The time Marvel Comics almost published Batman and Superman

The blog of former Marvel editor Jim Shooter has become a wealth of absolutely crazy stories as of late (see: the origins of Secret Wars, the script for the Dazzler movie), but this latest anecdote takes the cake. According to Shooter, Marvel almost licensed the publishing rights for every single DC character.

The tale begins in February, 1984, when Bill Sarnoff of Warner Communications called to offer Marvel DC's roster for print:

Bill said, more or less, that Marvel seemed to be able to turn a substantial profit on publishing comics, as opposed to DC, which consistently lost money, a lot of money, and had for a long time. On the other hand, LCA (Licensing Corporation of America), Warner's licensing arm did very well with the DC properties, while Marvel "didn't seem to do much licensing."

I guess the few million a year we made from licensing, mostly from Spider-Man, seemed paltry to him, what with the fortune that just their big four, Superman, Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman brought in.

I told him I thought Marvel would be very interested, and that I would discuss it with Marvel's President, Jim Galton.

So, I did. I told Galton about my conversation with Sarnoff. Galton said he'd give Sarnoff a call.

The next day, I went upstairs, poked my head into Galton's office and asked whether he'd called Sarnoff and, if so, how that went?

Galton said he told Sarnoff we weren't interested.

I was stunned. Why not?!

Galton said-and this is prima facie evidence of the fact that he missed Comic Books 101 in publishing school-since DC books weren't selling, "those characters must not be any good."

Shooter eventually convinced Galton that this was indeed a very profitable idea and came up with a series of seven initial flagship titles: Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Legion of Superheroes, Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, and Justice League. Word of this possible deal eventually leaked, and future Superman writer John Byrne showed up at Shooter's office with a cover for Superman emblazoned with the blurb "1ST MARVEL ISSUE!" Although the deal eventually got rolling, mounting legal pressures scuttled it:

Very soon thereafter, First Comics launched a lawsuit against Marvel Comics and others, alleging anti-trust violations, among other things.

One test of anti-competitive market dominance is market share of 70% or more. At that time Marvel held a nearly 70% share, 69-point-something. DC was around 18%.

I think it's safe to say that when you're being sued under anti-trust laws, it's a bad time to devour your largest competitor.

On the other hand, there is the "we-have-a-clue-and-they-don't" or "superior acumen" defense. We considered arguing that defense and pressing on with the deal.

But, no. Ultimately, the suits and lawyers decided to play it safe and backed away from the DC deal.

It's unclear if the Marvel and DC universe would have eventually intertwined like when DC acquired former Charlton Comics characters (Blue Beetle, The Question, etc.). But gee-whiz! The possibilities here were somewhat staggering. In an alternate universe, there's a Frank Miller Dark Knight/Daredevil series floating around.

Top image: 1976's (totally unrelated) Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man.