In 2021, DC and Marvel Comics are walled kingdoms, separated by 3000 miles and two time zones and ultimately controlled by parent corporate giants Warner Bros. Discovery (the name of the proposed AT&T spinoff) and The Walt Disney Company. For decades there was rivalry and competition between DC and Marvel, and sometimes even cooperation, with perhaps the apex of their joint efforts being a pair of unprecedented crossover (and mash-up) events in 1996.
The comic book market was in freefall at the time, and retailers who owned and operated independent comic book shops needed something they could sell the bejeezus out of. Hence DC versus Marvel Comics (opens in new tab), a full-on inter-company crossover that brought two universes together, and the Amalgam and DC Marvel All Access books that followed.
And sometimes in the midst of all that almost came the unthinkable - a trade of DC and Marvel.
The editorial forces behind Marvel versus DC (yes, the title was swapped according to what publisher released what issue) were the late Mark Gruenwald on the Marvel side and Mike Carlin at DC. A perfect pairing of like-minded merry pranksters, Carlin had even cut his teeth at Marvel as Gruenwald’s assistant before moving on to the 'Distinguished Competition.' When you put the pair together, the creative energy that emerged was addition, but multiplication. 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."
A subsequent DC-Marvel crossover, 2003's JLA/Avengers is among the most unlikely comic book crossovers ever (opens in new tab).