JLA/Avengers #3 of 4 “Strange Adventures”
It’s another amazing cover from George this time, with an honest attempt to get every single JLAer and Avenger on it. I mean, he has both Crimson Foxes on this thing! If he missed anybody, it must have been a team member who was around for five seconds.
While it’s good, I liked issue #2’s cover better, as it was more dynamic and with fewer characters. Still, I wouldn’t mind having this as a 22×28 poster on my wall. And speaking of walls…
Those of you who read my X-Men/Teen Titans recap might recall the Source Wall, and here it is again… along with Marvel’s Doctor Doom embedded in it, much the way Darkseid had been at the end of that prior crossover. We see a green glowing sphere, and inside it are Green Lantern, the Hal Jordan version… who last time we saw him was dead and the Spectre. Also with him are Batman, Wonder Woman, Elongated Man, Superman, Black Canary, Green Arrow and… Hawkeye? And Black Canary is all over the Marvel archer like jam on toast while Ollie looks on; neither Canary nor Hawkeye notice how green he is with envy, probably due to the color of his costume.
It turns out Hawkeye has immigrated to Earth-DC (do you need a green card for that? He’s still an American, but it’s not the same America. Hmm…) to be with Dinah. Wonder Woman makes some not-so-subtle hints to Batman about how romantic they look, but Batman’s either not taking the bait, or for a detective he’s seriously obtuse. Green Arrow begins grousing to Elongated Man and says Hawkeye’s name a third time as things get… weird, and he finishes his sentence sounding like he meant “Hawkman”. Clint Barton has left the bubble, and it’s like he had never been there, with Canary now on Ollie’s arm. On top of that, the Flash, the Barry Allen version is now here. The gang just assumes Arrow zoned out and they head back, talking about an interdimensional communicator and a call they’ve got to make.
The following page has… Well, well! Marvel’s Eternity is making time with… the green skinned woman in the cape. It’s a match made in heaven… between the heavens. The following page finds us on Hydrobase with the Avengers, in their classic late ’70s/early ’80s lineup of Beast, Wasp, Ant Man, Captain America, Thor, Scarlet Witch, and Vision along with Iron Man in his most iconic red and gold armor. Right away things don’t line up right, because Hydrobase wasn’t used by the Avengers until much later. Hmm. The group looks toward the sea, where DC’s Brainiac’s skull ship floats, seemingly shipwrecked. Captain America feels something isn’t right and Wasp assumes he means because Brainiac is from the universe next door. She takes the liberty of calling the Justice League and the team shows up, acting like they hadn’t just kicked each other’s butts all through issue #2. More than that, the two groups talk like they’ve known each other for ages, with Ralph talking to Hank and Janet as if he and his wife Sue are fast friends with the diminutive pair. The two teams head on in and Jarvis serves up snacks, but Green Arrow takes offense and under his breath calls Stark a “fat cat ex-munitions dealer”. Hawkeye, who would probably call Tony the exact same thing under different circumstances, jumps to Iron Man’s defense and the two archers bicker. Farther down the hall, Wonder Woman chats up Captain America, who sees a painting on the wall, which is a nice homage to the cover of Justice League of America #21 where the JLA first had a crossover with Earth Two’s Justice Society.
Wonder Woman points out how all this cross-dimensional stuff should be normal for a guy who’s been doing it since the JSA/Invaders era, but Cap doesn’t care; he knows the gang shouldn’t be on Hydrobase, and it’s all wrong, and then… Cap is elsewhere.
The teams are on the JLA satellite having an annual party, and this year it’s a Hawaiian theme. Careful, guys, somebody might accuse you of cultural appropriation. I love this panel with all the little interactions. I also love how George Perez draws Janet Van Dyne. She was once one of the most beautiful women in comics; these days, they draw her like Rachel Maddow. And hey, if you think a woman who always looks like she just drank a glass of sour milk is attractive, then good for you.
Wonder Woman and Wonder Man are engaged in an arm wrestling contest, Rick Jones and Jarvis work with Snapper Carr to serve up dinner, and Moondragon fries Guy Gardner’s brain. Wanda and the Vision look at Red Tornado’s adopted child’s pics, while the Witch ponders adoption herself, implying her kids never existed. Or they did, and judging by her smile she’s on some utterly stellar antidepressants. All in all, everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, save for Superman. Thor goes to speak to him, and Supes expresses his doubts. Like Cap earlier, he says things feel wrong. And then… things change again.
We’re at Avengers Mansion for another gathering with another collection of different-era Avengers and Justice Leaguers. And this time Cap freaks out, because he’s sensed the changes. Green Lantern (the Kyle Rayner version) and the Flash (the Wally West version) try to calm him down, but then they transform into Hal and Barry. Superman realizes that he isn’t going crazy, or at least he’s not the only crazy person in the room. Janet tries to talk Cap down, citing past cases where the teams joined forces, such as the infamous Ultron-4/Amazo alliance, or the Grim Reaper and the Key, or what about that time Kang and the Lord of Time battled over the Chronal Egg?
And there’s George’s homage to the canceled ’80s JLA/Avengers project. Downstairs, Batman and Iron Man (and by the way, I’m digging how George is putting Tony in different-era armors each time things change) are trying to figure out who’s behind the dimensional super-villain crossings when they hear a commotion upstairs. Cap and Supes are screaming at each other, with Green Arrow and Hawkeye looking on and wondering why they can’t all just get along. It’s a funny how the interaction between the characters sort of tells a mini-story, from loathing to a friendly rivalry to friendship. But Steve and Clark are done talking, and are about to trade blows. Wow, Cap is sure swinging above his weight. I don’t care what he says about being able to do this all day; one punch from Supes and Super-Soldier becomes Super-Patient at Mount Sinai. Moments before we find out just how much Supes hates Cap, everything shatters and goes white.
And a pair of watchful eyes spot the Vision awakening in the snow-covered ruins of a building, and then taking to the skies and coming across Aquaman dragging himself onto a pier. Vision tries to be calm, but Arthur takes a cheap shot at him to the synthezoid’s face. Fortunately, it seems Vision is used to this sort of thing and Aquaman’s hand passes harmlessly through his de-solidified skull. Arthur stares at his hands and wonders if he should have two, and for those who don’t know, this references the era when he had the utterly awesome hook. Aquaman calms down, listens to reason, and the pair head off in search of answers and survivors. Vision can hear people in the surrounding buildings and they come across the globe from the top of the Daily Planet building laying in ruins in the street, and then Vision shows there’s no hard feelings when he senses an impending attack and makes himself diamond hard as he steps in front of Arthur to deflect incoming shrapnel. It turns out said shrapnel came from, well, Shrapnel, a little-used but way cool DC villain. He’s also running with a host of DC B-listers.
The heroes are outnumbered but that doesn’t stop them from wading into the bad guys. As tough as our heroes are, they’re outnumbered; Poison Ivy pins Aquaman to set him up for a Shrapnel shredding, while Vision is caught in a three-way sonic blast from Silver Swan, Silver Banshee and, um, Tuning Fork Gun Guy. Fortunately, our heroes are saved by Thor, Wonder Woman, Iron Man, Captain America, and Hal Jordan. Damn, no love for John Stewart in this story? Wouldn’t it have been great to see Cap turn to him and ask, “Just how many Green Lanterns are there, anyway?” A missed opportunity there.
Wonder Woman uses her lasso on Tuning Fork Gun Guy (turns out his name is Sonar, which should make the top ten lamest villain names), but he won’t give up the goods. Cap tells Iron Man to keep his sensors “deployed” because he doesn’t trust the Leaguers. I’d understand that if he had seen Aquaman taking a wild swing at Vision, but here it just sounds petty. Thor says his mighty hammer Meow-Meow can sense the villain’s master’s energies, and as the gang heads out, Vision wonders if something similar is happening elsewhere.
Elsewhere, fires are raging all across NYC in stark contrast to the snowy wasteland of Metropolis. Batman, Goliath (Hank Pym, not Bill Foster. No love for Bill Foster? Oh, wait, he was never an Avenger. Again, no love for Bill Foster?), the Flash, Martian Manhunter, Superman, and Scarlet Witch attempt to save as many people as they can as the city burns all around them. Supes says the air pressure is wrong and the sunlight feels “greasy” and “acidic”. God damn, Kal-El, I get it, you don’t like Earth-Marvel. He snaps at Wasp, who was just trying to point out NYC is built atop bedrock so the quakes that caused this disaster was definitely unnatural, so could you pretty please join the rest of us mere mortals? Okay, I added that last part, but I really wish Janet had put Supes in his place. Then again, if I was facing off against a guy who can turn coal into diamonds by squeezing his palms together and can incinerate your brains with a glance I’d be really polite too.
Some of the survivors are from Qurac, and Batman realizes it’s not just superheroes crossing over to the wrong world; it’s happening to the little people too. Hank says heading to the epicenter of the quakes might lead them to the person responsible. It starts snowing and the citizens start freaking out, saying it brings “ghosts”. And ghosts seemingly do appear, in the form of phantoms begging for help, with some recognizing the Leaguers. Some of the flesh and blood people freak out because damn, after a whole day of impossible earthquakes, supernatural incursions are a bit much. J’onn tries to use his powers and finds himself back on Earth-DC with the other group of heroes. He reaches out mentally to the other gang to tell them he figured out everybody has to follow him, because the storms are coming faster and getting worse.
Flash finds a newspaper, which was a lot easier to do back then, and we’ve got ourselves another homage, specifically to how Superman and Spider-Man teamed up back in the ’70s to fight Lex Luthor and Doctor Octopus.
The two teams meet on opposite sides of the barrier, and Supes and Cap start in on each other, but Wonder Woman says they aren’t doing this again and Wasp backs her up. Both men check their testosterone levels, and they piece together the events from the end of issue #2, and how they had fought, Krona had lost the contest, and proved to be a sore loser.
Just then, the Earth erupts and a glowing head flies up into space. It’s Krona, and Supes thinks he knows what’s going on and Iron man follows at Cap’s command (and honestly, it feels so weird how Stark is portrayed as, well, not as important as Cap. At least Batman was written on par with Superman, but Cap is elevated above the rest of the Avengers. Well, wait, come to think of it, Janet seems almost on par with Cap, which I have no problem with. But Iron Man? Tony hasn’t even taken off his helmet; for all we know in some scenes James Rhodes was wearing the armor). Supes says the merging effect is happening worldwide, and Stark sciences that since both Earths aren’t the same size or density, that’s why things are randomly combining. The pair reach orbit and figure out this is how their brains are trying to process what’s going on.
Iron Man reports on this to Scarlet Witch, who decides to attempt some chaos magic. She opens things up a tiny bit and Hal Jordan heroes up, supporting her with a ring blast. Both teams lend their will to the task, and honestly they all look a little constipated, or in some cases with the men it looks like somebody has their nuts in a vice. Their efforts work and Krona fails to squeeze two Earths into one Earth can. The teams are shunted back to their respective Earths, and the Justice League rings Avengers Mansion for a little confab. Calls are sent out to reservists from both teams and they note how eras are mixed up, such as Hawkgirl and Firestorm being from different time periods, but working side by side. Stark—and hey, we finally get to see his face—notes even they aren’t immune; Wonder Woman changed and none of the Leaguers noticed. Hey, maybe they did and the guys didn’t know if they should mention it or not. I mean, when you tell a woman her hair looks nice are you implying her hair didn’t look nice before?
Flash points out the effect is starting to happen across the universe, and it’s only a matter of time before it hits them again. The gang figures the best way to get answers and solutions is to find the Grandmaster. A trip to the Savage Land is in order, and Hal Jordan says if they can track him then he could open a portal. But someone shows up to suggest they don’t have time for that.
It’s DC’s answer to Uatu The Watcher, the Phantom Stranger! I’ve been a huge fan of the character since the epic Books of Magic four issue series, but Aquaman’s not a fan and he snaps at the Stranger, with Thor backing him up. Superman vouches for the Stranger, who opens up a doorway to a flight of stairs. Both teams follow and find themselves on a pathway that leads through a vortex running through the universe. Iron Man’s sensors are going haywire and Supes assures him that people with normal senses aren’t doing any better. Hal starts to lose it, getting metaphysical, but Barry, a man who keeps his feet on solid ground, brings him back to Earth, metaphorically speaking. The Stranger finally leads the teams to their destination: a door. And beyond the door is…
The Grandmaster looks like the physical manifestation of a long weekend in Vegas. He explains that his plan was to trap Krona between the two universes, figuring the man wouldn’t destroy either one if his fate was sealed along with it. But the heroes had to go mess it up with all their strong wills and remembering bits and pieces of how things were before. Now Krona is going to sacrifice both universes, using the knowledge he ripped from Galactus’ mind, and he’s willing to risk it all to learn what he wants to know. Grandmaster says the only way to win is to have a final face off with Krona, but before they do anything else, Superman and Captain America are finally [!] on the same page; they ask what was the “proper order”, and what were things really like before the two universes got hitched. The Grandmaster agrees that they’re wise to ask and he decides to show them.
What follows is an amazing montage of the histories of both teams, and while I was looking at these pages I was thinking of the Queen song “Was It All Worth It”, which was a song sung by a dying Freddie Mercury about his legacy. Leaguers and Avengers see horrible loss: Aquaman’s arm, Vision’s mind, Wanda’s children. The Flash sees himself die, Batman holds the corpse of Jason Todd in his arms, Superman sees his fall at the hands of Doomsday, Hank sees the infamous incident where he slapped Janet and dammit, I really do wish people would let it die. Roger Stern had Janet get her own back and Hank went through hell afterwards and… [deep breath] The point is, people remember the slap, but not the fact that Hank Pym was mentally ill and no one—not his wife, not his friends—recognized it until he snapped. People remember the slap, but not why the slap happened. I’m not justifying violence against women here, I’m just saying mental illness can have many victims.
Okay, where were we before my tangent? Oh, yeah. Tony Stark sees his becoming Kang the Conquerer’s pawn and getting replaced by a teenage version of himself. God damn, was that a dark time in the Iron Man franchise or what? What the hell were they thinking when… Whoops, almost slipped into Tangentville again. Teenage Tony is for another time, preferably when I’m drunk as hell. Hal sees himself go nuts and become Parallax, and in the end the Grandmaster dies, using the last of his energy to show the teams what they have to look forward to if they return. The groups ponder the horrors they’ve seen, and the fate that awaits some of them. Wanda is near hysterical with the knowledge of what going back to the status quo will cost her, but Hal says they can’t play god. Cap and Supes regard one another, and then both teams are agreed. And as they prepare to take on a god, Metron looks on with interest.
Book three is a big departure from the prior installments, in that it’s a lot more character driven and metaphysical. And that’s not a knock. I greatly enjoyed the interactions here, and how George and Kurt had fun with all the dimension hopping and reality twisting. If I have any nit to pick, it’s in how Superman’s character is taken out to the back alley and mugged. It’s gotten pretty old at this point, and it was nice to finally see that maybe his bad attitude has been put to bed.
Kurt and George show they have a great love of the history of these two franchises and are also well-versed in the lore of the various characters. There are nice little Easter eggs in some of the panels, like Batman seeing the Giffen/DeMatteis era of the Justice League and wondering if that was really a thing. Yes, I sometimes wonder that too. And I appreciate how they didn’t shy away from the less popular eras, such as the Teen Tony phase (which has pretty much been wiped from existence. Thank God). Maybe it was a message from the two creators that as fans we have to take the good with the bad? That every comic series has their highs and lows, and every character has low points to counterpoint the high? Who knows? But join us next week when we look at the final chapter of this once in a lifetime story.