Avengers/JLA #2 of 4 “A Contest of Champions”

So before we jump into the game, I just have to break down this cover.

It’s a fantastic work, and it’s great to see the one, true Captain Marvel featured on the front. Although I do have an issue with her being paired off against Red Tornado. How is a windstorm deflecting a light blast? And some fans might have an issue with Black Panther fighting Blue Beetle, but look closely and follow the arc of Plastic Man’s face. That’s right: T’Challa punched Plastic Man so hard that his skull is approaching escape velocity. So yeah, Black Panther is pulling double duty. Not surprising, considering how Triathlon ain’t exactly pulling his weight. And hey, I can’t see Janet Van Dyne, the true Wasp, either. If anyone sees her let me know and where she is. It’s an amazing work and makes you wonder if the entirety of both teams faced off. Of course there’s no way we’d ever see that; that’d just be crazy.

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Now onto the comic. We start off with a prologue as we go back to when Krona showed up in the Marvel Universe facing off against the Grand Master. Kurt Busiek helpfully provides us some exposition as Grand Master pretty much says he’s never heard of the dude, and Krona explains he’s from another universe and he’s on a multiversal tour for truth. He then explains that his experiments in searching for what came before creation itself led him to having his immortal body turned into energy and cast out into space by his people, who were the original Guardians who founded the Green Lantern Corps back before they became smaller and big-headed. It’s nice to see Kurt and George lay down some background for people not steeped deep in DC comics lore. Krona says it’s been a nice talk, but he’s got a universe to wipe out. But then Grand Master says he happens to know a guy lived in the universe that existed before the Big Bang. Krona is shocked and wants to meet him, and Grand Master then explains he’s got a jones for games of chance, so maybe they can cut a deal.

We then cut to a page similar to the one from the first issue with Marvel’s Eternity, only this time it’s a green skinned female version sporting a blue cape, and I confess my comics knowledge has failed me. It’s not DC’s Death, and Marvel’s Gamorra doesn’t wear a cape, so perhaps this is a new character? I dunno. I turn the page…

…and I realize I’ve spent an hour staring in wonder at the majesty and glory. There are so many beautiful little touches here, from Batman’s surprised expression when he goes through a de-solidified Vision, to Superman and the Martian Manhunter delivering a double punch to Thor, to Quicksilver tying up Plastic Man in knots, and hey, did Green Lantern just try to straight up murder the Scarlet Witch? Damn, Kyle.

Thor thinks this Justice League is no joke, but Hawkeye still thinks they’re a Squadron Supreme ripoff. He fires off a boomerang arrow at the Flash but Wally says he’s had some experience with those, and Hawkeye laments that it had worked previously against the Whizzer. The fight rages on and Cap and Bats square off. After a series of strikes and blocks and feints, Batman says to Cap that he could possibly beat him, but it’ll take a while and the question is, does he want to? Cap finally steps down back from his “fascist” rhetoric and admits that yeah, there’s no point in fighting and they’re all just pawns. Personally, I think Batman would win. He has more extensive martial arts knowledge, and while Cap’s shield is an undeniable advantage, Bats has an arsenal in his belt and cape. Bats and Cap agree to slip away while the others fight, figuring whomever is behind it won’t notice they’re gone. Wow. I can see Batman making a call like this, but Cap? First he’s calling complete strangers fascists, and now he’s letting his fellow Avengers throw down in a fight that’s become little more than a distraction. I’m starting to wonder if Cap got replaced by a Skrull.

As the Bat-Cap connection slip away, Wanda tries to summon up some Chaos Magic, but remember when Flash had problems tapping into the Speed Force outside of his own universe? Well, Wanda is having the opposite problem as she taps into raw Chaos Magic. She knocks everyone on their asses, then uses her power to teleport herself and the other Avengers away. Superman confirms the Avengers aren’t within a thousand miles of them, and finally somebody notices the Atom is missing. Oh, and Batman, too. Martian Manhunter says those two can take care of themselves, and the important thing is to protect the artifacts the Avengers are here to acquire. He sends out a telepathic call to every single Justice Leaguer to protect them.

…Wait, you mean the cover just wasn’t just George Perez showing off? Are we actually going to get every single Justice Leaguer and Avengers in this? I’m… not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, it sounds exciting, but how much time can each Leaguer or Avenger get in terms of character development? Or maybe everyone’s just going to be here to punch each other. Hell, if George Perez is illustrating, that I can live with. It’s like seeing a Michael Bay film only, you know, good.

Aquaman now steps up to start giving orders, and it’s an interesting group dynamic. In issue one, Wonder Woman was bossing Batman around, and in this issue Martian Manhunter sends out the alert to the reservists, and now Arthur Curry is in the driver’s seat. It’s in contrast to the way the Avengers work in having a chairman. The core group, sans Flash and Batman, is going back to the Marvelverse to get their swag, right before Wally speeds them on their way. Kyle calls out to tell his teammate to go to his apartment to protect his battery. The Leaguers flash out, but it doesn’t go unnoticed; back at Avengers Mansion, Wasp says to Triathalon that “they’re back…”

The Justice League finds themselves along I-95, because the Marvelverse doesn’t have an equivalent to Metropolis; there’s not even a corner gas station here. Superman scopes out the planet and says it’s slightly smaller than their Earth, because there’s less urban growth along the east coast. He says “maybe they’re just backward”. Man, this is just some Silver Age Super-Dickery going on here. The Leaguers break into some old school pairings: Superman with Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter gets stuck with Plastic Man. Should we be surprised the most stoic dude outside of Batman gets stuck with the comic relief? The Avengers are ready for them; Wasp sends word to strategically placed teams that will pounce on the Leaguers once they pop up, and then she and Yellowjacket leave with Triathalon minding the store. Back on DC Earth, Flash runs to Kyle’s apartment to safeguard his lant—

You had one job, Wally. One. Job. Fastest man on Earth? Step aside, because I think it’s time for Impulse to step up and take over. Hawkeye and Iron Man bug out with an assist from the Scarlet Witch, leaving Wally in the dust. The score now? 1-1. Iron Man and Hawkeye find themselves in the Himalayas, but the lantern is missing. Unknown to them, the Grand Master’s made the snatch along with the Ultimate Nullifier.

Cut back to Marvel Earth, specifically to the little known, seldom seen country of Santo Rico. Seriously, I’ve never heard of this place. There’s a statue of Giant Man and the Wasp fighting some dude, but it’s all torn up like a pack of five year olds got at it. Superman isn’t surprised, and talks about how if heroes can’t inspire people, this is what they get. Y’know, for a guy from a world where Mongul destroyed Coast City, and Chemo was dropped on and wiped out Bludhaven, while nearby Gotham City is still a sociopathic spawning shithole despite a growing Bat Family, you sure do talk a lot of smack. Just sayin’. Supes begins x-raying for the prize when Kyle looks up and sees (sigh) Warbird and Wonder Man coming in for an attack.

The next page is split between the Flash Museum in DC’s Central City, and Marvel’s Asgard. In the former, Quicksilver is talking about how easy the League has it and he sees a display of the Flash Family. Man there are a lot of ‘em. Pietro starts to suggest something to Wanda, who doesn’t seem to be all here, but before he can finish his thought they’re jumped by Hawkman, Black Canary, and Blue Beetle. On Asgard, Wonder Woman and Aquaman show up and Diana explains the path is similar to the one she follows to get to Olympus, and it’s difficult for “mortal minds” to understand. Arthur’s about to get all miffed by this, but there’s no time; Hercules is on hand and he’s asked the Asgardians to step back, and She-Hulk is his tag team partner. Upon hearing Hercules’ name, Diana identifies him as the “despoiler” of her Mom, so she’s picked her dance partner.

Herc is probably wishing he said his name was Chuck. There’s a lot of action going on on this page and it implies that the whole artifact scavenger hunt is not something that’s going to last all four issues. Kyle and Power Man seem evenly matched, but Superman makes Warbird look like a chump. In Central City, Hawkeye neutralizes Scarlet Witch while Quicksilver drops Blue Beetle, only to be knocked on his keister by Black Canary. Meanwhile, She Hulk punks out Aquaman, who gets tired of being used as a punching bag and bails on the fight because he realizes they won’t win this way. He dives into a pool and finds their prize: the Eternity Book. Wait, that’s a DC artifact. What’s it doing on Marvelworld? I guess the Grand Master and Metron found them all and seeded them between both Earths at random. Whatever.

Superman lays out Wonder Man, and he and Kyle find the Orb of Ra. Quicksilver wakes up and finds a trio of heroes have been KO’d, and it turns out Wanda’s upgrade is more impressive than anyone realized. They find their swag, which is the Wand of Watoomb. Krona and Grand Master watch the battle, with the former complaining the game is moving too slowly. But Grand Master tells Krona he’s missing the intricacies of the game, such as Cap and Bats being missing. Interestingly, Grand Master has missed the fact that Atom is missing too. Or has he? Hmm Speaking of Bats and Cap, we find ourselves in the Bat-Cave.

It’s very nice how Busiek and Perez point out the symmetry between these two characters. Cap ends his sightseeing and gets brought up to speed. Batman is employing Oracle to coordinate, and Zatanna is now trying to track down Scarlet Witch’s Chaos Magic. Damn, this makes me really miss Barbara Gordon in this role; she was so much more interesting this way, and shoehorning her into her old role as Batgirl was just sad. Bats says that while Metron is a major player in this, he’s not a gamer, but rather a seeker of knowledge. But he’s still involved and Batman wonders where they can find the guy. And where is Metron? Sight-seeing in the Marvel Universe, and tracking down the last survivor of the prior universe.

In a nice little piece of exposition, Metron touches on Galactus’ origins and his role in the Marvel Universe. So far, Kurt and George have done a fantastic job of providing background info without bogging down the story. Metron wonders if the game will be enough to keep Krona busy. Back at the Bat-Cave, Cap activates a homing beacon and the ever-lovin’ blue eyed Thing shows up on a space scooter that Jack Kirby would be proud of. He introduces himself to Batman and then calls up the rest of the Fantastic Four on the monitor phone on the bike’s control panel. Reed Richards explains the “time bike” can track certain wavelengths. The Thing shakes Batman’s hand and does a fade courtesy of that way-cool Doctor Doom time machine square panel effect, and Cap and Bats head out on their time/space hog.

On the next page… Christ, this article’s gonna be ten thousand words at this point. Lots of heroes speculate on what’s happening; Wanda’s hiding Thor and Vision, Zatanna’s trying to track her, we’ve got lots of cameos from Justice Leaguers like Steel, Firestorm, Red Tornado, and Green Arrow. Superman and Green Lantern wonder what happened to their prize. Iron Man, Quicksilver, Hawkeye, and the Witch are on the move and Zatanna’s got their scent.

In Happy Harbor, Rhode Island, it’s Thor and the Vision vs. Firestorm and Red Tornado. Oh man, this team up is special, because in an early two part Justice League of America story, Firestorm found out Red Tornado contained a powerful pair of air elementals: the Tornado Champion and the Tornado Tyrant, and that when the Tyrant got free, the Champion enlisted Firestorm’s aid to capture him. It’s a tragic story, with the hero within forced to contain the evil, and Red Tornado doesn’t know his own true nature. And who did pencilling duty on that story? George Perez. Firestorm (the Ronnie/Stein combo, the first and best, in my opinion) and Red Tornado beat Thor and Vision, and they get the bell, jar and wheel.

In Wakanda, Henry Pym is particled up and he’s a giant trying to take on J’onn Jonnz, while Wasp is keeping Plastic Man busy. The DC heroes win, but discover that it was all a distraction, as Black Panther stealthed his way through this level of the game and snagged the Medusa Mask.

Cut to Smallville, Kansas, and… oh, this is just sad. Hawkeye had a “lead foil containment” arrow and used it to take out Captain Atom. You know, I was pissed off with the way Atom was punked out to Gotham Girl in a recent issue of Batman, but it seems the poor guy’s been jobbed out for years ever since he lost his comic. Iron Man and Hawkeye have got the Casket of Winters. On Paradise Island, Steel is finding out the Vision can get dense and heavy enough to handle any blow from his hammer. Meanwhile, Wanda’s gone white in that turning-into-a-super-villain way, and Quicksilver’s got the Orb of Ra. Only, it’s not disappearing, because Flash pops in and makes up for his earlier blunder, leaving Quicksilver eating his rooster-tail wake.

On the Blue Area of the Moon, Kyle’s got Captain Marvel trapped. And I don’t mean Photon, or whatever other name they saddled Monica Rambeau with. Captain. Marvel. Monica’s trying to match the power wavelength of Kyle’s power bubble, while Quasar has Wonder Woman in an energy cube. But not for long; she busts free and a boom-tubing Iron Man flies in for a surprise attack. Captain Marvel gets the Spear of Destiny, while elsewhere, Bats and Cap find themselves in the Grand Master’s abode.

Batman compares Grand Master’s obsession to members of his rogues gallery, with only the scale being different. I really dig that; for all their pretensions, these god-like beings have psychoses just as sad and debilitating as mortals. Atom shows up, and boy is he glad to see some friendly mortal faces. He leads the pair around the place, giving them a brief tour of Grand Master’s hall of gaming madness. He explains how he’s figured out how to work the controls of GM’s console, and since Ray Palmer is a scientist who figured out how to use white dwarf star material to create a shrinking belt, I’m totally buying his ability to figure out how to operate an alien operating system.

After a press of a button, they’re tuned into Superman and Aquaman. The latter points out how despite the Marvel heroes being less powerful overall they still step up, while Superman proves he’s still a Super Dick and says it’s not enough. Atom awkwardly moves on, showing a clip of Krona and Grand Master setting up the game: if Grand Master wins, Krona moves on, but if Krona is victorious he gets to “question” Galactus, even it means destroying the Marvel Universe. Krona agrees, but only if he gets to use Grand Master’s toys, meaning Grand Master is stuck with the DC heroes. The stakes are utterly huge, and the heroes have to figure out how to out-think gods. And speaking of gods, we find ourselves on Apokolips, where somebody found himself a new toy.

Darkseid wonders why the glove doesn’t work, and DeSaad has to explain that yeah, there’s some powerful reality altering mojo in that power glove, but it doesn’t operate in their reality. Darkseid tosses the glove aside, and Flash realizes the New God is powering up his Omega Effect and he outruns Quicksilver… again. Flash gets the glove and the score is now 6-5 in favor of the DC heroes. We now cut to the final showdown, and it’s in Marvel’s Savage Land. And the final piece to be found is the Cosmic Cube.

The two sides square off, and Superman and Thor give each other the eye. Then Wanda, weakened from her ordeal of handling so much Chaos Magic, pretty much asks what the hell is everyone waiting for? Go get it! Thor and Supes throw down, and… damn, this is sad. Captain Atom is getting trounced by Yellowjacket and Wasp. It’s like those Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes where to make the aliens look bad-ass, they let them beat up Worf, which just made Worf look like the weakest Klingon ever. Vision and Martian Manhunter phase through each other and take one another out, while Green Arrow shoots Hawkeye’s arrow out of the air. Green Lantern squares off against Captain Marvel and this time she’s ready for him, and she drains his ring almost dry. Blue Beetle lands a shot on Black Panther, which I bet you’d never see in a comic today. Thor is winning against Supes, then Clark goes all Super Saiyan and blasts the Thunder God with heat vision, then catches his hammer Meow-Meow and takes Thor down. Marvel’s mightiest dog-pile Superman and things look grim, but then…

…Aquaman makes the save. And speaking of saving, Captain Atom finally [!] proves useful and blasts Captain Marvel, saving Green Lantern. Lantern’s almost out of juice but realizes that hey, maybe the Cosmic Cube can power him up. Elsewhere, Black Panther introduces Blue Beetle to his foot. Meanwhile, Captain Marvel, now green, is whoopin’ butt all over the place. Lantern’s charged but Warbird snatches the cube away, then Flash snatches it from her, and then Quicksilver gets his revenge and snatches it from Flash. Grand Master and Krona show up, with the latter saying the score is even. But then Captain America makes a surprise appearance, using his shield to knock the Cube out of Pietro’s hands and into Batman’s. Grand Master wins! I’m sure Krona’s going to be graceful in defeat, right?

Um… nope. Cap and Bats order their respective teams to pull the two apart. Supes and Thor are beaten all to hell but are both too proud to admit it, so they’ll fight side by side. Krona tears the knowledge he seeks from Grand Master’s mind, and now he knows the name of his target: Galactus. And Krona is so powerful that he makes the Devourer of Worlds appear right here before him. Krona begins to beat the hell out of Galactus, demanding to know his secrets while the heroes impotently pound on the massive force field surrounding the combatants. A weakened Grand Master explains to Krona that he’s a fool. The twelve items weren’t for the heroes to use; they were for the Grand Master himself. He draws the artifacts in while a vortex forms, sucking in everyone and everything, leaving behind a white void.

Damn, that was an exhausting experience, like riding a roller coaster twenty times. Book two delivers the action, and for the most part it’s a fantastic read. My only real issue is Superman’s portrayal. I just feel that Clark wouldn’t be quite so unjust in his interpretation of another Earth’s heroes, especially when you consider all the horrific things that have gone on in the DC Universe post-Crisis. Captain Atom is jobbed out a little too easily, but that’s offset by Monica Rambeau being given a chance to shine in a way we haven’t seen in this era of comics. But after all this what can we expect in book three? I quiver in anticipation!

Tag: JLA/Avengers

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  • Xander

    If I remember correctly, Superman’s and Captain America’s attitudes are explained in either issue three or four.

    That said, I wasn’t a big fan of these first two issues, but your enthusiasm for them really makes me want to give them another read. If you liked this issue, I think you’re really going to have fun with the final issue.

  • Michael Weyer

    Dear Lord…SO MUCH to admire here…

    * In the DCU, Hercules had basically raped Hippoltya and then put the Amazons into slavery. The Marvel Herc is a much nicer guy but obviously doesn’t know this so he’s all “yeah, I did pleasure your mom”, not grasping how this is just pissing Diana off big time.

    * There’s a genius irony in the “you lost a partner” bit given that just a few years later Bucky and Jason would both be back alive.

    * Busiek just had a fondness for Santo Rico, used it constantly in Thunderbolts and Avengers. No idea why, just something from the Silver Age that appealed to him.

    * The idea of Darkseid with the Gauntlet is brilliant given how Thanos basically ripped off his whole act. Plus, how he just tosses aside a massive cosmic weapon when he finds out it won’t work as if thinking “I can do better.”

    * Just love the shock of the Avengers when Superman pushes back Mjlonir and lays out Thor and Supes just finding it another tough guy to fight, not getting he just decked the God of Thunder.

    * It’s mind-blowing how, as amazing as these fights are, it’s just going to get Better from here in detail. No wonder Perez needed three months off between issues.

    • GreenLuthor

      And not only were Bucky and Jason Todd brought back, they were also two of the three exceptions that would always get listed for the “no one stays dead in comics” rule. (And I can’t really count Uncle Ben, since his death serves basically the same purpose as Thomas and Martha Wayne, except he wasn’t introduced via flashback.)

      • windleopard

        They were also temporarily brought back as villains.

  • I remember Kismet appearing to save Jonathan Kent back in the early 90s, in a story where the entire Daily Planet building got sent to Hell. Or something like that.

    I suppose she’s about the closest equivalent DC has to Eternity, but she doesn’t actually seem to occupy the same plane. She’s more like the Spectre, in that she’s sometimes cosmic and ineffable, and sometimes she merges with a mortal to become a superhero. (See Sharon Vance aka Strange Visitor.)

  • GreenLuthor

    Honestly, Captain America vs. Batman is a fight I could see going either way, probably depending on the circumstances. Cap should be the more physically capable fighter (Batman might be at the top level of human training, but the super soldier formula pushes Cap past the human limit somewhat), but Bats probably knows a greater variety of fighting styles. Although I suppose Batman has a slight edge, in that he’s probably more willing to fight dirty, which Cap wouldn’t do. But it’s definitely one where, as long as the writer doesn’t have one just dominate the other, I could probably believe any outcome the story delivered.

    The large number of characters might limit the amount of development each gets, although it seems this was made for the fans who probably already know who most of the characters are anyway (at least the basics). (And, heck, this probably gives better introductions to the characters than Crisis on Infinite Earths, which had far more characters with far less time devoted to them; I’m pretty sure there’s an not-insignificant number of characters who appear in only one panel, with just a single line of dialogue to tell you their name and nothing else.) (Not a knock on Crisis; there are few writers I would trust to pull off something of that scale, and even fewer artists, with Perez obviously at the top of the list.)

    Looks like Santo Rico was from a Giant-Man/Wasp story from Tales to Astonish in 1964, where they deposed El Toro, who was voted president in a rigged election. (Personally, I’d find the election of anyone who goes only by “El Toro” suspicious in any circumstances.)

    Nice usage of Ben Grimm, since he was briefly a member of the West Coast Avengers. (And Reed and Sue were even more briefly part of the main team, although we don’t like to talk about that run.) Really getting all the Avengers there.

    I really have no idea if Hawkeye’s “lead foil containment arrow” was something that ever appeared before; having a hard time finding out anything about it. In any case, it doesn’t sound like something that should stop Captain Atom, but I don’t think DC has known what to do with him ever since they made those last-minute changes to Armageddon 2001 (and he probably would have been treated even worse under the original plan, so…).

    The comparison between the Grandmaster (and extending it to all the Elders of the Universe) and Batman’s rogues’ gallery is surprisingly apt. Take away their cosmic powers, and they’re pretty much the Penguin committing bird-themed crimes. Interesting. (And yet, on separate occasions, Hawkeye has single-handedly beat two of them. Go figure.)

    And, of course, we should discuss the title of the issue: “A Contest of Champions”. Contest of Champions was Marvel’s first limited series, a three-issue comic from 1982, in which the Grandmaster sets up a competition with a rival (revealed to be Death in the last issue) where they use various super-heroes to fight over pieces of an artifact. This Avengers/JLA issue ends with what should have been a draw, except Captain America throws the match to let Grandmaster win. In Contest of Champions, Captain America narrowly misses getting the last piece, which should have resulted in a draw, except apparently the writers forgot who was on which team, so it was mistakenly written as a victory for Grandmaster. I’m going to go ahead and assume Busiek didn’t do that by accident. (I suppose it some of it could be coincidence, but clearly not all of it could be.)

  • Kradeiz

    “Damn, this makes me really miss Barbara Gordon in this role; she was so much more interesting this way, and shoehorning her into her old role as Batgirl was just sad.”

    The circumstances regarding her becoming Oracle might’ve been problematic (to say the least) but the writers did a lot with her afterwards and redefined Barbara for decades in a way people loved. I will never understand why the New 52 chose to undo all of that.

  • Lukzur

    The Wasp is on the cover. She’s blasting Plastic Man and Black Canary in the face. Follow Kyle’s blast upward and you’ll find her just above Plastic Man’s neck. (And while that means Plas is reacting to her, not the Black Panther, T’Challa does seem to be casually laying out Aquaman, which ain’t bad – okay, I’m pretty sure Aquaman is supposed to be hurtling away after being punched by She-Hulk, but I’m sure Panther punched him in the kidney as he passed overhead.)