Flashback Friday: Iron Lantern #1

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Iron Lantern #1

Written by Kurt Busiek and Paul Smith
Inked by Al Williamson, Pepoy, Adams, Mcleod, Palmeri, Milgrom, Smith
Published by Marvel Comics (1997)

Amalgam. It was a word that I didn’t know until the late 90s, and it was introduced into my vocabulary because of comic books. It is the blending or combining of two different things, and as the years and lawyers have proven, there are no two companies so different while still in the same industry as Marvel and DC.

Combo books between the two companies were tried over the years to varying degrees of success. I remember a Superman/Spider-Man crossover with Dr. Doom and the Parasite that blew my mind as a kid. As my research (in the very loosest sense of the word) continued, I saw that the two companies had unofficially crossed over several times since the Golden Age – usually, it seemed, when artists and writers who were friendly with each other decided to try and put one over on their respective companies. There are several parodies and doppelgangers of popular heroes making appearances in books from across the aisle, mostly unnoticed by the higher ups.

In the 90s there was a glut of crossovers, mostly between only two properties at a time: Batman and Judge Dredd; The X-Men and Star Trek, etc. Obviously a grab for a bigger market share, but they did sell. (Some of them anyway.) Late in the 90s there was a new crossover, the Amalgam Universe, published by both DC and Marvel, but instead of taking two existing characters and throwing them into a situation together this was a combining of characters in an alternate universe.

Long intro shortened here, enter Iron Lantern #1. Written by Kurt Busiek and Paul Smith and drawn by a pile of Marvel and DC mainstays, this is one of the many books I picked off the rack in the 90s, a slavering teenager wondering if the Big Two could actually pull it off.  The joining of forces should have been epic, the publishing taking place between the 3rd and 4th issue of the Marvel V. DC miniseries, and publication being shared between the two companies.  (Marvel put out 12 and DC put out 12.)  The results, as with most Amalgam books I imagine, are mixed.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of the Hal Stark story, his origin and the building of the Iron Lantern armor, but suffice to say it parallels and merges both origin stories of its progenitors. My main problem is this: although the story works, as it does in the originals, it’s rehashed too much. Why bother to go into the origin at all? Why not drop us into the middle of a battle and give tantalizing glimpses of what may have happened? Unfortunately, I think the answer is much more mundane than we could hope for. It’s because the two companies, while showing a miniscule amount of leeway in agreeing to work together in the first place on something, are still competitors. Much like the famed stories of the making of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it became a matter of lawyers rather than creators. This was a big miss for both companies. It was a chance to build something new and different, and instead we got a rehash of the old, though tried and true feels more like tired and used.

I’ve a whole pile of these Amalgam books, and one nutter isn’t going to spoil the bunch for me, but Iron Lantern #1 was just too much of the same old ground, roughed over again by creators who should have been able to execute more convincingly. Again, we may never know the roadblocks they had to jump to get these books to print, but perhaps it’s better that Marvel and DC stay to their own side of the ring, and duke it out only from a sales perspective.

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