Howdy, peerless purveyors of the printed page! I am back once again with a look at a classic callback story arc from the hallowed halls of comic history. Today’s not so in-depth exposé focuses on something a little different than what we normally look at in this column. You see, we typically don’t discuss anything after ’92 or ’93 (because I’m old and can’t get out of the box I’m in), but we’re giving this storyline a pass because it was originally supposed to come out in’83 (the reasons for its ’83 project cancelation are still contested by both companies). That’s right, folks, I’m talkin’ about the DC/Marvel crossover JLA/Avengers! Let’s gently fold back these magnificent covers and take a look.
Complete Arc: (#1) – “A Journey into Mystery”, (#2) – “A Contest of Champions”, (#3) – “Strange Adventures”, (#4) – “The Brave and the Bold”
Year Released: 2003-04
Creative Team: Kurt Busiek (writer), George Perez (artist)
Heroes: Almost every single member of the Avengers and the JLA throughout history
Villains: Krona, Grandmaster, Metron, and various and sundry lesser villains.
Notable Quotable: Batman (to Captain America after they feint and parry for a bit): “All right. It’s conceivable you could beat me, Avenger. But it would take a very long time.”
Krona (A DC comic’s cosmic baddie) is at it again, searching the multiverse for the truth about the origins of creation and leaving destruction in his wake. Once the exiled Oan wonders into Marveldom, the Grandmaster confronts him. As he always does, the Elder challenges Krona to a high stakes contest using superheroes from the DC and Marvel universe as pawns. The stakes are high indeed. If the JLA wins, Krona has to spare the Marvel Universe. If the Avengers win, the Grandmaster will take him to Galactus, the only being who existed prior to the big bang. This will ultimately lead to the destruction of the Marvel Universe. Before the contest of champions begins, the Grandmaster demands that they swap groups so that Krona’s team is comprised of the Grandmaster’s old enemies, the Avengers, and the Grandmaster’s is the JLA. The competition pits the two squads in a race to gather 6 objects of power (the Cosmic Cube, Infinity Gauntlet, Medusa Mask etc.) from each universe. Who will live? Who will die? Will either universe ever be the same? Read this incredible tale to find out!
Writer: Kurt Busiek (Avengers, Astro City) is the type of comic book writer that I really admire. Like Jeff Johns, he is a truly a fan of the craft and honors the history of the characters/teams he writes. The work in these books is no exception. He manages to bring each and every member of arguably the two most popular super teams to life without single one of them acting off cannon. Most impressive is his keen-eyed, intimate understanding of the differences between the DC and Marvel universes, as seen when the JLA and the Avenges visit each other’s home Earth. The JLA think the Avengers don’t do enough to help the people of their planet, while the Avengers think the JLA have set themselves up as Gods. A small detail, but poignant and true to those familiar with both mythoi and a great way to develop friction between the groups. I especially love when the two worlds merge at one point, and the Avengers essentially take the place of the JSA, harkening back to the old-school JLA/JSA crossovers. Such wonderful superhero troupey goodness throughout! Busiek wrote a story so good it’s chock full of 8 essential vitamins and iron.
Artists: George Perez (Avengers, Teen Titans) is a celebrated artist known for his ability to draw hundreds of distinct characters on a page. His work on these books, like his work with Busiek on the Avengers, is breathtaking, and in the early 2000’s he was at the VERY apex of his game! His lines are, as always, super crisp and his panel layout is top notch, making you want to turn each page with excited breathlessness to see what comes next. His renderings of each team fighting a foe that is traditionally a foe of the other is quite thrilling! For instance, seeing the Avengers covered in Staro minions made me collapse in a pile of fan-boy drool. Not only is his interior work wonderful, but his covers (see above) are mind melting. As my friend Gary said about the cover to issue four “Seeing Superman holding Cap’s shield and Thor’s hammer just makes you want to see what’s going on inside.” (As a side note, Perez was also the artist tapped for the original series from ’83. He penciled 21 pages of gorgeous art for that run before it was S-canned. You can check them out online or in the slipcase edition of the JLA/Avengers.)
You might take from all the gushing I did throughout this article that I loved JLA/Avengers, and you’d be right. Every step of this storyline is pulled off with the finesse one would expect from two comic greats like Busiek and Perez and then some. It respects the long history of these great teams and the individual heroes of which they are comprised, and is certainly the type of story these two legendary super groups deserve in such a monumental crossover. While I was bummed that the series was cancelled in ’83, Marvel and DC certainly made up for lost time. If you have never read this, I highly suggest that you go on out and pick yourself up a copy of the trade TODAY! You will not be sorry!
Well, the clock on the wall is calling me away (translate as “I need another pain pill” – a broken pelvis is an angry pelvis). Join me next time as we take a look at another timeless classic from comicsville! Peace be with you! CAN YOU DIG IT!!!???
Chris Swartzlander is the author of the Tripping Over Reality Sci-Fi series.