Jan 6, 2020
JLA/Avengers #1 of 4 “A Journey into Mystery”
X-Men/Teen Titans was the first DC/Marvel crossover story I ever bought. The stories published during the ’70s came out before I was buying comics, and I suppose when reprints were available they looked a little to, uh, Silver Age for me to be interested in picking them up. No, I was too sophisticated, and too highbrow for that pedestrian fare. And the DC Versus Marvel stories released later felt a little too much like a gimmick for me to care. I mean, really, Wolverine beating Lobo? Storm defeating Wonder Woman? Yeah, right.
So really, for either company to grab my attention, any cross-promotional comic had to feel like an event, much like their early ’80s product had been. When I heard about the JLA/Avengers project, it reminded me of an earlier attempt that had been made a couple decades earlier, back when the story would be written by Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas and penciled by George Perez. George had finished 21 pages before editorial disputes shelved the project. From what I heard, the two teams would unite to fight Marvel’s Immortus or Kang and DC’s Lord of Time. If true, then right away I can see the problem, as they would have been pairing up a top-level Marvel bad guy with a second-string DC villain, so in retrospect maybe we were better off not seeing that come to fruition. That being said, I had the good fortune of seeing some of the original art on display at a convention years ago; Batman kicking Captain America in the face looked pretty wizard.
So here we were again, with DC and Marvel taking another shot at a crossover event starring their respective mega-teams. Me, I viewed the news with indifference… until I heard George Perez was onboard. I realized right away that getting Perez showed they were serious. And then I found out they had hired Kurt Busiek to write it, and that was all it took to hook me. For those who don’t know who Busiek is, Kurt is most famous for writing Astro City, an anthology series taking place in his own universe, containing some of the most enjoyable superhero stories I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. He had a respectable run on Avengers by this point, collaborating with Perez, so when I found out they were teaming up once more, well as Philip J. Fry once said…
Our story opens on the planet Polemachus, home of space barbarian Arkon. I don’t know much about him other than he appeared in an X-Men annual, and later on Cyclops used some of his dimension-spanning thunderbolts to get the X-Men to Asgard. Arkon has gotten out of a perfectly warm bed that he was sharing with a perfectly hot redhead named Thundra. Hmm, Wikipedia says Thundra is from a future Earth renamed “Femizonia”, which is ruled by women. If all the women looked like Thundra, I might not mind being ruled. Just sayin’. She’s described as an “anti-hero”, which is just an excuse for writers to use her as a good guy or bad guy depending on the story. In wrestling, she’d be a ‘tweener, changing alliances every week. She’s the Kevin Nash of comics. But you know, with women bits.
Arkon is getting dressed and isn’t looking forward to the upcoming coronation; he’d rather go out hunting than make speeches and tell people how awesome he is. Before he can slip away, however, he gets a call on his television-phone, and it’s his vizier telling him things are going crazy, and to check outside. Arkon and Thundra step onto the balcony to see a giant pair of red eyes starting down on the planet from space. A being assails their minds with questions, demanding answers, and the truth. Apparently, no one knows the right answers… and Polemachus is no more.
Cut to another universe occupying the same space, and the planet Qward, home of the Weapon Masters, best known as Green Lantern villains. They’ve been invaded by the Crime Syndicate, which is basically the evil version of the Justice League from a universe where only supervillains exist. They wreck Qward in what is pretty much what the Syndicate considers a holiday, but the festivities are cut short when a now familiar pair of glowing eyes stare down balefully upon the planet. Questions are asked, the right answers are not forthcoming, and Qward shares Polemachus’ fate. Hmm, maybe the eyes aren’t are asking the right question? And if you got that reference then you may be as big a nerd as I, and we may become fast friends.
We now come to Eternity, the living embodiment of the Marvel Universe itself, then zoom in on a young galaxy. This galaxy is being observed by the Grandmaster, one of the oldest beings known, and a guy who pretty much has an overglorified gambling addiction. Come to think of it, his brother the Collector is basically a hoarder. Grandmaster is viewing this young galaxy because he laid a bet with his brother about what it final “axial declination” would be. We’re seconds away from finding out when that same voice intrudes, pounding through the Grandmaster’s head. Only, instead of things getting worse—like a planet getting destroyed—the Grandmaster tells the owner of the voice that his probe isn’t getting any further. The Grandmaster (I keep wanting to type “Flash” after I type “Grandmaster”) wants to know who he is, and the disembodied eyes soon become an armored form: a blue skinned man with glowing eyes called… Krona.
Okay, now this is cool. We’ve got some legit cosmic high rollers here, and two dudes who are more or less on same level of badassery. We’re either seeing some hellish team-up, or there’s about to be a wager involved here. Color me intrigued.
My interest spikes when I turn the page to find…
And this is why you hire George Perez. It’s a month later, and DC’s Justice League is fighting the Marvel villain Terminus in Keystone City. Aquaman says they’ll lose the shopping center and after that the Keystone Medical Center, and the Martian Manhunter says there’s a mind inside the giant but he can’t read it. Batman’s been watching the mayhem and figures out the giant’s power is in its staff. So he has J’onn J’onnz link minds with everyone, and while Aquaman and Flash distract Terminus and Superman lets the thing nearly blast him into oblivion, Wonder Woman tries to restrain it while Plastic Man grabs its face shield. Plastic Man yanks the shield back, allowing J’onn to mind blast the huge freakin’ alien inside.
Terminus thinks Green Lantern Kyle Rayner is trying to take his staff, but he’s only added a tube at the end, one with a 180-degree angle. Terminus winds up blasting himself in the face and he’s down, but before the League can figure out what to do with him, the Spectre (the Hal Jordan version) shows up and tells his former teammates that Terminus not of this universe and he’s got it covered. Hal-Spectre and Terminus disappear, and Wonder Woman pragmatically points out they’ve got innocents to pull out of the rubble, and unlike Marvel, DC ain’t got a Damage Control. We now find ourselves on the Marvel Universe Earth.
It’s Marvel’s Avengers vs. the DC villain Starro, and so far it looks like the gang’s got some serious problems, what with our favorite starfish having taken over Quicksilver, She-Hulk, Yellowjacket, and Triathalon.
…Who? Oh, right. Triathalon was created during the Perez/Busiek run on Avengers, along with Silverclaw. Eh, sometimes you get a Vision, sometimes you get a Doctor Druid. There’s also Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and… Jack of Hearts? Really? Wow, this era had some really obscure heroes onboard. There’s also Warbird, formerly known as Ms. Marvel, now known as Captain Marvel. I have a lot to say about all of that, but this isn’t the time or place, so I’ll leave it at saying that “Warbird” is a damn stupid name, and I don’t understand how it wasn’t okay to call Carol Danvers “Ms. Marvel” then but it’s okay to call Kamala Khan “Ms. Marvel” now.
Thor, Iron Man and Jack of Hearts all attack the creature, while on the ground, the rest of the heroes are dealing with the possessed… Oh, Vision’s here, too. Damn, there are a lot of Avengers in this story. Things go from bad to worse when Thor gets facehugged by a mini-starfish, and Iron Man and Jack have no way to stop him. Warbird clocks Quicksilver and they get the mini-starfish off his face, and he tells them Starro’s name and how it wants to control everything. Vision has an idea and he puts a mini-starfish on a willing Wanda’s face, who transmits vast chaos magic up the network. Starro can’t handle a little disorder in its orderly mind, so it abandons its little starfishies and flees into space, which frees everyone. The Scarlet Witch says she sensed some of Starro’s thoughts and how confused it was, and it seems the creature it isn’t even from their universe. But before anyone can digest this, Vision says they’re getting a call from Quasar. Man, there sure are a whole lot of superheroes appearing in this comic. I really hope they don’t add more.
Back at Avengers Mansion, Quasar phones in on the Big Screen. He explains that he set up early warning detectors throughout known space, and he’s getting some pretty disturbing info; it turns out strange invaders are popping up all over the place, like over in the Shi’ar Empire.
Yes! It’s the Main Man, Lobo, and he’s wreaking havoc with the Imperial Guard. There are others here, but it’s hard to tell who’s who, because honestly, between DC and Marvel there are like three hundred different alien races and only a handful really stand out. Quasar says all these invaders are from the same universe, and by the way, he just happened to spot one showing up on Earth, and do they know anything about that? Wasp suggests Thor and Captain America explain it to Quasar while she and Iron Man do something else.
Back on Earth-DC, the Flash AKA Wally West, pre-Heroes in Crisis and pre-character assassination (and no, I’m not letting that go. You can let Tom King know how I feel if you want), is running at super mega-speed with a chunk of Terminus’ armor in his hands. He bursts through the dimensional barrier using the Terminus chunk as a kind of lodestone and finds he’s no longer in Keystone, but rather some sleepy little town. Before Wally can explore, there’s a scream, and it turns out a bunch of angry townsfolk are chasing down a mutant. Wally intervenes and tries to calm people down, but their blood is up and he gets the mutant to run away with Wally hot on his heels… or at least, that was the intention. Wally trips and says he can’t feel the Speed Force in this universe, which is the source of his power. Unfortunately, that’s when the angry mob descends upon him.
Cut to the Justice League Moonbase, and man I really do miss the Moonbase, which got trashed right before Infinite Crisis. Come to think of it, the Justice League loses bases about as often as the X-Men Mansion gets leveled. In retrospect, maybe superheroes need secret bases; you hardly ever see the Bat-Cave get blown up. (Infiltrated, sure.) The Leaguers are getting their own reports of alien invasions, with Skrulls attacking Thanagar and Mongul fighting the Brood. Flash is back because when his powers faded, his “vibrational rate returned to normal”. That there sounds like some sound Silver Age science to me. I approve. But before Wally can give a report, the gang gets a strange visitor.
J’onn can’t read this cat’s mind either, and tries greeting him on all wavelengths, while Aquaman decides maybe Mister Passive out there needs a face to face talking to. But before the King of Atlantis (was he still king at this point? Aquaman gets and loses that throne about as often as Professor X loses the use of his legs) can find the nearest airlock, Superman says they’ve got another visitor.
The Grandmaster makes his grand entrance, phasing through a wall. Green Lantern imprisons him in a cage construct, and J’onn finds out for the third time today he’s got himself a mind he can’t read, which annoys him to no end. I get it, J’onn; without your telepathy you’re kind of just a green Superman… who can be beat by a Bic lighter. Grandmaster introduces himself and allows Wonder Woman to wrap him up with her Lasso of Truth. He explains the barrier between two worlds has weakened and twelve items have to be gathered to set things right. The Leaguers recognize six of the twelve: the bell, the wheel and the jar (which count as one), the Spear of Destiny, the Book of Eternity, the Orb of Ra, the Medusa Mask, and Kyle’s lantern battery. The Grandmaster then bows out without telling the gang any more than this. The League is super-skeptical and decide they aren’t going to play this game, and instead decide they have to investigate this other Earth first. They call in the Atom (aw man, another hero? Okay, well, this better be the last one, darn it!), and since the Flash’s powers don’t work over there, he only acts as gatekeeper. He super-speeds around the gang and they disappear.
Cut back to Earth-Marvel, and dammit, Hawkeye just walked in! But I’m sure Kurt and George wouldn’t bring in any more heroes; why would they give themselves more work? Anyway, Iron Man is trying to pinpoint the source of the invaders, and their emergency buzzer has gone off. It turns out the Justice League has been detected. But the Leaguers aren’t being idle; they’re checking out this Earth.
And they find it’s kind of a shithole. Latveria, Genosha, Michigan… wait, Michigan? Okay, I suppose they’re talking about the ritual human sacrifices made to various fertility gods in the northern part of the mitten past Frankenmuth, but those are just seasonal slaughters. Most of the year, it’s a wonderful place to live. Oh, and it seems New York is a lousy place to live no matter which Earth you’re on. Batman keeps telling people to stick to the plan… until he sees the Punisher and then proceeds to kick his ass off-screen. I approve.
Plastic Man reads Bats the riot act and Bruce just stoically stands there, arms folded beneath his cape. I’m imagining he’s giving Plastic Man hidden twin middle fingers. Superman is pissed at what he sees; this world has heroes and they don’t seem to be able to stop any of the horrors they’ve witnessed. Still, he decides they have to keep their eyes on the prize and get the other six artifacts from this world. I was half expecting a classic case of them breaking up into pairs or something, but no, the team is super-paranoid and instead of splitting up the party they’re following the proper protocol of being in a game with a brutal dungeon master and sticking close together. They come to a tropical island which turns out to be inhabited by classic Marvel monsters like Fin Fang Foom, Giganto, and Tricephalous.
Wonder Woman orders Bats to do an end run around the monsters while the League handles them, and what we get is some way-cool fight sequences that few artists can deliver. It’s dynamic and colorful, and watching Plastic Man turn into a giant slingshot to fire Aquaman into a monster’s face is just awesome. Bats and Atom return with the widget they were searching for, and it turns out it’s… the Ultimate Nullifier! But before the gang can leave with their prize, they’re shot at by an arrow. The arrow’s special head sends the gang slingshotting back home and the Leaguers know they might have won round one, but they’ve got five more items to go on this wacky scavenger hunt.
Back on Earth-Marvel, Iron Man is surprised “the woman” grabbed the Nullifier so fast; he had hoped she would have been clear of his shot, which is weird because it was an arrow and Hawkeye is here. Was this a mistake between Perez and Busiek? It’s curious, but not enough to spoil my fun. Hawkeye notes those guys looked familiar, but before he can talk more about it, the Vision senses they’re being watched. It turns out their mysterious visitor is not of this Earth… or any Earth, truth be told.
Yes, the New God Metron is on hand, and he’s apparently the Grandmaster’s opposite number in this little drama. He tells the gang they have twelve items to retrieve and this time, the Avengers recognize the other six of them: the Ultimate Nullifier, the Wand of Watoomb, the Soul Gems (which is weird they’re calling them that, since all of this is taking place well after the three Infinity Guantlet/War/Crusade mini-series), the Cask of Ancient Winters, the Evil Eye, and the Cosmic Cube. Thor wants answers, and Metron’s not forthcoming, but to help the Avengers he gives them a strange box. Metron leaves and then said box starts pinging like a mother.
We find ourselves back on Earth-DC, specifically Metropolis, where a gang of thieves is taking advantage of Superman being out of town on Justice League business. I’m not sure how they know Supes is away; maybe one of them made disparaging comments about his mother and when he didn’t show up, that was proof enough? I can imagine they’ve got to draw straws for that duty. The crooks rob a bank and are ready to hit another, when suddenly…
…the Avengers arrive and make short work of the crooks, because even though they’re just visitors, a hero’s gotta do what a hero’s gotta do. The gang rubberneck like tourists, noting the city looks kind of New York-ish, but also futuristic as well. Hawkeye’s not impressed, and Cap warns them all to be cautious. And that’s when the fanboys swarm them. Hawkeye is about to give what could be the most unique autograph of all time for a Metropolisian, when Cap spoils things and says they need to roll out. Hawkeye wonders who “jammed that star up his stripes”. Harsh, Hawkeye.
The Avengers check out this world and find heroes here are idolized; Quicksilver even discovers the Flash has a museum in his honor. Hawkeye is certain there’s something familiar about these heroes, but Cap interrupts his thoughts by saying that this “Justice League” must be demanding adulation like “tin gods”. It’s a nice contrast to Superman’s views earlier. But before Cap can start speechifying…
Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a splash page. Hawkeye realizes these guys remind him of the Squadron Supreme and figures they’re being mind controlled, which is a joke I get because Marvel’s Squadron Supreme was totally inspired by the Justice League. And yeah, they got mind controlled. A lot. Superman talks trash to the Avengers and both Plastic Man and Green Lantern think he’s laying it on a bit thick. But he’s not the only one, as Cap responds by calling the League “fascist overlords”. Wow, I haven’t heard hyperbole that bad since the last time I checked Twitter. Scarlet Witch tries to talk Cap down, but then Thor decides there’s been enough talk.
Elsewhere, the Grandmaster and Metron watch Superman being planted into a building, though whether or not it’s one of the futuristic ones is hard to tell. The pair talk about the game they’re playing, and point out Krona isn’t going to abide by the rules. If he wins all will be well, but if he loses, Krona will just knock the board over and take what he wants. The Grandmaster agrees, but figures that setting up the game was the only way to slow the dude down, and in the end both universes might not survive what’s coming. Their only hope is that Krona won’t find out about the real game the Grandmaster is playing. The two talk as if no one can overhear, but as chapter one ends we discover they have an eavesdropper.
Book one delivers on every level. The colors pop, the art is stellar, and the writing is fantastic, delivering humor as well as tremendous excitement. Busiek handles the big cast pretty well and you truly do get a feel for just how huge the stakes are. On top of this, unlike the X-Men/Teen Titans team-up, you don’t feel as if one side is guest-starring in the other’s story; Metron and the Grandmaster are on par with one another and Kurt does a credible job showing each Earth through the other team’s eyes. Could Marvel’s heroes be doing more? Maybe, but it’s complicated. Do DC’s heroes get more praise than they deserve? Perhaps, if seen from an outsider who doesn’t know them. The first chapter of JLA/Avengers first chapter is a ringing success and makes me eager for chapter two. Stop by next week to see if part two tops part one.