In 1996, DC Comics and Marvel mashed their characters into a new fictional construct. The Amalgam era was a once-in-a-lifetime event because the comics published are not getting reprinted anymore.
It has been a ritual of fans to pledge allegiance to DC or Marvel.
Even amongst readers who try their best to remain neutral and follow series from both studios, there are characters who ignite ire. Punisher loyalists hate that Batman does not kill the Joker. Superman enthusiasts argue that Thor could never take down the Man of Steel.
Crossovers between DC and Marvel have been rare. The 1996 DC vs. Marvel miniseries consisted of meet-cutes and fights that had been fueling nerd arguments for years.
It is fan service of highest order where Superman brawls with the Hulk and wins, Wonder Woman picks up Thor’s hammer, and Elektra takes down Catwoman.
What happened next was the debut of Amalgam Universe, a conceit that gave a landscape where characters like Super-Soldier had been around. Amalgam was fan-fiction created by the biggest enthusiasts. (Here is the history of the project on SKTCHD.)
Amalgam books came out in two chunks, a year apart. Some were awful, and others were sublime artifacts. The best thrived on a commonality of the original mythoses that had been mashed up or found energy from splicing together opposite bits. Iron Lantern knotted Hal Jordan and Tony Stark together and made Hal Stark, a character who needed to recharge the armor that he made from alien lantern artifact.
Bruce Wayne, Agent of SHIELD, does not sound like something that would work but layering the jet-setting playboy aspect of the character winds up being fun.
It is one of the better books to come from the project, splicing together old-school Nick Fury and Batman fighting against The Green Skull, who is aided by SelinaLuthor, a combo of Madame Viper and Catwoman.
Specific fusions had different results. Dark Claw was a super mash-up of Wolverine and Batman. This surely felt more engaging in Dark Claw Adventures comic. The work was much better than straight superhero drama as in Legend of the Dark Claw.
Challengers of the Fantastic paid homage to Fantastic Four and Challengers of the Unknown science-hero teams. Jack Kirby did work for the publishers and blended elements of the New Gods, Inhumans, and space-age cosmic threats.
Also, drawing from Kirby’s legacy with each publisher, Thorion of New Asgods felt it was fated.
It is a space fantasy feast where Mother Box and Cosmic Cube become the Mother Cube, and Odin and Highfather are one sky father figure.
In Bullets & Bracelets, an odd couple pairing of The Punisher who is a Frank Castle and Steve Trevor hybrid with Diana Prince was created. They fell in love and had a child.
A lot of Amalgam comics suffered from having backstory exposition dumps on their pages.
The wry nods to comics history were metatextual as seen in Amalgam company’s publisher figure, Stan Schwartz (DC Stan Lee and Julie Schwartz) and references to Secret Crisis and Final Onslaught crossovers which are nods to Secret Wars, Final Crisis and Onslaught events done by Marvel and DC.
The Amalgam books capitalized on some long-simmering conspiracies on events that cannot be coincidences. The Doom Patrol, a DC super-team of outcasts led by a man in a wheelchair, came out three months before the X-Men. Coincidence? Not really.
But not all the Amalgam books made use of experiment’s fusion power. Assassins is the worst, filled with stilted writing and artistic overindulgence that characterized the worst of 1990s cape comics.
Lead characters, The Dare and Catsai are wince-inducing combinations of Daredevil, Deathstroke, Elektra, and Catwoman. Enigma Fisk was the bad guy who was a mash-up of Riddler and Kingpin.
Super-Soldier and Spider-Boy, patchwork heroes, were sewn together from elements of Superman, Captain America, and Spider-Man and was done well. The Super-Soldier comics captured the Greatest Generation optimism of 1940s comic with a more angsty man-out-of-time vibe that is there for Clark Kent and Steve Rogers.
Spider-Boy Team-Up offered a fun canvas, time travel, costume changes and legacy with the right amount of effervescent snark.
These were comics that gave superhero genre’s fans a warm hug, with in-jokes and fan-fic logic. The Supes/Spidey projects from 1976 and 1981 were written to hook non-nerds whose curiosity was piqued. It is a crystallization of editorial problems and policies that resulted in smaller comics-reading population.
When the DC vs. Marvel and Amalgam comics were collected, the companies took turns releasing anthologies. DC and Marvel got their share of lucrative sales. DC is a Warner Bros. company while latter-day Marvel is owned by Disney.