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.