Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

When hero fights hero, the readers usually lose. But once in a while …

I know I’m not alone in heartily despising the “hero vs. hero” cliche, where two superheroes or teams collide in battle. Sometimes it’s mind-control; a lot of the time it’s the kind of misunderstanding so ridiculous at least one of the heroes has to be hit with the idiot stick to make it work (e.g., Spiderman vs. Daredevil) just a few minutes of talk would resolve everything. Stan Lee used to joke about it in the Bullpen Bulletins and letter columns — it’s Marvel, naturally when A meets B they’re going to fight! — but that doesn’t make it funny. Or, usually, interesting. Ninety percent of the time, one of the heroes has to be hit with the idiot stick to make it work.

Case in point, Fantastic Four #73 from early 1968, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, natch. In the previous month’s Daredevil, Dr. Doom, knowing Hornhead to be buddies with the FF, trades bodies with Daredevil (Lee and Kirby have completely forgotten Doom already mastered that trick back in FF #10) so as to infiltrate and kill his foes. Leading to this amusingly clueless moment —I have trouble believing DD’s radar sense resembles sight that much — wouldn’t the 360 degree vision be a giveaway? — or that Doom wouldn’t figure it out. However as Daredevil’s impairment is supposed to be a secret, Doom figuring out wouldn’t do, so idiot stick time.

DD in Doom’s body alerts the FF but then the two of them switch back without the FF being the wiser. Now DD has to fight the world’s greatest superheroes, a challenge so dread he has to recruit Spider-Man and Thor to help. Dude, wouldn’t it be easier to say “Stop, I surrender. Put me in a holding cell till Reed can prove I’m not Von Doom.”? After all, it’s not like the FF are going to kill Daredevil so what’s the risk?

In the previous month’s Fantastic Four #72, Lee and Kirby also gave us “Where Soars the Silver Surfer” with another pointless Clash of Titans.The plot is what the original Outer Limits used to call a bottle show — just something simple you can pour out of a bottle to fill an hour of TV, less commercial. Frustrated humanity isn’t living up to its potential, the Silver Surfer decides to wage war on the human race. This will force us to set aside our differences and unite, ending hatred and war forever (yes, this shtick goes back long before Watchmen, or even this story). The Watcher alerts the Fantastic Four who try to talk the Surfer out of it. When that doesn’t work, they try punching him.

While I complained about the late-1967 “Mad Thinker drives the Thing to attack his team-mates” (another case of hero vs. hero of course) arc, that story and the follow up (the villain’s ultimate android comes after the FF) boasted some all-out dynamic action. The DD/Doom crossover has a plot that at least sets up the fight logically. This one, not so much. It feels very much like Lee and Kirby are just filling pages here.

By contrast, “Where Walk the Immortals” by Stan and Marie Severin (in Tales to Astonish #101), is surprisingly fun. To distract Odin from Loki’s scheming in Thor (I’ll get to that in another post), Loki transports the Hulk to the Rainbow Bridge, then sends him rampaging through Asgard. After several pages of Hulk vs. Warriors Three, Fandral realizes a)the Hulk is confused more than hostile; b)he is a doughty warrior worthy to hang with Asgard’s best, so let’s be friends! Got to admit, I did not see that one coming.

Loki, of course, is a bad sport about such things, so as the Hulk leaps over a gorge in company with the Asgardians’ horses, the god of mischief turns him back to Bruce Banner, sending him falling into the chasm. To be Hulk-inued!The best of the month’s hero vs. hero was the Bob Haney/Nick Cardy “Requiem for a Titan” in Teen Titans #14. A masked figure called the Gargoyle calls out the Titans for sending him to prison based on false charges. He wears a mask because he knows as an ex-con nobody will take him seriously; as a masked mystery man, maybe. The splash page makes it obvious to readers the Gargoyle’s not on the level but the Titans haven’t read this issue yet. Without that advantage,  Kid Flash, Aqualad and Wonder Girl all reach the same conclusion independently: Robin does the detective work and puts together the evidence for the legal systgem so if there was anything hinky, he’d have to have done it. Of course, it’s ridiculous but… is it possible he fudged a piece of evidence somewhere to build a stronger case? And when they finally face the Gargoyle it seems as if Robin’s really keen on taking him down before he can say anything else, could it be …?

And that’s enough for the Gargoyle to get in their heads, feed on their suspicions and turn them into twisted evil versions of themselves. When I read it as a kid I thought no way would they fall for the Gargoyle’s guff; encountering again as part of my Silver Age reread, I think Haney keeps it just within the borders of possibility.

That’s actually two yarns out of four using that trope that turned out well. But I still think the odds are against a hero vs. hero being good.

#SFWApro. Art top to bottom by Kirby, Gene Colan, Kirby, Severin, Cardy and Cardy.


  1. Le Messor

    I don’t usually mind a quick ‘hero-vs-hero’ battle when they first meet, as long as it’s out of the way quickly and isn’t the focus of the issue. I don’t like it, but I don’t mind it.
    On the other hand, when you can use the phrase “The best of the month’s hero vs. hero”, there may be too much of it.

    What I really hated was when we had event after event that was hero vs. hero; and when we finally had one with villains, they were skrulls and still looked like the heroes.
    It means that instead of reading about heroes saving the world, we were reading about lunatics cleaning up their own messes – and what would the MU natives think?

    1. Yes, that sort of question often gets handwaved away. I remember the last arc of the Superman Dini/Timm series he’s been brainwashed into leading Apokalips’ invasion of Earth and the conclusion is yeah, he’ll just have to win everyone back to his side slowly. I doubt even for Superman it would be that easy.

      1. Le Messor

        For some reason I read that as ‘She-Hulk’ and thought it’d be cool. Even though she hadn’t been invented yet at the time. (Maybe because she hadn’t been invented yet.)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.