SUPERMAN vs THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: THE INSIDE STORY
(This was originally pitched and published in a vastly different form in Back Issue magazine. The idea was that it would be a chapter in the Andru & Esposito: Partners For Life book, but that got nixed when the publisher did his chopping and changing. I’m going back to that book, in an intermittent fashion, rewriting and bringing it back to the original vision that both Mike and I had for it. So, here it is.
All original art scans courtesy Terry Austin)
By the mind 1970s several; creators had crossed between Marvel and DC, going back to the days when Stan Lee began to poach artists and writers to help launch the Marvel Universe. Mike himself had crossed from DC to Marvel and had worked for both companies at the same time, before signing an exclusive deal with Marvel. Ross was also at Marvel, as was other DC staffers in the form of John Romita, Gil Kane and even Wayne Boring. Jack Kirby, who had almost singlehandedly developed the look of Marvel, had crossed the other way, moving to DC for a role as writer/artist/editor, as had Steve Ditko (Spider-Man), Dick Ayers and others. With the revolving door of talent, the time was right for the companies to come together and pitch their flagship characters against each other.
Unofficial cross-overs had happened before. In 1972 writers Steve Englehart (Marvel) and len Wein (DC) began a series of unofficial cross-overs when they intertwined a storyline in the pages of The Avengers, Justice League of America, Batman, Amazing Adventures and Thor. This crossover followed the misadventures of the real world writers as they appeared at the annual Rutland Halloween Parade, and also featured artist Neal Adams subtly inserting Marvel characters into DC books. Then in 1975 the two companies officially dipped their toes in the water by producing an adapation of The Wizard of Oz, written by Roy Thomas and drawn by John Buscema and Tony DeZungia. This went largely unnoticed, mainly due to the subject matter. The calls in fan circles for comics featuring the likes of Superman battling the Hulk, Batman and Spider-Man, the Avengers and the Justice League and more were too irresistible so the companies announced that, in 1976, Superman would officially meet The Amazing Spider-Man. After negotiation the creative team was settled and duly announced. The book would be created by people from both Marvel and DC in a fair split. Writing the book was DC employee Gerry Conway (at that stage the only man to have written both Superman and Spider-Man for any length of time), the penciller would be Marvel artist Ross Andru (the only man to have drawn both characters at that stage) and the book would be inked by freelancer, but then working for DC, artist Dick Giordano (pretty much the pre-eminent inker of any era). The rest of the duties would also be split between the companies, with the whole thing overseen by editors Stan Lee (Marvel) and Carmine Infantino (DC). Infantino would also lay-out and pencil the cover for Andru to follow. As the contracts were being finalised, Ross asked for the inker to be his partner, Mike Esposito. It made sense, Ross had pencilled both Superman and Spider-Man, and Mike had inked him on both characters, as well as inking others such as Curt Swan (Superman) and John Romita (Spider-Man). This would upset the balance though, but Ross was insistent. Unfortunately other people would push their agendas into play.
MIKE ESPOSITO: I was supposed to ink the first Superman/Spider-Man cross over. However, I got into a big argument with Marv Wolfman, who was the editor at Marvel at the time. They kept changing editors; Roy Thomas was the editor at one stage, then Marv, then Len Wein. I got a call from Sol Harrison at DC and he said, ‘Mike, we want to team you and Ross up together. We’re going to do a cross over with Spider-Man and Superman and since you guys were known as Andru and Esposito up here we figure it’d be perfect for you guys to do it’. And it was all set to go and then Marv Wolfman, and I’m not doing this verbatim, I’m paraphrasing what happened, he called them up and said, “You can’t have both guys.
It was like they were trading ball players from one team to another. He said, ‘You can have Ross but you can’t have Mike, or you can have Mike but you can’t have Ross. You can’t have both of them’ So Sol Harrison called me up and he was very apologetic because he really enjoyed the idea of having the two guys from years ago coming together on the project. He said, ‘It looks like you’re not going to do it, I’m sorry Mike. It looks like Dick Giordano is going to be put on it’. Dick Giordano did a good job. It’s a very nice book.
MARV WOLFMAN: Mike’s quote from Sol is wrong. I was on the Marvel Black and White books at the time, not the colour comics. I had absolutely nothing to do with deciding who was on the Superman/Spider-Man book. Len Wein was the editor, as he will tell you because I had to hold him back when he nearly strangled the guy from Cadence Corp. who told us about the team-up and that Len, as the Marvel editor, would not have any say in the matter. I may have later inherited the project when Len left Marvel, but I don't remember. At any rate, I know the team had been selected without us, and that the idea, as little as I remember of it now, was that there would be a Marvel penciller and a DC inker on it so I doubt that Mike would have been considered, despite his years with Ross, because they wanted people from both companies working on each step of it. Gerry Conway was the writer because he had written both Superman and Spider-Man, the only one to do it at that point.
LEN WEIN: I'm pretty much with Marv on this one. I was the Marvel Editor-in-Chief at the time, not Marv, who had nothing at all to do with the Superman/Spider-Man book other than saving then Marvel Publisher Al Landau's life when I threw myself at him, determined to rip out his throat. Landau told me when I complained about losing Ross Andru's pencilling services off the Amazing Spider-Man title for a couple of months, that, despite my position as Marvel E-I-C and also being the current writer on Amazing Spider-Man, what went on in the S/S-M team-up book was, quote, “None of your fucking business!”
Nobody in Marvel editorial had anything whatsoever to do with determining who worked on the Superman/Spider-Man book and, to the very best of my memory, Mike Esposito's name never came up. And, frankly, I doubt it would have. As mentioned, the idea was to make this one-shot a true cross-company book. That meant splitting the creative services between the two companies. Thus, the writing came from DC (Gerry Conway), the pencilling from Marvel (Ross Andru), the inking from DC (Dick Giordano), the colouring from Marvel (Glynis Oliver) and the lettering from DC (Gaspar Saladino). Even the cover was laid out by DC's then-publisher, artist Carmine Infantino, pencilled by Ross, and inked by Dick, and coloured by Glynis.
Despite whatever line of bull Sol Harrison might have fed Mike (Sol had his own agenda at the time, having been passed over for the publisher position), I don't believe for an instant it ever happened. The best I could imagine was Ross (always a wonderful man) suggesting his buddy Mike as inker and being overruled for the reasons mentioned above. Also, it should be noted that Mike inked the two issues of Amazing Spider-Man that Ross missed while pencilling the crossover. The fill-in penciller for those issues was Sal Buscema
Mike clearly remembered Sol Harrison phoning him twice. The first call was to discuss his inking the book and setting a page rate that would be agreeable to all parties concerned. Shortly after Sol phoned Mike and informed him that the editors at Marvel had refused to give permission for Mike to work for DC. But, as Len recounts, Sol had hidden agendas at that stage, known only to himself and it’s highly likely that he didn’t contact anyone at Marvel and felt that it was a given that he, as the Superman editor, would be able to choose the creative team. Sol found himself in a bind. He had made a promise to Mike, so he broke that promise and in doing so, laid some seeds of discontent by claiming Marvel had turned down DC’s request for Andru/Esposito. Perhaps he felt that, by blaming Marvel, Mike would quit and move back to DC and, in doing so, deprive Marvel of a dependable staff artist.
Mike had two regrets when it came to the Superman vs Spider-Man book, the first was missing out on seeing the Andru/Esposito name on one of the biggest projects that either of them would ever be likely to be connected to is one of them. The second regret was a more practical one: money.
MIKE ESPOSITO: It would have been nostalgic and it would have been a landmark thing for us two guys to come back together to work for DC on Superman, because we had done Superman together in the late ‘60s and we both were doing Spider-Man at the time. Our names were still going together with the old days of Metal Men and Wonder Woman and so on, and now we were finding a new audience with Spider-Man. The book did very well and Ross got a lot of money for it, I think he got around $27,000, which is pretty good as a royalty and later he got more from the reprints.
For years people had mentioned how the Superman figures in the book looked more like Neal Adams than Ross Andru and that the Spider-Man figures, in particular the faces of Peter parker and Mary-Jane, looked more like John Romitas work. There’s a very good reason for this – both men worked on the book, albeit uncredited. “John Romita did redraw most of the heads of Peter Parker and other supporting Spider-Man characters,” recalled Mark Evanier on a Jack Kirby mailing list, “even though the Andru versions were good enough to appear for years in the Spider-Man comics. That whole book had a ‘too many cooks’ mentality about it”. Evanier had seen a lot of the original pages as they were being handed around the DC offices and believed, in his own opinion, that Adams never touched the pages. John Romita wasn’t so sure.
JOHN ROMITA: I think the greatest thing Ross did was the Spider-Man vs Superman cross over. I have told many people at many conventions that I don’t know of anybody who could have done a better job on a huge project like that. It’s high profile, you’re out there exposed, and he did the best job I’ve ever seen on such a big project. That’s one of my favourite books of all time. I did work with him on that book because I was the consultant for Marvel and Stan sort of insisted that every once in a while I touch up a Mary Jane Watson face, or a Peter Parker face. You might find a couple of my faces sticking out like a sore thumb in that book.
DICK GIORDANO: No one asked Neal to re-draw the Superman figures, but the pages were sent to me at Continuity and were mostly left on my desk or thereabouts when I went home at night or on weekends and Neal took it upon himself to re-draw the Superman figures without telling me that he was going to do it. I didn't complain but I also never mentioned it to anyone at the time and really never spoke of it until now...mostly out of respect for Ross and his work. Ross was one of the very best storytellers in the business as well as great at composition, layouts and design. But his drawing was a bit quirky and somewhat distorted as a result of an eye problem that affected his perception. He often drew on one side of the paper, then, on a light box, turned it over and re-drew it on the other side, correcting the distortion, then reversed the page again and traced the corrected version from the back side of the art board onto the copy side. This took a great deal of time and slowed him down greatly toward the end of his career.
But...I loved the distortions! It gave his work a charm and distinction that I always believed was appealing. I learned how to ink his work to minimize the distortion without losing the charm! That became moot, as Neal changed/corrected all the Superman figures to his own frame of reference. I tried in the inking not to lose too much of the Ross Andru look (and to his credit, Neal tried, as well, to retain the ‘look’ mostly correcting anatomy errors in his re-drawing). You really couldn't lose his storytelling or compositions, so in my mind, the result was still Ross Andru at his best!!
I questioned Neal's son's claim that Neal inked the Superman figure on the cover. He re-drew it and I inked it...and then Neal may have gone back and ‘tightened up’ some of my inks as he often did on my inks on his material. He never much liked my more organic brush inking, preferring the more controlled look of pen inking. Different strokes...
NEAL ADAMS: Ross Andru came to my studio well before this project and I had heard about this project. I discovered that he was working on this Superman Spider-Man thing and in fact it was going to come to the studio and Dick was going to ink it. So when he came in it was come and have a cup of coffee, just relax, I've been a fan of yours and I really like your stuff, since the Metal Men since I was a kid and he said, “Well, you know this Superman Spider-Man thing is sort of a fluke. If I had my way on this book of course Mike Esposito would be inking it.”
“Why isn't he inking it?”
“I asked for Mike and they told me that they wouldn't let it happen. They said, they want to share the work between the companies.” And I said, “That doesn't seem right.”
He couldn't get Esposito in as an inker even though he'd asked. When the job came through the studio, it came in and Dick had mentioned some of the Superman logos on Superman's chest were done kind of quickly and apparently Ross was under a tremendous deadline. When I looked at the first pages I realized Ross had rushed some of the work and Dick, himself, had a lot of pressure deadline-wise. I thought how many times would Supes go up against Spidey? How many shots will this project get? One! I knew the strengths and weaknesses of the two artists. I asked Dick if I could tighten up the cover for him in preparation for inking. He said, “As long as you don’t, basically, change it.” I said, “Never, I’ll just sorta ink it with a pencil.” It worked out nicely.
We agreed to ask Ross if I could, because I had more experience with Superman, tighten up the Superman figures in the book. Ross was delighted. Dick and I were delighted. I took great effort to keep the Ross Andru look and quality while I added a bit of anatomy here and there, chiselled a face a bit, and basically inked with a pencil, after which Dick inked with ink. I don’t think you could find a collaboration the like of this one, anywhere. I was the mustard on a ham and Swiss. I ran a kneaded eraser over each Superman figure, which lightened the pencil. Then I pencilled new lines over the old and filled in areas that were unfinished, I located the roughed in “S” symbol and made the anatomy more solid. I knew Ross Andru’s style so I kept it Ross as best I could, and Dick blended it with his ink…but if you look real close…
The true unsung hero on the whole project is Terry Austin, who did the lion’s share of the ink work, inking the backgrounds and secondary characters, although Bob Wiacek inked the backgrounds on the prologue. Terry has often felt his involvement has been downplayed somewhat by others who, while they may or may not have done anything of importance on the book, were trying to promote themselves over him. At the time of the Superman/Spider-Man crossover being produced he was working at Continuity Studios as an assistant to Dick Giordano and as such worked on a lot of projects totally uncredited. This was one such project. During a lengthy phone call Terry explained that he'd done more inking on this book than virtually anyone else other than Giordano but didn't see how Neal Adams could have re-pencilled some images, however looking at the original pages from the book that he still owns he stated that it was now obvious to him. One thing he did mention was that the original art pages were done at almost the same size as the printed treasury. He then sent me photocopies of the art, at the original size, to illustrate his point and these pages are what you now see accompanying this current article. Terry mentioned that Bob Wiacek also had a hand in the inking stage.
Each year it seems that more and more memories are brought forward about this landmark book, the first official meeting between two powerhouse superheroes at opposing companies. Such is the power and impact of that amazing story. In 2006 Michael Eury spoke to Gerry Conway about the Superman/Spider-Man book and published the results in his Krypton Companion. As the writer of the book, Conway denied any knowledge of the art situation but did comment that, while he was working at Marvel on the Spider-Man title, John Romita would often retouch Ross Andru's Spider-Man faces. The interesting comment here was that Conway felt that Giordano was heavily influenced by Neal Adams with the result being that almost everything he inked came out looking like Adams. So when Conway saw the end result, “…it looked like Neal Adams' drawing, it didn't occur to me it might actually be Neal Adams' drawing.”
In February 2007 Roy Thomas printed a letter from Marv Wolfman in Alter Ego #65. The letter was in response to a series of interviews that Mike Esposito had given to the magazine in question. During the course of those conversations Mike mentioned the Superman/Spider-Man book. That came as no great surprise to me as the interviewer for Alter Ego and myself were speaking to Mike, at times, on the same day about the same topics, hence a lot of what was said Mike duplicated. Marv took offence at Mike's claims that perhaps it was he (Marv) and Len Wien who blackballed Mike from the book. Marv's letter, in part, said, "He (Mike) obviously holds a grudge against us (Marv and Len) because he thinks we were the ones who took him off the Superman vs Spider-Man book, costing him royalties; but I wasn't even in the colour department, and Len was allowed to have any say on anything connected to the book. I wish he'd stop bad mouthing us totally mistakenly".
The controversy surrounding the first official Superman and Spider-Man cross-over will probably never cease, but the book itself is a landmark and fondly remembered by all that have read it for the first time. After all, who can go past that incredible double page spread of Superman and Spider-Man shaking hands? When you’re talking iconic images in comic books that ranks up there with all of them. It signifies the first meeting of the two main companies of the day and is the iconic image of a book that blazed a cross-company trail that’s still being followed to this day.
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