Monday, April 6, 2009

Retro Review: Avengers/JLA #1-4(2003)

Overall- Wow, I'm not sure where to start here... First off, I should temper this entire review by stating that honestly, and when I say this I don't want anyone to think I'm bragging or lying or anything. I would consider my knowledge of the Marvel Universe to rival just about that of anybody. Seriously. On a scale of 1-100, I would say my knowledge of the Marvel Universe is around a 95(especially anything prior to 2008). You could literally throw some of the most obscure Marvel facts at me and I'd be able to answer them with ease. I'll admit that my Marvel IQ has begun to drop as I've become more interested in the DC Universe over the past year, and when it comes to the most recent Marvel events, I'm more in the dark.

I've been reading DC Comics for almost a year now, and I've managed to acquire quite the expansive collection during that time. I've also picked up the DC Encyclopedia and as many of the "Secret Files" issues I could get my hands on in order to bolster my knowledge of all things DC. I would say on a scale of 1-100, my DC IQ is probably around a 40. My knowledge of the DC Universe is strongest from about 1996 to today. It's the older DC stuff I'm kind of unfamiliar with. The only reason I'm stating this is so any DC fans who read this understand that I'm going to be looking at this mini-series with a slight Marvel bias. I've been reading/studying Marvel Comics on and off for the past 18 years. I've been reading DC Comics for less than 1 year. Although, currently I would readily admit that I enjoy the comics DC publishes way more than the Marvel fare, my heart will probably always be with my first love, Marvel Comics, no matter how badly BENDIS and Quesada f### it up.

There, the disclaimer is out of the way, and I can attempt to review this mini-series. First off, the main creative team at work here was Kurt Busiek writing and George Perez taking care of the artwork. Before I go ANY further, I would tell ANYBODY who is a fan of Marvel, DC or both that George's work in this series is simply phenomenal. Even the word phenomenal doesn't do the job George did here justice. His artwork was so great, so amazing, that you almost have to make up a word to describe the sheer perfection of it. Normally, when I read a comic, the most important thing to me is the story, then the dialogue, and then, I might notice the artwork if it's either really good or really bad. I think this series is the first time the artwork took precedence over the actual story for me. George's artwork was THAT spectacular!

Even though George stole the show, Kurt's script was also quite good, considering the story he was trying to tell, as well as the fact that he had to keep both universes looking strong. Obviously, if the DC heroes totally squashed their Marvel counterparts, the Marvel fanboys would be screaming bloody murder, as would the DC fans if the roles were reversed. Plus, Kurt had to deal not only with Joe Quesada, the Marvel editor, but with Dan Didio, the DC editor as well. THAT, in and of itself would probably be enough to cause a normal person to go insane! I'd love to know just how many drafts of this story Kurt had to come up with before both editorial staffs were happy. So, the fact that the story was even coherent is a testament to Kurt's writing prowess.

Allow me to state right off the bat that these four issues were HUGE! These comics were each 48 pages of pure action, with not a single ad anywhere. There's no way I could possibly review these books in my normal manner, because there is just TOO much to cover. Instead, I'm going to go over things in broad strokes(VERY broad strokes). I'll be leaving a lot out, but I will try to make this review as comprehensive as humanly possible. Basically, we have a villain from the DCU named Krona, who I have to admit I knew NOTHING about going in, travelling through dimensions searching for information on the way our universe formed. Krona travelled across several dimensions, destroy those dimensions when his search came up empty, before heading onto the next dimension. Finally, Krona arrives in the Marvel Universe and upon arrival is located by one of the Elders of the Universe, the Grandmaster. Krona explains to the Grandmaster that he's been annihilating several universes in his search for knowledge regarding the Big Bang. He tells the Grandmaster that the Marvel Universe is next, unless the Grandmaster can help him gain this knowledge he craves. Anyone who knows Marvel Comics knows that there is one being roaming the Marvel cosmos who came from the universe before ours and actually lived through the Big Bang, that being Galactus. The Grandmaster tells Krona that he'll give Krona the location of Galactus, IF Krona plays a high risk game with him(hey, that's the Grandmaster's gimmick, what do you expect!). Krona agrees and the Grandmaster and Krona take 12 powerful artifacts from both Grandmaster's universe(the Marvel Universe)and Krona's universe(the DC Universe)and hides them throughout both universes.

The Grandmaster wants to choose the Avengers as his team of champions, but Krona, being the FAR more powerful being takes the Avengers and the Grandmaster selects the JLA as his team. The stakes are, if the JLA collects a majority of these powerful artifacts, Krona will leave the Marvel Universe alone and travel to another universe in his search for answers. If the Avengers win, the Grandmaster will tell Krona about this being who survived the Big Bang and Krona will get his answers no matter what the cost to the Marvel Universe. So, the Grandmaster goes to the DC Universe and tells the JLA that if they don't collect these specific items, their universe would be destroyed. Grandmaster then tells the JLA exactly where all the artifacts are located and departs. The JLA don't approve of Grandmaster's vague language, but decide that there must be some truth to what he is saying and head off in search of a way to get to the Marvel Universe to collect the artifacts located there. Metron heads to the Avengers in the Marvel Universe and tells them likewise, supplying them with a Motherbox to help locate the objects. Why Metron? That gets revealed MUCH later on.

So, the Avengers and the JLA each travel to each other's home universe's and are quite startled by the vast differences. Flash is the first to cross over and he gets to witness the hatred the citizens of the Marvel Universe have regarding mutants, as a lynch mob is chasing and trying to kill a kid whose mutation had just developed. Flash tries to reason with the unruly mob, but to no avail, as the mob decides that Flash must be a mutie and proceed to attack him. Unfortunately for Flash, there is no Speed Force in the Marvel U, so he's completely powerless. Eventually, after taking a beating, he returns back to the DCU and tells the JLAers how lousy the Marvel U was. The JLA decides to travel to the Marvel U in order to collect the artifacts(without Flash obviously)and during their recon trip they travel to Latveria, where they watch Dr. Doom terrorize the people of his nation, Genosha, where they see the remains of 10 million dead mutants, Michigan, where the Hulk is on one of his customary rampages and NYC, where the Punisher is gunning down drug dealers. Superman is totally disgusted by the way the Marvel Universe operates and wants to get the hell out of it as soon as possible. By this point, the Avengers are aware that there are visitors from another dimension and Iron Man rigs up a device to send them back where they came from.

The JLA locate the Ultimate Nullifier(one of the Marvel artifacts)and are confronted by the Avengers, who try to swipe the Nullifier, but fail, sending the JLA back to the DCU along with the Nullifier by accident. The Avengers decide to use Motherbox to head to the DCU to get a few artifacts and wind up stopping a crime while traveling in Metropolis. The citizens of Metropolis rush the Avengers begging for autographs, which is a somewhat foreign concept to the Avengers. Captain America tells the Avengers to get away from the crowd and they head to a nearby rooftop. Cap looks around Metropolis and all he sees are monuments to the DC heroes, which causes him to believe that the DC heroes must force the people to grovel beneath them. By this point, Supes and the JLA arrive, and we get our first full blown donnybrook between the two teams. The Avengers squeak out a victory, mainly thanks to the Scarlet Witch tapping into the Chaos Magic in the DCU, which is apparently much more powerful in the DCU than in the Marvel U. With that, the Avengers depart and begin to hunt for the artifacts while the JLA do likewise.

While battling for one of the artifacts, Cap and Batman have one of the coolest fight scenes I've ever seen. The two fight for a bit and Bats concedes that Cap would probably eventually get the better of him(!). Batman tells Cap that fighting is pointless and that they should pool their resources and try to figure out what's really going on, since this whole situation stinks of a set-up. Cap agrees and the two head to the Batcave to formulate a plan while their respective teams continue to fight for artifacts. Bats and Cap eventually make their way to the Grandmaster's headquarters, where the Atom was hiding(don't ask), and they play back the conversation between the Grandmaster and Krona, which the Grandmaster had recorded. Cap realizes that the Avengers have to lose, or Krona will destroy the Marvel Universe, so along with Atom and Bats, Cap rushes to the scene of the final battle, the Savage Land in the Marvel Universe. The JLA hold a 6-5 lead and the final artifact will wind up deciding the outcome. Both teams tear into each other and Cap finally arrives, demanding that the Avengers stand down and allow the JLA to win. The Avengers are stunned, but cease fighting, giving the JLA the deciding 7th artifact. With that Grandmaster and Krona appear soon thereafter.

The Grandmaster tells Krona that he has lost, and as such has to leave. Krona flips out and throws a temper tantrum and tears the information he wanted out of Grandmaster's head. Krona then teleports Galactus(the being who lived through the Big Bang)to him and demands answers. Galactus tells Krona to f###-off(OK, not in those words, but close)and Krona attacks and destroys(!)Galactus! The Grandmaster then uses the 12 artifacts of power in a last ditch attempt to defeat Krona, but ultimately fails, and apparently dies. Krona now has the knowledge from Galactus about the Big Bang, but it still isn't enough. He actually wants to LIVE through a Big Bang and experience it the same way Galactus did. Krona takes the 12 artifacts of power and begins to merge the DCU and Marvel Universe in an attempt to destroy both universes which would create the Big Bang he so wants to live through.

As the universes slowly merge, the histories of the Avengers and the JLA begin to get jumbled together, with both teams working together on several occasions during their respective histories. They fight together and party together, but all the while, Captain America and Superman can sense that things just aren't right. Eventually, Cap snaps and accuses Superman of shenanigans. Supes tells Cap that he can sense things are wrong as well and blames Cap, and the two come to blows, which sends both teams hurtling back to their proper universes, with their memories(almost)totally restored. The two teams decide to meet again and are joined by the Phantom Stranger(who?)who leads them to the dying Grandmaster. The Grandmaster reveals that Krona is trying to destroy both universes, and says that there's no telling what the resulting Big Bang would bring. Grandmaster then restores all of the heroes memories, which shows the good, along with ALL the bad. The heroes decide that even though there are a lot of tragic events awaiting them if they defeat Krona and return to their proper universes, they couldn't allow Krona to destroy all life in both universes.

The teams begin to make preparations for the final strike at Krona in his lair somewhere in space, and work together to build a spacecraft capable of getting them there. Superman decides that Cap should lead both squads(!)and Cap humbly accepts. Since Cap will be coordinating the attack from the spacecraft, he gives Superman his shield(!)to use in combat. The combined teams arrive at Krona's lair, which is actually the burnt out husk of Galactus. The Avengers/JLA attack and Cap links every bodies minds together thanks to the Martian Manhunter to coordinate the attack. Krona calls forth hundreds of villains from both universes to oppose the heroes and chronal energy begins to wash over the heroes, replacing/changing and altering them. The heroes begin to slowly fall and eventually, Superman makes it to the outer wall of Krona's lair. Try as he might, Superman can't break through the force-field surrounding the wall. Thor, near death hurls his hammer to Supes and tells him to use it well. Supes grasps the hammer(!)and strikes the wall, destroying it totally. Krona has enough and destroys all of the heroes present so they won't bother him anymore. Well, he should have done that a few pages ago! With the heroes out of the way, Krona begins to harness the energy of the 12 artifacts to complete his merging of the universes. Before he can succeed, Flash(who Krona thought was killed)begins to run around Krona, distracting him. While Krona turns his attention to Flash, Hawkeye(who also looked like he was killed)fires a TNT arrow at the 12 artifacts, destroying Krona's hold on them, and seemingly destroying Krona as well.

The Spectre(Hal Jordan at this time)uses his immense power to separate the two universes, and the JLA and Avengers return to their home worlds, having gained respect for each other and the plights facing each universe. We end with Metron(remember him?)placing Krona's energy in a Cosmic Egg, where he will remain until the DCU dies, where he will finally get his wish to watch a new universe created. The Grandmaster then enters the picture, returned from the dead, and we discover that it was Metron who diverted Krona to the Marvel Universe in the first place, so Grandmaster could play the ultimate game, one where the very universe was at stake. They end their conversation by stating that maybe one day they would meet again, and with that they vanish.

If you were able to follow my rambling review, more power to you! The amount of stuff I left out could fill at least another 2 posts! Personally, there were certain aspects of this story that bothered me a bit, mainly due to my unfamiliarity with certain aspects of the DCU and Krona in particular. I mean, Krona totally owned Galactus in like 3 panels! What?!? Krona is THAT powerful? I was fine with the way most of the battles went between the two teams, even though there were a few that bugged me. Kurt had the characterization of practically all of the characters down pat, so kudos to him for that. I especially enjoyed Cap in this, and liked that he was made the leader of the unified team, but like I said earlier, that's the life long Marvel fan in me speaking.

The Avengers team in this book is THE Avengers to me, not the s### BENDIS is producing today. Getting to read about those Avengers, the REAL Avengers, was quite gratifying. Thor was Thor, Cap was the man, Iron Man wasn't a government scumbag, everything was ideal... Ah how I miss the real Avengers. The JLA side was stacked as well, with all of the big name heroes you'd expect to be present there, unlike what Dwayne McDuffie is doing nowadays in his Justice League Light comic book. I've got to stop writing sooner or later, I'm already up WAY later than I intended on being... Math class early tomorrow morning is going to be fun on a few hours sleep... For a score, I'll give this mini a 10 out of 10. Yes, a perfect score. I was impressed that Kurt managed to put together a good, coherent story, but George's pencils were just so unbelievable, not giving this series a perfect score would have been doing him a grave injustice. I'll probably dedicate at least another post to this series, and I'm sure I'll have tons of pictures to post from these issues. As far as cross-company comic books go, this one might just be my favorite of all-time.


  1. Phantom Stranger is a relatively bizarre DC character who helps the DCU when things get really bizarre. He was an angel who didn't fall but didn't fight against Satan and is cursed to forever walk the Earth wingless. Apparently at one point the JLA offered him membership in their League.

    Good review X-Man! I loved the book because it did a great job of keeping both groups strong. I also liked Kyle Rayner getting juiced up on the Cosmic Cube. That was pretty sweet.

  2. Thanks for the info on the Phantom Stranger, because I can't recall ever reading a DC book with him in it before. When he popped up I was kind of lost. Kyle with the Cosmic Cube was one of the MANY awesome things I didn't even have a chance to touch on in this review.

    The battle between Thor and Supes in the Savage Land was also mind-blowing. The visual of Thor charging Supes THROUGH Supes heat-vision was great, and Supes stopping Thor's hammer shot and then decking the totally shocked Thor was frigging amazing! I've got to get these 4 issues to my scanner! There are like at least 30 pics I'd love to post here.

    Props to you for actually reading that review GL! That post was so long I didn't even want to proof read it last night!