Forgotten Masterpiece: The Lost and Most Obscure Marvel/DC Crossover

SUPERMAN VS THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, the first of the real DC and Marvel crossovers (putting aside the WIZARD OF OZ co-produced Treasury) was an enormous success for both companies. Despite being priced at $2.00 as a time when regular comic books were only 30 cents, it sold in huge quantities–enough to make DC look for other ways in which to mimic its success in-house (SUPERMAN VS MUHAMMAD ALI, SUPERMAN VS THE FLASH, etc). And, of course, it led a few years later to a series of additional team-ups between different DC and Marvel super heroes. However, within that gap, there was one other project that combined the champions of the two rival companies–one that was obscure at the time, and is all-but-forgotten today, despite boasting some noteworthy talent just at the beginning of their careers.

POW! BIFF! POPS! was a special commemorative comic book produced for a single comic strip-themed performance at the Boston Pops Orchestra, priced at $10.00 a copy–making it the most expensive single-issue comic ever released (at least in the US) when it came out.. The print run was limited to 250 copies, and by contract, all unsold and remaining copies had to be destroyed following the conclusion of the performance–which they were. Accordingly, few fans have ever seen this lost crossover for themselves. Additionally, during the intermission of the performance, the whole comic was projected on a large screen, with narration, dialogue and FX done by “The Hour of the Wolf Matinee,” a local radio ensemble headed up by Robert Desiderio, who went on to a lengthy TV career. The book was produced in 1978.

POW! BIFF! POPS! was written by a very young and pre-professional Kurt Busiek. The pages were laid out by a young Scott McCloud, and lettered by a young Richard Howell. All were fans in the Massachusetts area during this time (Howell worked at the local comic book shop, the Million Year Picnic.) The finished artwork was done by Chris Bing, who didn’t go on to a career in the field, but he became a professional illustrator and a Caldecott Honor award winner for his picture-book adaptation of CASEY AT THE BAT.

The story concerns the Symphony Orchestra being kidnapped, with the super heroes of both Marvel and DC called upon to locate and recover the purloined musicians. Thanks to the reputation of the Boston Pops, both Marvel and DC gave permission for their characters to be used in the joint venture, provided (as mentioned earlier) that all remaining copies were destroyed immediately thereafter. DC President Sol Harrison was in attendance for the performance–and presumably to make sure that the terms of the deal were met. According to Busiek, “He was seated at the same table as Scott, Chris and me, but he wouldn’t talk to us. I expect he just liked the idea of attending the Pops opening concert of the year, which was a reasonably-prestigious event.”

The whole thing is the work of fans, albeit fans who would go on to prominence within the field in the coming decade. But it’s noteworthy less for the strength of the story than for the unique circumstances surrounding it, and the specific talent involved.

6 thoughts on “Forgotten Masterpiece: The Lost and Most Obscure Marvel/DC Crossover

  1. To add to and/or correct this a bit:

    If I remember correctly, there were 250 copies printed, and as you note, all unsold copies were destroyed, so between that and the people who lost or threw out their copies after the show, there are doubtless very few left. I used to have two copies; I think I’ve only got one left.

    The book happened because Chris suggested it to his mother, who was on the BSO’s Junior Committee (doing fundraising), and she didn’t know it was a crazy idea so she got the BSO involved, and they didn’t know it was a crazy idea, so they approached Marvel and DC, who said yes, likely because it was the BSO.

    And Chris roped in Scott (who lived down the street) and me, because he knew. we wanted to do comics, so we’d be up to do the most comics-focused part of the work, letting him just illustrate. Although he altered Scott’s layouts sweepingly.

    This may also have been the most expensive single-issue comic ever released (at least in the US) when it came out.

    Images of the comic weren’t quite “flashed” on screen with musical accompaniment — the whole comic was projected during intermission, with narration, dialogue and FX done by “The Hour of the Wolf Matinee,” a local radio ensemble headed up by Robert Desiderio, who went on to a lengthy TV career.

    Scott and I were the only ones who were in high school — Chris had graduated the previous year, I think, and Richard had already graduated from Harvard.

    Chris never went further in comics, but he’s been a professional illustrator since the early 1980s, and a Caldecott Honor award winner for his picture-book adaptation of CASEY AT THE BAT. As a group, we all seem to have gone on to success, in one way or another.

    Sol Harrison was indeed there — I expect he just liked the idea of attending the Pops opening concert of the year, which was a reasonably-prestigious event. He was seated at the same table as Scott, Chris and me, but he wouldn’t talk to us.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was entertaining, and an interesting look at early careers. Thank you. I want to see more of the Evil Water Balloons.

    Loved the story – However — NAMOR tells someone to relax??

    Like

  3. Replying to myself is downright unprofessional, but I just realized that evidently the slogan “Better call Sol” turned out to be incorrect if he won’t respond.

    Shame on me for even thinking it.

    Like

  4. Oh, and one more secret of this particular comic revealed: The reason the cover is just big letters, no illustration: Chris forgot to draw a cover until the deadline was very, very hard upon us, and at that point he had no time left.

    That’s also why the backgrounds are drawings at first and then turn into photographs for a while (Chris thought it’d save him some time, but since he had to spend a couple of days traipsing around Boston to take those photos, I don’t think it did) and then turn sketchy and abstract for the “underground lair” sequence. Had to get the book done!

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