I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
Through a good chunk of the nineteen-seventies and -eighties, Marvel Comics did their best to expand the reach of their comics storytelling, experimenting with different formats and presentations. The Marvel magazines line was fairly robust, in part because it was free from the smothering content controls of Comics Code Authority, which especially benefited the adventures of a certain Cimmerian. Those felt out of reach to me, mostly because they struck me as too adult for a wee lad such as myself. Instead, I longed to get my chunky little hands on the various Marvel Treasury Editions.
The Treasury Editions were essentially oversized comics, printed on heavier paper. Usually they reprinted earlier adventures of the publisher’s most famed characters, occasionally collated according to theme. For the issue that proved to be the last of the series, it was instead a whole new adventure, and a highly significant one. In a rare feat of cross-company cooperation, the most famed superhero in the Marvel stable teamed up with the DC Comics Kryptonian who started it all. At a time when getting a special edition like this required an arduous trip this rare, wondrous place called a comic book shop, I forced a weary adult to take me to shell out a whopping $2.50 to acquire a momentous meeting of Spider-Man and Superman.
A similar unlikely pairing happened five years earlier, and it was a true merging of talent from the two publishers. In this instance, it was a heavily Marvel affair, which suited my youthful preferences. Jim Shooter, Marvel’s editor-in-chief at the time, wrote the story, and mainstay artist John Buscema provided the pencils. Accordingly, it was especially comfortable with the internal lore of the Marvel universe, including a depiction of Peter Parker’s clumsily ineffectual love life, complete with a requisite Elvis Costello reference.
So this comic was released in 1981, when Costello played three straight nights at the Palladium in support of the very strong album Trust. Squeeze opened, and Glenn Tilbrook routinely came out to join Costello on “From a Whisper to a Scream.” Tickets were $12.50. These were good shows, people. Cindy would probably still be with Peter to this day if he could have scraped up the bread.
Naturally, the story also peeked in on mild-mannered Clark Kent as he went about his day. Superman’s alter ego was a bit more adept at dealing with the nettlesome challenges that came his way.
With a staggering sixty-two pages of story at their disposal, the creative team was able to pull out all the stops. Besides the main protagonists, other celebrated stalwarts of the respective periodical lines showed up. For example, the eternal schoolyard question as to who would win in a battle between Superman and the incredible Hulk was addressed.
And ol’ Webhead encountered a certain Amazonian, who offered him some advice about his general sartorial approach.
This mix and match was highly enjoyable, especially when fellow newspaper employees Kent and Parker participated in a sort of exchange program between the two metropolitan dailies. The main event, though, was the scintillating skirmish with supervillains. Relative obscure Superman foe Parasite represented DC Comics (Lex Luthor, the more obvious choice, was evidently busy with other nefarious endeavors). More to my personal liking, the Marvel baddie who stepped into the fray was none other than the despotic ruler of Latveria, Victor Von Doom.
As a Fantastic Four fanatic from the very beginning of my superhero collecting days, I was always ready to watch Doctor Doom throw down. He wasn’t a prime member of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery, but Doom got around. Besides, there was no more fearsome fellow in the mighty Marvel saga. In a story this big, only Doctor Doom would do.
Shooter was often maligned for the mediocre writing he delivered when stepped from behind the editorial desk during his days at Marvel, but he wrote a great Doom.
In those panels, the dismissiveness of referring to Superman as simply “alien” is bested only by the send-off “Farewell, cretins!” I also loved — even then — that this clash between titans is ended when the villain essentially invokes diplomatic immunity by retreating to the Latverian embassy. Some stories end with a whimper and some with a bang. This ends with a legal technicality.
I added this jumbo story to my collection fairly early in my time obsessively following superheroes, and read and reread this issue until it was as worn as the oldest dishrag in the drawer. Even when I occasionally consume comics these days, I lack the time and wherewithal to consume them at that insatiable level. More than even the comics themselves, I think that craving is what I miss. No matter the competing impulse, I always wanted to read more, even if it meant — especially if it meant — reading a favorite story one more time.
Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.