Superman and Spider-Man succeeded beyond expectations, launching the Marvel/DC crossover series in spectacular fashion.
Next up, published in late 1981, I think, was Batman vs. the Incredible Hulk. Len Wein, DC’s top writer, who, of course, had written both characters, was the natural choice to write the book. Brilliant Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez penciled it and Dick Giordano inked it wonderfully. Great stuff.
Next, published in 1982, came the Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans by Chris Claremont, Walt Simonson and Terry Austin. Great stuff.
It looked like we were getting the hang of it….
Then along came the Justice League of America vs. the Avengers.
The nightmare brouhaha it stirred up killed the series.
As the nightmare unfolded, at its end and afterward, DC people, starting with Dick Giordano, actively blamed everything on me. At first, in hopes of pressuring me into approving un-approvable work. Later, as the project spiraled into the abyss, to mitigate their own, internal political hostilities. Finally, to vilify Marvel and in particular, me, for whatever advantages that might afford them.
Throughout this, I, for the most part, kept my mouth shut. Other than giving mild answers like, “There are some minor problems with the plot,” or some such, when asked directly at a convention what was going on, I said as little as possible publicly. It didn’t seem proper to me to do so, no matter what DC was doing or saying.
As in other cases, silence, reserve and behaving properly only allowed whatever my detractors were saying to become accepted fact. Story of my life.
The furor killed not only the JLA/Avengers book, but the whole series. DC opted out.
I was deluged with angry letters. Hate mail. At conventions, I was asked about it in an accusatory fashion incessantly. I endured a lot of venom.
Finally, I wrote a column telling some of my/Marvel’s side. We ran it only in Marvel Age, and possibly Marvel Fanfare, confining it to the Direct Market, and therefore, those readers who were generally more in touch with industry goings-on, and more likely to have concerns. I was as circumspect and diplomatic as possible under the circumstances.
I can hear you thinking, “That was circumspect…?” Yes, it was.
DC published a disingenuous “rebuttal” in their regular books.
I don’t have copies of either of those columns easily at hand, nor could I find them quickly on the web. If anyone has copies, you are welcome to post them.
Here is an overview of events. I got the dates from this site: http://marvel1980s.blogspot.com/2011/06/1983-jlaavengers-crossover-also-known.html
where they do a fair job of relating what was public knowledge till now.
Gerry Conway was the approved writer of the book. George Pérez was the penciler. I forget who was supposed to ink it. Len Wein was DC’s designated editor.
In late February of 1983, after many “where is it?” inquiries by me, DC Comics delivered the plot to me for approval. It came from Giordano, I think. Under the terms of our contract, I was Marvel’s editorial representative for all the crossovers, though I designated Louise Simonson as hands-on editor for the X-Men/Titans book and Mark Gruenwald for this book.
I read the plot. My first thought was that they must be kidding.
I asked a few other people to read it. Among them were Tom DeFalco and Mark Gruenwald. Elliot Brown also read it. Others, too. I remember that we had gathered in the X-Men office, so possibly Louise read it, maybe even Chris.
No exaggeration, they were all laughing hysterically. It was so bad, so nonsensical and so inadvertently (I think) funny that we were in stitches. They were taking turns reading aloud particularly ridiculous passages. It was rolling-on-the-floor absurd.
I have a copy of that plot somewhere, in one of the many boxes of Marvel files yet unpacked. If I come across it, I’ll post it.
Here are a few lowlights that I remember:
It started, as I recall, with DC’s Lord of Time and Marvel’s Kang, at the “end of time” fighting over a magic McGuffin, a stone that had limitless power. Somehow, in buffoonish fashion, they simultaneously blast the object of their desire—doh!—causing it, for inexplicable reasons to become a bouncing ball, skipping its way back through time.
Kang and the Lord of Time immediately come up with the same plan: recruit heroes to retrieve the McGuffin for them.
Kang recruits the Justice League as his catspaws. They’re easily duped. The Lord of Time recruits the Avengers as his catspaws. They’re easily duped.
Small groups of JLA-ers and Avengers with conveniently analogous powers fight each other at various points of history over the McGuffin. While they’re thrashing around, the bouncy ball bounds on, escaping them.
The bouncy ball eventually arrives at the beginning of time, where, if something isn’t done, something terrible will happen. I think the bouncy ball was going to blow up and destroy the universe. Or something.
All the JLA-ers and Avengers arrive at the beginning of time and start fighting.
Hawkeye and Green Arrow fire pointed, deadly arrows at each other (?!).
The two arrows collide point-to-point and therefore are deflected at a right angle (?!). Both of them. Same direction. (??!!)
The two arrows strike the bouncy ball and cause it to explode!
And that causes—we’re at the beginning of time, remember—the universe to begin!
And everything is as it was.
So, Hawkeye and Green Arrow—doh!—are the authors of the Big Bang, if you will, the causative agents who bring all creation into existence.
And that’s not all. The individual episodes of this tale were ludicrous, each on its own hook.
The characters were routinely misrepresented. Out of character, powers wrong. Gerry had Quicksilver racing the Flash. No, Flash can run at lightspeed. The Marvel Universe Handbook says Quicksilver can run about 175 MPH.
That one sticks in my mind, but there were many.
Even DC characters were out of character. Not my job to object to misrepresentations of their characters, but there was a scene with Superman aboard Galactus’s ship that takes place before Krypton explodes that’s worth mentioning. Superman notices a “menu,” listing the inhabited planets Galactus plans to eat soon. Right at the top of the list is Krypton! So…are you ready?…Superman rearranges the menu so that some other inhabited world is first and Krypton is moved way down the list.
Are you kidding?
This description doesn’t begin to do this travesty of a plot justice. Nothing made sense. Nothing was explained. Characters did the damndest things.
Add to that the fact that Gerry had chosen a batch of characters on the Marvel side that was no group of Avengers ever assembled, and no group that could ever be assembled. The story didn’t have to be in continuity, but neither should it trample common sense and blatantly violate established history and continuity.
One of Mark Twain’s nineteen rules governing literary art in the domain of romantic fiction requires “…that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader….” This plot had crass stupidities in abundance.
In a letter dated February 25th, as politely but as clearly and completely as possible, I rejected the plot.
Soon thereafter, I spoke by phone with Dick Giordano and confirmed that there would have to be a completely rewritten plot.
Here’s the part you don’t know:
Dick agreed with me that the plot was “garbage” and wasn’t usable. He pleaded with me to let it go, to approve the plot anyway because he had major personality and political problems at his place involving Gerry, Len, George and factions loyal to same. A lot of animosity and jealousy, including hard feelings between Gerry and Len that would somehow be exacerbated if Gerry’s plot was rejected. A “victory” for the Gerry-haters? I don’t know.
But, whatever his personnel problems were, the plot sucked and I wasn’t about to approve it.
Dick thought that, instead of telling Gerry and others that I had rejected the plot, it might be politically better if he said that he, Dick, wanted changes made. I didn’t care, as long as we got a new plot. I made it clear that minor changes wouldn’t cut it. That mess needed a thorough overhaul.
Strangely, sometime later, Len Wein called me to discuss changes to the plot. He spoke as if minute changes here and there would make everything okay. He wanted to discuss little characterization gaffs. I told him plainly scrap it and start over. I refused to discuss bits and details, a waste of time. As the Titanic was sinking did it matter whether or not the ashtrays were clean? I gave him, in broad strokes the major reasons why the plot made no sense and was utterly unusable.
Len asked whether, they could proceed with the pencils, now that he understood the objections. I said no. Emphatically. There was way too much wrong with that plot to agree to allow penciling to start after a few minutes of discussing only the most egregious of the many incredibly egregious flaws. I told him I had to see a new, written plot.
A couple of weeks passed. I started calling Dick every day or two. He would never take my call. After nearly two months of this, I sent him a telegram demanding answers, demanding a revised plot.
On May 18th, someone casually mentioned to me that they had seen some of George’s penciled pages for the JLA/Avengers book. I called Dick right away. I couldn’t reach him. I sent another telegram. Finally, he called.
Sometime shortly thereafter, DC messengered over photocopies of the 20 or so pages George had drawn. Along with the copies, or separately, soon thereafter, they sent a “revised” plot.
The “revised” plot was substantially, make that almost completely the same as the original rejected plot, with only a few, very minor cosmetic touch-ups.
George’s pencils were terrific. But they were based on the rejected plot. To his credit, George had actually fixed a few small errors in the plot as he drew it. Not nearly enough. None of the major reasons why the plot made no sense and was unusable had been addressed.
I rejected it again.
NEXT: And Then Things Got Ugly