It's easy to get the impression that comic book crossovers are nothing but shameless cash grabs, what with all the ridiculous and utterly unfeasible ones that have come out. Why, at this rate, soon they'll have John Constantine meeting He-Man and the Masters of the Uni- what? They already did that? I was joking, you fucks! You maniacs!
What have you done? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?
Ahem. Anyway, that's not always the case. Sometimes, money isn't the only reason for making characters from different companies meet -- because sometimes, the companies don't even know it's happening. Here are four times writers from rival franchises secretly (and slightly illegally) made their comics intersect and didn't tell anyone, either because they wanted to stick it to the man or just for the heck of it.
#4. The Justice League and the Avengers Have a Secret Crossover, Editors Don't Notice
Justice League of America and The Avengers are where DC and Marvel Comics keep their most expensive toys: DC has Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and many others, while Marvel has Ant-Man, Hawkguy and ... uh, Jann of the Jungle, I think? There might be a couple more. Obviously, the very idea of putting both teams together is enough to make fanboys and accountants alike cream their pants, which is why the companies decided to make it happen in 1983. However, editorial disputes and the sheer logistics of getting so many trademarked logos on the same page caused massive delays, and the crossover only came out in 2003, in a vastly different form.
All the other superheroes were dead that month, so Superman had to fill in for them.
But wouldn't it be awesome if the writers had said "fuck it, let's do a crossover without telling our bosses"? Yes, it would, and we know this because it happened a bunch of times in the '70s -- The Avengers and the JLA would "coincidentally" fight obvious copycats of the other team on the same month, or a story that started in an issue of DC's Aquaman would sneakily continue in Marvel's Sub-Mariner. This was possible due to two reasons: 1) the publishers didn't always bother to read the books back then (especially the "guy who talks to fish" ones), and 2) while the companies hated each other, the creators were all pals and would sometimes party together. In fact, the best example of a secret crossover involves the writers doing exactly that inside the comics.
In 1972, DC writer Len Wein and two of his Marvel counterparts were hanging out at the Rutland Halloween Parade in Vermont when they realized that place would make the perfect setting for a superhero crossover, since everyone was already dressed in ridiculous (and potentially copyright-infringing) costumes.
via Comics Alliance
Really? Your name is Marv Wolfman and that's who you dress up as?
So they did that. In Marvel's Amazing Adventures #16, we see the three writers driving to a party in Rutland when they run into Beast of the X-Men (whom they fail to recognize, despite getting paid to write his comics).
"No, Batman, come back! I have so many questions!"
After many misadventures, the writers are seen reaching the party in DC's Justice League of America #103, only for their crappy car to get hijacked by a wizard who was just fighting the JLA. Also, Len Wein's wife is temporarily transformed into Supergirl.
And finally, in Marvel's Mighty Thor #207, they witness Loki falling off a cliff while they run after the hijacked car. Note that Wein's wife is still wearing the Supergirl costume:
The guy in blue keeps stress-puking, which is why he's changed his shirt three times today.
Despite the fact that the idea was 100 percent unofficial and unsanctioned, the writers even found a way to get the biggest characters from both companies to "appear together" in the same panel. In DC's side of the story, the Justice League agrees to help out with the Rutland parade -- the same parade that's seen again in the Thor issue, complete with the real Superman and Batman standing in the background.
Spider-Man isn't completely sure if he's DC or Marvel, so he's covering his bases.
Meanwhile, millions of people were probably getting slaughtered by aliens in New York because all the superheroes were partying in Vermont, but it was totally worth it.
#3. Howard the Duck's Creator "Steals" Him from Marvel Comics
Howard the Duck was created by Marvel Comics writer Steve Gerber in 1973, but then Gerber quit the company and had to witness his character being put through a series of indignities -- not the least of which was this (NSFW? I guess?) clip:
Also, the rest of that hideous movie. Believe it or not, Howard continued appearing in comics after that, and Marvel occasionally invited his creator to write him again ... an opening that Gerber used for some sweet, sweet revenge.
While Gerber was suing Marvel over Howard's ownership in the early '80s, he co-created a character called Destroyer Duck with Jack Kirby, a.k.a. the guy who invented half the Marvel Universe and got squat for it, who was happy to help Gerber gather funds for his lawsuit. Destroyer Duck looked as awesome as he sounds.
Where's HIS fucking movie? (Yes, I know I missed an opportunity for a duck pun there. Fuck you.)
Anyway, Gerber and Marvel ended up settling out of court, but he wasn't entirely happy with the arrangement. Years later, Marvel asked Gerber to write a Howard/Spider-Man team up. Naturally, the man's first instinct was to tell them to polish his scrotum, but then he thought about it and hatched a little plan. Around this time, he was also writing a crossover between Destroyer Duck and Image Comics' Savage Dragon (basically a more articulate Hulk with a fin on his head), so he decided to surreptitiously link the two stories. In both issues, you see the respective heroes going into a dark warehouse and bumping into vague outlines of the other company's characters. Here's Marvel:
But that could be any muscular character with a fin on his head.
And here's Image:
And, uh, lots of people have Spider-Senses, too.
What Marvel didn't know was that on Image's end of the story, you see the bad guy (classic Gerber-created Marvel villain "Elf with a gun") making hundreds of clones of Howard ... and it was actually one of those clones who left the warehouse with Spider-Man. The real Howard is saved by Destroyer Duck, dyes his feathers green, and goes into witness protection under the completely unrecognizable name "Leonard the Duck." If the big "fuck you" to Marvel wasn't clear enough, the comic ends with this new version of the cover of Howard the Duck #1:
That's Leonardverine in the background.
As far as Gerber was concerned, the Howard the Duck that Marvel owned was now a soulless clone, while the "real" Howard/Leonard continued existing at Image Comics. He even had Leonard show up in his DC Comics series Nevada -- which, while we're at it, he also "stole" from Marvel. In a 1977 Howard the Duck issue, Gerber had included a fight scene between a Las Vegas chorus girl, an ostrich, and a lamp. Nevada is entirely about ... a Las Vegas chorus girl, an ostrich, and a lamp. But I'll grant that this one could be a coincidence.
Ironically, Gerber agreed to write Marvel's version of Howard one last time, only to find out he couldn't look like the old Howard, because Disney had threatened to sue over his resemblance to Donald Duck. So Gerber turned him into a mouse.
A Dicky Mouse. (Yes, I do puns now. Fuck you.)
Howard the Duck the Mouse the Duck Again is now a Disney property after the company bought Marvel in 2009. I'm almost glad Gerber passed away in 2008, because I'm pretty sure he would have died laughing if he'd found out.