Thursday, June 29, 2017

JLA/Avengers #1 (2003)


JLA/Avengers #1 (September, 2003)
"A Journey into Mystery"
Writer - Kurt Busiek
Artist - George Perez
Colorist/Separations - Tom Smith
Letterers - Comicraft
Assistant Editors - Marc Sumerak, Andy Schmidt
Associate Editor - Stephen Wacker
Editors - Dan Raspler, Mike Carlin & Tom Brevoort
Cover Price: $5.95

Here's a biggie... with nary a milestone blog post in sight.  I was just in a Marvel kinda mood... it's a shame they stopped putting out comics.  What's that, they still-- nah, you can't fool me!

All kidding aside, folks who have read this blog or listened to the podcasts know I came into the fandom game under the Marvel banner.  Even to this day, my collection still skews heavily in Marvel's favor.  There are still a handful of, if you'll excuse the low-hanging fruit reference, "I can't quit you" books that are still on my pull list from Marvel... which I am hopeful one day to read, and I dunno, maybe enjoy?  Who knows.

I am pessimistic about the upcoming Legacy/Generations thing they've got coming down the pike.  I just feel like I've been burned a few times to many by the ol' House of Ideas.  I'll be there though, mostly because I'm an idiot.

Now let's chat some JLA and some Avengers, from a time where not every single comic book character (except maybe the Silver Surfer... please tell me he hasn't become an Avenger in the past few years) created was a member of each team!

*by the by, the picture here might not be up to my usual level of, ahem, "quality".  Snapping clean pics from a Prestige Format book is never an easy task.

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We open on the planet Polemachus and it is the Day of the Imperion.  Arkon is rising from the bed he shares with Thundra when they are alerted by the Vizier that something big is going down.  They rush to the windows and look to the skies... hovering above is a pair of eyes which take up nearly the entirety of the sky.  It fills the people's minds with questions about a secret and a truth before destroying the planet... and the universe along with it.


We shift scenes... and universes, to Qward where we meet the Crime Syndicate... they're causing some havoc, like the do, when suddenly those same eyes fill the sky... secrets, truths, boffo-boom... Qward and the Crime Syndicate vanish.


We next see Eternity, one of Marvel's cosmic heavy-hitters holding an entire universe in his hands.  


In it, is the Grandmaster... no, not the giant yellow Manhunter from Millennium, this is an Elder of the Universe... one of the baddies behind the original Contest of Champions.  He's quite keen on his games, as we're about to find out.  He, like Arkon and the Syndicate before him, is being haunted by the eyes and their booming voice.  The Grandmaster demands an audience... and from the milky cosmos steps Krona, who at this point is a being of Entropy... kinda like a walking-talking Zero Hour.


We jump ahead one month, and arrive on DC's Earth where the Justice League are in the middle of a heated battle with... Terminus?  Now, Terminus is a little-used Marvel baddie, whose "big push" occurred during a series of Avengers "family" Annuals in 1990 for the Terminus Factor storyline.


The League is going all-out on the giant villain... well, not Batman though... he hangs back to observe and ponder, like he does.  He deduces that Terminus might be powered by the staff he wields, and demands J'onn mind-link the group to run some maneuvers.  Superman keeps it occupied by taking a blast to the chest, Plastic Man expands to cover the baddie's face, and Wonder Woman lassos it up.  Terminus attempts to blast them with his staff, however, Green Lantern has attached a ring-construct "U" pipe at the end of it, making it so Terminus actually blasts himself in the face!


The League is victorious, however, before they can get a closer look at their fallen-foe, they hear the booming voice of... no, not the eyes again... this time it's the Spectre!  And not just any Spectre, the Hal Jordan flavored Spectre!  He instructs the League that this monster doesn't belong in this world... and pretty much tells them to back off, cuz he's got dis.


Next stop, the Marvel Universe where... damn, I love this page... and my photos are going to do it no justice... the Avengers are doing battle with Starro the Conqueror!  I mean, we've got Avengers with Starros attached to their faces... ho-lee cow.  At this time, I believe Kurt Busiek had just wrapped up his, I dunno, five-year run on the Avengers (handing the reins off to, of all people, Geoff Johns), George Perez had left the title a bit earlier.  This was a couple of years pre-Bendis, so don't expect to see Wolverine, Spider-Man or Luke Cage in starring roles here... also, don't expect 15 pages of the Avengers attempting to "assemble" an order from the Chinese take-out menu.


The Avengers continue battling Starro, however, are unable to gain any ground.  The Starro-controlled Avengers are making it rather difficult to get any advantage.  Vision considers the situation and concocts a plan.  They allow Scarlet Witch to become "Starroed" so that her chaos magic can do its hoo-doo... which is just the ticket to driving the "star conqueror" away.


Now, the Avengers are victorious, however, before they can celebrate, Vision advises the team that they have received an important communication from ol' Wendell Vaughn... Quasar!  He tells the team that there be some strange interdimensional stuff goin' on... including the Shi'ar Imperial Guard getting thrashed by Lobo?!


We return to the DC Universe, where we learn that the League has chosen against heeding the words of the Spectre.  With a chunk of Terminus's armor, Flash (this is Wally West, by the way) is attempting to go for an interdimensional run.


Upon arrival, he seems pleasantly surprised to be in a sorta sleepy town... rather than some war world.  That is, until he witnesses a young mutant being chased down the street by an angry mob!  Wally hops between the mutant and the meanies, and tells them to back off.  In a cute bit, Wally is taken aback when the mutant asks "Why are you?".  That's gotta be an odd sensation!  Speaking of odd sensations, Wally soon learns that there is no Speed Force in the Marvel Universe... uh-oh.


We shift to the Justice League Watchtower, and get some neat bits from their monitors.  We can see Thanagar being invaded by Skrulls and Mongul being overrun by the Brood!  Wally calls in, to let them know that he was just barely able to get back to their home universe... and reveals that he wasn't the biggest fan of the folks "over there".


Suddenly, the Watchtowers alarms start going nuts... which brings us to one of the more surreal (and that's saying something) panels of this entire issue... the Watcher hovering outside the Justice League Watchtower!


Moments later, the Grandmaster appears inside!  Kyle immediately locks him up in an emerald prison, until he explains that he is here on a mission of dire importance.  J'onn is unable to read his mind, so they must turn to Wonder Woman's golden perfect for confirmation.  He tells them that the barriers between worlds have weakened... and that, without a certain twelve items (six from each world) a universe will die.  He places the locations into the minds of the League members, and warns them that there will be "others" seeking them as well, before bidding the gang adieu.


Looks like their first stop will be back in the Marvel Universe... a place that Wally ain't too keen on returning to.  So, he says he'll hang back to Watch the Watcher, but the Atom will go in his place.  At that same time, in Avengers Mansion, Hawkeye arrives... if I'm not mistaken, he was rolling with the Thunderbolts at this point.  Iron Man and Captain America are checking out the monitors and trying to wrap their heads around the idea of multiple dimensions.  An alarm sounds, and they know that whatever it is they're dealing with... has arrived!


We hop back to the League as they arrive in the 616.  They decide to split up to get a better look at this Earth.  Kyle and Aquaman head toward Latveria, where they watch Dr. Doom do Doctor Doomy things.  Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman arrive on the recently decimated Genosha (Cassandra Nova had more or less nuked the Magneto-led place very early on during Grant Morrison's New X-Men).  Superman watches the Hulk raid a refrigerator in a nearly as destroyed as Genosha, Detroit.  Batman and Plastic Man head to New York where they see the Punisher take down some drug dealers.  Batman totally beats up the Punisher too... but that occurs off-panel.


They reconvene at an island in the Sea of Okhotsk, which I just learned is a real place a bit northeast of Japan.  Turns out this island might not be a real place... or maybe it is, I'm not terribly well traveled.  Either way, this be Monster Isle... and it's full'a some Kirby-beasts!  Kyle mentions that they look really cool though!


While the League battles the beasties, Batman breaks away to locate their booty.  He ventures into a cave, which is appropriate, and procures one of the twelve items... the Ultimate freaking Nullifier!  Before they can pocket the thing, it is struck by a... purple arrow!  Business might be about to pick up!


Or not, Wonder Woman plucks the arrow and the Nullifier it rode in on, right out of the sky.  Before the League can get a good look at their aggressors... they vanish!


The League are surprised to learn that they have been sent back home.  Back on Marvel Earth, the Avengers consider what they'd just witnessed.  Before they can get too far, Vision notices that they are being watched.  Further inspection reveals... our old friend, Metron!  He gives the Avengers a speech similar to the one the Grandmaster gave at the Watchtower.  He continues to advise them that the "other" group must be opposed... we also see here that the Atom has been left behind in the 616.


To facilitate the pending events, Metron hands the Avengers a Mother Box... so that they might boom-tube onto the other Earth.  And, so they do... arriving in Metropolis, just in time to take down a crew of geeks led by the most-lethal (or laughable) Loophole!


After thrashing the sad little group, the Avengers find themselves mobbed by... fans?  Well, that's not something they're used to.  It's soon made abundantly clear that on this Earth, the heroes are beloved.  A cynical Captain America suggests that they must force the public for their adoration, and rule this world like "Little Tin Gods".


Which is probably the perfect time for us to finally get out big stand-off...  and wow, what a two-page spread it is!


After exchanging pleasantries, Captain America accuses them of "fascism"... which is such a Captain America thing to do.  Thor decides the time for talking has passed, and he hurls Mjolnir right at Superman!  Well, that's not something you see everyday!


The chapter ends when we shift back to the Grandmaster and Metron, as they watch these events unfold.  They discuss the stakes in this little "game", suggesting that when the dust settles, neither universe might survive... which is a nugget they'd hidden from Krona.  The sneaky little Atom is present, serving as our eyes and ears to this dangerous diversion!


--

It's been, well... about 15 years since I've read this.  I recall not having been terribly impressed with it the first time around, however, I gotta say... there were some scenes in here that gave me chills.  It wasn't even the big face-off either... I'm talking bits like seeing the Watcher outside the JLA Watchtower, Wonder Woman holding the Ultimate Nullifier, the Avengers covered in Starros!  How amazing was all of that?!

It's a testament to the fantastic amount of lore and just how "living and breathing" the Marvel and DC Universes were/are that these nods, these bits of fan-service, can be so powerful and leave such an impact on even a cynical old goat like me.  I mean, Lobo slaughtering the Shi'ar and Thanagar being invaded by the Skrull?  Aye yai yai.  Gimme some more'a that!

My initial underwhelming back in 2003 was likely due to the main baddies we were given.  I think I was holding out hope for, I dunno, maybe Lex Luthor or Darkseid on the DC side and Dr. Doom or Kang... or, hell Galactus on the Marvel side.  That's not to say none of these folks won't pop up here... I say that because, honestly, it has been almost half of my life since I read this, and I don't remember!  This being something of an inter-company scavenger-hunt version of Contest of Champions to start wasn't something I was interested in seeing.  Somehow, that has changed in the decade and a half that followed... and I enjoyed the concept a whole lot more this time around.  Hell, I enjoy the villains too... maybe I just have a deeper appreciation for these folks at this point.

I love that we can actually "place" this story.  We have very specific JLA and Avengers rosters (and things like Genosha having been destroyed) which tell us almost exactly when, in both teams'/universes' histories, this story would have occurred.  I actually discussed this a bit with Kurt Busiek at the 2016 Phoenix Comicon, where he shared with me some of the editorial headaches he had putting this together.  You can check out my interview with him at DC in the 80's, but just as an example... he was told to limit any use of Hal Jordan and Barry Allen because, they're gone... and ain't never coming back!  Oh boy.

Considering why this might resonate with me more in 2017 than it did in 2003... it could be that this brings me back to the tail end of what I consider "my" Marvel Universe.  This was before Marvel became "That movie studio that used to put out comic books", this is back when Iron Man didn't have to always be the coolest guy in the room because we all know he's really Robert Downey, Jr. under that mask.

This takes me back to this weird time in my life where I had stupid amounts of disposable income... stupid in that, I didn't have much... but every cent I had went to comic books, and I was buying literally everything both Marvel and DC were putting out.  My standing order at the comic shop was actually "One of everything."... which means I've got a lotta turn of the century garbage lurking in my library.  I don't know how my girlfriend-now-wife stuck around!

That having been said, JLA/Avengers was like a culmination of my fandom "career".  It was something I was looking forward to from the first time I saw those scans of the aborted 1982 (Conway/Perez) version of the story.  This was as close to a comic book "dream come true" as we were gonna get.  And sadly, one we'll more than likely, never see again.

I don't suppose we need to mention that George Perez is a national international universal treasure again, do we?  I think that's just common knowledge at this point.  Such amazing work here... and, if we put ourselves in his shoes for just a moment... imagine him getting the opportunity to draw this landmark event twenty-years after the first attempt!  That's gotta be such an amazing feeling... to return to this dream project, and actually be able to see it through to completion.

Overall... yeah, read this.  It's not terribly difficult to come across... I've even seen it in various cheap-o bins during my time.  I would doubt you'd have to pay more than cover price for the individual prestige format editions.  Now, if you want the collected edition... or heaven forbid the Collector's Edition... that sucker might setcha back a buck or two... hundred.  Any way you can get your hands on it though, I'd wholeheartedly recommend it!

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Wrap-Around Cover:


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