23 Instances of Marvel or DC Giving Each Other a Subtle Shout-Out Within Their Respective Titles
1. Chameleon Boy’s wink to “a certain web-headed character” (Adventures Comics #350, 11/66)
Not too long ago, I did a list compiling all the examples I could find of Clark Kent appearing in comics not published by DC. That got me thinking about all the other subtle shout-outs Marvel has given DC over the years, and vice versa. The earliest example that I can find is this not-too-subtle wink by the Legion of Super-Heroes’ Chameleon Boy, who turns into a spider and hog-ties a space beast with his webbing right before reminding “a certain web-headed character” that he’s been changing into all kinds of weird shapes “long before he walked up his first wall.” So there!
2. She survived a brush with… you’re going to make me say it, aren’t you? (Incredible Hulk #418, 06/94)
Writer Peter David had a lot of fun during his time on The Incredible Hulk, giving his characters the kind of witty repartee one wouldn’t expect to find in a book about a giant green angry guy. In this special wedding issue, Hulk sidekick Rick Jones ties the knot with ex-mob moll Marlo Chandler, and their wedding turns into the typical all-out brawl, with super-villains of all sorts crashing the party. But all’s well that ends well, and the epilogue finds Marlo accepting a strange gift from a “punk rocker or something” who bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain breakout character in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series who probably would be tired of Thanos making goo-goo eyes at her…
3. Does Grundy ever say “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”…? No? Pity. (Justice League, “The Terror Beyond,” original airdate 11/15/2003)
In this second-season episode, Doctor Fate, Aquaman and Solomon Grundy team up to perform a ritual designed to keep an ancient evil from crossing over into our dimension. Trouble is, Fate and Aquaman neglect to tell the Justice League why they’re consorting with a monstrous super-villain, and mayhem ensues. Old-school comic nerds with an eye for detail (ahem) will appreciate the obvious parallels between this motley crew and Marvel’s original Defenders team of Doctor Strange, the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk; Grundy even calls Fate “stupid magician” and Hawkgirl “Bird-Nose,” a clear tip of the hat to Hulk’s pet names for Dr. Strange and Nighthawk (another Defenders member). Later in the episode, Hawkgirl lets out a “Excuse me, Hawkgirl smash” before rejoining the battle — an obvious shout-out to the Hulk’s catchphrase.
4. Ooh, and maybe he has a secret fortress up in the Arctic, too! (Ultimate Spider-Man #6, 04/2001)
Heh, that J. Jonah Jameson and his crazy ideas of where superheroes come from. Rocketed to Earth from a doomed planet? How does he come up with this stuff?
5. Hey, who is that friendly neighborhood face ready to tear children limb from limb? (1st Issue Special, 05/75)
Okay, this one takes a little explaining. Back in the ’70s, 1st Issue Special was an anthology comic published by DC to try out new strips; the Green Team appeared in the second issue. The pre-teen tycoons used their vast fortunes to go on crazy adventures and invest in wild schemes, none wilder than the Great American Pleasure Machine, a device whose name encourages so many unclean thoughts but in fact it’s merely a fully immersive artificial reality. Well, the entertainment providers of the world don’t take kindly to being put out of business by this thing, so a rogue Broadway producer (is there any other kind?) assembles a mob to help him tear it apart, a mob that includes John Wayne, Batman, Superman, and… wait, is that Spider-Man in the background?
6. I am the terror that flaps in the night…. (Marvel Two-in-One #91, 09/82)
Admit it — the first time you saw this cover, you thought it was him, didn’t you? Didn’t you? Alas, the story inside would have been improved greatly if it had.
7. Also: anyone who can read the phrase “talking Nazi gorilla” and not feel unadulterated glee is simply dead inside. (Tales of the Unexpected #4, 03/2007)
It would take too long to explain the goofy gloriousness that is this story; suffice to say Doctor Thirteen is a professional skeptic who’s having a hard time explaining all the weird stuff currently happening around him. Take, for example, the sudden appearance of a talking gorilla wearing a monocle and Nazi uniform, who explains that a “brilliant scientist” went into the jungle and trained a group of gorillas to be “supah-soljahs” in the service of the Third Reich. Says a smirking Doctor Thirteen: “I suppose that’s just as plausible as doping a scrawny 4-F milktoast with steroids and vita-rays.” True, that.
9. And their in-flight poutine selection is simply to die for (Suicide Squad #1, 05/87)
Sometimes the best shout-outs are the ones you almost miss because they’re so subtle — like this one, for instance, a splash page from the first issue of Suicide Squad showing a busy airport terminal in which an announcer says “Alpha Flight 123 from Calgary” has been delayed…
10. By the hoary hosts of what now? (Suicide Squad #63, 03/92)
…or this one, in which a magic-wielding member of Amanda Waller’s strike force is asked to come up with some mystical-sounding mumbo-jumbo to put on a show — and the invocation he uses is exactly the same as one of Doctor Strange’s frequently used phrases.
11. Because it’s a giant penny, that’s why! Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to plunder that? (Strikeforce Morituri #7, 06/87)
Strikeforce Morituri was one of those Marvel titles from the ’80s that you really should check out if you ever get the chance; it’s set in an alternate future where Earth has been conquered and our scientists devise a way to give superpowers to young soldiers to fight the invaders… but at a great cost. In this issue, one of those young heroes comes across “a treasure house full of alien devices,” and it’s clear the artist had fun coming up with items that would constitute treasures plundered from “a hundred worlds.” Along with Galactus’s headpiece, Captain America’s shield and the Silver Surfer’s board, we get Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet, a number of tabletop items that look like Green Lantern power batteries and a giant penny not unlike the trophy hanging in a certain hero’s Bat-cave, right down to the “1939” date inscribed on the front.
13. No, I’m pretty sure the rest of us got the reference, too, Reed… (Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #9, 12/2001)
I think it’s fair to say the Brian Michael Bendis and Jim Mahfood created the single greatest Fantastic Four/Spider-Man team-up story in this issue, with the gratuitous General Zod reference as the icing on the cake.
15. Don’t forget to mention the Devil-Car and Ace the Seeing-Eye Devil-Hound! (Daredevil #6, 06/99)
And also: the “wonderful toys” question is an obvious shout-out to Jack Nicholson’s query in the 1989 Batman movie. But in all seriousness — where do guys like Wayne and Murdock get all their cool stuff?
16. Cheer up, Jimmy. At least you still have your neat-o signal watch. (Superman Adventures #17, 03/98)
Not an obvious shout-out, I admit, but there’s no way a slightly built kid with that haircut and a sweater vest isn’t supposed to be a young, go-getting Peter Parker.
17. And you do not want to see the state of the floor at their Hall of Justice (What If…? #34, 08/82)
In 1982, DC launched Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew, a funny-animal superhero book that pitted the team against the likes of Frogzilla, Cold Turkey and the Armordillo (even teaming up with Super-Squirrel, Wonder Wabbit and the rest of the JLA from another funny-animal dimension). Apparently, Marvel couldn’t resist and poked fun at the concept in the all-humor issue of their alternate-universe title, suggesting they totally could do an all-animal book if they wanted to. “Downright Crazy,” indeed.
18. Can you even imagine Batman in high school? Total emo, man. (DC Comics Presents: Green Lantern, 09/2004)
In 2004, shortly after his passing, DC commemorated longtime editor Julius Schwartz’s career with a series of one-shots based on some of his more offbeat Silver Age issues. The Green Lantern special, for instance, was based on Green Lantern #31, a comic that showed our hero selling working replicas of his ring on the street for $1 apiece. In this scene, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman arrive to find out what the heck is going on. Batman, naturally, has an issue with handing out super-powers like they’re candy, and he’s about to finish Peter Parker’s trademarked line when GL tells him to stow the angst. (And in the next scene, Jordan is picking his teeth up off the ground…)
19. Hey, it’s that gal in charge of the other guys! (Amazing Spider-Man #186, 11/78)
In 1976, a 28-year-old kid’s magazine publisher named Jenette Kahn was named publisher of DC Comics; by the time she left the company in 2002, it’s fair to say the place was in a much better state than when she started. In this issue, Spidey is fielding media offers during a brief moment of public adulation, and a woman with an uncanny resemblance to Ms. Kahn pitches the idea of a comic starring Spidey going up against then-heavyweight champ Leon Spinks, a sly reference to the Superman vs. Muhammad Ali comic that came out in the spring of that year. Also sly: Spidey’s gripe about long production schedules — a jab at the fact the Superman/Ali book suffered enough delays to see it come out after Ali lost the World Heavyweight Champion title to Spinks in February 1978.
21. If only they had gone to see Driving Miss Daisy instead… (Ultimate Adventures #6, 01/2004)
Then there are the characters that are obviously based on characters published by the other guys; think Marvel’s Squadron Supreme or Blue Jay, Wandjina and the Silver Sorceress, three Justice League foes obviously patterned after members of the Avengers. These kinds of homages are common, but Ron Zimmerman’s Hawk-Owl and Woody went completely over the top with the resemblance between his characters and a certain dynamic duo. Truth be told, the entire six-issue series could be cited here, but I liked this image in the final pages, an obvious tip of the hat to the movie and mugging that sent young Master Bruce down his own dark path.
22. And everything I know about the periodic table I learned from the Metal Men (Secret Origins #33, 12/88)
Let’s do a quick show of hands: how many people out there only know about Scandinavian gods from reading Marvel comics?
23. Ben Grimm: Film Critic, Bon Vivant and Man About Town (Fantastic Four #334, 12/89)
Oh yeah, Ben? Yeah? Well, at least Tim Burton didn’t turn the Joker into a giant space cloud that we only saw for, like, three seconds at the end of the film. Just sayin’.