JLA/Avengers #1–4 by Kurt Busiek and George Perez
My mainstream superhero obsession in my early years was the X-Men books, which meant that I grew up thinking that the Avengers and the Justice League of America were the uncool comic books of the previous generation. Therefore, I was never one of those fanboys for whom this was the ultimate comic book dream – a crossover between Marvel and DC’s big-hitter teams. Add to this (heresy alert), I’m not a fan of Perez’s art; I admire his talent but it doesn’t appeal to me. So I was pleasantly surprised to read this book and enjoy it.
Krona, an exiled Oan, is destroying universes in his quest for the ultimate truth. When he arrives in the Marvel universe, he meets the Grandmaster, an elder of the universe. A game is proposed to save universes. Cut to the DC universe: the JLA (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman in beard and partial armour, Plastic Man, Wally West Flash and Kyle Rayner Green Lantern) are taking down Terminus (with Hal Jordan Spectre on clean-up); in the Marvel universe, the Avengers (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Warbird, Wasp, Triathlon, She-Hulk, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Jack of Hearts, Vision, Yellowjacket) are fighting Starro. And these incidents are not isolated: Skrulls are attacking Thanagar; Lobo is attacking the Imperial Guard of the Shi’ar Empire; Flash uses Barry Allen’s treadmill to hop dimensions, losing contact with the Speed Force.
The JLA get a visit from the Watcher and the Grandmaster: a quest for 12 items, six from each universe, which must be assembled or ‘countless billions will die’. The team is split up in classic crossover style, sent to different parts of the Marvel universe (Latveria, Genosha, Manhattan), where they see a less wholesome Earth to the one they are used to. When they go to Monster Island to get the Ultimate Nullifier, the Avengers (now with Hawkeye) try to stop them; the JLA are unexpectedly returned to the DC universe, and Metron appears to the Avengers and tells them that they need to find the same items (from the Marvel universe: the Soul Gems, the Wand of Watoomb, the Casket of Ancient Winters, the Evil Eye, the Cosmic Cube; from the DC universe: the Medusa Mask, the Spear of Destiny, the Green Lantern Power Battery; the Orb of Ra, the Eternity Book, and the Bell/Wheel/Jar), and that the Avengers must obtain them before the JLA, unaware that they are watched by the Atom; Metron gives the Avengers a Mother Box, which they use to get to Metropolis. It is on.
The next part is one of the best touches in this book: contrasting the two universes against each other by being viewed by teams from the other universes. The JLA are shocked by the realism (in their eyes, the horror) of the Marvel universe and the lack of help they think the Avengers have provided to their world. The Avengers are in turn amazed by cleanliness and the honoured treatment the DC universe gives its heroes (Quicksilver: ‘They have a museum devoted to a super-speedster. A museum!’). Tackling this as part of the story is a lovely way to see the differences between the two comic book publishers and the massive interconnected stories within, and it made me grin like a child. This carries into the meeting of the two teams, in a lovely double-page spread: the JLA floating on top, the Avengers grounded on the surface, i.e. the gods versus the mortals, with Hawkeye typically getting the best line: ‘Those losers – they’re nothing but a bunch of Squadron Supreme wanna-bes!’ Then Thor hits Superman with Mjolnir, and fanboys squee in delight.
The second issue is the fight between the teams, focusing on Captain America and Batman as they face each other – not a slugfest but testing each other out, sussing out their opponent, before Batman says, ‘It’s conceivable you could beat me, Avengers. But it would take a very long time.’, which is another in a line of choice moments – Busiek knows these characters well, having worked in both universes for a while (he was writing the Avengers at the time), and he knows to show these character moments amid the battles that are expected.
Many more heroes appear, may more locations are visited (Wakanda, Asgard, the Batcave, the JLA Watchtower, the Flash Museum, Paradise Island, the Blue Area of the Moon), even Apokolips – Darkseid has the Infinity Gauntlet but it doesn’t work in his reality, so he discards it – until the big rumble in the jungle (i.e. the Savage Land), with hero against hero, and Superman holding Mjolnir as Thor tries to hit him with it –the geek-out levels in this book are stratospheric – until Krona turns on the Grandmaster and Galactus and the universes dissolve …
The third issues begins with the universes crossed – the shared history (JSA/Invaders crossovers), the JLA and Avengers are friends (except perhaps for the boisterous nature of the relationship between Hawkeye and Green Arrow). The only doubt in this scenario is found in Captain America and Superman – both characters are so strongly linked to their own universes that they can’t completely believe in this new reality, causing this shared universe to ripple to accommodate it. It is in these sections that Perez comes into his own – he is the crossover artist ne plus ultra, drawing hyper-detailed panels full of as many heroes and Easter eggs as can be humanly packed and rendered, but here he has a blast drawing the different members of the JLA and the Avengers in different incarnations and different costumes, taking characters from various timelines in the different universes and combining them with amusing repercussions. The level of geekery on display is thoroughly charming, with quick highlights of the fake history of their battles achieving particular heights, until Captain America and Superman face off, causing things to unravel. This leads to a fantastic double-page spread of the JLA and the Avengers being shown the universes as they should be – a circular ceiling view looking up at various snapshots of their respective histories; it’s the sort of thing only Perez would attempt and nail perfectly. Now, they team up to restore their universes, even if the reality might be harsh …
The team-up is smart and emotional, and the fight against Krona is as spectacular and as epic as the situation dictates – there are heroes from both universes popping in and out as Krona keeps shifting the universe, with various villains brought into hold off the heroes, and noble sacrifices are made in the effort to defeat Krona. I may think Perez is an old-school superhero artist whose style doesn’t appeal to me but even I can see that he’s put in an astounding job here – the level of detail and effort and sheer all-encompassing nature of the work of showing all the many, many heroes in different eras of the same character is a sight to behold. Busiek does a great job of providing not only a suitably huge story for these two teams to justify this crossover, but also an amazing amount of history and geek knowledge used in service of a good story with character moments and humour. I found this a genuinely good story, despite my reservations, and worthy of being the most recent crossover between Marvel and DC.