From A Library: The Perhapanauts

Monday, 3 August 2015

The Perhapanauts by Mike Wieringo The Perhapanauts: First Blood (The Perhapanauts #1–4) and The Perhapanauts: Second Chances (The Perhapanauts: Second Chances #1–4)
Written and co-created by Todd Dezago
Art and co-created by Craig Rousseau

I love this idea: a Bigfoot, a ghost, a psychic, a chupacabra (literally ‘goat-sucker’, an animal rumoured to exist in the Americas that gets its name from what it supposedly does), plus a bloke who is a bit of a mystery, are agents of BEDLAM (Bureau of Extra Dimensional Liabilities and Management), an organisation that tries to control paranormal problems (the unknown, the unexplained, the freaky stuff, the creepy stuff) where the fabric of reality is thin and other dimensions can make incursions. This is a solid concept that allows for a huge range of stories, and the creative team runs with it, providing a lot of enjoyable entertainment.

The Perhapanauts by Art AdamsThe team is led by the psychic, Arisa; Molly is the ghost, Big is Bigfoot (who has been made smarter and stronger by an evolve-ray) and Choopie the chupacabra (also treated with an evolve-ray but it wasn’t as successful as with Big); the mystery man is MG. The characters are introduced in a clever manner in the first issue of the first trade paperback by a janitor (who isn’t all that he seems …), where they meet a foe in the form of a chimaera. Enjoyable though the first four-issue story is, I found the plotting to be odd – it seems haphazard instead of progressing logically, pulling story elements out of nowhere and rushing through the narrative at a detriment to the story. For example, the chimaera is dealt with using ‘cement-eating slugs’ that are placed 35.6 years back in time using a time machine; there is also the use of a dimensional gate to defeat the chimaera later on. It seemed a bit random to me, although I did enjoy the book over all, with an interesting cast of characters, and back-up strips that introduce some back story and the Mothman.

The second trade carries on directly from the first book (in a Hellboy ‘series of mini-series that are really an ongoing series’ fashion) with Arisa requiring a hospital and BEDLAM in trouble due to voracious aliens that have come through the dimensional gate. MG tries to save Arisa while Big, Molly and Choopie try to save BEDLAM, with Big meeting his future self (as well as future selves of other members of the team). With all this action in the first issue of the second trade, the next issue is devoted to the characters, before dealing a little grey alien, and Karl the Mothman travelling back in time with the group (travelling through The Perhaps, hence the name of the book). These stories are fun but the pace seems uneven, much like the random plotting of the first book.

The Perhapanauts by Walt SimonsonPart of the enjoyment of a comic book (and a book like this) is in the artwork and Rousseau does really good work – he does lovely character work on the individual members of the team and drawing dynamic action scenes, and his style perfectly fits the nature of the stories that they are trying to tell. The only issue I had was that his outlines seem strange, somehow pale and weaker compared with the line work on the covers, which have a much stronger, more confident line that seems more suitable to the characters and the atmosphere the book is trying to achieve. This is probably just me and my tastes in art; it’s not helped by the pin-up and introduction by the late (and sorely missed) Mike Wieringo – as a big fan of Ringo’s art, I wanted his version of the Perhapanauts, something than can unfortunately never happen.

Despite my slight artistic reservations, this is a fun title and I’ll be looking out for the collections of the Image comics (these first two mini-series were published by Dark Horse) and I should point out that Todd and Craig have a Kickstarter going for a Perhapanauts 54-page hardback graphic novel, which started in May 2015. I hope they reach their target.

Notes On A Film: Ant-Man

Friday, 31 July 2015

Ant-Man movie poster
If you are even slightly pop-culture literate, you’ll know that Ant-Man was going to be directed by Edgar Wright, from a script by him and Joe Cornish; it was a project that Wright had been developing for several years, only to leave at almost the last minute due to ‘creative differences’, to be replaced by the less stylistic Peyton Reed, and with a script polish by star Paul Rudd and Adam McKay (who has written and directed many funny films with Will Ferrell). The question of ‘What if Edgar Wright had directed Ant-Man?’ hovers over the film – like a winged ant, perhaps? – but it doesn’t detract from the solidly entertaining product that has been made in his absence (he and Cornish still get a writing credit, suggesting the bulk of the film was based on their original script).

The most impressive aspect of this film is that it demonstrates the ability of the Marvel studio to consistently create entertaining films starring properties from the comic books that jump between genres and provide a satisfying movie. Ant-Man has never been a successful character – despite being one of the original Marvel heroes from the 1960’s Kirby-and-Lee explosion (there’s a nice nod towards Ant-Man’s original book, Tales To Astonish, incorporated into dialogue early on in the film) and one of the original Avengers, Ant-Man never had his own series, and his main attribute (Hank Pym created Ultron) has been passed off to Tony Stark in the MCU (thankfully, the MCU has ignored the other main attribute, the spousal abuse, because that would have been terrible and it’s not something the comic books should continue with). These factors mean that the cinematic Ant-Man has a clean slate, but it also means that there is no (urgh) franchise awareness, beyond that of Marvel studios itself.

The success of this film is that it does what other successful Marvel films have done: take an established film genre and put a superhero twist on it. Captan America: Winter Soldier was a conspiracy thriller; Guardians of the Galaxy was a space opera; Ant-Man is a heist caper. After a brief flashback to 1989, when an airbrushed Michael Douglas (as Hank Pym) quits SHIELD (cameos for Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter and John Slattery as Howard Stark) because of the misappropriation of his Pym particles, the story returns to the present. Scott Lang (Rudd) is released from prison for his burglary (not theft – he didn’t use force) of money from corporations and giving it back to the people the corporations stole from. He can’t get a permanent job because of his prison record, and he needs a regular income so that he can pay alimony to his ex-wife so he can see his daughter Cassie on a regular basis again. Therefore, he turns to his former cellmate, Luis (an hilarious turn from Michael Peña, who steals scenes with his fast-talking shtick, particularly where he’s relating a story and the camera flashes to a montage of the events, with all the other characters in the montages speaking in the same voice-over as Peña provides), who has a tip for a simple breaking and entering job.

Meanwhile, Pym has been invited to his company’s headquarters, where his former protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), announces that he has discovered Pym’s old research and successfully recreated the shrinking formula, which he will sell in the form of a suit, the Yellowjacket, to the highest bidder who wants a tiny army. His daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), still works at the company – despite a rift between her and her father due to the death of her mother (the real story for which isn’t revealed until later in the film), she knows that Pym particles in the hands of a dangerous man will be catastrophic, and is trying to help her father. Hank wants to steal the formula and destroy the Yellowjacket – what he needs is a certain kind of thief …

Promotional image from Ant-Man
What follows is a fun initiation into a crazy world, as Lang steals the suit (because Pym wanted him to), then Pym and Hope train him to fight as the Ant-Man, learn to use the size-changing powers he’ll need, control the ants as his helpers, and discover the hero within by infiltrating the heavily guarded corporate headquarters and stopping Cross. The shrinking scenes might have been more dazzling in the hands of Wright, but Reed does a good job of making them visually entertaining – having the ability to shrink and revert in an instant is a dynamic visual, used for wonder at the small scale and for laughs at the reversion. Rudd is perfect as the everyman trying to do his best for his daughter, with some lines that sound so Rudd-like, you can’t imagine anyone else saying them (it helps being a co-writer). With McKay on board, the film is very funny – I’m sure it was funny in Wright and Cornish’s script, but I think McKay’s time on Saturday Night Live and with Ferrell are responsible for a lot of the big laughs. There is emotional content as well, with the parallels between fathers and daughters.

The casting, another area Marvel excels in, is perfect across the board – Douglas is in fine form as Pym, spouting scientific gobbledegook one minute and one-liners the next, and seems to be having a grand time in the role; Lilly is good as his daughter who can take care of herself; even Abby Ryder Fortson as Cassie is a delight. Stoll is suitably threatening as the use-and-dispose villain (another part of the Marvel approach), but proceedings are softened by Rudd’s grounded charm and Peña’s scene stealing. Add to this the connections to the Marvel universe (a cameo from a new Avenger that I’m guessing wasn’t part of Wright and Cornish’s script), a mention of the Avengers’ destructive antics, the obligatory Stan Lee appearance, a throwaway line about a ‘guy who can climb on walls’, and two scenes after the film has ended, one a coda to the movie (with Hope saying, ‘About damn time’) and the other a teaser for the next Marvel movie, and you have another polished package from the studio that can’t do wrong at the moment. Fun, funny, entertaining, exciting, occasionally dramatic, visually spectacular – when a finale involves a cut between the shrinking world and the real world where the size doesn’t have the impact you think it would, and you laugh out loud at the sight of a massive Thomas the Tank Engine, you know you’ve been Marvelled.

Rating: DAVE

[Explanation of my updated film rating system]

From A Library – Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter

Monday, 27 July 2015

The Hunter adapted by Darwyn Cooke
Adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke

I haven’t read the original novel but I have seen the film adaptations (Point Blank, Payback), so I can’t verify the authenticity of the job that Darwyn Cooke does of adapting Parker into graphic novel format (apart from reading the plot synopsis on Wikipedia, but that doesn’t really count). However, even I can tell the apparent authenticity of the feeling, the atmosphere, the respect for the source material that Cooke infuses this story with that make for a perfect adaptation to the comic book page.

Cooke’s art is exactly how I imagine the style for this book set in New York and Chicago in 1962 – his art style has that noirish vibe but with a cartoony edge that bridges the novel and the films (his pencils seemed similarly appropriate, although with a little cleaner and clean-cut edge to it, in the pages of The New Frontier, about DC superheroes in the Silver Age), where period detail looks genuine, people dress in suits and don’t look out of place, cars are big and streets are mean.

The story starts with some fine visual storytelling: 12 pages of dialogue-free, narrative-free panels that introduce the reader to our protagonist, Parker. It’s a masterclass in the art of portraying story in the comic book form, providing the reader with the setting and the character without words. This could have been a one-off, a bit of pizzazz that can’t be maintained, but the high quality of sequential narrative is there throughout the book, which is an impressive achievement.

If you’ve seen the films, you know the basic story: Parker is out for revenge after the successful heist he organised led to betrayal and he was left for dead; now, Parker is going through his connections to find the man who betrayed him, a man who is now under the protection of the Outfit (a nationwide organised crime syndicate) after he bought his way in with the money from the heist. And Parker isn’t taking any prisoners … I presume that this adaptation is true to the novel because it provides much more detail and information than the films, which have to eliminate the flavour in order to stick to the plot. Whereas John Boorman went for an almost hallucinatory visual style and Brian Helgeland (or rather the replacement with the rewritten script and a voice-over narration) had a more comedic feel, this feels like how it must have been when people first read the Donald Westlake novel (under the Richard Stark pseudonym) – a raw experience of a genuine career criminal who is very professional and doesn’t care about anybody. Parker is not a nice guy, and you don’t feel much empathy for him past the fact that he was double-crossed and left for dead. The gritty details from the novel have been transferred to this book, making for a more satisfactory realisation of the original story.

The pages make it apparent that this was a labour of love for Cooke – you can tell how much he enjoyed the novels and wants to do the best job possible, to do justice to the material and the author. It’s a fantastic job, even if you can’t enjoy the attitude towards women in the book, which is representative of the genre and the time the story is set, and the fact that various innocent women die in the book. It’s a brutal story – death is a violent and horrific event, even in Cooke’s animation style – a pure revenge quest for a vessel of single-minded wrath in the persona of the cool-headed Parker; however, it is clear to see why the character had such an appeal and why there were so many more Parker stories (Westlake wrote 23 more novels) and why filmmakers were so keen to adapt it to the silver screen. This is a great graphic novel, and I’m looking forward to reading the next instalments in the Cooke adaptations.

From A Library – Resident Alien: Welcome To Earth!

Friday, 24 July 2015

Resident Alien: Welcome To Earth!
Resident Alien #0–3
Written by Peter Hogan
Art/Colour/Letters by Steve Parkhouse

Dr Harry Vanderspeigle lives outside the small mountain town of Patience, USA. He’s a semi-retired doctor who keeps to himself, until the local police ask him to help in an investigation – the only doctor in town has been murdered, and he’s the only other doctor in the area. The only problem is that Harry is an extraterrestrial who crash-landed on Earth three years ago; he has blended into the community while he waits to be rescued, deliberately staying out of local affairs and trying not to get involved with the rest of the world.

My immediate response to this comic book was: ‘This is a great idea – why has nobody else done it before?’ The simplicity of the central premise belies the thinking behind it because it has a fish-out-of-water aspect, it has a great set-up for a murder mystery with added genre overtones to make it distinctive, it has a character forced to do good and interact with society against his will, it has the dimension of the dual nature of the alien in the United States, as well as the character interactions of our protagonist with the people he is now forced to deal with against the requisites of his mission. The scope for more stories is great, and it’s great to see that Dark Horse is allowing Hogan and Parkhouse to do more mini-series.

Harry is an interesting central character: he can ‘read’ human beings, which helps him in his chosen profession as a physician so he can diagnose more accurately and more easily, which means that he doesn’t have to interact with patients repeatedly because he cures them the first time. This ability is obviously helpful investigating the murder and provides the genre dimension that elevates this from a simple whodunit. His mental powers mean that nearly all people can’t see him for who he is – they see him as a human, although the art shows him as a pointy-eared, black-eyed purple alien – with the possible exception of the night nurse, whose father is a shaman who suggests that Harry might be ‘a visitor to our world’.

Harry is also a decent person – Hogan writes in the introduction that he wanted to have an alien as the good guy – and you care for him and his plight and you want him to be rescued. He is far away from home, he doesn’t know when he’ll return, he has a woman he loves waiting for him; he has been lonely, although he doesn’t know that he’s lonely, and he’s secretly fascinated by Earth and human beings, which is why he is drawn into their world. The resolution of the murder mystery isn’t a massive revelation that upends the status quo – it’s simply another part of existence on this planet – but that’s not the point of the story. It is a charming, small tale that draws you in, with the clear lines of Parkhouse depicting each of the characters in the book differently, with different body and face shapes to define the individual (something that a lot of comic book artists have difficulty with) but not as grotesque as the characters in The Bojeffries Saga, his collaboration with Alan Moore (who provides a nice pull-quote on the front cover). Resident Alien is a wonderful example of the joys of comic books and the result of two creators demonstrating top-notch craftsmanship.

Writer Top Five: Peter Milligan

Monday, 20 July 2015

Continuing with the theme of my favourite works by a writer I enjoy: today is the turn of Peter Milligan. The man, the mystery, the enigma (deliberate reference – see later); Milligan is an unusual writer who revels in his unusualness and intelligence and literary passions. His website is called Ineluctable Modality, which comes from a quote from Ulysses by James Joyce, meaning approximately ‘A particular form of sensory perception or mode in which something is experienced or expressed that is inescapable or unable to be avoided’. If that doesn’t give you a sense of who Milligan is and what is writing is about, then you should read some of the stories I mention.

Milligan first came to prominence, like many British comic book writers, at 2000 AD – in the mid-1980s, he started to write Time Twisters (the traditional route for new writers) but soon found acclaim with his first ongoing strip, Bad Company, a sci-fi-set war comic with art by the late Brett Ewins; this led to other strips, such as Hewligan’s Haircut with Jamie Hewlett, and Bix Barton with Jim McCarthy, but he also wrote his first work for DC in 1989 – Skreemer, a six-issue mini-series with art by Ewins that was a mix of gangster films and Finnegan’s Wake. Despite not doing as well as it deserved, Milligan was given more work at DC, as well as continuing to work in the UK in 2000 AD, Revolver (the Rogan Gosh strip, later collected by DC) and Deadline (the Johnny Nemo strip).

His DC work included writing some Batman stories and a short run on Animal Man after Grant Morrison’s acclaimed run, but it was his reinvention of Shade, The Changing Man that would put Milligan in the firmament of British comic book writers who rose to fame in the 1990s. It was completely different from Steve Ditko’s original version and stood out for its weirdness, maturity, adult themes and singular voice. Perhaps due to this success, a publisher was found for Skin, the story of a young thalidomide skinhead in 1970s London, with art by long-time collaborator Brendan MacCarthy, a powerful and disturbing book that was to feature in Crisis but the publishers were afraid to print.

Shade, The Changing Man would become one of the books that started the Vertigo imprint at DC, and it is arguable that Milligan’s best work was done for Vertigo. Enigma, the eight-issue series with art by Duncan Fegredo, is a marvellous book about identity and sexuality; there was also The Extremist (art by Ted McKeever), Face (with Fegredo), Egypt (with Glyn Dillon), Girl (with Fegredo), The Eaters (with Dean Ormiston), The Minx (with Sean Phillips), The Human Target, and Vertigo Pop London (with Philip Bond).

However, during this time, he also wrote for Marvel, doing an X-Men mini-series (The Further Adventures of Cyclops and Jean Grey) and, even more bizarrely, launching an ongoing series for Elektra, with art by Mike Deodato Jr. This would lead to his best work at Marvel, taking over X-Force with issue 116 in 2001 and, with art by Mike Allred, completely changing the team and the concept to that of a satire of modern celebrity, eventually becoming X-Statix a year later. He would go on to write various mini-series there, including a Wolverine/Punisher story and a Dead Girl/Doctor Strange mini-series, as well as a three-year run on X-Men, before recommencing work with DC at the same time. He has mostly stayed there, doing various things (The Programme, Infinity Inc.) in addition to various Marvel mini-series (5 Ronin), with only Greek Street and a long and well-received run on Hellblazer sticking out in his resume. Recently, he was part of the DC Nu52 reboot, launching Justice League Dark (featuring the rebooted versions of Shade and John Constantine) and Red Lanterns, and subsequently taking over Stormwatch; in addition, he’s been working with Valiant on some of their titles (Shadowman, Eternal Warrior, Bloodshot), as well as a Doop mini-series at Marvel, keeping all his options open but keeping in the superhero camp instead of the interesting, absurdist, literary work for which he is known. This is the edited highlights – he has written many, many more comic books of different characters for different companies – so trying to pin down Milligan is hard, something I think he enjoys.

My five favourite Milligan works:

5. Hewligan’s Haircut
Hewligan cuts his hair because he is leaving a lunatic asylum, only for it to form an impossible hole in the middle that you can see from any angle. And so begins a surreal odyssey in which Milligan and Hewlett (before Tank Girl and Gorillaz) show off, have fun, and enjoy themselves in an entertaining fashion. It shows that Milligan has a sense of humour and that you can mix the silly with the literary in a comic book with great results.

4. X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl
It has Dead Girl in the title, but it’s basically a team-up with Doctor Strange, and Milligan is the perfect writer for Doctor Strange, so this was probably the only way he could get his hands on the character. A villain is bringing back Marvel characters from the dead so he can be revived himself, and only Doctor Strange and Dead Girl can stop him, in a lively (pardon the pun) story with nice pop art from Nick Dragotta.

3. Bad Company
This story was where I first discovered Milligan, back in 1986 in the pages of 2000 AD, so will always have a place in my heart. A future war story on the planet Ararat where humanity fights the alien Krool, it is about Danny Franks, a new soldier, who is saved by the misfit Bad Company led by Kano, and then joins them in their fight against the Krool, if he can survive … The story was about the craziness of war with a literary bent (Danny keeps a diary) and the violence and its effects on the people who fight them. A really great 2000 AD story.

2. Enigma
A marvellous examination of sex, love, death, superheroes, and lizards, with beautiful expressive art from Fegredo and powerful writing from Milligan in a story about Michael Smith, an ordinary bloke who has forgotten about his imaginary childhood friend, the Enigma, who used to have his own comic books, until a serial killer strikes near to home and Michael investigates, only to find the Enigma in the real world. The reality and character of this book linger long after reading, and it’s a moving story of two people finding each other. A great series from the Vertigo heyday.

1. Shade, The Changing Man
Was there ever a better distillation of Milligan than in the pages of Shade, The Changing Man? Admittedly, he had more time to explore interests in an ongoing series, but it’s a book that grips you from the start: Shade, a ‘madness agent’ from the planet Meta, has taken over the body of the psychopath at the moment of his execution in order to stop the American Scream, and has to use the help of Kathy George, the woman who lost her parents and boyfriend to the killer, to do it. And then it gets really weird … The plots aren’t the main thing about this book, and Milligan was more interested in the madness and the characters, and he had Chris Bachalo developing into a talented comic book artist to help him. There is some argument that it should have stopped at issue 50 instead of 75, but it was always interesting and different, and that’s something that’s hard to achieve.

From A Library: The Wizard’s Tale

Friday, 17 July 2015

The Wizard's Tale
Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by David T Wenzel

It was a delightful surprise to find in the library this IDW reprint of the graphic novel from 1995 (it was one of the first publications from the Homage imprint of Wildstorm comics) – it is a very fine packaging of the material in a format that does the story and art justice. Because The Wizard’s Tale is a wonderful book: an utterly charming fairy tale with beautiful, exquisite and equally charming art, full of colourful and distinct characters plus tiny background details that bring the story to life.

Once upon a time … there was an evil wizard called Bafflerog Rumplewhisker, descended from a long line of evil wizards. Except he can’t quite get the hang of being evil, no matter how hard he tries – he attempts a storm spell over the village overlooked by his evil castle, only to bring them a nice rain to help them with their drought, even producing a rainbow at the end. Because of this, Lord Grimthorne of the Darksome Council comes to visit Rumplewhisker Keep to demand that Bafflerog finds The Book of Worse, which was hidden by Grumpwort, the toad who lives in the keep and whom Bafflerog calls friend, even though the toad is supposed to be his prisoner. If Bafflerog doesn’t find the book, Grimthorne will destroy the castle. The Book of Worse contains all the spells of all the evil wizards and would have tipped the balance in the final battle between the wizards of light and dark, until stolen by a young wizard of the light called Basil, who spirited it away before the dark wizards could find it. He was then turned into Grumpwort, but he never told anyone this; until now, providing Bafflerog with more details to help him on his quest. Grumpwort does this because Bafflerog is different from the other dark wizards – Grumpwort and Bafflerog are genuinely friends – and so points him in the direction of the book ‘four realities downward’, into a realm more familiar to readers …

The Wizard's Tale
I think that it’s universally accepted that Busiek is a talented storyteller across many genres, so I don’t have to lavish praise on the story. The hyperbole should be pointed in the direction of Wenzel’s art – I had never seen it before (he’s well known for an adaptation of The Hobbit) but it’s fantastic. The charming style perfectly depicts the fairy tale milieu but it’s not just this element that makes his artwork so impressive: the attention to detail and level of charm he brings to each panel without ever losing the narrative flow that makes reading it such a pleasure. Pages are crammed with tiny characters spilling out of the panel borders, something that adds to the magical dimension of the story but also reflects the fleeing nature of the little creatures as they try to hide from view by escaping the frame of artwork so that they can’t be observed. The artwork is meticulous yet warm, magical yet believable, entrancing yet clear – it creates a synthesis with the story and words that makes them all better.

This is a lovely book: warm, inspiring, delightful, enchanting and a joy from start to finish, with a lovely atmosphere throughout. Highly recommended.

From A Library: JLA/Avengers

Monday, 13 July 2015

JLA/Avengers #1–4 by Kurt Busiek and George Perez

JLA/Avengers #1
My mainstream superhero obsession in my early years was the X-Men books, which meant that I grew up thinking that the Avengers and the Justice League of America were the uncool comic books of the previous generation. Therefore, I was never one of those fanboys for whom this was the ultimate comic book dream – a crossover between Marvel and DC’s big-hitter teams. Add to this (heresy alert), I’m not a fan of Perez’s art; I admire his talent but it doesn’t appeal to me. So I was pleasantly surprised to read this book and enjoy it.

Krona, an exiled Oan, is destroying universes in his quest for the ultimate truth. When he arrives in the Marvel universe, he meets the Grandmaster, an elder of the universe. A game is proposed to save universes. Cut to the DC universe: the JLA (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman in beard and partial armour, Plastic Man, Wally West Flash and Kyle Rayner Green Lantern) are taking down Terminus (with Hal Jordan Spectre on clean-up); in the Marvel universe, the Avengers (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Warbird, Wasp, Triathlon, She-Hulk, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Jack of Hearts, Vision, Yellowjacket) are fighting Starro. And these incidents are not isolated: Skrulls are attacking Thanagar; Lobo is attacking the Imperial Guard of the Shi’ar Empire; Flash uses Barry Allen’s treadmill to hop dimensions, losing contact with the Speed Force.

The JLA get a visit from the Watcher and the Grandmaster: a quest for 12 items, six from each universe, which must be assembled or ‘countless billions will die’. The team is split up in classic crossover style, sent to different parts of the Marvel universe (Latveria, Genosha, Manhattan), where they see a less wholesome Earth to the one they are used to. When they go to Monster Island to get the Ultimate Nullifier, the Avengers (now with Hawkeye) try to stop them; the JLA are unexpectedly returned to the DC universe, and Metron appears to the Avengers and tells them that they need to find the same items (from the Marvel universe: the Soul Gems, the Wand of Watoomb, the Casket of Ancient Winters, the Evil Eye, the Cosmic Cube; from the DC universe: the Medusa Mask, the Spear of Destiny, the Green Lantern Power Battery; the Orb of Ra, the Eternity Book, and the Bell/Wheel/Jar), and that the Avengers must obtain them before the JLA, unaware that they are watched by the Atom; Metron gives the Avengers a Mother Box, which they use to get to Metropolis. It is on.

Avengers/JLA #2
The next part is one of the best touches in this book: contrasting the two universes against each other by being viewed by teams from the other universes. The JLA are shocked by the realism (in their eyes, the horror) of the Marvel universe and the lack of help they think the Avengers have provided to their world. The Avengers are in turn amazed by cleanliness and the honoured treatment the DC universe gives its heroes (Quicksilver: ‘They have a museum devoted to a super-speedster. A museum!’). Tackling this as part of the story is a lovely way to see the differences between the two comic book publishers and the massive interconnected stories within, and it made me grin like a child. This carries into the meeting of the two teams, in a lovely double-page spread: the JLA floating on top, the Avengers grounded on the surface, i.e. the gods versus the mortals, with Hawkeye typically getting the best line: ‘Those losers – they’re nothing but a bunch of Squadron Supreme wanna-bes!’ Then Thor hits Superman with Mjolnir, and fanboys squee in delight.

The second issue is the fight between the teams, focusing on Captain America and Batman as they face each other – not a slugfest but testing each other out, sussing out their opponent, before Batman says, ‘It’s conceivable you could beat me, Avengers. But it would take a very long time.’, which is another in a line of choice moments – Busiek knows these characters well, having worked in both universes for a while (he was writing the Avengers at the time), and he knows to show these character moments amid the battles that are expected.

Many more heroes appear, may more locations are visited (Wakanda, Asgard, the Batcave, the JLA Watchtower, the Flash Museum, Paradise Island, the Blue Area of the Moon), even Apokolips – Darkseid has the Infinity Gauntlet but it doesn’t work in his reality, so he discards it – until the big rumble in the jungle (i.e. the Savage Land), with hero against hero, and Superman holding Mjolnir as Thor tries to hit him with it –the geek-out levels in this book are stratospheric – until Krona turns on the Grandmaster and Galactus and the universes dissolve …

JLA/Avengers #3
The third issues begins with the universes crossed – the shared history (JSA/Invaders crossovers), the JLA and Avengers are friends (except perhaps for the boisterous nature of the relationship between Hawkeye and Green Arrow). The only doubt in this scenario is found in Captain America and Superman – both characters are so strongly linked to their own universes that they can’t completely believe in this new reality, causing this shared universe to ripple to accommodate it. It is in these sections that Perez comes into his own – he is the crossover artist ne plus ultra, drawing hyper-detailed panels full of as many heroes and Easter eggs as can be humanly packed and rendered, but here he has a blast drawing the different members of the JLA and the Avengers in different incarnations and different costumes, taking characters from various timelines in the different universes and combining them with amusing repercussions. The level of geekery on display is thoroughly charming, with quick highlights of the fake history of their battles achieving particular heights, until Captain America and Superman face off, causing things to unravel. This leads to a fantastic double-page spread of the JLA and the Avengers being shown the universes as they should be – a circular ceiling view looking up at various snapshots of their respective histories; it’s the sort of thing only Perez would attempt and nail perfectly. Now, they team up to restore their universes, even if the reality might be harsh …

The team-up is smart and emotional, and the fight against Krona is as spectacular and as epic as the situation dictates – there are heroes from both universes popping in and out as Krona keeps shifting the universe, with various villains brought into hold off the heroes, and noble sacrifices are made in the effort to defeat Krona. I may think Perez is an old-school superhero artist whose style doesn’t appeal to me but even I can see that he’s put in an astounding job here – the level of detail and effort and sheer all-encompassing nature of the work of showing all the many, many heroes in different eras of the same character is a sight to behold. Busiek does a great job of providing not only a suitably huge story for these two teams to justify this crossover, but also an amazing amount of history and geek knowledge used in service of a good story with character moments and humour. I found this a genuinely good story, despite my reservations, and worthy of being the most recent crossover between Marvel and DC.