Ask Chris #106: The Best Marvel/DC Crossover and Superman as a Christ Figure
Here at ComicsAlliance, we value our readership and are always open to what the masses of internet readers have to say. That’s why every week, Senior Writer Chris Sims puts his comics culture knowledge to the test as he responds to your reader questions!
Q: Of the long history of DC/Marvel crossovers, which one is your favorite? — @JohnDudebro
A: Back when I was growing up in the ’90s, inter-company crossovers happened a lot, and despite the fact that you’d think it would be a no-brainer to have Batman and Wolverine hang out for a few pages debating the merits of a mask with ear-points, the vast majority of them were pretty terrible. Even when I was a kid, I remember thinking that Marvel vs. DC, the series that was billed as the book that was going to settle every schoolyard debate, was complete nonsense — even if it did give us the surprisingly fun Amalgam comics that predated the Internet’s love of mash-ups. The disappointments just completely overshadowed the few that were actually well-done.
But of the ones that were good, there are definitely a couple that are downright great.If I had to pick the best, there’s no question: Kurt Busiek and George Perez’s JLA vs. Avengers wins that competition hands down:
Released in 2003 after years of being pushed back, JLA vs. Avengers was the exclamation point at the end of an era of crossovers — or maybe the tombstone. By editorial edict, Marvel and DC haven’t collaborated on anything since. Still, if this was the last one that we were going to get, they went out on the highest note possible.
It’s one of the few blockbuster comics I can think of that actually lived up to the hype and expectations, and in a lot of ways, it even surpassed them. Busiek and Perez had four forty-eight page issues to work with, and considering that Perez can do more on one page than most artists can do on four, that gave them a ton of room to do exactly what a crossover should do.
The two teams fight each other, team up, fight each other’s villains, play with each others’ toys, and the attention to detail is insane. Not only did they include every Avenger and every Justice Leaguer, but they had every version of every character from every era of both teams, building a plot around combining universes and breaking time itself so that everybody gets at least a panel to show off while still telling a story that makes sense.
There are so many great details, from the fact that DC’s Earth is bigger because of all the fictional cities to the way the characters react to the actual underlying moral structure of their rivals’ worlds. And the story’s great, too. It’s patterned after equal parts Crisis on Infinite Earths and the Avengers/Defenders War, and draws on a dozen other stories to make the biggest possible love letter to the history of super-hero comics. There’s just a joy to it, and you can tell that Busiek and Perez are writing and drawing ideas that they’ve been wanting to do for years, motivated by the fact that they’re fans of the stuff they’re working with.
It delivers, too. It’s a book that gave the fans all those big moments they wanted to see, and because of that palpable enthusiasm from the creators, it doesn’t just feel like they’re pandering. You get that shot of Superman holding up Captain America’s shield and Thor’s hammer and it feels like more than just a nifty pin-up. It feels like they earned it.
And it also has this, a panel I didn’t even realize I wanted until I actually saw it:
In short, it’s good stuff. But it’s not my favorite.
That honor goes to Len Wein and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez’s 1981 Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk:
Originally printed in the giant-sized treasury format as DC Special Series #27, Batman vs. Hulk is a slightly smaller affair than what JLA vs. Avengers, but the thing that pushes it over the top for me is Garcia-Lopez’s amazing art. He’s one of my all-time favorites, especially when he draws Batman. Seriously, just look at this page:
There’s a reason they let that dude draw the model sheets for the entire company.
Garcia-Lopez is at the top of his form in this book, and it kills me that I only have the normal-sized reprint from 1995, because the work he’s doing here is just flat-out beautiful. Not just in the traditional comic book sense, either, although he excels at that; there’s a part where the Joker gets the reality-warping abilities of the Shaper of Worlds and Garcia-Lopez shifts into doing Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso styles on pages that are mind-blowing:
The whole book’s full of pages like that, and it’s a joy to just look at.
That’s not to sell Lein Wein’s script short, either. I love those captions in the image above about how Batman is neither demon from hell nor avenging angel, and he fills his script with great moments. My personal favorite: he Hulk chucking a car at Batman and Batman deciding that the best course of action is to jump straight through the windows like a vigilante Duke of Hazzard:
And then he… uh… hugs the Hulk’s leg for a minute.
Okay, so maybe they’re not all great moments, but it’s still a beautifully drawn, well-crafted comic that works way better than you’d expect from two characters so utterly different from each other.
Q: Superman as Jesus analogue: yea or nay? — @MagicLoveHose
The idea of Superman as a Christ figure is the herpes of pop culture criticism. No matter how hard you try to get rid of it, it just won’t go away.
It’s a popular interpretation, but the thing is, it just doesn’t work. As I understand it, the entire deal with Jesus in a nutshell is that he was the Son of God, divinity made flesh who was sent to Earth in order to instruct us as a teacher and then sacrifice His life, redeeming the whole of humanity for its sins through His suffering on both a literal and metaphorical level. There’s a little more to it, of course, but for more details, you can check out around 90% of the rest of Western art and literature.
Superman’s story, on the other hand, has nothing to do with any of that. The core of his character isn’t about sacrifice or redemption at all, it’s about having power and choosing to use it for the benefit of everyone rather than just using it for yourself. The comparison seems to be entirely based on the idea that Superman’s a really nice guy who came from somewhere up in the sky. That’s about where the similarities end.
Jor-El is not Space God. He doesn’t send Superman to Earth for our benefit, he sends Superman to Earth because it’s the one place in the universe where his son can survive and thrive. He’s protecting him, not sacrificing him, and humanity’s need for someone to fight robots and Brainiacs doesn’t even cross his mind. And, to paraphrase Grant Morrison, I’m pretty sure Heaven didn’t explode shortly after Jesus was launched down to Bethlehem.
Superman’s morality isn’t divine or innate, either. It’s not something that he was born with, and it’s not something that sets him apart from humanity. Morally speaking, anyone can be as Good as Superman; the only advantage he has is that he was brought up by a couple of really nice farmers. He’s an aspirational figure rather than a redemptive one, who shows us that we all have the ability to use our talents for good, we just have to choose to do so.
That’s not to say that Superman doesn’t believe in redemption or that Jesus’s followers don’t or shouldn’t attempt to emulate Him. There’s a lot of overlap, and there’s certainly been an influence built into Superman over the years, but they don’t line up. Their stories are built around completely different things, trying to accomplish completely different goals, and hammering Superman to fit a Christ Figure framework is a recipe for disaster anywhere outside of a freshman year term paper.
There’s a view that’s almost equally popular built on the idea that Superman represents Moses, but I don’t buy that one either. Superman, the way I see him, isn’t meant to be a stand-in for any Biblical figure. He’s meant to be Superman.
Q: whatcha wearin’ — @metrokitty
A: Oh, you know.
That’s all we have for this week, but if you’ve got a question you’d like to see Chris tackle in a future column, just send it to @theisb on Twitter with the hashtag #AskChris, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with [Ask Chris] in the subject line!