Superman and Spider-Man

Five years after their first pairing, Superman and Spider-Man cross paths gain in Marvel Treasury Edition #27. This time around, Jim Shooter provides the script and John Buscema the pencil art, with inking chores shared by a who's-who of Bronze Age talent: Joe Sinnott (on figures), Terry Austin, Klaus Janson, Bob McCleod, Al Milgrom, Steve Leialoha, Walt Simonson, Bob Layton, Joe Rubinstein and Bob Wiacek (all chipping in to finish backgrounds).

We open in Manhattan, where Spider-Man foils an attempt to rob a bank adjacent to a construction site. His spider-sense gives him an uneasy feeling about the location, but before he can investigate the NYPD arrives and chases him off. Meanwhile in an underground complex beneath the construction site, Dr. Doom watches via closed-circuit TV.

At this point, we're only on page four, but we've already noticed one thing: people in this book like to talk. I mean, they like to talk a lot. For instance, here's Dr Doom as he finishes spying on Spidey:

And that's when he's in a room by himself! Letterer Joe Rosen really earns his pay on this one; if there were any justice in the world, he'd get his name higher up in the credits, or even on the cover. Of course as letterer, he probably could've snuck his name in wherever he wanted, but by the time it occurred to him his wrist was probably already in a cast.

Shooter seems aware of his own verbosity, though, and (I think) mocks it on the next page, where Doom directs an underling to

"Go and double-check my personal tapes! Make certain that my every utterance is being recorded as usual...and have a transcript of this evening's tapes brought to my throne room! I'll want to read it later! I believe my last soliloquy to be particularly inspirational!"

J. Jonah Jameson rejects Peter Parker's photos of the foiled bank heist ("Spider-Man is old news in this town") and dispatches him to Metropolis, where the Incredible Hulk is reportedly headed. A confrontation between the Hulk and Superman, says Jonah, would be real news.

In Metropolis, Clark Kent ducks out of a Daily Planet staff meeting and as Superman goes after the Hulk, who's been spotted tearing up the city. He tries to calm the Hulk down, with predictable results:

When Superman believes he's seriously injured the Hulk, he goes to the monster's aid, only to receive a sucker-punch that launches him clear across town. Peter Parker arrives in Metropolis just as the fight breaks out, and changes to Spider-Man to pitch in. However, Superman soon returns to the fray and pushes Spider-Man aside to face the Hulk alone. Planting his feet firmly, he stands fast against the Hulk's full fury, hoping the behemoth will tire himself out.

Superman spots a "micro-minature drone" flying around the Hulk's ear and driving him mad with "an ultrasonic screech." When Superman destroys the device with his heat vision, the Hulk calms down and changes back to Bruce Banner. Feeling useless, Spider-Man slinks into an alley and changes back to Parker.

Not even the Hulk himself realizes that the real purpose of his rampage (directed by an unseen figure) was to smash a city street beneath which is an underground prison holding the Parasite. Said villain escapes to the surface, exhausted and near death until he detects great power nearby and drains it...from Peter Parker. Nearly fainting, Pete is caught by Jimmy Olsen, who buys him a cup of coffee and later introduces him to Perry White, who puts him on the payroll as a Daily Planet photographer.

Superman deduces that the only person capable of controlling the Hulk in the fashion he witnessed is Victor Von Doom (since Lex Luthor is "safely locked away") and so he confronts him inside the Latverian Embassy.

Realizing Doom and the Parasite may try to strike at him through his friends, Superman decides to stay in New York as Clark Kent to draw their fire. J. Jonah Jameson is only too happy to give him a temporary job at the Daily Bugle ("This more than makes up for that turncoat Parker selling out on me!").

As well as things are going for Pete at the Planet, however, bad luck continues to plague him as Spider-Man. On his first patrol of the city, a misunderstanding quickly sours his relations with the Metropolis Police Department.

Spidey comes across a construction site very much like the one he saw in New York, and gets that same tingly feeling about it, so he pokes around until he finds a hidden hatch in the ground, and an underground facility beneath. As it happens, Wonder Woman has gotten there ahead of him, and is already in battle with Dr Doom's army. Again the wallcrawler's reputation precedes him, and WW attacks him, until Spider-Man turns out the lights -- giving him a tactical advantage he declines to exploit -- and convinces her he's on the side of the angels.

More of Doom's forces arrive and Wonder Woman is captured, but Spidey escapes. Doom's men place the unconscious Wonder Woman aboard a secret underground railway train connecting Metropolis to New York, not knowing Spider-Man is a stowaway.

In his New York base, Doom reveals his plans to the Parasite (and us). He has built underground bases all over the world, each housing an "Omega Station" that will emit "a peculiar radiation which will permeate the Earth's crust and mantle." The effect will be to turn "every molecule of fossil fuel on this planet" into sand, bringing a halt to commerce and industry and putting billions at the mercy of the elements. Then Doom will step in and offer a replacement energy source; his own huge fusion reactor with an output "equivalent to a small star...sufficient to power the totality of civilization!" His price for access to this power? Absolute dominion over Earth, naturally.

The Parasite's place in all this? With the aid of Doom's machines, he will absorb the power of Wonder Woman, the Hulk (who's also been captured, between panels) and Superman and serve as Doom's omnipotent enforcer and bodyguard against whomever challenges his new role as ruler of Earth.

Spider-Man finds his way out of Doom's complex just as Superman shows up, and together they confront the villains. Doom uses a giant robot against Superman, while Parasite duplicates Spidey's powers and takes him on. The villains gain the upper hand and the heroes are captured.

Doom directs Parasite to don the device which will give him his new powers, but the Parasite -- still possessing spider sense -- intuits that the device will result in his destruction (Doom plans to use his crystallized remains to stabilize an imperfection in the fusion reactor). As Spider-Man helps Superman escape, the Parasite and Doom battle, in the process accidentally smashing the reactor control panel and starting a chain reaction that will destroy the Earth.

Superman contains the unstable core while Spider-Man (eventually) figures out how to shut the reactor down. They chase Doom to his embassy, where he claims asylum. Their work done, the heroes return to their respective cities.

This book is printed as part of a Marvel line, in Marvel's squarebound "Treasury" format and using Marvel's creative talent, so unlike its predecessor it definitely feels like "Superman visits the Marvel Universe." This leads to some fun moments, as when New Yorkers spot Superman flying overhead and butcher the time-honored Superman intro: "Look! Up in the sky!" is answered by, "Gimme a break, man! Who'd fall for that old line?" and "Geez, is that Thor?"

Jim Shooter does a good job here of transplanting Superman into such an alien environment. Poor Spidey is dumbfounded at the way Superman has only to make an appearance and the police offer full cooperation while the crowds look on in admiration and awe...quite a contrast to the treatment the wallcrawler endures. Also it's interesting (and endearing) to see Spider-Man cope with the reality that he's no match power-wise for just about anyone else in the book. There's some effective humor in the way Jameson is repeatedly caught short by Clark Kent's casual demeanor and "one step ahead" maneuverings, cutting off Jonah's trademark explosions before he even gets going.

Unlike his modern-day incarnation, this is not a Superman who's used to confronting villains who elude prosecution and exploit the weaknesses of the justice system. Maybe that's why he looks so profoundly unhappy throughout the book. In all the many, many panels in this long book the facial expressions for Buscema's Superman run the gamut from "dour" to "glum", with an occasional stop at "surly." Actually, it gets kind of depressing.

In fact, Superman frowns so much there's probably less than two dozen panels in the whole book where he even opens his mouth, and even then he's usually grimacing with clinched teeth. Neat trick doing all that talking (and talking...and talking) with his mouth shut. Super-ventriloquism, maybe?

That said, a huge appeal of this book in 1981, maybe even its primary appeal, was seeing Superman drawn in the Marvel style. Up to that point in history, DC had very tight controls over how Superman was drawn, even replacing the heads on figures drawn by the likes of Jack Kirby and Alex Toth when they didn't conform. In a mere five years, John Byrne would arrive and usher in two decades of Marvel-style Superman, but in 1981 it was still a wild concept.

In summation, this is a well-done story with no shortage of action and some great moments fans in the early 80s had waited a long time to see, like Superman meeting Dr Doom and the Hulk. And though today I find the content incredibly dense and wordy (there's only two splashes and nary a two-page spread, unlike most original-content tabloids), at the time I was just convinced I was getting more for my money. Plus the inclusion of the Superman/Hulk tussle is a real "give the people what they want" bonus.

On the whole, this is one sequel I like better than the original, though of course your mileage may vary.