Comic Book Review: JLA/Avengers (Marvel/DC, 2003)

JLAAvengers-1Year: 2003
Format: 4 Issue Limited Series
Writer(s): Kurt Busiek
Artist(s): George Perez (pencils), Tom Smith (colours), Comicraft (letters)

This year, I finally got around to reading this crossover series. I say “finally” because I’d only previously read the final part and, when it comes to comics, I can’t muster up much enthusiasm for digital editions so I’d been trying to track down the physical issues. Unfortunately, the collated graphic novel is ridiculously expensive and the individual issues took time to appear on ebay at non-silly price-points. Overall, I spent about £30-£40 acquiring the full set but it was money well-spent.

JLA/Avengers isn’t a crossover that I see mentioned very often which seems strange to me, because Marvel and DC collaborating and bringing their two premier super-teams together was a big event (a will they/won’t they deal going back to the 1980’s, in fact). I suppose in the modern age, however, the tone of JLA/Avengers might come across as antiquated. This was 2003, after all; a time when comics were still bright and not focused on dark, gritty “realism”, frequent seismic ‘events’ or shock deaths.

The plot is essentially just a vehicle to get this crossover moving and the likes of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman sharing the same panels as Captain America, Thor and Iron Man. Krona is continuing his relentless quest for knowledge relating to the secrets of creation. He enters the Marvel universe and simply destroys entire worlds when they fail to yield the answers he seeks. The Grandmaster attempts to prevent Krona’s insatiable lust for knowledge by engaging him in a game with the biggest possible stakes: if Krona wins, the Grandmaster must lead him to what he seeks, even if it destroys the universe. If the Grandmaster wins, Krona must leave the universe alone. The game involves two sets of champions – the Avengers and the Justice League – competing to see who can retrieve the greater number of powerful artifacts.

Obviously, neither team understands the full situation and the misunderstanding brings them into direct conflict with each other. Behind the scenes, the Grandmaster is secretly playing a deeper game while Krona has (surprise!) no intention of abiding by the rules should he lose. There are all manner of misunderstandings and dimension-hopping with cliched warped reality dogging our heroes at every turn.

Basically, it’s an elaborate excuse to get the Avengers trading blows with the JLA before they ultimately uncover the truth and unite to take down Krona. In other words, it’s some fucking serious fanservice.

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Aside from the overall spectacle of the crossover, the prime motivator for reading JLA/Avengers is for George Perez’s magnificent artwork. Every action panel is an absolute joy to behold, especially when the two teams of heroes are fighting one another. There’s an immense clash of the titans when Superman takes on Thor, for example, and a tense, wordless exchange of testing blows between Batman and Captain America on a rooftop, in the pouring rain.

Then there are the large spreads involving multiple characters – a George Perez trademark. These are fantastic to look at and I spent a long time just absorbing all of the details and admiring the dynamicism at work; the arrangement of all of this action. Special mention must go to the endgame in the fourth part where the main teams are backed up by a constant stream of heroes from both universes. Naturally, Krona’s forces are bolstered by Marvel and DC’s villains and what you get are pages absolutely crammed with characters, fighting, explosions…you name it. You wouldn’t believe that so much could fit into a single page of a comic book.

The wrap-around covers are some of the best you will ever lay eyes on too, especially part 3’s mind-boggling assemblage of characters and the final issue’s image of a very battered and pissed-off Superman wielding Cap’s cracked shield and Thor’s lightning-spewing hammer. I’m so glad that I own these comics in physical form because they are honestly worth it for the covers alone.

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This is George Perez in full-flow, providing everything that you know and admire him for – masterful anatomy, imposing male characters, beautiful, powerful females and insane spreads – then turning it up to eleven. In fact, I seem to remember reading that the final installment of JLA/Avengers was slightly delayed due to Perez injuring his wrist but I can’t find anything online to back that up. I could very well have mis-remembered but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was true!

In conclusion, the plot of JLA/Avengers is so-so but you won’t mind when the art is this good. Also – at the time of writing – this crossover holds the honour of being the most recent collaboration between Marvel and DC. Will it prove to be the last? Nobody can say for sure, but if it is, then it’s still one heck of a way to conclude a relationship between the two giants of comic books.

The Captain Marvel controversy is bullshit

I was recently surprised at the intense outpouring of hate and anger being directed at the new Captain Marvel film and as much as I planned to just ignore it, I simply had to read some more about just what the hell was going on. Turns out that I shouldn’t have been so surprised because as usual, it was internet keyboard warriors screaming into their echo chamber and raging about a movie that they hadn’t even seen yet. It was internet keyboard warriors ignoring the fact that this could well be another great Marvel film and urging a mass boycott based on lead actress Brie Larson’s views outside of her role as Captain Marvel.

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So…not so surprising then. Hate to say it guys but if you don’t want to watch something (for whatever reason) then just vote with your wallet and don’t watch it. What a concept! Heading to the ‘net to start getting angry and firing hateful shots doesn’t paint you in a very sophisticated light. Cinema operators probably don’t want people like you there anyway.

That’s not an attack on all detractors by the way, just the type I have described. It’s always okay to have an opinion and to decide that you don’t agree with something – whatever the reason – but putting it across in a calm, structured manner is always more likely to get people to listen to your view. Making Youtube videos to rage at a camera or posting Tweets comparing Brie Larson to Adolf Hitler is frankly embarassing. Sadly, this is the world we live in now. A world where the internet has given everybody a platform to mount and spew their ignorant, angry view and say things that they wouldn’t dare say in public or to somebody’s face.

The first grumblings I heard about Captain Marvel were from fans complaining that Brie Larson didn’t have the right figure to play a character like Captain Marvel. Given that comic books are primarily sold to a male audience who have grown up devouring artwork that depicts voluptuous, amazonian women in the role of superheroes then that wasn’t surprising. I do personally somewhat agree because the image I have of Captain Marvel (or her aliases, Ms Marvel and Warbird) is something like this:

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[Frank Cho is GOD by the way]

I’m not going to sugarcoat anything or attempt to be apologetic because that isn’t the way here on Unfiltered Opinion. I would fucking love it if the MCU version of Captain Marvel had the hips and bust of her comic book counterpart. Imagine somebody like Kate Upton in the costume for example.

BUT this is no reason to slag off Brie Larson and get all personal about things. Also, if you were a true geek, you would recall that Carol Danvers was originally a fighter pilot for the US military so you could in fact reasonably put forward the idea that her statuesque glamour model figure was never realistic to begin with. I certainly don’t remember her filling out as a result of gaining her superhuman powers (correct me if I’m wrong). She has always been a military woman and this would also blow away another of the complaints about the character not smiling enough in the film’s promotional shots. Why would a hardened ex-military woman fighting off alien invasions stand around smiling?

Some fans have taken this the wrong way and assumed that the dark, conspirational powers-that-be in the decision-making roles cast somebody like Larson as the character for this very reason. They think that political correctness is out to get them, remove all traces of sexuality from our movies and sterilise our entertainment in order to satisfy the militant feminists and vocal #metoo crowd. Looking at the wider picture outside of this specific movie, I do think that there is an element of truth in this idea but I cannot believe that it is being driven on a conscious basis, one movie at a time. It is merely a reflection of the times we live in.

Thing is, comic books were – for the longest time – sold to men and teenage boys and written/illustrated by men. Of course, the women were going to be sexy and appealing. It was how they sold comics and also how the creators of said characters wanted them to look. I’m not condemning that because as a man, I’ve certainly enjoyed comics over the years and how the likes of Emma Frost, Captain Marvel and Black Widow were drawn. I will continue to do so too. The movies on the other hand have exploded in popularity and now have to cater to a wider audience if they want to keep on growing. Yeah, it sucks that they can’t look exactly how we want them to but do you expect Marvel to turn away Larson based on her measurements or cup size?

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But this was only the tip of the monolithic iceberg of hate and resentment that I came across. I ventured below the icy waters a bit further to see just how large this ‘berg was but was careful not to go too deep. You see, the biggest source of anger was surrounding Larson’s comments about Captain Marvel‘s press tour being more diverse and inclusive. Traditional male fans hit back, leaping to the conclusion that the actress was saying that the movie wasn’t for them and that it was a vehicle for political correctness and encouraging diversity.

I don’t want to get too deep into this because I will openly admit that I don’t know enough to start throwing judgments about. What I will say is this: when did superhero films suddenly need to get so deep and involved in social events? We saw it with Black Panther and all the praise for it being a ‘black’ film in the mainstream. I heard more about that than the actual film itself. The fact that it featured a black cast should have been a given since the fictional country of Wakanda is in Africa. Yet somehow it generated this massive buzz as if people were excited that Marvel Studios hadn’t cast white actors in the place of black actors. As far as I was concerned, it was just a very accurate and successful, common-sense casting that anybody would have seen as the only way forward.

And now we have Captain Marvel being in the news for all the wrong reasons and all of this debate about Brie Larson’s comments and beliefs rather than the movie itself. The only thing I’m hulking out about is the superhero genre becoming such a battleground for social issues. Stop all of this bullshit. These are meant to be popcorn films and simple escapism, not Oscar-winning productions or reasons to start debating sexism or discrimination. It was always this way and that was fine.

To the riled-up haters: grow up and just don’t watch Captain Marvel if it offends you. Yes, not everything lines up with what us comic book fans might want to see but flinging shitty insults and ignorant views around in an aggressive manner won’t get anybody to take you seriously. Brie Larson was hired to play the part based on her acting skills and you really don’t need to dig deeper and berate a movie based on an actor/actress’s comments outside of the film. No, I’m not saying that you should like her (or anybody) and you are one-hundred percent entitled to disagree with what she is saying (I don’t agree with a lot of it) but does it need to get any more serious than that?

To the film industry and actors/actresses: stop turning brain-off entertainment and escapism into debates on social issues, sexism, equality, discrimination etc. These are all important talking points but we are exposed to them constantly through the media and society. We don’t need it spilling over into comic book films for fuck’s sake. I want to watch these movies for what they are and decide whether I enjoyed them or if they were shit without all of this background context going on. It’s getting hard to just be a geek for fuck’s sake.