2015 marks the 30th anniversary of DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths, the 12 issue maxi-series that redefined comic book storytelling. However, 2015 also marks the inception of another mini-series that, while not thought of as nearly as fondly as Crisis, was definitely unprecedented at the time. I’m talking about the 4 issue mini-series, DC vs Marvel. I was fortunate enough to recently interview the folks involved in the project and we’ll be posting these in the days to come. Today we begin with writer Ron Marz (@ronmarz on Twitter).
jman: In a blog post you wrote a few years ago, “What might have been…”, you stated that the idea for the DC vs Marvel crossover started out in secret in 1995 at the house of then-Marvel editor, the late Mark Gruenwald. Besides yourself and Mark, who was initially involved in the project? How much of the project was fleshed out before it became public knowledge within the two companies?
Ron Marz: That first meeting was me, Mark Gruenwald, Mike Carlin and Peter David at Mark’s apartment uptown in Manhattan. We also went to lunch at a Mexican restaurant around the corner. Obviously people above Mark and Mike in the chain of command knew about the project, but none of the other editors had been told at that point. There was a real premium on secrecy. We actually hammered out the very basics of the plot in that first meeting, and set up most of the battles that would take place.
jman: Mike Carlin was the other editor involved in the crossover, along with Mark Gruenwald. DC published the 1st and 4th issues and Marvel published the 2nd and 3rd. Did you have to get both editors approval on the scripts? Or was it just Carlin’s?
RM: Everything we did went through Mike and Mark, and then the editors of individual characters needed to approve the scripts as well. But I know that Mike and Mark leaned on the other editors, telling them to ignore nitpicky stuff. The main interest was just making sure everyone was in character. We really didn’t have many issues at all in terms of approval. Mike and Mark really shepherded the process smoothly.
jman: Obviously, both companies wanted to come out of the crossover looking good. And things needed to be as even handed as possible. Were there some not so obvious things either company didn’t want you to do?
RM: Not really. Obviously Peter and I both had track records of working at Marvel and DC, so we were pretty well versed in what would fly and what wouldn’t. Honestly, it’s not really rocket science. You’re being hired to play with their toys, and play with them properly, so you know which lines you can’t cross. The main thing we were trying to do was have fun.
jman: The battles are interesting. Some are obvious, some not so. How were they picked? Any that you didn’t agree with? Any battles you would’ve liked to have seen instead?
RM: The list of battles we made while we were sitting in Mark’s apartment is pretty much what you see in the finished product. I think we changed a few minor things here and there, but most of the match-ups were pretty obvious. We tried to go with stuff that the readers have always wanted to see. I might personally have preferred Batman vs. Daredevil, for instance, but Batman vs. Captain America is really the more popular choice. So many of the characters have clear counterparts in the opposing universe. Really, my only regret was that we didn’t have 500 pages to tell these stories.
jman: Speaking of which, the top 5 heavy hitter battles were to be decided by fan vote. Was it difficult to plot out the story not knowing who was going to win ahead of time? Would the story have been any different if any of the battles went a different way?
RM: We had a total of eleven battles that got more than a battle or two devoted to them. It had to be an odd number to make sure we didn’t end up with a tie, which we knew would feel like a cheat. The first six “preliminary” battles ended in a tie, so the five “main events,” which the readers would vote on, would be the deciding factor. All five of those main events fell to me to write in issue #3, so I actually had to write two different endings for each battle.
We had a pretty good sense of who would win most of them, because it was a popularity contest. Batman and Superman were pretty good bets, so were Spider-Man and Wolverine. The only one we weren’t sure about was Wonder Woman vs. Storm. But we still had to make sure we had two different outcomes ready for each of the five battles. The goal was to do that with having to replace only a page or even a few panels of art, because we had to go to press as soon as the votes were tallied. That’s why you see things like a mountain collapsing on top of Superman and the Hulk, and then Superman emerging from the rubble. For that, we also drew a version with the Hulk emerging from the rubble. Same thing for the Wolverine vs. Lobo battle. Their brawl takes them behind a bar, and then Wolverine appears from behind the bar and takes a puff on a cigar sitting in an ash tray. Which is a little ironic now, because we probably couldn’t show either one of them smoking today.
jman: Ok…strap yourself in for this one. One of the things I noticed about the books is that it’s not Peter Parker as Spider-Man but his clone Ben Reilly. At the time of DC vs Marvel, the Spider-Man Clone saga was in full swing, still one of the most controversial times of Spider-Man’s history. At one point in the first book of DC v Marvel, Ben introduces himself to Clark Kent as “Peter Parker”. What I’m asking, in a very roundabout way, is…was it odd not to be writing the “truest” version of Spider-Man? Or any character for that matter? Because at the time, Aquaman was missing a hand, Superman had a mullet. And Green Lantern was this kid you probably never heard of, named Kyle Rayner.
RM: The editorial decision was made to go with whatever version of a character was current. So we did have a few less-than-iconic depictions of some of the characters. You have to remember, one of the main purposes of the series as a whole was to jumpstart sales and interest in Marvel and DC’s comics. Showing the characters as they appeared in their current monthly titles was an outgrowth of that. Personally, I would have preferred the more iconic versions, the ones that are known to the majority of readers, but that’s not the way we went. It was a can of worms either way we handled it. But ultimately I don’t think it had a huge impact.
It was still a tremendous amount of fun to work on.
jman: One of my favorite things to come out of the DC vs Marvel crossover event is the Amalgam Universe. The Amalgam universe came about at the end of issue three of Marvel vs DC, where the Marvel/DC universes were combined and the characters from both universes where “amalgamated”. How much involvement did you have in setting up the Amalgam Universe? Was the Amalgam universe always going to be part of the story? Or did it come along as the story progressed? How were the “mashups” picked? Any interesting characters left on the table?
RM: Amalgam was part of the project right from the first meeting. When Mike and Mark told us about Amalgam happening after issue #3 of the series, it was kind of a holy shit moment: “We’re really doing that?!” Having heroes fight heroes is something comics have been doing forever. But the Amalgam combinations were definitely something unexpected, something that had never been done before. All of the titles in the first Amalgam wave were in place even at the first meeting. My assumption has always been that Mark and Mike came up with the titles. I can tell you that as soon as they said “Doctor Strangefate” would be one of the titles, I just about jumped out of my seat volunteering to write it.
jman: Did you sneak anything into the crossover that not many people know/knew about? Any Easter eggs?
RM: Not as much in my issues. I was more interested in the character stuff, like hinting at a journalistic quasi-love triangle between Lois Lane, Clark Kent and Peter Parker. Peter David’s issues have a bit more in terms of Easter eggs and in-jokes.
jman: From the tone of your blog post, it seems that Marvel was less interested in the crossover then DC. Was it obvious at the time to you? Or is it in hindsight that you realized it?
RM: I don’t think “less interested” is a fair characterization. Mark Gruenwald, certainly, was like a kid in a candy store. For whatever reason, it took a while to nail down Marvel’s artist. To my knowledge, John Romita Jr. from Marvel and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez from DC were offered the art duties initially, because they more than anyone else were emblematic of the two publishers. From what I was told, John turned it down, as did Andy Kubert and Adam Kubert. That’s how it wound up going to Claudio Castellini. Garcia-Lopez also turned it down, because he didn’t want to draw such a large-scale superhero project, so Dan Jurgens came aboard.
jman: What projects are you working on these days?
RM: I’m still writing Witchblade for Top Cow/Image, John Carter: Warlord of Mars for Dynamite and Skylanders for IDW, all monthlies. I’m also writing two strips for the Edgar Rice Burroughs website, Korak and The Mucker, working on a couple of titles for DC’s 2015 Convergence event, as well as a few other things that aren’t announced yet.
jman: So…once and for all, who has the better universe? Marvel or DC?
RM: I don’t think it’s a question of better, I think it’s a question of personal taste, and in particular, when you discovered the respective universes. As a kid, I was much more of a Marvel reader, so those characters overall are probably a little nearer and dearer to me. But I’ve done more of my work at DC, and Superman and Batman are definitely my two favorite heroes. I love them both.
Many, many thanks to the great Ron Marz for taking the time to answer my questions!
Need more DC vs Marvel? Then check out the latest episode of the Almost Internet Famous Internet show!