for successful pandering
for actual creative effort
ďA Journey Into MysteryĒ
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: George Perez
Flashback: Two monstrously powerful beings of dubious morality pit two superhero teams against each other to track down a number of items of unimaginable power. The teams combat each other until they learn of the villainsí scheme and then put an end to it.
Flashback: A devourer of universes traverses the multiverse destroying alternate world after alternate world, forcing superheroes from different realities to team-up and work together to overcome this all-powerful threat.
Sound familiar? They should (or at least the second one should). The first was the fabled Avengers/Defenders War that was only recently released in trade paperback form for all those who didnít happen to be around in the early seventies when the original Marvel crossover special took place. Spanning two or three issues each of Avengers and Defenders (Avengers #117 was the only one I ever owned, but as a child I was blown away by the whole idea), each team beat the living crap out of each other in order to gather items like The Evil Eye. And if you donít recognize the description of Crisis on Infinite Earths then thereís no hope for you.
Essentially, what Iím getting at here is that in reviewing JLA/Avengers thereís a whole hornetís nest of problems both for the reviewer and for the work itself. As a responsible reviewer with some knowledge of the history of the medium, I feel like I have to mention things like the sheer simplicity of the story and the blatant thievery of plot elements from other works. I make note of the Evil Eye specifically, because it was one of the items sought after in the Avengers/Defenders War, specifically in that Avengers #117 I mentioned above. The casual destroying of alternate universes, in this case causing the ďdeathsĒ of Thundra and Arkon for Marvel and the Crime Syndicate for DC, isnít really shocking anymore, especially when we realize that none of this is probably going to matter to the rest of each respective publishersí continuity (I know, I know. Go ahead and make your jokes about Marvel and continuity. . . are you finished? Okay, back to the review). Hell, the Crime Syndicateís universe was one of the first to go in Crisis, too. Maybe this is nitpicking. I donít think so, but Iíve been wrong before. Busiekís work on Avengers Forever is a much more interesting story from start to finish.
And the art. Perez is one of those artists that a reviewer has to be very careful in critiquing as his fans are of the rabid sort who feel most any criticism is a challenge to their faith. Itís kind of like talking about religion with a fundamentalist Christian. But, really. If we look at other artists who are detail-obsessed (like Geof Darrow of Hard Boiled fame or Juan Jose Ryp, currently working on Robocop) we will see something that is missing from Perezís self-inked pages. And that something is structure.
In the frenzy to fit as much detail into the panels as humanly possible, almost every panel in the book is overworked to the point of sheer confusion. The two-page spread of the JLA fighting the giant Terminus is a mass of detail with apparently no thought given to how the eye is supposed to take in the scene. This is clearly because of the massive amounts of detail thrown onto the page. Granted, this is a lot of amazing work and the level of realism is well worth praising... but, it confuses the eye and dilutes the possible impact of the scene. It is almost impossible to take in the whole scene because thereís no real focus. This is a point of contention with Perez fans, I know. Iíve read the message-board threads. Iíve looked at the pages. Iím not just saying these things to attack George. Look at Crisis on Infinite Earths, for example. With other people inking his pencils, and maybe reigning in his copious detail-work, the pages are much more controlled and very organized. Thereís an obvious intention behind the page layouts that helps guide the reader to the important parts of the illustrations. This is how good art works. Read any book, or take any class on art appreciation and/or techniques of design, and youíll see the same lessons over and over again. Lessons pretty much abandoned by Perez lately.
What is done right in this project is very simple to see and make note of. Busiek and Perez have put together a very commercial work that hits a lot of points that fanboys have been waiting on for 20 years. This is the problem with trying to review this title. Taken seriously, this book is poorly written and extremely cluttered to look at. It fails pretty much across the board, mainly because of the limitations of the project itself (having only four issues, even with their extra length, is hardly enough time to afford more than cameos for most characters; nothing of consequence can occur to the characters; the teams have to fight each other for our delight, before finally realizing that they have been duped Ė which is perhaps the oldest crossover scenario of all time Ė I think it was even painted on cave walls; there have to be monumental fight scenes whose only purpose is to give chills to those with a fanboy mentality). However, it is a very well done piece of corporate masturbation that will surely please many people who were children when this project was announced and havenít really grown as readers since then, and younger readers who just donít know any better.
Maybe the most interesting thing about the project overall is the interesting contrasts between the two worlds. Am I the only reader to find the DC world bland, boring and artificial, while the Marvel world was creepy, dangerous, and realistic. Hawkeyeís comment about the JLA being Squadron Supreme wanna-beís was cute and might be the high point of the book for me. Lobo fighting the Imperial Guard was a cool panel. Green Lanternís ďgreat looking monstersĒ comment was nice. The JLAís introduction to the Marvel world was both silly and accurate at the same time, especially the reactions to Genosha. Batmanís breaking of protocol was another pretty stupid fanboy pandering moment, but Iím sure many people will think it was great, especially if they prefer cartoon detectives to murderous vigilantes. I guess thatís about all the good stuff. So it wasnít a complete write-off. But to be honest, I kind of felt like I might as well of been setting my money on fire for all the real grown-up satisfaction that I got out of reading the book.
Go on and buy it. You know youíre gonna anyway. Nothing I sayís gonna change that. Just donít start acting like itís the best thing youíve read in a while, because then Iíll know youíre just faking.
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