I don’t think I’m really telling stories out of school here, since the project was well over a decade ago. Last week I mentioned on my Twitter stream how much affection I have for the work of artist Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, one of the true masters of the medium. I also mentioned that Jose was actually offered the DC half of the art duties of Marvel vs. DC (or, depending on your point of view, DC vs. Marvel), the crossover project that I co-wrote with Peter David back in the mid-’90s. According to the account I heard, Jose turned down the project because he wasn’t terribly interested in drawing a big superhero slugfest.
It was a disappointment, of course, because no other artist more symbolizes DC (at least in my mind) than Jose. In addition to his long list of credits in the DC Universe, Jose has done a wealth of art that’s been used as the basis for DC merchandising, including the Superman fleece blanket in my office, and a number of statues on my shelves. Jose is the “DC guy” to a lot of people, even if they don’t realize it’s his art. As far as I know, Joe has never drawn Marvel characters beyond his Batman vs. Hulk crossover in the ’70s.
So with Jose out, the job was offered to Dan Jurgens, another artist who has a rep as a “DC guy” even though he’s done a chunk of work for Marvel as well. Dan is also one of my closer friends in comics, and serves as the commissioner of a fantasy football league I play in. Dan accepted, and we were off and running.
Well, halfway, at least, since Marvel had not confirmed its own art team. The first choice for the gig was John Romita Jr., who symbolized Marvel in much the same way that Jose was emblematic of DC. And, like Jose, John Jr. had never drawn DC’s characters outside of the Punisher/Batman crossover. But John turned down the job. So too did Andy Kubert and Adam Kubert. I’m not sure who else, if anyone, was asked. But it seemed curious that Marvel’s editor on the project, Mark Gruenwald, could not get a Marvel artist to commit to what was going to be a high-profile, high-selling project. I eventually heard that other factions within Marvel editorial were not as enthused at the prospect of a DC crossover, and actively discouraged Marvel’s top-drawer art talent from participating (the idea being that it was more beneficial for Marvel to have the likes of John Jr. or Andy or Adam drawing Marvel books, not spending time on a crossover). Now, bear in mind that’s something I was told by someone involved, but not something I can confirm with any direct evidence.
The choice eventually passed to Italian artist Claudio Castellini, with whom I had worked on a Silver Surfer special titled Dangerous Artifacts, which is still one of the most gorgeous art jobs I’ve ever been associated with. A brief aside here, if you’ll indulge me: Dangerous Artifacts was originally intended to be produced as a lavish hardcover, with both black-and-white and color versions available. But that never happened, which is a story I’ll tell in a future post.
In any event, despite producing gorgeous work, Claudio probably wasn’t an ideal choice in terms of commercial appeal, because he wasn’t much of a known commodity. Claudio also wasn’t a speed demon, due to his meticulous style of working. But he accepted the job, and did fine work on the project. In retrospect, his Buscema-influenced style really does have a Marvel flavor.
When Marvel vs. DC began, it was secret enough that a great many people at either company didn’t even know it existed. Our initial meeting was in Mark Gruenwald’s uptown apartment, so that loose lips in the offices wouldn’t leak the project. The initial idea on the table, which I wasn’t overly enthused about, was that Peter and I would alternate writing eight-page sequences throughout the four-issue story. I felt like Peter and I are different enough writers that alternating sequences would be an exercise in pulling in different directions. But I was willing to be a good soldier and give it a try.
I wrote the opening eight pages, Peter then wrote the next eight, I wrote the following eight, and so on, until we completed issue #1. The result was … less than ideal. To my eye, the story varied pretty wildly in tone, and it wasn’t an issue I was particularly happy with. When the script was turned in to DC’s Mike Carlin, who was supervising issue #1, the reception was less than enthusiastic as well. It was quickly decided – like, in a few hours – to scrap the script entirely, and have the writers alternate entire issues rather than sequences.
Marvel vs. DC was ultimately a great deal of fun to work on. It was a popcorn-type project, with superhero slugfests and fan-service moments. I mean, when fan votes dictate the outcomes of fights within the story, you know the job is to write a crowd-pleaser, not a work of great literature. If I have one regret, it’s that we didn’t have twice the number of pages to tell our story.
But I still wonder what it might have looked like had, say, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and John Romita Jr. signed on for the art.