Marvel and DC Comics have had their share of fun crossovers, allowing readers to see battles between Superman and Thor or team-ups between Spider-Man and Batman. At one point, the companies even created an original character – Access – who had the power to cross between the Marvel and DC universes.
Access was tasked with keeping the universes separate (although he didn’t do a great job and crossovers abounded during his stories) and was owned by both comic book companies. Unknown to many fans, however, one well-known DC character has secretly been traveling to and from the Marvel Universe for decades with only the most astute observer realizing both he and his Marvel counterpart were one and the same.
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Meet DC’s ‘Mister Mxyzptlk’
Appearing first in Superman #30, Mister Mxyzptlk is an imp from the 5th dimension who has been annoying Superman for over 75 years. While he normally appears to be a short man with a bowler hat, Mister Mxyzptlk actually possesses powers that vastly outstrip Superman’s. Since he exists in a higher dimension than 3rd dimensional beings, the imp can do practically anything – from changing his shape to transforming others to changing the laws of physics for the entire planet.
Fortunately for Superman, Mister Mxyzptlk generally sees himself as a merry prankster (although some stories do see him take on a more malevolent personality). Viewing life as a big game, Mxyzptlk regularly challenges Superman to make the imp say his name backwards and go back to the 5th dimension, an act that usually erases all of the mischief he causes. This forces Superman to rely more on his wits than brute force, creating interesting stories.
Meet Marvel’s Impossible Man
Decades later, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created a similar character to annoy the Fantastic Four. Their alien trickster was a being from the planet Popup with the power to teleport and transform into any shape or creature – from a superhero to a fire hydrant. While he did have limits (all of his forms were green and purple and he couldn’t transform others) the alien – dubbed the “Impossible Man” – proved a tricky opponent to beat.
Somewhat less obnoxious than Mister Mxyzptlk (most of the time the Impossible Man genuinely wanted to just play with the heroes and would often help them out of basic decency), “Impy” eventually settled down after he cloned a wife and began raising thousands of children with her. While they could still be pests, the Impossibles were mostly harmless.
Mxyzptlk & Impossible Man: The SAME Person
Interestingly, different comic book stories indicate that the Impossible Man and Mister Mxyzptlk are both separate entities and the same person. In Superman’s Krisis of Krimson Kryptonite storyline, Mxyzptlk decides to skip pestering Superman for a month (after creating a chunk of power-stealing red kryptonite for Lex Luthor to harass Superman with in his place), and goes to play with “four new friends.” At one point in the story, readers see Mxyzptlk pop from Metropolis into a separate universe where he harasses a group of blue-suited superhumans who are obviously the Fantastic Four. Moreover, Mister Mxyzptlk comments on how he looks “different” in other universes and reveals that in this other place, he’s a skinny alien creature like the Impossible Man (colors reversed).
While this would seem to settle that the two are one and the same, in a later Marvel/DC crossover comic Silver Surfer/Superman, the Impossible Man claims he actually met Mister Mxyzptlk while popping into the in-between dimension he goes to between transformations. Delighted to meet a fellow prankster, “Impy” compares notes with “Mxy” and learns all about Superman. The two also learn that by combining their powers, they can travel to each other’s universes and decide to do a crossover prank.
Choosing to switch sparring partners, the Impossible Man brings Superman to the Marvel Universe and uses Mister Mxyzptlk’s 5th dimension magic to make Superman believe he’s on Marvel’s version of Krypton – which is being invaded by the Skrulls. Meanwhile, Mister Mxyzptlk transports the Silver Surfer to Metropolis – which he’s shrunken into a bottled city like Kandor. Eventually, Superman and the Silver Surfer figure out the ruse and get the Impossible Man and Mister Mxyzptlk to turn on each other. Despite being similar characters, the two show some strong differences, for while “Impy” is strongly opposed to hurting innocent people, “Mxy” has no problem using civilians as playthings. Ultimately the Impossible Man sides with the heroes to stop Mister Mxyzptlk and battles the 5th dimensional imp himself.
Although the two stories seemingly contradict each other, it’s very possible that Mister Mxyzptlk could secretly be assuming the identity of Marvel Comic’s Impossible Man on a regular basis. As a 5th dimensional being, Mxyzptlk does not experience time in the same way as we do – so although the Silver Surfer/Superman crossover was published after his Krisis of Krimson Kryptonite appearance, the imp could have experienced the stories out of order. Moreover, Mister Mxyzptlk’s shapeshifting powers could easily mimic the Impossible Man’s – so while the green alien may be his own being, it’s possible that “Mxy” regularly pops into the Marvel Universe and assumes the shape of the Impossible Man now and then just for fun. Notably, the Impossible Man has been portrayed inconsistently in the comics – sometimes appearing basically benevolent and other times more mean-spirited, meaning he might not always be the same Impossible Man but Mister Mxyzptlk (who sometimes gets the green and purple color scheme mixed up) in disguise.
Amusingly, in a fourth-wall breaking back story, the Impossible Man visits the Fantastic Four during Marvel’s Civil War era and is disgusted by all the changes made to the FF, the Avengers, and the X-Men. He goes to California to seek out Stan Lee and ask him to change everything back – but Stan assures him that “change is good” and readers just need time to accept new characters, much like they had to accept the Impossible Man who was deemed “too Mister Mxyzptlk” when he first arrived.
Although Impy plays dumb when the 5th dimensional imp’s name comes up, it’s not unreasonable to assume he’s just innocently covering for the fact that the Impossible Man and Mister Mxyzptlk are much closer than even their own Marvel and DC creators ever realized!