“Book Four: The Brave … and the Bold”
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: George Perez
Publishers: DC and Marvel
The cover is pretty clear; it’s all-out final combat, as a ragged and hairy-chested Superman wields Thor’s hammer and Cap’s shield against the worst threat on two worlds.
I won’t talk about the overload of cameos (all of them vitally necessary), or how George now eclipses his own past work (crowd scenes being nothing new to this premier artist of group books for the past three decades), at least as far as command of anatomy and detail.
I’m not going to get into who’s stronger, or worries over Wanda’s very fortunate DC-power-up. I’m not distracted by Thor’s inability to ‘go up to eleven’ against Clark. I will continue to wonder where Doctor Strange is among all the mystics and mages that gather on one of many fronts (is he out merely because he never was an Avenger? Some members of the Fantastic Four were once, and they’re not here either). But really, I’m here to praise one significant, wondrous key passage:
On pages ten and eleven, Perez and Busiek lead us through the JLA headquarters, as the various Avengers and JLA members prepare for battle, in a final moment of quiet after at last getting over being at odds with each other. It’s cinematic not in a sweeping, epic way, but in a cleverly comics-specific version of montage.
We begin with Vizh and Wanda observing the horror of the merging worlds, the cosmic event these greatest heroes of two worlds must stop. Then the “camera” pulls back to show Jan observing them. Hank speaks to her, but not offering the same sort of comfort the first couple finds in each other. Through a doorway, Barry Allen walks by. He’s bringing a coffee to Hal. As the two chat, we see Thor and Aquaman walking by on an upper level. Their walk takes them by Steve Rogers, also focused on the cosmic convergence through a window. Clark floats softly down to join him, and receives the loan of Steve’s famous shield.
Nothing much, just a page of walking and talking, but it’s one of the greatest things about the book, and the best indication I can think of Kurt’s mastery of dialogue and character. This sequence of very down-to-earth moments grounds the heroes as human, even as they prepare for life-and-death battle. Other fun moments include more interaction with the rival archers; mini-battles galore such as Black Canary against Screaming Mimi; Aquaman against Attuma, Orca and a horde of rival Atlanteans; Batman getting a helpful assist from his fellow stealth fighters; and a tricky, emotionally loaded bait and switch when two characters seem to meet an early demise.
Art-wise, the mad mix of timelines allows for the appearance of fan-favorite versions of each character. Not only do GL and Atom go through some major changes in split-second sequence, but we get to see nearly every costume Wasp has ever worn (most of them already old Perez designs). While Busiek excels at scripting both Wonder Woman and She-Hulk, Perez just doesn’t have the hang of Jen. She’s about as feminine as wrestler Chynna, which is a very unsubtle way of looking at Banner’s fun-loving relative.
Busiek also has Krona admit, under prompting from a dubious Metron, that he no longer really seeks knowledge, only domination and conquest. Which is a pretty major character flaw, to reveal your villain to be just an angry and vindictive boob. And then there’s the unlikely denouement that allows a TNT arrow to undo all Krona’s plans. But why quibble over the comic-book gears grinding away as is their job? This month, they delivered us a whole heaping helping of heroes, villains and time-lost moments. They all did what they do best, and some even stopped to reflect on it as they did.
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