The History Of Superman Vs Spider-Man (or DC vs Marvel)
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The History Of Superman Vs Spider-Man: DC And Marvel Pit Their Biggest Stars Against Each Other

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BY January 10, 2022

During the Silver Age of Comics, fans really started to get into the different characters and were also finding each other thanks to an influx of comic conventions that ranged from informal, DIY gatherings to larger, more organized affairs. Marvel and DC were becoming the two most powerful comic publishers and they kept fans hooked with a host of characters, both new ones and older, but familiar ones. Many fans started to wonder and imagine what would happen if some of these superheroes ever fought each other. Would Hulk beat Superman? Could Batman ever fight Thor? The Roku Channel recently released a mini-series called Slugfest: Inside the Epic 50-Year Battle Between Marvel and DCwhich is based on the book of the same title, written by Reed Tucker. It looks at the history of both powerhouse comic publishers, but also at the rivalry that developed between the two. One episode specifically looked at the history of Superman vs Spider-Man and how a groundbreaking book about the two changed the way the comic book industry catered to their fanbase. So let’s get into the Superman vs Spider-Man debate and what needed to happen for fans to finally see two of their favorite superheroes go head-to-head.

How Is The History Of Superman Vs Spider-Man Even a Thing ?

history of superman vs spider-man Image via DC Comics and Marvel Entertainment

Superman first debuted in Action Comics #1 on April 18, 1938, making it the first official comic books (not to mention one of the rarest around). He was one of the most popular superheroes around, until the debut of a Marvel character who gets bitten by a radioactive spider, thus turning him into a “spider man.” Spider-Man debuted in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962. Marvel’s Stan Lee and Steve Ditko wanted to create a character that their teen readers could relate to: enter awkward Peter Parker, who turned out to be a huge hit. By the 1970s, Spider-Man surpassed Superman in popularity and sales, and arguably had just as many fans as Superman did.

The story of Superman vs Spider-Man begins in 1970, when there was a Comic Art Convention in New York, and one event featured a panel of editors from both Marvel and DC. A young fan asked one of the most important questions ever in the history of DC and Marvel rivalry: “Hey, why don’t you guys do a comic where Superman meets Spider-Man?” According to Mark Evanier, who was Jack Kirby’s assistant from 1969-1972, the panel laughed at the kid, saying it would never happen and basically calling him stupid. Stan Lee’s thinking was similar, thinking, “Marvel’s sales are beating DC’s. We’re the hot young thing in town. Why should I want to team up with Superman?” In Slugfest, we hear a voiceover of Stan Lee saying that he got a ton of fan mail asking questions like these. “We love Superman and we love Spider-Man. Wouldn’t it be great if they got together?” According to Slugfest, by the 1960s, most readers could be divided into two camps: DC Comics readers and Marvel Comics readers. Tucker writes:

“Fans got older. They began sticking with the hobby longer. Continuity became more important. They began to recognize and follow specific artists and writers. They became more serious about brand loyalty. And especially after Marvel’s superheroes burst onto the scene in 1961, fandom was cleaved into two camps. It became tribal. Increasingly you were either a Marvel or a DC reader, and much like today’s political campaigns, the two sides frequently found themselves at odds with one another. Arguments broke out on playgrounds and in lunch rooms. Each side championed its own team.

“The Marvel fans dissed DC for its squeaky-clean image and its conservative mindset. They knocked the company for being tired. The DC camp couldn’t understand how anyone liked Marvel. It was all melodrama and overwrought emotion. And why the hell are these supposed heroes always fighting each other again?”

So the idea that Superman going against Spider-Man was out in the world, but the catalyst that got the ball rolling was one David Obst, a literary agent. One day in 1976, he met a couple of friends and their kid, who loved both the Man of Steel and the New York’s web slinger. When the youngster asked Obst, “Who do you think would win in a fight?” Obst had to pause and thought, “Hey, that’s actually a great idea.” Eventually, Obst took matters into his own hands and talked to both Stan Lee and Howard Kaminsky, the head of Warner Books, which was a sister company to DC Comics. Obst had already been working with Lee on some Marvel books, so he decided to pitch the Superman vs Spider-Man idea to Kaminsky, who loved it. The publisher of DC Comics, Carmine Infantino, also thought the idea was good, especially because he was always trying to one-up Lee and figured he could potentially grab some Marvel readers with the Superman-Spider-Man crossover.

What Was the Superman Vs Spider-Man Story About and Who Ended Up Winning?

superman vs spider-man Image via DC Comics and Marvel Entertainment

The story of the Man of Steel pitted again the web slinger was probably the most difficult part of the entire process. Both Lee and Infantino had big personalities and wanted to make sure their superhero was getting as equal treatment as the other: Superman’s name had to come before Spider-Man’s name in the title. If Superman got one hit in, Spider-Man also had to get a hit in. DC also wanted more than half of the profits since Superman “had higher distribution.” Also, the characters are philosophically different: DC’s characters are “clean, well-mannered boy scouts,” and Marvel’s heroes are “flawed and more human.” Superman’s power level is also far superior to Spider-Man’s. Obst said he remembers someone saying, “Are you f*cking kidding me?! If Superman ever hit Spider-Man, he’d knock him past Jupiter.” Both Superman and Spider-Man are heroes, not villains, and neither DC nor Marvel wanted their character to come across as “bad” either.

Even the division of labor got complicated, with Marvel providing the penciler and the colorist, and DC providing the writer, inker, and letterer. Carmine chose Gerry Conway to write the story, a former Marvel employee whom the publisher had poached earlier. “Carmine was a competitive guy, and he offered me the book because he
knew it would piss off Marvel. He wanted to put a finger in their eye,” Conway recalled. Conway chose Ross Andru, the longtime penciler on The Amazing Spider-Man, which was also a middle finger to Marvel since Andru would have to take time away from working on Spider-Man stories to complete the DC/Marvel collaboration instead.

marvel vs dc Image via screengrab (Slugfest on The Roku Channel)

Conway’s story ended up being a story of Superman and Spider-Man versus DC’s Lex Luthor and Marvel’s Doctor Octopus. There is a fight between the two superheroes though, thanks to a misunderstanding. Both get some good hits in, but in the end, the fight ends in a draw, with both heroes getting the same number of large, full-page images. Of course, Carmine had to get one last hit on Lee in, saying that even after Superman and Spider-Man shake hands, Spider-Man has to have his hand crushed from the shake. Lee, who didn’t seem to want to prolong the partnership, relented. The setting was also neutral, with the meeting and fight taking place in a crossover world that was home to both Superman’s Metropolis and Spider-Man’s New York City and one in which they are aware of each other’s existence but have never met.

And Then, DC And Marvel Lived Happily Ever After?

superman vs spider-man Image via screengrab (Slugfest on The Roku Channel)

Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man was promoted as “the battle of the century,” and released the first week of January 1976. It was larger-sized than the standard comic book and cost a whopping $2 (this was eight times the price of a regular Marvel comic book!). The opening page held two messages from Stan Lee and Carmine Infantino, which talked about the historic nature of the publication. The book ended up selling half a million copies and while it didn’t make quite as much money as hoped for, it did show these two powerhouse comic publishers that they could work together and it lessened the hostilities between the two a bit. And that’s the history of Superman vs Spider-Man!

You can watch the entire Slugfest series on The Roku Channel. The specific episode on “Superman vs. Spiderman” can be watched here

Who do you think would win a Superman vs Spider-Man battle? Did the history of Superman vs Spider-Man make you have a greater appreciation for DC and Marvel as well as these two timeless superheroes? Let us know in the comments below!

Featured image via DC Comics and Marvel Entertainment

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Keilin Huang is a freelance writer that likes the Oxford comma, reading from her neverending pile of books from the library, and Reeses peanut butter cups. She thanks her Dad for introducing her to his Superman comics and probably majored in Journalism because of Lois Lane. Contact her at [email protected]

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