In a few weeks, Thor will swing his mighty hammer and attempt to smash Superman, Batman and the other rival superheroes standing in his way.
The face off between “Thor: Ragnarok” (opening in theaters Nov. 2) and “Justice League” (out Nov. 17) is just the latest collision between Marvel and DC, the venerable comic-book publishers who have been producing four-color adventures since the 1930s. For decades, the two companies have ruled the spandex world, fighting one another for superhero supremacy.
Like any competitors in lucrative industries (think Coke vs. Pepsi or Apple vs. Microsoft), Marvel and DC have, over the years, tried to get the better of each other by launching price wars, stealing talent and crowding the enemy out of the marketplace.
But it’s the battles between the publishers’ characters themselves that are perhaps the most entertaining. Here are four times when fictional heroes got caught up in the Marvel vs. DC clash:
Wonder Man vs. Wonder Woman
In a 1964 issue of “The Avengers,” Marvel introduced Wonder Man. DC was not amused, feeling that the new hero sounded too much like its own Wonder Woman. So Marvel honcho Stan Lee agreed to kill him off.
Twelve years later, DC debuted a new female superhero named Power Girl — despite Marvel having introduced Power Man in 1972. Lee felt that DC was perpetrating a double standard and, in a payback bid, decided to resurrect Wonder Man. The hero joined the Avengers in 1977 and is still a major part of the Marvel print universe to this day. Although he’s never appeared in an Avengers film, actor Nathan Fillion did film a cameo as Wonder Man for “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” that got cut in the end.
Superman vs. Wundarr
In 1973, Marvel writer Steve Gerber wanted to pay tribute to Superman. Only problem was, he worked at Marvel and not DC, the character’s home.
Still, Gerber decided to plow ahead. For his “Adventure Into Fear” series, he dreamed up a supporting player called Wundarr — who was blasted to earth in a rocket ship from a dying planet, discovered by an elderly couple and soon developed super powers. Sound familiar? He even wore a red and blue costume.
No surprise, DC was not happy. Marvel agreed to change Wundarr’s name to the Aquarian and alter his powers. Gerber was nearly fired for the unsanctioned homage.
Captain Marvel vs. Captain Marvel
The adventures of caped hero Captain Marvel sold millions of copies for publisher Fawcett back in the 1940s. DC sued Fawcett, claiming its character was too similar to Superman, and ultimately prevailed. Captain Marvel ceased publication in the mid-1950s.
A decade later, Marvel — the publishing house — decided to capitalize on the lapsed trademark (and protect its company’s moniker) by creating a brand new character called Captain Marvel. The alien warrior had nothing to do with Fawcett’s costumed hero.
In 1972, DC decided to license the original Captain Marvel, but to its frustration, soon found that it was unable to use the character’s name because Marvel controlled the trademark “Captain Marvel.” DC was forced to find a workaround and had to retitle its 1973 Captain Marvel series “Shazam.” He’s still called that today.
Mantis vs. Willow
In an early 1970s issue of “The Avengers,” Marvel writer Steve Englehart created a green-skinned heroine called Mantis who quickly became a favorite of fans and the author himself.When Englehart jumped ship to DC a few years later, a reader at a convention asked him if his defection would mean the end of Mantis. The writer decided it wouldn’t.
As part of his new DC assignment penning “Justice League of America,” Englehart in 1977 introduced a green-skinned character called Willow who was really just a thinly veiled version of Mantis. Many fans noticed but no one at DC or Marvel raised a stink.
The funny coda to the story is that Mantis is now a substantive player in the Marvel cinematic universe. She debuted in last May’s “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” movie, played by actress Pom Klementieff, and will reportedly appear in the upcoming “Avengers: Infinity War.” Were DC to introduce Willow into its movies, you’d have a case of basically the same character appearing simultaneously for two studios.
Reed Tucker is the author of the new book “Slugfest: Inside the Epic 50-Year Battle Between Marvel and DC” (Da Capo Press), out now.