Reprints JLA/Avengers #1-4
Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by George Pérez
Not a hoax! Not a dream! The Justice League finally crosses the omniverse and meets Marvel’s Avengers. This was the dream project of comics creator George Pérez for decades. He was there in the 1980s when the first project started. It fell through due to the infamous Marvel EiC Jim Shooter’s interferences, but Pérez constantly made it known that he was drawing this comic if it ever came to pass. When Pérez entered into an exclusive contract with independent publisher CrossGen, he even carved out an exception if this comic was finalized. In 2003, it finally happened, and Pérez got his wish to draw EVERYONE in a single story that crossed companies. On May 6, 2022, Pérez passed away from complications of pancreatic cancer. He had announced he was terminal in 2021, and comic fans had entered a state of mourning. I want to look at his dream project and talk about his influence on my life as a kid, reading and exploring the scope of American comic books.
Krona, an exiled Oan and infamous villain of the Green Lantern Corps, crosses the Multiverse and crosses paths with The Grandmaster. They agree to play a game with the superhumans of their respective realities. If Krona wins, Grandmaster will take him to Galactus, who witnessed the universe’s birth. If Krona loses, he leaves the Marvel Universe and spares it from his wrath. Krona introduces an insidious wrinkle; the two must swap universes and use the heroes of the opposite reality. This means the Avengers must lose to save the Marvel Universe.
The Justice League of this era was the one present in Grant Morrison’s run. The roster comprises Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman. The Atom is also along for the ride. On the Marvel side, we have the Avengers as they were when Kurt Busiek was writing the title. Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, The Wasp, Yellowjacket, Quicksilver, The Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Hawkeye. But don’t think that’s where it stops, folks! Throughout the story, reality and time are bent so that we end up with every character who has ever been a member of either team. Pérez can even pay homage to the original crossover planned for the 1980s by having the groups of that era meet in the book’s second half.
Now, those of you looking for a deep, meaningful story with complex themes…well, that’s just not what this is. JLA/Avengers is a celebration of fun, silly, good-natured superhero comics. George Pérez and Kurt Busiek were given an entire toy box and allowed to play with all the action figures. This isn’t about character development; it’s about satisfying the fans’ curiosity about what would happen when these heroes interact. Something like this would never work on film or even animated. This is pure comics, only able to successfully exist as panels on a page. The sounds, the movement between panels, the sweeping musical score that plays in your head, those can’t be manifested in reality. They are at their peak in your mind.
If you are familiar with George Pérez, you won’t be surprised by the incredible layouts of these pages. I was genuinely amazed at the creative ways he could show us everyone and provide little moments between characters. Pérez’s work is rife with detail; it is on a level that I just cannot believe one person was able to achieve in such a short amount of time. Looking at some of these pages, I would imagine a single one would take months to get right, maybe even a year. However, Pérez was so skilled by this point in his career that it was effortless for him, pure love spilling on the pages from his pencils.
Some of the highlights for me were the JLA taking on classic Kirby beasts on Monster Island, perennial Superman failvillain Loophole being taken out by the Avengers, the JLA’s commentary on the hostile nature of the Marvel universe towards its heroes, the Avengers’ befuddlement at the near-religious worship of heroes in the DCU, the Flash running on the Cosmic Treadmill and walking into an attack on a mutant, Ben Grimm’s awesome cameo in the Batcave, Darkseid wielding the Infinity Gauntlet only to find it doesn’t work in his reality, and the new universe where both heroes have always existed side by side. Seeing Black Canary cozying up to Hawkeye while Green Arrow grumbles was a particularly amusing bit.
Pérez was someone who was in my life as a kid before I knew his name. I read issues of his Wonder Woman reboot that came in grocery store grab bags, I knew the New Teen Titans and their dynamic line-up, and when I learned what Crisis on Infinite Earths was and then actually got to read it, I was in complete awe. He was the son of working-class Puerto Rican parents, born in the Bronx, and fell in love with drawing at five. Modern comics would not be what they are without the decades of work this master of the craft put into them. Professionally he started out at Marvel and co-created Marvel’s first Puerto Rican superhero, The White Tiger. Throughout the 1970s, he drew everyone at Marvel, finding his breakout success on Steve Englehart’s run of The Avengers. The 1980s brought him to co-create the New Teen Titans with Marv Wolfman and penciling Justice League of America. All of that would lead to Crisis, a monumental achievement in comic art.
His specialty, in my opinion, was showcasing the scope and scale of adventures these heroes were capable of. Pérez also delivered intimate stories, as seen in his run on Wonder Woman, rebuilding the character with more significant ties to Greek mythology and allowing her to have greater human connections beyond a romance with Steve Trevor. He helped evolve Dick Grayson from chummy sidekick Robin into realizing Batman’s dream as Nightwing. Pérez helped destroy the DC Universe he grew up loving to make way for a new world, one familiar but also unusual & surprising. The world of comics could never forget Pérez. We thank him for the beauty we gave to us kids growing up dreaming of worlds better than those we were in, where heroes were real and evil could be defeated in 24 pages. His pain is gone, and he is at peace.