Thanos versus Darkseid - inside the epic Marvel vs. DC matchup that actually happened

Darkseid vs. Thanos from DC vs. Marvel excerpt
Darkseid vs. Thanos from DC vs. Marvel excerpt (Image credit: DC/Marvel Comics)

Last year DC pitted Darkseid against a thinly-veiled version of Marvel's Thanos in Justice League Incarnate #1, but for those wanting to see the real thing - Darkseid vs. Thanos - you can… but it'll take some work.

In 1996, Marvel and DC made a rare partnership to create the cross-company crossover known as DC vs. Marvel. This four-issue event, co-published by the two companies, was the first large-scale crossover between the two companies after intermittent solo and team crossovers in the '70s and '80s. Hero vs hero… but also, villain vs. villain.

"A disciple of Death... versus a lord of destruction," as Thanos frames it in DC vs. Marvel #1.

Thanos vs. Darkseid - how did it happen?

Darkseid vs. Thanos from DC vs. Marvel excerpt

Darkseid vs. Thanos from DC vs. Marvel excerpt (Image credit: DC/Marvel Comics)

The Marvel and DC universes came to meet each other when two brothers, separated at birth, find out about one another and engage in a sibling rivalry on a multiversal scale.

The brothers? DC's Spectre and Marvel's the Living Tribunal.

The two challenge each other in a series of one-on-one battles between each of its universe's major characters. There were 11 battles in total, pitting hero vs. hero - with the winner's universe getting to survive, with the loser having their universe snuffed out. 

While the primary battles were these hero vs. hero struggles, but on the fringes we also witnessed the two superhero publishers' villains get involved.

Darkseid calls Thanos a "pale imitation" of him - something Darkseid brought up decades later in the aforementioned Justice League Incarnate #1 pseudo-face-off.

Thanos and Darkseid's conflict is seen in morsels - a panel here, a page there - across the first three issues of DC vs. Marvel. If this were pro wrestling, this would be more a battle of words than an actual match. But just as they seemingly were about to get down to it, the combined forces of the Avengers and the Justice League make a joint strike against them.

This four-way battle echoes across the combined Earth they are on.

"20 blocks away, windows shatter. 10 miles away, zoo animals roar. Half a world away, children wake up screaming," reads the narration by DC vs. Marvel co-writer Peter David.

The battle grows bigger than just the two villains and the two super-teams, with the spirit avatars of Marvel and DC itself (revealed to be the Living Tribunal and the Spectre, respectively) fight it out above their heads. The fight becomes so colossal that the sky begins to bleed, as it did when the DC Multiverse was under attack in Crisis On Infinite Earths.

"It's... it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen…" Thanos says.

Thanos vs. Darkseid - who wins?

Darkseid vs. Thanos from DC vs. Marvel excerpt

Darkseid vs. Thanos from DC vs. Marvel excerpt (Image credit: DC/Marvel Comics)

The battle ultimately ends when DC's Spectre and Marvel's Living Tribunal stop fighting and start getting along, and end up taking everyone back to their respective universes.

So although we never got a clear-cut winner in the battle against Thanos and Darkseid, we did get a fight.

And if you're wondering who won on the larger team vs. team scale? It too was a draw, ending up in the Spectre and Living Tribunal agreeing to merge their separate universes in a later event dubbed 'Amalgam,' which created a whole universe of Marvel/DC mash-up characters (Thanos and Darkseid were themselves combined into 'Thanoseid').

Where can I buy this Thanos vs. Darkseid comic?

Darkseid vs. Thanos from DC vs. Marvel excerpt

Darkseid vs. Thanos from DC vs. Marvel excerpt (Image credit: DC/Marvel Comics)

But remember how I said it'll take some work to find this yourself? 

That's the catch. This four-issue event has been out of print for decades, due largely to the fact that it's owned by two different, usually competitive, companies. Copies of the original four issues (and some early '00s collections) can be found second-hand in comic store back-issue bins and online, but the story has never been sold digitally by either company.

But given DC and Marvel's increasing common interest in their own separate multiverses/omniverses, perhaps a reprint of the landmark event, or some of their other rare cross-company crossovers, could be in our future.

DC vs. Marvel happened in a unique year for comics - read our in-depth article on the crazy comics year that was 1996.

Chris Arrant

Chris Arrant covered comic book news for Newsarama from 2003 to 2022 (and as editor/senior editor from 2015 to 2022) and has also written for USA Today, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher's Weekly, Marvel Entertainment, TOKYOPOP, AdHouse Books, Cartoon Brew, Bleeding Cool, Comic Shop News, and CBR. He is the author of the book Modern: Masters Cliff Chiang, co-authored Art of Spider-Man Classic, and contributed to Dark Horse/Bedside Press' anthology Pros and (Comic) Cons. He has acted as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Harvey Awards, and the Stan Lee Awards. Chris is a member of the American Library Association's Graphic Novel & Comics Round Table. (He/him)