Avengers/JLA #4 of 4 “The Brave... and the Bold”
Our story opens with a series of viewscreens showing calamity and disaster as a universe dies, as someone monologues about the end of this reality while we see a nebulous face that calls itself the “sentience of the universe”. It speaks to the “last son of Taa”, as people in Kirbyesque space suits on board a rocketship attempt to escape. A speech begins but our host cuts it off, saying, “Blah, blah, blah!”
Damn, that made me laugh. Our host is Krona and he explains to someone off-panel that the face, and the hand that appeared at the inception of his universe are proof that there’s some sort of sentience that gives life to them. Over on the next page, we see his audience is Metron, who listens with interest. Krona explains his plan is to force the universes together, and to compel their sentiences to come forth and give up the knowledge he seeks. And if the universes die? Well, what does a guy who’s already destroyed a bunch of other universes care? All that matters is he gains the knowledge he seeks
In New York City, everyone’s Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man is caught in the middle of the insanity as he rescues webbed-up kids from a burning building. Elsewhere, we see the New Warriors heroing up along with others such as the Defenders: Nighthawk, Gargoyle, Red Guardian, and the Valkyrie. Worldwide, heroes are doing damage control as go-to government suit Henry Peter Gyrich says on TV that people shouldn’t worry, and somebody’s on top of things. In another New York, we see Infinity Inc. and the Titans also handling the madness that’s gripped their world, saving lives as corporate suit Morgan Edge says contact with the moon is spotty, but hey, everyone should relax, things’ll be fine.
Meanwhile, on the moon…
Yeah, sometimes I forget the Vision is one of the most powerful Avengers. Viz wants to drop everything and find his kids, and it takes a mental time out from J’onn J’onzz to calm him down long enough for Scarlet Witch to intervene. She calmly points out how twenty minutes ago they didn’t even have kids, and in ten minutes they might not even be married. Vision listens to his (at the moment) wife and they fall into each other’s arms, finding strength with one another. Damn, do I miss this couple.
Later, Hal Jordan in his Silver Age Green Lantern uniform explains how Krona can mentally control others like he did that gang from issue #3, and with the twelve artifacts in hand there’s no telling what they’re up against. Bearded Thor says that’s enough speculating, and it’s time to get to the guy. Hank Pym says that’s easier said than done but Iron Man chimes in, and he and Flash ver. Barry Allen have a few ideas for that, and Barry himself says they need a ship and Atom’s technical know-how. Superman says that’s all fine, but they need a leader, and he nominates… Plastic Man. Just kidding. Plastic Man disappeared sometime during issue #3 and I didn’t even notice. No, Supes nominates Captain America. Cap’s surprised, but Batman backs up Supes, and Martian Manhunter confirms every Justice Leaguer is on board with this. Cap nods and it’s time to go to work.
Aquaman has provided an Atlantean warcraft, and members of both teams swarm all over it to prep it for the trip, and I love how several of the heroes are half out of costume for the task, as capes and masks do tend to get in the way. Wonder Woman touches base with Wanda and she explains that as long as she has something to do she’s fine, and I appreciate how Kurt isn’t pretending Wanda is hurting any less than Vision; she’s just coping in a different way. Later on, the Vision and Scarlet Witch, one of comic’s greatest couples, ponder the future and hold each other in their arms. What happened to this couple? Oh, right, Brian Michael Bendis and Joe Quesada happened.
Janet and Hank talk, and the man is wracked with guilt over something he hasn’t done yet, but she assures him compared to the fate of two universes, it’s not important. Hank reluctantly agrees, saying that sacrificing their happiness is nothing compared to what others face, like the guys in the other room, Barry Allen and Hal Jordan, who if they win will wind up dying again. But Barry and Hal are stoic and note that as long as there are good people to take up their legacies, they couldn’t ask for anything more.
While Barry and Hal talk about old times, Thor and Aquaman converse, noting how good it is they’re fighting alongside each other rather than against each other. Superman and Cap have a heart to heart and apologize and it’s a nice scene, but it really doesn’t make up for the rampant douchebaggery this pair indulged in over the past three issues. Cap gives Supes his shield, saying that while he’s in command on the ship, DC’s Finest will need the extra protection against Krona. Supes reverently accepts the shield and it’s go time.
On board the ship, Thor’s got his magic hammer Meow-Meow powered up and combined with Flash on his Cosmic Treadmill, and they’re going to attempt to breach the barrier between them and Krona. Back home, Iron Man says that “converting speed to a vibrational wave that shifts the temporo-dimensional locus” would never have worked. I like how Kurt points out how utterly insane comic book physics in the DC Universe are compared to the Marvel Universe. Not that Marvel physics make a whole lot of sense themselves, but compared to DC they almost seem grounded. Vision is plugged into the ship’s sensors, and he spots an opening and Wanda uses her chaos magic combined with Thor and Flash’s power to break through to…
Um… yeah, damn. Using Galactus’ hollowed out corpse for your summer home is pretty hardcore. The gangs’ arrival doesn’t go unnoticed, as Krona smirks and watches the ship on his viewscreens. He decides they aren’t worth his time right now, and activates his minions. Members of HIVE, AIM, Kobra, and HYDRA open up on the ship with massive cannons, praising glory to their new lord and master. Parademons prepare to board the downed ship alongside what I think are Mole Man minions (or they might be Deviants. Kurt and George have decades worth of material to call upon, and I’m hard pressed to keep up with the awesomeness). But as the cannon fodder show up…
Damn how I love these visuals. Martian Manhunter establishes a mindlink with both teams and Cap starts giving orders. Wonder Woman, Goliath, and Aquaman get the minions’ attention while Lantern and Thor split their ranks, and Atom and Vision sneak ahead to see what’s next. Moloids attack as well as others, but Cap’s direction turns the two teams into a devastating fighting force. And Batman… goes off and does his own thing.
And just as things are going so well, the chronal shifts hit; Wanda and Aquaman are gone, replaced by Green Arrow and Quicksilver, and Goliath is now Yellowjacket. Silver Age Hawkeye is also on hand. Cap tells Manhunter to link up with the new guys and fill them in on what’s going on, and then the Royal Flush Gang shows up on giant flying playing cards. And just as quick aside, I love the hell out of the Royal Flush Gang in all their iterations, up through their appearance on Batman Beyond. There’s just something so satisfying about a supervillain team with a theme. Oh, and Hawkeye and Green Arrow hate each other again. That’s so sad; I was hoping for a bromance for the ages.
Elsewhere in Galactus’ body—maybe the colon?—Metron notes that Krona’s defenses are impressive but his minions could do with an upgrade. Maybe Krona should have hired Taskmaster to train his guys. Krona can’t be bothered with slaughtered stooges; his work is at a critical stage and he’s got the two universal avatars in is grasp. He asks Metron for help in making the two give up the goods but… Okay, just a moment while I marvel at the stuff going on behind the scenes, like the artifacts whipping around in some cosmic centrifuge behind Krona, and Metron watching Wonder Woman beating the living hell out of the Wrecking Crew in high def. Sorry about that; it’s just that there’s so much to see, and so much to stare in awe at. Metron bows out, and Krona points out he’s the one that led him to the DC Universe in the first place, and aren’t they both seekers of Truth? But Metron questions Krona’s true motives, and as he Boom Tubes out, he says he’s going be interested in the outcome. Meanwhile…
Yeah, I can’t add anything to make the sheer fun of this panel any better. Batman reports to Captain America that he’s cleared the bombs and the gang can sneak in, but he undergoes a chronal shift and he’s gone from modern Batman to ’60s-era Neal Adams Batman. Worse, Batroc ze Leapaire arrives feet first. In another part of Galactus, Elongated Man and Plastic Man along with Beast, Black Knight, and female Yellowjacket come across a power field. Beardless ’90s-era Hercules whoops ass, but Screaming Mimi lays him low, then Black Canary takes her down. Aw man, I would love to see Mimi get chronally shifted and come back later as the heroine Songbird.
More bad guys are on hand and they’re the big guns: it’s the Extremists along with Felix Faust, Baron Zemo, Nebula and… holy crap, is that… yeah, it’s Prometheus. Damn, and they all just took out Reed R—oh, it’s just Flatman. Red Tornado uses his powers to suck at the energy field and forms a gap, and Cap—-now in his “The Captain” outfit—orders the gang through. Thor and ’90s Mullet Superman fight alongside one another as the rest of the gang slams into this newest wave of baddies. Hawkeye is almost crushed, but Barry Allen swoops in for the save, and Dream Slayer kills both of them.
We have our first two fatalities, but Captain America urges everyone to press on. But Hal is enraged, and he powers up as he and Atom both go through different iterations. Ultimately, Kyle is back with his Cosmic Cube power-up from issue #2 and Dreamslayer has been slain. Green Arrow picks up Hawkeye’s quiver and mourns him in his own fashion, while Cap urges everyone to push on. And push on they do.
They’ve got Machine Man in there, people. Machine. Man. And in the panel below this one, we’ve got Falcon, Azrael, a cast of Hawk-People, and in the next panel there’s a group of cold and heat wielders. And then there’s this little gem on the following page.
All with Monica Rambeau on hand, who’s Captain Marvel in fact if not in name. Thumbs up, Perez and Busiek. Thumbs. Up. Firestorm sees Molecule Man embedded in stone and Wasp tells him to get back in the game, and as a nice aside she shoots DC’s Killer Moth in the face, just like she previously shot Dragonfly of the Ani-Men. I’m sure I probably missed fifty Easter eggs like that in this issue alone. But oh no! J’onn’s been taken out by a chronal shift. Cap knows now’s the time to get into the field, but he’s confronted by [sigh] Prometheus, who’s uploaded Batman’s fighting skills, and says this will be more than enough to defeat him. Sorry, Prometheus, I think Reb Brown’s Captain America could beat you.
Meanwhile, Batman has whipped Batroc’s butt, but he’s got a legion of villains to deal with. Fortunately, Black Widow, Huntress, and Black Panther are on hand to lend an assist. Superman’s gone blue and lost the shield, while Cap’s got the energy shield and punks out Prometheus, saying, “Neural chaff. Hypnotic lights. Preprogrammed skills. Try fighting the Wehrmacht, Mister: it teaches you focus!”
The heroes—don’t ask me to name ’em all—are pressing onward, fighting decades worth of two companies’ supervillains—really, don’t ask me to identify ’em—and it looks like the good guys might have a chance in hell of winning. But then Krona shows up and everyone can see Marvel’s Eternity along with… the female DC Comics equivalent whose name I never discovered… and the pair are in agony while Krona is monologuing like a boss.
More of the classic ultra-violence follows, with nice little bits like Iron Man lending Kyle Rayner some technical know-how that allows the Green Lantern to develop an utterly devastating cannon. The citadel is shaking, and coming apart, and they’ve only got minutes, but the minions are near-mindless in their need to stop the heroes. Attuma leads his Atlantean minions, but beardless Aquaman with the liquid hand, master of all sea life, knocks them out cold. Yeah, you go ahead and make those he-talks-to-fish jokes; Aquaman’s always been a bad-ass and most people just didn’t notice.
But then Asgardian giants are suddenly on hand. So Wonder Woman brings the house down and swears the bad guys shall not pass. As the heroes take advantage of her holding the line, Diana prepares to face off against Surtur alone, but She-Hulk shows up and is about to go down fighting at her side.
Superman is assaulted by a group of radiation-themed bad guys, and Krona has taught them Kryptonite’s wavelength. Things don’t look good for our Man of Steel, but a dying Vision gives up the last of his solar energy to save Supes. As a host of magic heroes block off Krona’s reinforcements, Supes reaches the last barrier but he can’t get through. Luckily, Thor sees Superman’s efforts and loans him the hammer.
Superman bursts through, but he and everybody else are blown away like the proverbial leaf on the wind, as—oh, wait, we’ve got a Silverclaw sighting. I guess since Busiek and Perez created her, she was due a cameo. But Krona shows up and he’s flush with power and a sense of winning. He’s the biggest bad-ass on the block, and not even Superman armed with Captain America’s shield and Thor’s hammer can stop him. Krona is in rare form and explains how boned everybody is, only there’s just one slight problem. It turns out Barry Allen and Hawkeye aren’t quite as dead as everyone thought; it seems Cap suggested the pair fake their deaths as a last resort.
Krona’s magic centrifuge is breached and his twelve artifacts suck him in. Krona goes boom and Barry Allen disappears, replaced by Wally West as things start to go back to normal. Eventually, the only people left on the battlefield are the Justice League and Avengers line-ups from when this craziness started. The two sides can only speculate as to the final cost. The heroes look to the skies, where they see hands between the Earths, and they wonder if it’s Krona again. Only… it’s not.
For better or worse, Hal Jordan is the Spectre again. Superman finds the Vision and can’t sense any activity from him, but Thor assures Supes they’ve got people who can help him. Supes spots Thor’s hammer and tries to lift it, but he can’t anymore. Thor explains how the enchantment only allows the “worthy” to lift it, and the reason why Supes could before is Odin is stern but not stupid; the enchantment can be bypassed in times of great peril. It’s a nice explanation and a helluva lot better than the “It’s been sentient all this time” idea that Jason Aaron introduced in his, my opinion, hit or miss run on the Thor series.
But the gang can’t stick around and chat, because Galactus is re-forming. Flash super-speeds the Justice League away, while Thor uses his hammer. Supes and Cap exchange salutes and damn it, all is forgiven. Both teams return home.
In the epilogue, we learn the Grandmaster’s not dead anymore.
We discover that Metron planned this from the start, diverting Krona to the Marvel Universe while Grandmaster was waiting for him. In the end, it seems all sides won. The heroes were victorious, both universes survived, Grandmaster won his contest, and Krona, reduced to a cosmic egg to become a new universe himself, will have his answers. And Metron? He’ll have answers as well as he watches Krona hatch and grow. The two cosmic entities depart, suggesting that hey, maybe they can do this again some time.
JLA/Avengers was a hell of a ride and I loved it, but in retrospect reading it was bittersweet. After this series was the beginning of the end of the time when comics were, well, good. At DC we soon had Identity Crisis, which was a dark and mean-spirited series where Sue Dibny got raped by Doctor Light and Batman got mind-raped by Zatanna. Then Maxwell Lord became a supervillain, while Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman hated each other, and then we got Cry for Justice where Roy Harper was utterly destroyed by the murder of his little girl Liann. DC relied on nostalgia, bringing back Hal Jordan and Barry Allen when in my opinion we didn’t need them. Then there was Flashpoint, which should have been the beginning of big things for DC, but instead we got the New 52. DC just hasn’t been the same since.
And Marvel? Brian Michael Bendis took over the Avengers, then we got Mark Millar’s atrocious Civil War, and from that, One More Day. Over the past fifteen years, I’ve seen comic quality degrade and prices go up, with an over-reliance on events, and with every story written specifically for the trade paperback format. So when I look at JLA/Avengers I see not only the greatest crossover of them all, and not only George Perez’s finest work and his magnum opus, but the end of an era.