So you want to have the cover show two (or more?) superheroes going at it hammer and tongs. Of course, if both combatants are superheroes then theoretically they ought to be on the same side . . . most of the time. How do you rationalize your decision to show them squaring off on the cover? This is a question that comic book editors have obviously asked themselves hundreds of times. I did my best to think of a wide range of Hero-Versus-Hero Slugfests in my collection and try to sort them out according to the general Rationales that were used for them. Most of the examples I cite below did have heroes confronting each other in the cover illustrations, either fighting or else looking as if they were right on the verge of throwing punches (or using whatever special weapons and powers they might have available, if not literally punching and kicking). However, in a couple of cases I had to settle for stories where such clashes definitely happened within the story, but werent featured on the front cover. Sorry, but it was the best I could do. Here was what I came up with: The 12 Rationales 01. Mistaken Identity 02. Smear Job 03. Regrettable Duty 04. Impostor 05. Presumed Impostor 06. Analog 07. Dream Sequence 08. Mind Control 09. Incoherent 10. Good Clean Fun 11. Gone Rogue 12. The Big Lie 01. Mistaken Identity Oh, you're a fellow superhero? Well, how was I supposed to know that? This can work a couple of different ways. The hero who throws the first punch may have no idea who the other guy is, and just assumes his target must be a villain, name unknown. Or he may think he knows exactly whom hes attackingexcept hes dead wrong! The initial encounter of Spider-Man and Moon Knight (in Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #22 in 1978) fell into the I dont know who the heck he is, but Id better fight him anyway! categoryat least from Spideys point of view. There was, of course, a Spidey/Moon Knight Slugfest on the cover. Toward the end of the story inside, Spider-Man saw Moon Knight clobbering a thug in a dark alley and trying to interrogate him about the Maggia. Spidey had overheard mention of the Maggia, and was sufficiently upset by Moon Knights harsh interrogation tactics to assume that this weirdo in the white suit was probably planning to beat this thug to death for some reason (as a job for the Maggia, maybe?), and Spidey seemed to feel his best bet was to capture both of them, just to be on the safe side, and then question both until he got some straight answers from one or the other. Moon Knight, not surprisingly, refused to simply stand still and be immobilized by Spideys webbing. Things went downhill from there. Eventually a costumed villain who was really working for the Maggia showed up and attacked the pair of them, right around the time that Spidey was finally starting to figure out that his white-clad opponent was Moon Knight, whom he had at least heard of before in a favorable context! (It also occurs to me, although Im reasonably certain nobody said so at the time, that Spidey may have thought Moon Knights white hooded outfit looked like a variation of the traditional garb of that fun-loving bunch, the Ku Klux Klan. Those false first impressions can be killers!) I have a vague idea that there may have been cases, in one company's continuity or another's, where two heroes met face-to-face for the first time and one of them somehow thought the other guy must be a notorious villain whom he had heard of before (instead of just saying, "Gee, that weirdo looks pretty villainous to me, but I don't know his name!") But I've been unable to think of a specific example of a hero-versus-hero slugfest that started in exactly that fashion. If you can think of one, please let me know! 02. Smear Job I heard that youve gone rogue. And I believe everything I hear. Once upon a time you were a respected fellow hero, but now Ill just have to clobber first and ask questions later! I once wrote a first reactions piece about the graphic novel Spider-Man/Kingpin: To The Death (plotted by Tom DeFalco; scripted by Stan Lee), in which this happens to Spider-Man over and over in a single day, with several different heroes assuming the worst of him and trying to take him down by force without any silly preliminaries first, such as saying, Please tell me your side of the story. Do you have an alibi? I called the piece: Spidey's only been a superhero for ages -- why trust him? As you might surmise from that title, my major problem with the plot was that the story was published in 1997, and obviously set in what was then modern Marvel Universe continuity (instead of being a flashback to many years ago), and yet a lot had changed since the Silver Age when Spidey was a very new kid on the block in superhero terms, and others (the X-Men, the Avengers, etc.) had never met him, or maybe just bumped into him once upon a time, and could plausibly say they didnt really know anything about his good character or lack thereof. By the late 90s, Spidey had teamed up with practically everybody and his brother on numerous occasions to fight evil and sometimes even Save The World, so youd think other veteran heroes would be willing to give him a little benefit of the doubt when they heard a news report that some super-powered guy in a Spidey costume had just killed a bunch of thugs with automatic weapons fire. Especially considering it wasnt exactly the first time Spidey had been impersonated by a villain. (The first time was way back in Amazing Spider-Man #1 and it was written, of course, by Stan Lee. That was how The Chameleon made his debut.) Note: This story did not feature a Hero-Versus-Hero Slugfest on the front cover. But it sticks in my mind as a particularly silly example of lots of other heroes taking a Smear Job at face value without even considering the possibility that it might be, in fact, a Smear Job. Daredevil was the lone exception to the general cluelessness of the other Marvel heroes in that tale. 03. Regrettable Duty I know youll stand up and fight for what you think is right. And you know that so will I. Its a crying shame that our respective duties are putting us at cross-purposes! If you count Frank Castle (The Punisher) as a superhero (which I dont), then hes probably had this sort of cover scene, shooting or punching at a more conventional superhero, dozens of times in his career! Because he feels it's his sacred duty to kill violent criminals (he doesn't count himself as a violent criminal in that context), whereas other heroes normally feel it's their sacred duty to apprehend violent criminals (by which they sometimes mean the Punisher too) without killing anybody in the process. Those mission statements obviously don't mesh very well. If you want an example where the heroes on both sides had normally refrained from killing people, but ended up in violent opposition to one another anyway, then consider Infinite Crisis #5," which featured a Superman-versus-Superman slugfest on the cover. The Golden Age Superman (Kal-L) was slugging it out with the Modern Superman (Kal-El, the guy who had been the star of the various Superman titles of the last two decades or so, ever since the Post-COIE Reboot of Superman continuity). Kal-L felt that the Earth of his native universe, back before the Crisis on Infinite Earths pruned the old Multiverse down to size, had been inherently superior to the newfangled Earth that so many superheroes lived on nowadays, and so he wanted to restore the Earth-2 universe to its former glory. If that restoration process would be awfully hard on the Modern Earth of the DCU, that was just tough. His first loyalties were to his wife (and his native timeline in general). This picture was complicated by the fact that Kal-Ls expressed rationale for what he and his allies were attempting seemed (to my eyes) to be mutating in odd ways as the Infinite Crisis progressed, and it didnt help that a version of the Superman-versus-Superman slugfest published over in the Superman titles was somewhat contradictory of the version published within the pages of Infinite Crisis, but the key point is that Kal-L felt he was fighting for the best interests of his entire native timeline, and the modern Kal-El felt he was fighting for the best interests of his entire native timeline, and it was generally believed that those respective sets of best interests were somehow mutually exclusive. (Ironically, at the end of the subsequent 52 series, DC decided to reveal that there was once again a Multiverse out there, including a parallel Earth that ended up at least superficially resembling Kal-Ls late, lamented Earth-2.) I have the impression that similar situations of conflicting loyalties have arisen in Marvel's Civil War and DC's Amazons Attack, but I've largely ignored both of those events, so I won't pretend I can comment on them with any expertise. 04. Impostor Look out! Its a villain posing as a hero and beating the tar out of us! A goldie oldie. It doesnt have to be Superman (for instance) fighting those other heroes on the cover; it just has to be someone who can pass for Superman at first glance! Then you can rationalize the whole thing inside the pages of the story to explain why it isnt really Superman at all! (Its even possible that nobody within the story ever thought for a moment that it was the real Superman, even if the cover gave a very different impression to the customer!) For instance: the cover of Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day #2 (middle installment of a three-part mini) showed Superman standing above the battered forms of Robin, Donna Troy (I think she was still calling herself Troia that week), and Superboy, while holding a rather-the-worse-for-wear Nightwing up in the air with one hand and drawing back the other hand in a fist, obviously ready to pulverize this powerless mortal. And when you read the story, the heroes of those two teams did in fact fight something that superficially resembled Superman but definitely didnt act like him. A previously-overlooked robot double that had now been programmed to kill, kill, kill. (Which it proved by doing exactly that to a pair of Titans, Donna Troy and Lilith. Donna has already made a comeback, of course; I dont think Lilith has, but I figure its just a matter of time!) And of course there have been any number of comic books that had a cover illustration featuring the costumed hero fighting himself. Usually, one of the combatants was simply an impostor wearing a duplicate costume! What could be simpler? (Besides robot doubles and just wearing the same costume, other rationales for Impostor include clones, magically-created duplicates, illusionists, and shapeshifters.) 05. Presumed Impostor Prepare to be thrashed, you scoundrel! How dare you dress up like one of my colleagues in the superhero business? WHAM! Oops! Did I jump the gun a little on that one? Sorry! Sometimes whether one of the heroes on the scene is a fake is far less important than whether the other hero thinks he isand reacts accordingly! As an example of attacking a real hero on the theory that he must be a second-rate imitation, we have one of the stories in Marvel Comics Presents #48. As I recall: Spidey is out on patrol one night and sees Wolverine, in full uniform, standing on a rooftop doing nothing in particular. Now, at this point in Marvel continuity, Wolverine and a bunch of other X-Men were commonly believed to be dead and gone, following events in Dallas during the Fall of the Mutants event. Therefore, Spidey knew this couldnt possibly be the real Wolverine, whom hed met several times before. Therefore, Spidey knew it had to be some shameless, disrespectful, dishonest impostor trying to capitalize on Wolverines hard-earned reputation, for some nasty reason or other. Therefore, Spidey knew it was his sacred duty to pummel the rascal with a sneak attack. Follow the logic? I mean, how was Spidey supposed to know that the X-Men who died in Dallas had been magically restored to life by Roma about five minutes laterand had been hiding this fact from the general public ever since? (I should point out, though, that this Wolverine, phony or not, wasnt committing any visible crime when Spidey attacked himbut Spidey evidently saw no reason to get all hung up over such a tiny technicality!) So, even though these two heroes had absolutely nothing to fight about, they did anyway! Wolverine initially seemed more amused than anything else by the whole thing, and Spidey eventually noticed that his trusty Spidey-Sense wasnt screaming Red Alert! at him, which tended to suggest that this guy with the claws wasnt exactly a supervillain after all . . . sure, you may think it would have been nice if he'd noticed that total absence of "Red Alert!" a few pages sooner, but that would have ruined the chance to put a Spidey-versus-Wolverine slugfest on the cover!