Today, Marvel Comics and DC are walled kingdoms, ultimately controlled by parent corporate giants the Walt Disney Company and AT&T. There’s always been competition between Marvel and DC, and sometimes even cooperation - look back to 1976’s Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man for the most Jurassic of examples, and the loose sequels that followed.
Marvel/DC cooperation reached its apex in 1996, when the comic market was in freefall, and retailers just needed something they could sell the hell out of. Hither came DC Versus Marvel Comics, a full-on crossover that brought two universes together, and the Amalgam and DC Marvel All Access books that followed.
And within that almost came the unthinkable - a trade of Marvel and DC characters.
The editorial forces behind DC Versus Marvel Comics were Mike Carlin on the DC side, and the late Mark Gruenwald at Marvel. They were the perfect pairing, both merry pranksters, and Carlin had even cut his teeth at Marvel as Gruenwald’s assistant before moving on to DC. When you put the pair together, their creative energy was not just added, but multiplied. And their collaboration almost ended up in a seemingly crazy endgame.
"I think Carlin and Grunewald had some scheme," says Paul Levitz, then DC’s publisher. "I remember an idea being discussed, that we would swap out some characters. I don’t know that it lasted more than one meeting with me or someone just throwing up on the table and saying, 'Oh, God, that is so much more work than it could possibly be worth.' I do remember conversations around it. I think the idea was characters that we wouldn’t necessarily miss, but could potentially make more valuable by generating new interest in another universe."
Sure enough, a couple of legitimate C-listers were the proposed characters: She-Hulk and Martian Manhunter. Besides the green theme, it made a certain sense that these characters could be swapped in a very additive way.
"I felt like those were great picks, because at least in terms of power sets, they're kind of redundant characters," says Ron Marz, one of the DC Versus Marvel writers. "She-Hulk is, well, a lady Hulk. And Martian Manhunter is pretty close to Superman, just green with a big brow. They both would've seemed more original in the opposite universe."
It also seemed, at the time, a natural extension of momentum, and what fans wanted to see.
"There was plenty of fan conjecture at the time. The audience was convinced that it was going to happen," says Tom Brevoort, longtime Marvel editor. "There was a nascent internet community in those days, and so many fans were convinced it was going to happen."
The idea got off the ground, but just barely.
"As we got into the process of constructing the story, we had more of a conversation about that aspect: Do we have to build this into the last issue somehow?," Marz remembers. "Eventually, we got word that it wasn’t going to happen, because legal entities at both companies found it too much of a nightmare."
Today, the almost-trade is the Bigfoot of comics, grainy footage that no one is sure is real. Brevoort and Marz still get questioned about it on a regular basis.
"The notion of 'maybe we leave a character in the other universe at the end of this' seemed like it would be good fun if we could really make it happen," Marz says. "I don’t know what could have been done. Would She-Hulk join the Justice League and Martian Manhunter join the Avengers? The X-Men? I don’t think either character had their own title at the time. But for a brief moment, we were thinking, ‘yeah this could be really cool."