Spider-Man and Batman (1995)

Spider-Man and Batman (September, 1995)
“Disordered Minds”
Writer – J.M. DeMatteis
Penciler – Mark Bagley
Inkers – Scott Hanna & Mark Farmer
Lettering/Book Design – Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colors/Separations – Electric Crayon
Assistant Editor – Mark Bernardo
Consulting Editors – Dennis O’Neil, Scott Peterson, Jordan B. Gorfinkel & Darren Vincenzo
Editors – Eric Fein & Danny Fingeroth
Editor-in-Chief – Bob Budiansky
Cover Price: $5.95

Heyyy, it’s a Friday during the Summer… which means there’s another comic book movie (that I’m not going to see) being released!  This time around it’s Iron Man 4 Spider-Man Homecoming, which may have one of the silliest titles yet… and might feature the most annoying kid playing Spider-Man to date!  I wonder if they’ll show him being bit by the spider again!

Today we’re going to discuss another time Spider-Man crossed over with a DC character.  Last year we covered Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man… from a time when intercompany crossovers were extremely rare and novel.  This time around we’re going to check out Spider-Man and Batman… from a time when intercompany crossovers were happening on a monthly basis!

Anyhoo, if you’re planning to see Homecoming this weekend, I hope you and yours have a great time!

We open during a nightmare.  The burglar is killing Uncle Ben Parker all over again, Spider-Man appears at the window just moments too late.  We get the impression that this is a recurring dream which never ends anywhere near “happily”.  Spider-Man grabs the burglar who begins laughing… uncontrollably.  His skin turns white and his lips red… hmm.  Peter wakes in a sweat and hops out of bed to “watch television”.  Mary Jane (they’re still married at this point) tells him where his costume is and asks him to be home before breakfast.  A helpful footnote tells us that this adventure occurs before Spectacular Spider-Man #229 (October, 1995)… which is to say, we’re waist-deep in the Spider-Man Clone Saga, but before Peter Parker decided to hang up the tights and move to Portland.  The story doesn’t make any mentions to the Saga… which, is probably for the best… however, if this story occurs after Spectacular Spider-Man #226 (July, 1995)… then Peter already believes himself to be the clone.  Seems weird to place this before #229 and not before #226.

As Spidey thwips across the Manhattan skyline, we shift scenes… hmm, I can’t think of a cardinal direction to use as a descriptor, so we’ll just say… we shift to Gotham City where Bruce Wayne is also being haunted by a recurring nightmare… betcha can’t guess which one!  Yeah, it’s that one… and Batman has arrived just moments to late to save his parents.  As he fights not-Joe Chill, he notices spiky red teeth in his mouth… wonder if that’ll come up again?  Anyhoo, he hops out of bed and goes out on patrol to clear his head.

We rejoin Spider-Man at the Ravencroft Institute where he is meeting with his associate the suddenly-svelte (and young) Dr. Ashley Kafka.  She has been working with Cletus Kasady… ya know, Carnage to try and “cure” him.  She is being perhaps a little too noble in her endeavor… which is mostly being done to contrast her from someone we’ll meet in a few pages.

It should come as little shock that as Kafka and Spidey watch ol’ Cletus, he breaks out of the glass pod he’d been held captive in.  Glass goes everywhere, and Spider-Man and Carnage begin punching each other in the face.

Luckily, just as Spidey is about to be overcome, Colonel Jameson and his army of microwave-gun toting troops arrive on the scene to put Carnage down.  I’m just imagining Jameson and his crew walking up and down every street with their microwave guns like they were the Guardian Angels or something.  Unfortunately, it’s nothing as fun as that.

It’s here we meet Cassandra Briar, who for our purposes is basically Bizarro-Kafka.  She doesn’t believe Kasady can be “reached” by traditional psychoanalysis… there will be no “breakthroughs” with this case, and so, under sanction from the United States government… they’re going to try another approach.  Think lobotomy, where a computer chip is inserted into the brain to regulate/eliminate psychopathy.  Well, ya figure if ya got the technology… ya might as well try it on Carnage, right?  By the way, Briar is depicted to subtly that she may as well come equipped with horns, hooves and a tail.

It appears that the procedure is successful… and we in the science world know that the true test of reliability is through repetition… so, where are they gonna get another guinea pig?  Perhaps eastward westward northward southward in Gotham City… where Batman is embroiled in a battle with the Joker!  How ’bout that… Batman versus the Joker… that almost never happens, a-hem.  Anyhoo, Joker’s angle here is that he wants to release a cageful of infected bats into Gotham, so that the millions of Gothamites will become “just as looney” as he is.  This is an angle I really don’t like… I prefer thinking that Joker fancies himself sane, but what do I know?  It’s all moot, however, Batman snags him… they neck for a bit, and the clown gets kayoed.

I really thought this bite was going to lead somewhere…

(I assume) some time passes, and we shift to Arkham Asylum where Briar (and Kafka) are trying to hard sell the brain chip lobotomy procedure.  They have ol’ Cletus in tow to illustrate how successful it could be.  They decide to test the reliability by performing it on the Joker… and whattayaknow, it works!

After getting a bit of good press, Briar drives away with both Cletus and Joker… and without any armed guards (they’re all in other cars).  Seems a dangerous way to show folks that these psychopathic criminals are harmless, but whattaya gonna do?  When I first read this, I thought this was her making a “clean escape” with the baddies, and she’d use them for her own nefarious means for the second half of the story… but, nope!  This is just where Cletus reveals that he was never under control of the chip… just playing along so he could get out!  The Joker is still “normal” though.

Cletus grabs the Joker and Briar and plans to make off with the both of ’em.  Luckily, in one of the other cars Batman has disguised himself as a guard.  Anytime a masked Batman is disguised, ya gotta wonder where his “bat ears” go, right?  Anyways, Batman confronts Carnage, and they share a bit of repartee.  When Carnage smiles, his spiky red smile, Bruce flashes back to his nightmare… which must’ve been days ago at this point, right?

While Batman is dazed, Spider-Man web-nyoinks Briar to safety.  In the confusion, the Joker breaks away… and hides behind Batman for protection from Carnage, which is pretty neat.  A quick fight goes down between the three, which ends when Carnage starts tendril-choking the arriving officers.  Batman and Spider-Man go to attend to the cops while Carnage makes his escape (with Joker in tow).

When the dust settles, Batman and Spider-Man share a contentious conversation… which goes pretty much exactly like you’d imagine.  Spidey is trying to discuss the situation, and Batman is all “Why are you in my city?”… it’s charming, ain’t it?

After Batman tells Spidey to buzz off, we shift over to Carnage and the Joker… where the former is dripping some symbiotic goop on the latter.  Turns out he’s using his tendrils to reach up the clown’s nose and procure that brain chip… and return the Joker to his homicidal state.  This just tells me that Dr. Briar’s chip actually works on some level!

To celebrate being crazy again… and to commemorate his association with his new B.F.F., Joker uses Carnage’s claw to shred up his trenchcoat… so now they both look, er… tendrilly?  It’s not a good look for Mr. J.

In the Batcave, Batman is running some data on Carnage… but doesn’t hang around too long.  Alfred arrives with some finger sandwiches, and Batman threatens to deposit them directly into the toilet.  Well, if nothing else, Batman is expedient… and kind of a jerk.

Back with Spider-Man… he’s swinging through Gotham City when he hears a woman crying out for help.  She is being chased down an alley by a knife wielding thug… which causes Spidey to have a guilt-ridden flashback to his origin story.  He drops the baddie, and the would be victim asks why Spider-Man would ever be in Gotham… yeesh, ya ever hear of “Thank You”?

Just then the Batmobile pulls up… and Batman asks him to… please… get in.  Wow, not sure I’ve ever heard Batman say please before!  We’re going to need some photographic evidence of that!

Elsewhere, the Joker and Carnage have a difference of opinion on how they might proceed.  Ya see, the Joker is still hung up on playing the long game, spreading his plague and watching Gotham tear itself apart.  Cletus ain’t got the time for all that spoo, and would prefer just gutting every last Gothamite up close and personal.

They agree to disagree… and by that, I mean the Joker escapes the locked building through the sewers before blowing up the locked building with Carnage in it.

We return to the heroes just in time for some banter.  Spider-Man talks about his past team-ups, and how he’s always one of the first fellas called on in times of crisis… ya know, before he was actually on every single team, he was an oft-used associate.  I’m trying to think of a team he hasn’t been on at this point, and I’m coming up blank… he even had his own (short-lived) X-Men title a few years back!  Anyhoo, he makes an offhanded remark about waiting for Superman to call him up one’a these days… which appears to vex the Bat (but what doesn’t?).

The pair arrive at the wreckage of Joker’s building and see Carnage’s tendrilly hand sticking out from the rubble.  Spider-Man suggests that he’s just playing possum, and wouldn’tcha know it… that’s exactly what he was doing!  Carnage wraps Batman up in his tendrils and starts running his spiky-red mouth.  While Spidey considers his next move… the Joker arrives to stop (chili con) Carnage from killing his arch foe?!

Ya see, he’s still bent on releasing the plague… which is now described as fatally toxic rather than just making folks crazy loons.  Joker has it kept in a jack-in-the-box… which he threatens to make “pop goes the weasel” killing everyone in Gotham… including himself and Carnage if need be.  This causes Carnage to pause long enough for Batman to pull himself away and deliver a whopper of a kick.  In the distraction, Spider-Man thwips the plague-in-the-box away from the Joker.

A fight is on, and Batman just trounces Carnage… really beating him to a pulp.  This probably shouldn’t be so one-sided a fight, but we’re running low on pages, so we’ll allow it.  The Joker tries to get away… only to find himself bathed in… a Spider-Signal?!

Spidey beats the hell out of the Joker… and is given the opportunity to lecture him (and us) that he’d never resort to killing.  Funny, a few months earlier in his own book he was calling himself “the spider” and taking extreme measures with bad guys… buuuuuut, that was just so Ben Reilly would look better by comparison, we don’t need to worry about that here.

With the day saved, Batman and Spider-Man meet atop a tower… where they stand… awkwardly silent, before Batman extends a hand of friendship to the wall crawler.

The two legendary heroes shake hands… and part as pals.

I really enjoyed this… though, I gotta say, the numerous Marvel/DC crossovers of the mid-1990’s definitely suffered from diminishing returns.  This was a fine (and fun) story, but really lacked the oomph! that I feel a Spider-Man and Batman crossover ought to have.  I mean, this should feel huge and (as much as I hate using the word) epic!  This felt like just another story.  A good one, but just another one.

If I may be a bit hypocritical, I would have to say that the combined threat of Carnage and the Joker might require a longer story than this.  I mean, the Joker is the Joker… and these days, we can’t swing a dead lipsticked fish without hitting an interminable Joker story… but he went down pretty quick here.  Also, Carnage… this is before that bit of time around the turn of the century where we comics enthusiasts decided we were “too cool” for 90’s characters like ol’ Cletus… he was still a pretty big deal (and a needle-mover) at this point… and he kinda goes down like a chump as well.  But… it’s a prestige format, I guess that kinda dictates story length somewhat.

Let’s talk about the opening premise… no, not the origin story rehash… I feel like we discuss those too much as it is!  I was afraid we were going to turn a page and for whatever reason see Krypton exploding!  I will say it was pretty neat seeing some of the similarities between the hero’s defining “moments of profundity” though.

Onto Dr. Briar and her brain chip implant… now, Briar herself is depicted as kind of a blowhard jerk, right?  Like I said above, she should have just been drawn with horns and hooves.  Just stepping all over poor Dr. Kafka, being all militaristic… but, at the end of the day… we mustn’t forget that her brain implant works!  At least on the Joker, until Carnage picks his nose, anyway!

But, this is a J.M. DeMatteis story… and, lemme tell ya up front, I love this guy’s writing… buuut, when he starts waxing psychological, it doesn’t always work for me.  It’s clear he has a strong position, and I often agree with his points of view… but, that doesn’t always make for an interesting (or organic) story.  It sometimes feels more like “let me share something I found in a journal in the form of a story” than an actual story.  But again, I can’t hold that against anybody here… this is a one-shot that required something to get the story going.  This is as good a device as any.

I mentioned it during the synopsis, I really thought it was interesting that they would put a footnote in here.  You’d figure a story that was never going to get referred to again wouldn’t require such a thing… and yet, there is a clear reference to the Clone Saga.  At this point in Spider-History, Peter Parker believed himself to be the clone… and Ben Reilly was the real-deal.  It makes me kinda wonder why Ben wasn’t used as the Spider-Man here.  Wouldn’t have taken a whole lot to make the switch, just excise the single page with Mary Jane on it.  Perhaps this just hit at that nebulous between-beats time, or if Marvel/DeMatteis just didn’t feel like playing the ball where it lay.  Such a strange time of spider-upheaval, it’s always interesting to take a look at it’s “moving parts”.

This crossover exists in a world where the Marvel and DC Universes share the same Earth.  I’m not quite sure how I feel about that… does anybody out there have a preference?  Like, would you rather the universes be separated by the Source Wall, or share the same Earth (and sometimes the same cities!)?  What makes for a more engaging… or easier to “suspend your disbelief” kind of story for you?  If I had to choose, I think I’d go with Source Wall… just seems “tidier” that way.

The art here was by the fantastic Mark Bagley.  At this point, DeMatteis and Bagley were the regular creative team on Amazing Spider-Man, so it’s neat that they were given the project rather than a team that might not have the same level of investment in the character.  Worth mentioning that while dual-branded, this one did come out of Marvel’s offices.  The cover here is embossed too… which gives it nice, er… feel?

Overall, worth checking out to be sure… just don’t expect it to rock your socks.  There is always that novelty factor when discussing these intercompany deals… I always get a bit heart-thumpy seeing a Marvel character and a DC character sharing panel space.  It’s not something we’re likely to see in the near (or far) future at this point, so this one-shot’s going to have to tide many of us over.  In 1997, a Batman and Spider-Man (names reversed) one-shot would be released, this time coming out of DC’s offices.  I’m gonna have to check my shelves to see if I’ve got that one!

More Marvel/DC Intercompany Shenanigans:

DC/Marvel All-Access #2 #3
Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man
Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans


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