notions in Gerry’s plot, but in all honesty, this had to be a bitch of a story to craft, especially when it came to attempting to implement whatever ideas the people on both sides of the aisle may have had along the way. To his credit and that of the editorial team, the end product, while it does resemble this initial structure, is a lot more solidly put together and plotted. And this peek under the hood at the workings of getting there is nonetheless fascinating.
5 thoughts on “The Outline for SUPERMAN VS THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN”
It’s a first draft. I can forgive the weak spots. It is indeed interesting to compare to the final product.
I knew they couldn’t possibly exist in the same universe but I loved the idea that it was possible.
great piece Tom – as usual! I was a little older than you when this came out, and remember what a big deal it was. But it was also a time that I was becoming a little disillusioned by Marvel, and Spider-Man in particular. He was in too many spinoff books and losing his uniqueness, even in his own title – which was never the same to me after Kane/Romita left. (Andru was a pro, but unlike the pencilers before him, brought nothing fresh to the art.) In a way, this cross-company team-up was ultimate proof that Spidey had become a corporate symbol, more a brand than an actual character who could grow & change, even in the limited ways (Marvel) superheroes were once allowed.
This was a few years before my time (I was 4), but when I did become aware of this and the other early crossovers like Teen Titans/X-Men I have to say that I liked that it was written as if the characters always existed in the same universe, and to this day it’s still how I prefer crossovers to be done.