Comic book characters have been crossing over and meeting up almost since the earliest days of the medium. But not every team-up is as straightforward as a World's Finest-style Superman/Batman pairing.
Sometimes a comic book crossover transcends the bounds of genres, publishers, legality - and even reality when real people meet up with superheroes.
One of the most important and iconic of these stories, JLA/Avengers, just received a new printing in limited numbers through the Hero Initiative charity, with Marvel and DC working to overcome the corporate red tape involved to honor the series' artist George Perez, who is publicly dealing with the final stages of terminal cancer.
In honor of the new printing, and of the classic tradition in general, here are 15 of the least likely comic book crossovers of all time!
Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
After being transported to an alternate reality by Krang, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their archenemy Shredder discover that they've landed in Gotham City – where they quickly run afoul of Killer Croc, leading to a confrontation and a partnership with Batman.
As weird as it sounds, Batman/TMNT stands up as one of the most fun crossover comic books on this list. How many stories have Batman sharing pizza with a gang of mutant teenagers? But it wasn't all cutesy gimmicks – there was some real emotional paydirt in the burgeoning relationship between Batman and Raphael, and Batman's respect for Splinter.
Batman/TMNT also kicked off a series of crossovers for DC, with Gotham Academy/Lumberjanes and Green Lantern/Star Trek following shortly thereafter - and of course several requisite sequels.
The now series of crossovers was even adapted as an animated film in 2019.
Archie is no stranger to some weird mash-up comic books — as you'll see as this list goes on - but this one just might take the cake.
Archie vs. Predator is a fun tropical romp that pits the Riverdale gang against the most murderous aliens in the galaxy and the results are... well, exactly what you'd expect.
Slaughtering his way through the teen heartthrobs of Archie's coterie, Predator finally came face-to-face with a challenge he can't meet — the combined power of Betty and Veronica.
Call it the ultimate pick-up game. Way back in the far-flung year of 1993, Dark Horse published a cartoon account of the supreme sports rivalry of the day.
Beginning life as a Nike commercial, as all great comic books do, Godzilla vs. Charles Barkley tells the tale of Sir Charles taking on the atomic super lizard with the fate of California and Tokyo hanging in the balance.
And, really, there's not much else to be said about this, perhaps the ultimate example of unlikely comic book crossovers.
Too bad Godzilla lost. The Dream Team could've used a guy with his reach.
Once upon a time, then-Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada famously proclaimed that if the Ultimate universe ever crossed over with Marvel proper, the publisher would be "out of ideas."
Of course, nowadays, this kind of thing is almost the norm, with the recent Secret Wars crossing over a lot more than just two of Marvel's worlds. But just a few years ago, crossovers like this were unheard of — that is, until Spider-Men.
Spider-Men, published to celebrate Spidey's 50th anniversary, featured Peter Parker and Miles Morales teaming up to take on Mysterio, among other villains from both worlds.
This then-unlikely crossover has since become standard practice with Miles and Peter co-existing in the mainstream Marvel Universe, inspiring a crossover of dozens of versions of the wallcrawler from different worlds — and a similar story in the Multiversal crossover movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
IDW Publishing's 2011 Infestation wasn't a crossover in the classic sense, as the disparate characters didn't meet face-to-face, but it did bring together some properties you'd never expect to see in the same story in Rashamon style, namely: Star Trek, Transformers, Ghostbusters, and G.I. Joe. These are characters that not only exist in separate fictional universes, but also different timelines and planets.
Soon after, IDW unveiled a sequel, getting Danger Girl, Dungeons and Dragons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and more in on the fun.
Such crossovers have since become regular occasions through IDW, with multiple properties often coming together for special events — most recently in toy form with a Transformers/Back to the Future mash-up, and a subsequent comic book coming later this year.
In theory, a team-up between Marvel's mighty mutants and Gene Roddenberry's optimistic space opera might seem like a strange but not ridiculous idea; after all, Star Trek has traveled back to the present day more than once, and the X-Men have been going into space ever since Charles Xavier realized that he had a crush on Lilandra.
But in practice, the resulting 1996 one-shot (by Scott Lobdell and Marc Silvestri) was a tangled mess, mixing old continuity from both series — Proteus, an X-Men enemy who had last appeared during the Chris Claremont/John Byrne era, and Gary Mitchell, from the second Trek pilot with some admittedly great Easter egg moments (Spock defeats Wolverine with a Vulcan Nerve Pinch! Gladiator punches the Enterprise to prove a point!).
Sadly, the crossover took place four years too early for anyone to make a reference to Professor Xavier looking like a future Enterprise captain, but you just know that it would have been in there if it was even vaguely possible.
Even this misfire wasn't enough to convince people not to try again; there were two sequels to this one-shot — a Star Trek: The Next Generation/X-Men one-shot, and a 1998 novel called Planet X — and, undeterred, the crew of the Starship Enterprise teamed up with DC's Legion of Super-Heroes in a DC/IDW limited series that launched a few years ago.
Jimmy Olsen/Don Rickles
Here's how good Jack Kirby was during the '70s: Not only could he bring Don Rickles into two issues of his Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen run without breaking a sweat, but he also created Rickles' fictional alter-ego, Goody Rickles, got both involved with the behind-the-scenes machinations of Darkseid and the burgeoning Fourth World saga, and knew that it was so breathtakingly audacious that he told readers on one cover "Don't Ask - Just Buy It!"
The Don Rickles two-parter is made all the more weird by the fact that (the real) Rickles is pretty much entirely incidental to the story; the bulk of the action goes to Goody, who looks like the famous comedian but otherwise shares no particular connection.
Quite how Kirby and DC managed to get Rickles' permission not only for this treatment, but also to put his photograph on a cover during the storyline is a mystery, but considering the result is one of the more enjoyably gonzo comic books of the era, it's a good thing that they did.
Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen has a unique comic book history even outside of this issue - Kirby's run on the title launched his legendary 'Fourth World Saga.'
Sonic the Hedgehog, Spawn, and more Image characters
The '90s saw a lot of intercompany crossovers - everything from Superman vs. Aliens to Nightman/Gambit - so it's not shocking that Sonic the Hedgehog, Archie's licensed property that's still popular decades after its debut, got in on the action. The actual characters he met up with, though? Pretty surprising.
1998's Sonic Super Special #7 featured the usual mobius crew interacting with Spawn, Savage Dragon, Velocity, Shadowhawk, and The Maxx, all characters who starred in books that were pretty inappropriate for Sonic's target audience. The original Shadowhawk, for instance, was injected with HIV-infected blood by a particularly vindictive bad guy.
Spawn is a disfigured agent of the devil who was murdered by his best friend. But, y'know, Tails has had his rough moments, too.
Rapper Eminem went to surprising lengths to promote his 2009 comeback album, Relapse. Not content with the usual round of interviews, videos and various promotional appearances, the one-time Slim Shady turned himself fictional and teamed up with Frank Castle in the two-part Eminem/Punisher: Kill You, which ran in XXL Magazine and on Marvel.com, marking Marshall Mathers' first appearance in comic books. (Well, if you ignore his unofficial starring role in Wanted, of course.)
If you're wondering what would bring Eminem face-to-face with the Punisher, the answer involved a story by Fred Van Lente and Salvador Larrocca in which the rapper accidentally got involved with the Punisher villain Barracuda — and ended up shooting his way to freedom alongside Marvel's favorite trigger-happy vigilante, thereby cementing his status as a fictional bad-ass extraordinaire. (According to interviews promoting the comic, the choice of Marvel hero and villain were all Eminem's; Marvel had initially suggested the more mainstream Spider-Man and Wolverine.)
Sadly, while the story was better than you might have expected, it seemed to translate the Punisher's cinematic fortunes to his musical co-star. Relapse, when released, wasn't necessarily a flop, but still under-performed compared with Eminem's earlier albums. Maybe there's a curse of Frank Castle that we need to talk about, though this isn't his only appearance on our list...
The Avengers/David Letterman
Marvel's Assistant Editor's Month brought plenty of mirth to the publisher's January 1984-dated titles, including Aunt May's rechristening as Golden Oldie, herald of Galactus, in Marvel Team-Up #137.
The most famous product of this promotion is likely Avengers #239, where Earth's Mightiest Heroes met David Letterman, who at that point had only been doing his old NBC show for a couple of years. Part of Roger Stern's legendary run on the series, the issue saw Letterman get in on the superheroing, thwarting would-be villain Fabian Stankowicz by hitting him with an over-sized doorknob. So in case your friends don't believe you that Wonder Man and Paul Shaffer have ever been in the same comic book, dig this one out from your long box and prove them wrong.
And this wasn't the only Marvel/late-night TV crossover, nor even the first... keep reading!
Spider-Man/Ren & Stimpy
If your parents didn't let you watch The Simpsons, they probably really didn't want you watching Ren & Stimpy, a show that lovingly paid tribute to "magic nose goblins," and in one episode saw Stimpy care for one of his farts as if it were his child.
That kind of icky surrealism is pretty far away from the much more conventional world of Spider-Man, but that didn't stop Ren & Stimpy #6 from happening. Marvel had a lot of licensed comic books in the '80s and '90s everything from Barbie to Madballs, so it sort of made sense from that perspective. In the issue, Spider-Man took on Powdered Toast Man, the closest thing in the Ren & Stimpy world to a superhero.
And the writer of this 1993 comic book? None other than Dan Slott, who nearly two decades later started a run on Amazing Spider-Man that remains the longest ever by a single writer. Powdered Toast Man has yet to show up and ask for a rematch.
It really was a clash of titans: The world's greatest superhero versus the world's greatest boxer, with the fate of the Earth hanging in the balance. Except, of course, by the time the book appeared (it was delayed from 1977 to 1978) Ali was no longer the world heavyweight champion, having been defeated by Leon Spinks in February 1978. (He'd later reclaim the title in September of that year, meaning that the DC title was published during an unfortunate six-month window when it wasn't actually contemporary.)
What makes Superman vs. Muhammad Ali so unusual, however, is that it's just a great comic book despite the gimmick.
Even if you had no idea who Ali was, this would still be a fantastic Bronze Age Superman story, thanks to the spectacular work of Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams. Everything, from the ridiculousness of the plot really, the fate of the world hangs on the outcome of a boxing match? to the characterization of everyone involved, just works, and the result is one of the most fun, enjoyable Superman stories of the period.
It's something that genuinely lives up to the idea of an event comic, even more than 30 years after the fact it was reprinted in hardcover format in 2010. As Ali tells Superman at the end of the story, they really are the greatest.
Spider-Man/Saturday Night Live
This delightful bit of Marvel ephemera is about as '70s as it gets. Written by none other than Chris Claremont, Marvel Team-Up #74 sees Peter Parker take the lovely Mary Jane Watson to a taping of Saturday Night Live, then in its early heyday.
After Jon Belushi mistakenly receives a ring meant for the Silver Samurai (SNL devotees will get the nod), the classic X-Men villain himself pops in to reclaim the relic. Of course Pete makes a quick change, and with the help of the Not-Ready-For-Primetime Players — in the guise of other Marvel heroes - Spider-Man takes on the threat.
Interestingly, this issue is also a two-fer in the 'Unlikely Crossover' department, as Stan Lee himself serves as the host of the episode of SNL.
The Marvel/SNL crossovers don't stop there. SNL has parodied superhero movies numerous times, but one sketch from its early heyday starred Garret Morris as Ant-Man attending a party at Superman and Lois Lane (played by then Lois Lane film actor Margot Kidder no less) — a bit so memorable it landed Morris a cameo in 2015's Ant-Man.
JLA/Avengers wasn't surprising in concept — an encounter between DC and Marvel's biggest super-teams is pretty much a no-brainer.
What made is so unlikely, and earned it the top spot on this list, is the story behind the crossover, and how long it took. The crossover had been in development since 1979, with a scheduled publication date of 1983, from the original creative team of writer Gerry Conway and artist George Perez. Though work had been completed and a promotional image released, behind-the-scenes disputes caused the entire project to be scrapped.
Two decades later, JLA/Avengers actually became a reality — with Pérez now joined by then-Avengers writer Kurt Busiek, for four prestige format issues pairing the Avengers and the Justice League of America, running from 2003 to 2004.
The series was a hit, and was, as these things happen, the last Marvel/DC crossover up to this point, with the logistics of such a crossover remaining prohibitive in the modern day.
A new printing was just released in limited numbers through the Hero Initiative charity, in order to celebrate the life of artist George Perez, who is in the final stages of terminal cancer.
The magnum opus of wacky comic book crossovers, Archie Meets the Punisher was a 1994 one-shot that brought together Riverdale's favorite teen with crime's least favorite Vietnam vet who carries lots of guns and kills people.
You see, Punisher happened to be tracking down a dealer who looked exactly like Archie, a hilarious misunderstanding worthy of Frasier Crane himself. Much of the Archie gang gets brought into the fun, including Sabrina and Josie and the Pussycats.
The comic ended by teasing a Wolverine/Jughead crossover - which fans are still waiting for, many years later. It's a natural pairing: Jughead's ability to regularly consume giant piles of hamburgers and not gain weight is pretty similar to Wolverine's healing factor.