The Avengers #1 Project rolls on with a review by Royal Nonesuch of JLA/Avengers #1!
Credits & Solicit Info:
JLA/AVENGERS #1 (of 4)
DC Comics/Marvel Comics
"A Journey Into Mystery" (48 pgs)
writer: Kurt Busiek
penciler: George Perez
inker: George Perez
colors: Tom Smith
editors: Tom Brevoort/Dan Raspler/Mike Carlin/Joe Quesada
And there came a day unlike any other when the world's greatest super heroes–noble champions dedicated to honor and righteousness– were united against a common threat! On that day The Avengers were born together with the Justice League of America, and they fall to no enemy or evil because they fight the foes no single hero could withstand!
Taking a look at the front cover of JLA/Avengers #1, it seems to represent the corporate realities of the comic book publishing world. It's probably no coincidence that the three top characters of both franchises (as well as one shrinking character from each) happen to be the first things anyone sees in this story (a look at the back makes one wonder why Plastic Man is the only one actually looking at the looming threats above). The crossover between the Justice League and The Avengers was something of a fanboy holy grail when it was first announced back in 1979. Set up with the creative team of Gerry Conway and George Perez, the project was scuttled in 1983 when Marvel and DC couldn't get past their persistent squabbling (Perez was able to draw 21 pages of the story). There were several meet-ups between characters of the two publishers in the two decades since, most notably DC VERSUS MARVEL in the mid-90's, which brought the fans into the process by having them vote on who would win the inevitable battles between the Marvel and DC characters. This led to the off-the-wall "Amalgam" universe, populated, as the name would suggest, by merged versions of DC and Marvel characters (ie Darkclaw, a mix of Batman and Wolverine and Super Soldier, yielded by smashing together Superman and Captain America).
Finally, the announcement was made anew: JLA/Avengers is back on! This time, Kurt Busiek would take on the writerly duties,and George Perez, whose exclusive contract with Crossgen Comics allowed him the flexibility to work on the project, would return as penciller and inker. The first highly-anticipated issue came out in the fall of 2003 and, it encapsulated exactly what readers were in for with this story. Full of dimension-hopping cosmic beings and mysterious but powerful artifacts, it was clear this was going to be grand-scale, epic superhero storytelling. The fun starts early, when an alternate dimension from each universe is destroyed by cosmic DC villain Krona. First up is the obscure Marvel planet of Polemachus, ruled by the benevolent dictator Arkon (who once lusted after the X-Men's Storm). Then comes DC's Qward, whose Weaponers were trying in vain to ward off an invasion by The Crime Syndicate of America. All of this grabs the attention of cosmic Marvel being Eternity, who just kind of stands there doing this:
Next thing anyone knows, our heroes are fighting villains not of their universe. The JLA get locked in battle with Terminus, while The Avengers have to deal with Starro The Conqueror. Suddenly, everything's all topsy-turvy, with Lobo beating up on the Shi'ar Imperial Guard and Skrulls invading the Thanagarian Empire. Eventually, The Gamesmaster visits The Justice League to tell them to go out on an interdimensional scavenger hunt, lest their universe be destroyed. The JLA head out to Marvel Earth, which they find to be a rather dour, unpleasant place, and pick up one of the artifacts, The Ultimate Nullifier, on Monster Island after defeating Fin Fang Foom and his cohorts. They get blasted back to their own damn universe by The Avengers, who subsequently get a similar speech from Metron of The New Gods. The issue ends with The Avengers arriving on the DCU Earth, specifically in Metropolis. The Avengers are a bit rattled by the DCU Earth, since the're not used to seeing superheroes being adored and celebrated (they're not really sure how to act when a bunch of rubes start asking them for autographs). Just as they're trying to wrap their heads around this place, The JLA show up, and all parties are ready to throw down. Great pains are taken to demonstrate the differences between the two worlds and the superhero's place in them.
JLA/AVENGERS #1 is the culmination of a lot of anticipation, and in a way, it certainly reads as such. Though the requisite blending of the two universes comes along rather early, the readers don't get their first glimpse of the title characters in the same space until the very end of the issue. Busiek figures that the readers have waited twenty years to see these guys get together, they can wait another twenty or so pages. Their earlier encounter on Monster Island brings to mind Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, whom movie audiences had waited to see on the screen together, never actually being in the same shot during their conversation in that famous coffee shop scene in Michael Mann's HEAT. Busiek creates a lot of latent expectation with his script, since he has a lot to set up. The story sets up not only the inciting incidents and the, but it also establishes the players, including all the characters on the two teams. Parts of the issue can be tough to get through, since so much of the book relies on the arcane motivations of larger than life cosmic beings. The most important thing about the book is the fact that it is indeed an actual story. Sure, all the little fanboy moments like The Watcher peering into the Justice League Watchtower, or Iron Man's armor interfacing with a Mother Box, are pretty thrilling, but JLA/AVENGERS needs to be more than just a string of those moments in sequence, which is a trap a lesser assembly of talent would fall into. Busiek does put together a readable superhero story here.
George Perez' reputation is that he is able to cram a lot of characters into a page. While that's true to an extent, he does more than that. He has a lot of story to deal with, so it's about how he breaks it all down into pages. His pages are busy, but the panel layout is very creative and functions very well to illustrate the story. It's an interesting hybrid of modern day attention to detail and classical focus on characters, at the expense of space. There are a lot of panels on each page, so each one doesn't include more than what is absolutely necessary. He also uses an interesting device where he will draw up a full page panel, and then divide that up by framing certain parts of it, thus creating sequential storytelling by creating panels within one large panel. It's very clever, and it works so well. The figure drawing, as usual with Perez, is phenomenal. The characters have weight and take up actual space in each drawing. The action scenes might be some of the best of Perez' career.
The quote above is a facetious mash-up of the epigrams that precede the stories of these two super hero teams, but it is also an apt way to consider what JLA/AVENGERS really is. It's a story that brings together two of the preeminent franchises of the Big-2 publishers. There's no easy way to do that, but the work put in here makes for a fun time. It is interesting to take a look at a extremely highly-anticipated comic book several years after the fact to see how it holds up. It isn't anything that could affect either of the comic book universes at play here, so it's a solid story that can hold up on its own.