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JLA/Avengers #1

Posted: Friday, September 5, 2003
By: Ray Tate



Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artists: George Perez, Tom Smith(c)
Publisher: DC/Marvel

For about five years, there have been very few comic book events produced by the Big Two. Oh, DC and Marvel have both claimed otherwise. Usually these fibs involved gay dead cowboys or heroes inanely fighting ugly suits of armor. Needless to say, they failed to live up to the hype. In fact, they really failed to live up to the hype.

After years of abortive attempts, Kurt Busiek and George Perez have finally put together the dream team-up between The JLA and The Avengers. Ironically, both companies have generated less hype about this genuine event than say "Last Laugh" or the Epic title Trouble. JLA/Avengers gets one bullet just by existing. The rest of the ammunition it earns through the strong, solid storytelling ability of Kurt Busiek and the sure, appealing artwork of George Perez.

Marvel and DC heroes have teamed up before. In the case of Batman/Spider-Man the premise of the story was that these two heroes and their histories existed on the same earth. In the case of Fantastic Four/Superman the Marvel and DC earths existed in parallel universes as they did for Marvel vs. DC.

Mr. Busiek treats the first team-up between the Avengers and the JLA as if it were the first ever crossing between Marvel and DC. Batman has never battled for instance Captain America. Superman has never met the Hulk. The author does not do this simply to solely make the book more inviting to the book shopper who has never heard of the other team-ups. He treats the concept as an underlying premise to the story. From this premise, he motivates the characters, creates novel situations that distinguish the intercompany cross from other essays and gives this story a sense of importance.

Mr. Busiek suggests such a team-up is not easy. Whereas it was quite simple to adjust the pre-Crisis JLA/JSA transporter to beam the heroes to the other team's earth, getting to the Marvel universe requires some fun science fiction based upon classic DC teleportation techinques. Upon reaching the other heroes' earth, the teams find some differences that are a little hard to take. The overreaction between one of each member's roster furthermore helps facilitate the conflict and if carried through as a natural side-effect due to the swap gives an even stronger reason why this team-up is so infrequent and perhaps what's at stake.

Mr. Busiek finds his villainy or rather his amorality in two classic DC and Marvel figures. He does not succumb to the stupid hubris of creating his own monster because he knows full well that this creature would pale in comparison to most of the others that revered historical creators like Jack Kirby have imagined. Furthermore, by relying on these two classics, he sidesteps the issue of why now.

If an ugly empty suit of armor is that powerful, surely the heroes would have heard about it before it launched its fashion assault on earth. In the case of JLA/Avengers, the heroes are being royally played by characters who whenever they feel like it have a history of using others as chess pieces. Even the already leaked appearance of Starro the Conqueror becomes merely part of the surprise not the entirety, and how he gets to be misplaced in the Marvel universe becomes fathomed easily by observing the game being played.

Mr. Busiek knows his comic book history and for that which he does not know he's unafraid of consultation. As a result of knowledge and research, JLA/Avengers reads without a bump in the characterization unless that bump is intended, and he gets more out of this characterization than just smart, personal dialogue and foreshadowed behavior.

The characterization provides moments of intelligent plotting. For instance, Batman ever the ratiocinator and rarely written by Busiek leads the group to characteristically observe the other universe but under no circumstances act upon it. The sequences in which one hero fails to live up to Batman's direction leads to a humorous, smart and unbiased look at what would happen when that hero and a Marvel hero cross paths. Mr. Busiek does not have to worry about the continuity of each company's title. He simply has to worry about this adventure and whether or not it makes sense.

George Perez has rendered both teams before, and his rest away from the satellite and the mansion has not dulled his senses. Like Mr. Busiek, Mr. Perez rarely drew Batman, but I'm always pleased to see his Batman, and JLA/Avengers does not make me feel any different. His Wonder Woman he has ever so slightly altered, but for the better. She doesn't quite have such a long mane of hair, but his trademark curls for her are still there. Furthermore, he does not treat her as a newcomer. He imbues confidence to her stance that replaces her look of wide-eyed wonder. Perez's Superman is a potent figure, more powerful and noble than he has been, discounting elseworlds and animated series spin-offs, portrayed in years. Even Perez's Green Lantern whose suit still looks stupid appears as a larger than life hero beneath his pencils and inks. Despite being more a muscle and stature man, Perez makes Plas surprisingly pliable and surreal.

To my knowledge, this is the only time Mr. Perez has rendered an adult Wally West; he of course drew the teenaged Wally West for The New Teen Titans. In terms of the Flash, he is known for illustrating the Barry Allen Flash in numerous issues of Justice League of America and during the Crisis. The artistic schism he creates between the two similarly costumed characters is instantly noticeable. Wally's face is a little more angular than Barry's more squarer face, and here's something really important--Wally's face stays that way in every panel.

Every hero looks different from each other, but each individual character looks the same in each panel. Another case in point can be found on the first page by comparing the same pose of one female hero to that of Ms. Marvel. For Ms. Marvel, Perez elongates the face, creates a singular styled nose and constructs a specific bone structure. The female hero on the first page has chubbier cheeks, a few more wrinkles, another type of nose and chin. Her face in general is more rounder. More examples can be found throughout the visual.

If you think five bullets is a little gushing, consider this. While Geoff Johns and past writers such as Roger Stern and Roy Thomas have done superb work characterizing the Avengers, the only time the JLA sound like themselves after the Crisis is in the scant issues of Adventures of the DCU,Justice League Adventures and in Grant Morrison's JLA. Kurt Busiek characterizes them well. He hinted that he was capable of such characterization during their cameos in Power Company, and here is the promise fulfilled. Thanks to George Perez, the League and the Avengers, but that's not exactly a surprise, appear as themselves, and you never become confused by that appearance.



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