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SPIDER-MAN AND BATMAN (1995)

Story: De Matteis, Artwork: Mark Bagley

I always thought that crossovers are cash-ins, since a book that ''happens'' to feature a team up of two insanely popular characters from different universes is deemed to sell well to fans of both. On the positive side, a crossover might actually be great, as is the case with this one, which is much better than the first Spawn/ Batman crossover.

Of course, don't expect an edgy psychological tale like ''The Killing Joke'' or a challenging, involving story like Miller's Batman work, this is a ''comic book'' in the traditional sense of the word, colourful, full of action and excitement. What makes this edition stand out is that the story is actually fun and the artwork simply gorgeous. It also helps the excellent choice of villains - Carnage and the Joker.

Anyway, the story involves a new program that promises to turn homicidal maniacs into harmless puppies, and the two prime subjects on the list are Carnage and the Joker. The problem is that (of course) it all goes wrong, and the two villains are set loose in Gotham, with Hell as their business.

A simple story, but very nicely executed. The two heroes, for instance, don't become friends from the beginning. Batman appears to be arrogant and doesn't accepts Spider-Man's offer for help, so Spidey has to prove himself to the Dark Knight. I particularly liked the way Spider-Man confronts Batman: with the utmost respect. ''He's a legend'', he says at some point.

In the meantime, Carnage and the Joker form an uneasy friendship, that goes down the drain because it's always wrong to trust someone like the Joker.

What elevates this story is the gorgeous artwork. Bagley is a Spider-Man veneran, but I also liked his work with the DC universe characters: his Batman is one of the best drawn I have seen, and I particularly liked the fact that his suit appears to be almost black - with VERY dark shades of ''blue'' and ''gray''. The Joker looks also menacing.

Overall, this book is a welcome addition to any comic collection. Fun story, great artwork. It's definitely not a landmark story, but it's nice to see these two iconic characters together and it's nonetheless a good read. Highly recommended.