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Trading Up: JLA/Avengers

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In the latest installment of our Trading Up feature Lee Newman looks at the recently-released JLA/Avengers trade paperback collection and discovers what happens when Titans really do clash...

There’s fan service and then there is FAN SERVICE. Five years ago, a unique thing happened. Marvel and DC came together. However, this time it wasn’t for a one-off crossover or an amalgam of their brands, but for a sprawling epic thrusting their marquee teams together.

JLA/Avengers is the kind of project that you would think could only happen if one company bought the other. This didn’t happen, so the fear is that it will just be lower case fan service and read like fan fiction of the worst order. Fortunately for the readers, the project was given to Kurt Busiek and George Perez - two veterans of both universes acclaimed for their work. A creative team that, unlike many of the event books today, had worked together on a lengthy run of one of the properties included in the title.

Working in a shop, I am bombarded on an almost daily basis with questions like "Who would win a fight between the Hulk and Superman?" I have formulated a surefire hit of an answer. It is honest yet diplomatic and has saved me from the rage of many a fan boy looking to prove their buddies wrong with the testimonial of the comic "expert".That answer is simple yet beautiful. I smile my slyest grin and say "well that depends on who writes the book." Busiek is wise enough to have the teams fight but not to try to declare a victor. The only way this could work is to have the teams manipulated into the fight. With Krona, Grandmaster and Metron playing a multiverse version of the Vegas odds, no matter which team wins, the reader and the Multiverse loses.

In the world of comics the Justice League and the Avengers always figure out when they are being played. Here it is no different. Even though the villains make it difficult with temporal shifts. Eventually, the two titanic rosters get together and of course, the outcome becomes a foregone conclusion.

Even with the eventual outcome so obvious the story can still work. That is because the journey is what is important in the metaheroic mythology. Here it works through attention to detail. Talking about these two megagroups, there is a long history of minute concerns to get correct.

Busiek handles this with grace and skill. He is no slouch in his comic history. He uses this knowledge to evoke classic stories of both teams. This gives the reader many moments to have geekgasms. Little genius touches like replacing the Justice Society of America with the Avengers in the classic Earth 1/Earth 2 crossover imagery are the kind of ideas that make this book such a pleasure to read.

The other thing that produces a successful event here is the characters. For the most part the portrayals here are spot on. One would assume the brash archers of each universe would butt heads. Meanwhile, Flash and Pietro (Quicksilver) try to out quick each other and wonder how the other’s powers work.

The only misstep in the whole book comes in the leaders of the two groups. Superman and Captain America hate each other on first sight. It is out of character for each, and the reader must assume that it is jealousy that causes their tensions to be so high. There is a certain amount of archetypal iconography with both characters, they stand for all that is good and American in their respective worlds. However, the reader has to speculate because Busiek provides no answers as to why they despise each other. It does make for a poignant moment later on, when one is picked to lead the combined team.

There is more to the story then just the plot, neat Easter eggs and great characterization. There are also keen insights into the nature of the two brands. The JLA wonders why the Marvel citizens fear their heroes. The darkness of the real world settings is frightening to them. In the same regard, their Marvel counterparts wonder at the hero worship in Metropolis. Of course, this leads to thoughts of maybe Superman and friends having just a little too much authority. There are compelling arguments for the different geographies in the two versions of Earth. Throughout the book, Busiek works hard to acknowledge the differences between the Big Two’s sandboxes.

Of course, Perez is the only choice for pencils. He is the "go to guy" for big team books. He did the mother of all event crossovers, Crisis on Infinite Earths. The former Avengers penciller is the perfect choice for such a gigantic cast. As usual, he fills the book with crisp action, dynamic layouts, and iconic design.

JLA/Avengers is geekgasmic. That is the only word to describe it. It is a long wanted crossover that is handled in a convincing manner by two of the industry’s brightest talents. It is the kind of story that makes you wonder if you really read it in a dream. Huh, I wonder if that is why these things are referred to as "Dream Projects"?

The JLA/Avengers trade paperback is available now from DC Comics/Marvel Comics priced $19.99

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