RETRO REVIEW: Avengers/JLA #4 (September 2003)

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Or – “From The First Crossover, To The Last…  At Least For Now.”

Last week, I put on my Retro Goggles to look at a giant-sized blast from the past in Superman Vs. The Amazing Spider-Man.  That first in-universe co-production led to more crossovers, including a proposed Justice League/Avengers crossover which went into production in 1981.  Before the book could see print, though, relations between the Big Two went sour for more than two decades, but fans (and co-creator George Pérez) never lost faith, and eventually the tides of fortune shifted into favor for a new crossover.  But was it worth the wait?  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review awaits!

AVENGERS/JLA #4
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Penciler: George Pérez
Inker: George Pérez
Colorist: Tom Smith
Letterer: Comicraft
Editor: Tom Brevoort/Mike Carlin/Dan Raspler/Steven Wacker
Publisher: Marvel Comics/DC Comics
Cover Price: $5.95
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $6.00

Previously, in Avengers/JLA and/or JLA/Avengers:  The Avengers/JLA crossover was initially scheduled to hit the stands in the spring of ’83, and many of us who knew about the project were super-psyched for another crossover of Marvel and DC universes.  Disputes between the editorial teams led to the scuttling of not only THIS book, but others as well, including a second X-Men/Teen Titans crossover.  Eventually, relations between the two companies warmed, with Mark Waid (the JLA writer) and Kurt Busiek (the Avengers writer) combining forces to do the crossover WITHIN THE REGULAR TITLES!  This, sadly, fell apart, and by the time an agreement was hammered out, Waid had left the JLA book.

As for the events that led to the characters meeting, the whole thing was instigated by Krona, renegade Guardian, still searching the universe for items of power, a search that led him to the Marvel Universe, and the lair of the Grandmaster.  The gruesome twosome which is blue-some gathers artifacts of mighty power from both universes, and created a merged reality where both teams have a long and storied history of team-ups (much like the JLA/JSA crossovers of yore) but both Superman and Captain America find themselves uncertain and uneasy with the new world.  The heroes discover that things are wrong, but not all the super-heroes believe that unmerging the realities is a better idea, especially given the tragic fates of Hal Jordan, Barry Allen and others in their separate worlds. As the two worlds continue to merge, disaster on a massive scale ensues, but the possible loss of his idyllic family life is more than the synthetic mind of the Vision can accept…

For everyone who likes to point to the Vision as the emotionless synthezoid, you might do well to remember that one of his very first appearances is called “Even An Android Can Cry.”  The heroes forge a plan to stop the merging of their universes (which is very similar, visually, to the merging of the universes in Crisis On Infinite Earths) no matter the cost…

This issue is a real showcase of characters, as Superman nominates Captain America for leadership, and even Batman agrees that the choice is the correct one.  The heroes set out to modify one of Aquaman’s Atlantean warships as their flagship, and their combined mind-power and determination make short work of what seemed a Herculean task.  But the questions still linger, with Hank Pym shocked at his breakdown and abuse of The Wasp, while The Flash and Green Lantern know that to save the world means the end of BOTH of their lives…

Busiek really pulls out all the stops in this issue, as each hero gets his or her moment, and no one falling between the cracks in terms of characterization.  As the heroes set off for Krona’s lair (built out of the remains of mighty Galactus himself), they realize the true scope of their task, with enemies appearing out of the woodwork, but things go well for the combined J.L.Avengers…  until the first time-wave hits.

The changing fortunes of time and space also change the players in the field, but (ingeniously) allows for the creative team to bring in more heroes.  The sight of Green Arrow and Hawkeye standing back to back, shooting down wave after wave of cannon fodder while snarking at one another is by itself worth the six buck cost of admission, but thanks to Captain America’s tactical skills and the telepathic titan known as the Martian Manhunter, the players continue to advance on Krona’s lair.  Still, it’s hard to tell the players without a scorecard…

Things get more complicated, though, when major players disappear, as the universe catches up with Hal Jordan, causing the veteran Lantern to disappear.  The heroes fight on, as Krona continues to shuffle the timestream for their worst villains, and things get dark when heroes begin to fall.  There’s a goose-bump inducing moment wherein Green Arrow picks up the quiver of the fallen Hawkeye, promising to make every one of his fellow archer’s weapons count, while Captain Marvel and Captain Mar-Vell fight side-by-side.  The heroes plan starts to come apart, as another key player disappears, leaving them without their Martian Manhunter mind-link.

There are fanboy moments galore, as The Ray and Quasar fight along, and I wish there had been more time for the Batman/Black Panther team-up, but the heroes’ progress is nonetheless slowed, and the universe may be running out of time…

Electric Superman!  WHOO!  The time-shifting is a really great narrative device, as it allows the creative team to bring in nearly everyone who was EVERY a member of either team for at least some sort of appearance (including The Yazz, for whom there is no excuse) and the sight of Aquaman using his telepathic powers over sea-life to freeze Attuma in his tracks is a wonderful repudiation of every ‘talks to fish’ joke ever.  Finally, the Man of Steel makes his way through the line of villains, but even his might can’t break the barrier around Krona’s fortress…

THERE it is.  I remember when this issue came out, and the cover image promising Superman in possession of the Marvel heroes greatest weapons, standing alone as the last line of defense, was one that I felt SURE the book couldn’t deliver.  I was, gleefully, wrong, and when the heroes face-down Krona, things get even more intense, as even Superman falls before his alien might.  ‘Course, that’s when The Flash and Hawkeye prove that the rumors of their demise were somewhat premature, taking Krona down with misdirection and a TNT arrow.  (Take THAT, trick-arrow haters!)  With Krona gone, the Flash (and all the time-tossed heroes and villains) disappear, leaving the heroes to the question of how to un-squish their worlds.  But, it should be noted, this is a comic book, and death has different implications in a comic book…

Two teams of heroes prepare to bug out, but not before their respective leaders (the same heroes who had the biggest problems interacting in previous issues, thanks to their strong ties to their home realities) give a mutual display of respect…

Ten years down the line, this book still has real power, and some of the most wonderful bits in comics history take place within its pages.  The cleverness of the conceit allowed the creators to use the unfinished 80s crossover as part of the merged universe, and the meta-questions about the dark events of the heroes’ lives ends up being key to the comletion of their task.  Most impressively, everybody gets their moment, from Ant-Man to Zatanna, and Busiek’s knack for getting right the core of each hero serves the story well.  Also serving well, the Pérez magic, showing dozens of heroes in battle and lovingly rendering even the likes of Sandman and Mystek in full heroic glory.  All in all, Avengers/JLA #4 is a fine capstone to a series that had a lot to live up to, and manages to fulfill the unarticulated promise of greatness that the nearly-mythical crossover gained over the course of 2 decades, earning 4.5 out of 5 stars overall.  Many comics don’t even manage to be worth the 30-day wait between issues, this one manages to be worth waiting Young Zack’s lifetime…  Can’t do much better than that.

Rating: ★★★★½

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