One thing which has blighted Marvel and DC’s output over the
last few years or so is the awful creature known as the “event”. What this
generally means is a huge, stupid story with no coherent plot, wildly variable
quality of writing and artwork, pointless character deaths added to give the
story some artificial semblance of depth and “huge changes that will alter the
Marvel/DC (delete as applicable) Universe forever!”
This is clearly nonsense, of course. Taking DC’s Superman-based crossover event Our Worlds At War as an example, there were a lot of characters who bought the farm in that one – the junior speedster known as Impulse, fish whisperer Aquaman, the great Guy Gardner and many others. All three of those characters have since returned from the great beyond, and most of the more minor casualties have too. DC has been running what is pretty much one event constantly for the past three years, from Identity Crisis through to Infinite Crisis to One Year Later/52. Marvel are currently setting new records for plot-related idiocy and inability to keep their stories straight with their (admittedly huge-selling) Civil War, and prior to that there was the concept that walked like a story which went by the name of House of M.
That’s not to say that events can’t be good. Marvel’s last
really great many-title crossover may be as far back as 1995’s Age of
Apocalypse (which I’ll cover before this blog hits the big 100), but 1996’s DC
vs Marvel crossover – in itself not a great story, or anything approaching it –
at least allowed for the creation of what was a genuinely fun and largely daft
event, in the form of the Amalgam Universe.
It’s a simple concept. To get an Amalgam hero, you take one Marvel hero and one DC hero (or a multiple of each) and smoosh them together to make one character. If you can come up with a punny name, so much the better. Thus we get characters like Catsai (Catwoman + Elektra – who uses sais, you see?), Speed Demon (Ghost Rider + the Flash + Etrigan the Demon) and Bat-Thing (Man-Bat + Man-Thing). The most punsome of all had to be the amalgamation of the Howling Commandoes’ Izzy Cohen with Easy Company’s Ice Cream Soldier to make Ice Cream Cohen, although it would have had a run for its money had DC allowed the publication of Hank Oliver, Giant Queen. The amalgamation premise is an easy enough one to grasp, and actually makes for a fairly diverting pub game if you’re with a bunch of equally nerdy mates. The books gave no impression of having been published by anyone other than the fictional Amalgam company, complete with fake lettercolumns and Bullpen Bulletins-style editorial pages, and each one referred to prior comics and continuity which, of course, had never existed.
Amalgam was an excuse for creators to come completely off
the leash and give their most barking ideas free rein. Some of the particular
highlights are Karl Kesel and Mike Wieringo’s exceptional Spider-Boy book,
which merged Superboy and the friendly neighbourhood web-slinger and faced him
off against Bizarnage, a murderous symbiote who was also a backwards clone of
Spider-Boy himself. It was a comic which had a lot of fans and creators alike
asking why the regular Spider-Man book couldn’t be that much fun any more.
Other high points included Ty Templeton’s Dark Claw Adventures (Wolverine +
Batman), done in the style of the DC animated series tie-in comics; Mark Waid
and Dave Gibbons’ two Super-Soldier (Superman + Captain America) issues; and Alan
Grant and Val Semeiks’ brilliantly stupid Lobo the Duck (fairly
A number of the creators were also able to work elements of both universes’ continuity into their stories – Bruce Wayne, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. featured the eponymous hero and his partner Moonwing (Moon Knight + Nightwing), and had as one of the villains a character who was an amalgam of Midnight and Jason Todd, who had been Moon Knight and Batman’s partners/sidekicks respectively, and who had both died in the line of duty and who have both since come back from the grave with major grudges against their former buddies. If you knew both characters, it was a nice Easter egg, and if you didn’t then it wasn’t important enough to the story to make a difference to your enjoyment of it.
Unfortunately, they weren’t all great – books like Speed Demon, Thorion of the New Asgods and Amazon were pretty incomprehensible, and suffered from trying to stuff too many concepts into one comic - or, in the case of Speed Demon, being written by the awful Howard Mackie on one of his worst days. Still, even though they can’t match up to the ones which drunken evenings in the pub can produce (the Ray + Daredevil = Ray Charles, or the matching up of a Batman sidekick with Peter Parker’s school bully to form vigilante journalist Huntress Thomson), the Amalgam books are a relic of a time when DC and Marvel were more interested in having fun with their books than whether they can justify bumping off another member of the JLE or the New Warriors and needling at each other all the way. They litter back issue bins and are likely to set you back about 25p each (US $4.22 at current exchange rates). Go on – it’s two great tastes that taste great together.