In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Tuesday in April in an event I call “Crossover Crisis”.
Story Title: “Disordered Minds”
Published: September 1995
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Artist: Mark Bagley
You might be surprised to learn, considering they’re in direct competition with each other, that DC Comics and Marvel Comics have had a reasonably collaborative and amicable relationship over the years. Obviously, there’s been lawsuits and underhanded tactics from both, but not only were legendary Stan Lee and disreputable sham Bob Kane close friends but both comic giants borrowed from and inspired each other and they’ve even collaborated on many joint publications in the past. Having already had Clark Kent/Superman and Peter Parker/Spider-Man come to blows in Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century (Conway, et al, 1976) and Bruce Wayne/Batman test his mettle against Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk in Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk (Wein, et al, 1981), DC and Marvel brought together their two most popular characters for the first time in this 1995 one-shot adventure. As is the case with many of these DC/Marvel crossovers, Spider-Man and Batman can fetch a pretty high price for collectors, and it also wouldn’t be the last time that the web-slinger and the Dark Knight crossed in one form or another.
Our story begins with Peter Parker wrestling with the guilt and shame of being partially responsible for the death of his beloved Uncle Ben. In a nightmarish revisitation of the fateful night when Dennis Carradine broke into the Parker home and gunned down Ben, Peter (as Spider-Man) is on hand to strike with a furious vengeance, viewing the gunman as some maniacal monster who simply laughs at his murderous actions so hard that he eventually turns into the Joker! Peter awakens in horror, eased through the aftermath of this oft-recurring nightmare by his beautiful and busty wife, Mary Jane Watson-Parker. As ever in times of emotional crisis, Peter takes to web-slinging to help clear his head and ventures out into the night reaffirming his commitment to using his powers responsibility in order to live up to the examples set by his doting aunt and uncle. Coincidentally enough, that very same night, Bruce Wayne is also reliving the night that his parents died, gunned down in an alley in a senseless act of violence. Similar to Peter, Bruce’s dream sees him (as Batman) leaping into action, hatred for the inhumane monster boiling in his veins, and awakens to find himself, as ever, alone in his vast mansion with only his heartache and faithful butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth. However, while he appreciates Alfred’s concern and loyalty, he heads out into the night as Batman without a word, determined to ensure that none should suffer as he did from random acts of violence. With our characters and their motivations firmly established, the story jumps over to the Ravencroft Institute, where Spider-Man is accompanying Doctor Ashley Kafka for a visit to the imprisoned Cletus Kasady/Carnage, who’s being held in a specially-constructed cell that keeps his violent symbiote at bay presumably using heat. The purpose of this is similar to the opening panels as Kasady simply taunts Dr. Kafka with a summary of his abusive and disturbing childhood, some of which may be true and some of which may just be another aspect of his twisted personality since Kasady is obsessed with murder, mayhem, and (quite fittingly) carnage.
Carnage surprises both of them by breaking out of his cage, claiming himself to be a “walking impossibility” beyond logic and reason, but luckily Spider-Man and a security force led by Colonel John Jameson are on hand to subdue the serial killer with their fists and microwave guns, respectively, though newcomer Cassandra Briar proposes a far more permanent (if radical) solution to Kasady’s frequent maniacal outbursts. Utilising a “bio-technic cure” for Kasady’s insanity, Briar has a computer chip installed in his cerebral cortex, which promises to render him for more docile and stable, though Dr. Kafka likens it to the equivalent of a modern-day lobotomy and Spidey remains doubtful that it’ll stick since he’s more than familiar with Kasady’s volatile nature. Similarly, over in Gotham City, Batman puts a stop to the Joker’s latest scheme to infect millions of people with a deadly virus transmitted through bats and returns the Harlequin of Hate to Arkham Asylum (though he’s disgusted when the Joker lands a bite on him during their scuffle). There, Briar proudly shows off how meek and timid Kasady has become from her controversial treatment and uses this success as all the justification she needs to implant a similar chip into the Joker’s head, thus becoming a media sensation for rendering two of the country’s most violent and sadistic supervillains “as harmless as a puppy”. Determined to ride these successes to a wider rollout of her “miracle cure” and receive Presidential approval to eradicate psychopaths everywhere, Briar receives the shock of her life when the Carnage symbiote suddenly bursts out of Kasady’s body after shorting out her chip, taking both her and the terrified and submissive Joker hostage. Thankfully, the Batman is on hand (having disguised himself as a guard) to confront the demented killer, but his usual tactic of goading a villain into discarding their hostages in favour of him fails to work since Carnage has no interest in prioritising Batman over anyone else. Luckily, Spider-Man makes a surprise appearance to whisk Briar out of the maniac’s clawed grip and the two masked heroes take the fight to Carnage, despite Batman’s assertion that he doesn’t need the help.
Regardless, the two briefly knock Carnage off balance, but he’s able to slip away by firing shards of his symbiote at the nearby cops and strangling the others with his bloody tendrils, creating an effective distraction to cover his escape. Naturally, Batman is less than thrilled to see Spider-Man encroaching on his turf, both out of a desire to keep the web-slinger from getting hurt due to his unfamiliarity with the city’s unique dangers and because he doesn’t need or want his help or him getting in the way, though Spidey naturally ignores this warning. In comparison, Carnage admits to an admiration for the Joker’s “homicidal genius [and] shameless depravity” and uses a small fragment of his suit to short out the chip and return the Clown Prince of Crime to what asses for normal. Although initially confused, frustrated, and angered at the Joker’s babbling and insolence, Carnage quickly gleefully rejoices in the Joker’s commitment to the absurd meaningless of anarchy. However, their partnership is short-lived. When the Joker takes Carnage to his secret, fairground-themed hideout to retrieve the remainder of his virus, joyfully expositing his plan to douse hundreds of Joker-themed jack-in-the-boxes with the toxin and distribute them to kids, Carnage is disgusted since it would take too long for the bodies to start piling up and he delights in getting his hands bloody from up-close-and-personal slaughter. The two come to blows over their differing methods and mentalities, with the Joker easily slipping away through a hidden trapdoor and even attempting to kill Carnage by blowing up his lair. In contrast after Batman contemplates Carnage’s unique brand of madness and sadistic nature in the Batcave and Spider-Man sees first-hand how different things are in Gotham when nobody bats an eyelid when a random civilian is screaming bloody murder in the streets, our heroes finally come together when Batman not only picks Spider-Man up in the Batmobile but even apologises for giving him the brush off.
Though he has no time for Spider-Man’s quips and jokes, Batman recognises that he has unique insight into Carnage, and the two are able to track him to the wreckage of the Joker’s lair, where they find what appears to be his dead body but is, in fact, a decoy Carnage set up to trick the Joker. Delighted to have the Batman in his coils instead, Carnage plans to publicly execute Batman on top of Gotham Towers and, while comparing Carnage to Death itself, which passed him by back in Crime Alley, Batman orders Spider-Man to stop Carnage despite the threat to his life. However, it’s the Joker who actually intervenes in the tense showdown; claiming ownership over the Batman and determined to drop his virus on the four of them, killing all of them and everyone else in the city simply to spite Carnage, Kasady’s briefest flicker of fear is all the opening Batman needs to break free from his grip and leap into action. Spider-Man easily webs up the threat and, despite it taking the combined might of Spider-Man and Eddie Brock/Venom and many others in the past, the Batman is easily able to pummel Carnage into unconsciousness since, for all his powers and bloodlust, he’s simply another sloppy punk and a “scared little boy”. With Carnage subdued, Spider-Man chases down the Joker with an uncharacteristic rage; easily manhandling the Clown Prince of Crime, Spider-Man is barely able to stop himself from killing the Joker since he’s too great a threat, too dedicated to violence and chaos, to be left alive. While his better nature prevails and he ultimately spares the Joker, Spidey does deliver a knock-out punch to the cackling villain, finally bringing the story’s combined threat to an end. As if seeing Spider-Man pushed to the point of killing wasn’t surprising enough, Spidey is unusually quiet in his final confrontation with the Batman; weary from the night’s events, the two choose not to ruin the moment with words and instead part ways with a hearty handshake having found a common ground and a mutual respect through their conduct and escapades.
“Disordered Minds” is an interesting approach to take for an intercompany crossover. You might think with characters as wildly different as Spider-Man and Batman that the focus would be on their different methods; if Dick Grayson/Nightwing is an athletic chatterbox and the various Robins are brightly-coloured distractions to throw criminals off from Batman’s darker, more measured approach, then Spider-Man should drive the Dark Knight absolutely batty (heh!) with his constant chatter, quips, and annoying tendencies. Instead, there’s actually not much in the way of banter between the two; Spider-Man mouths off a little in the Batmobile, but that’s about it and the rest of their interactions basically boil down to Batman telling Spidey to fuck off and Spider-Man sticking around because of his innate sense of responsibility. This is a bit of a shame as I would’ve liked to see their contrasting personalities and methods more on show beyond “Gotham’s not what you’re used to sod off!” and “Boy, you’re grim” but the story does have to two united in their shared grief. Both carry a tremendous amount of survivor’s guilt, though for different reasons; Bruce was too young to do anything about his parents’ murder whereas Peter chose not to use his powers responsibly, so both are on the same path towards safeguarding others to ease their guilt and pain but have very different outlooks on the world. This comes up multiple times, with Spider-Man raging against the chaos and violence around him and Batman lashing out at “Death” and determined to rally against it however he can.
The art is where the story really shines; Mark Bagley is one of the top Spider-Man artists and, thanks to his work on the character and his various run-ins with symbiotes before, has more than proven himself capable of delivering a dynamic and visually exciting Spider-Man and menacing and dangerous Carnage. His Batman and Joker fare really well too, naturally, and the art is absolutely stunning all throughout even if the writing fails it somewhat. We spend no less than eleven pages recapping the origins of Spider-Man, Batman, and Carnage, which is probably great for newcomers but somewhat unnecessary for long-term readers when, normally, a simple text box sums it all up nicely. Thankfully, all of this is rendered in an interesting way through the use of nightmares and Carnage’s dramatic escape from custody, but the writing stumbles a bit mid-way through, too, since Cassandra Briar basically disappears after being rescued despite so much time being spent on her computer chip cure. I feel like a simple story about Kasady or the Joker being transferred across the country might’ve been a much simpler and faster way to get things moving since the chip is easily destroyed by Carnage and doesn’t factor into the plot beyond being a contrived way to get him and the Joker to cross paths. There’s also not a huge amount of interaction between Batman and Spider-Man; they don’t physically fight (which is unusual at the best of times but even more so for a crossover like this), join forces pretty quickly after Batman stops being irrationally stubborn, and it doesn’t really take much at all for them to defeat the villainous duo despite Carnage being so powerful that Spider-Man alone usually struggles to defeat him. there’s a promise of a twisted partnership between Carnage and the Joker but it’s almost immediately squandered simply because Carnage gets impatient, which is in keeping with his character but basically means the villains don’t actually do anything besides compliment each other, scuffle a bit, and then get taken out by the heroes. All in all, this was relatively entertaining and interesting first meeting between my two favourite comic book heroes but it didn’t quite deliver on its potential, despite the fantastic art work and some fun moments.
Have you ever read Spider-Man and Batman? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? Were you surprised that there wasn’t more time spent on contrasting the different methods and personalities of the two heroes? What did you think to the brief team-up between the Joker and Carnage the ease that they were defeated? Would you like to see DC and Marvel collaborate again in the future and, if so, what stories would you like to see? Whatever your thoughts on Spider-Man and Batman, and comic book crossovers of this kind, sign up to share them below or comment on my social media and check back next Tuesday as Crossover Crisis continues!