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Avengers/JLA #2
A Contest of Champions
writer: Kurt Busiek
artist: George Perez

For those who felt left in the heavy dust of comics continuity by the first issue, the first couple of pages should catch you up to speed. A flashback to the panels Busiek and Perez didn't show us previously firmly sets the rules of the game.

Exiled Guardian of the Universe (not to be confused with a Guardian of the Galaxy) Krona seeks to understand the origins of existence, regardless of the tricky little consequence that to do so means to destroy that very existence. Faced against a weird Marvel villain The Grandmaster, they make a wager. Two teams of heroes, one from both of their respective home universes, will race and combat each other for key artifacts. If The Grandmaster's team gathers more items, the Marvel Universe will be spared.

So now everybody knows why the two teams are fighting, though the jury is still out on exactly who of us among fandom is reading. Did anybody not know all this already, besides Goodson?

Worse, Busiek winks at us with the story title: "A Contest of Champions." Yeah, it sure seems like the same story as that bizarrely crappy little mini-series of the early '80's. Instead of international Marvel heroes, you get the JLA. Acknowledging the sameness doesn't somehow make it better.

However, this issue does pace better than the first one. Though a couple of battles still get short shrift, it seems hard to avoid with only four issues total. And yet, would fans really rather see the two teams contend against each other in the Flash Museum, when the alternative could be Apokolips? We must take Darkseid's word for it that they "…invaded (his) domain, bested (his) parademons, and abused (his) personal guards."

Despite that unevenness, the story feels less like a bunch of mindless battles and more like a tale moving forward with a purpose, even if that purpose may be to have another mindless battle. Batman and Captain America take themselves out of the game after a fight that really does have a point. They each measure the other, then let their cooler heads prevail.

But wasn't Captain America being subtly influenced by a sinister outside force to ensure the two teams would clash? Superman is definitely still under something's power, to the point that his teammates are noticing. The Last Son of Krypton turns out to be something of a bigot, calling the entire Marvel Earth "backward" for a very interesting difference: it's literally a smaller world. At last we understand how the DCU can have Metropolis, Gotham City and New York City when they're so clearly all the same place.

Busiek continues having fun with the differences between the two realities, and in those moments this book is at its best. Allow me to chew a little crow here, for previously only The Flash suffered from the different physical laws, and I complained that the Scarlet Witch should have some problems. She does, and in spades, but it's the opposite of Wally West's liability. DC magic is apparently much, much stronger than Marvel's, a strangely reasonable supposition. Though Wanda possesses more power on the world of the JLA, it just may kill her.

On the flip side, items such as the Infinity Gauntlet can do nothing if not in their home reality. Not that it matters, because The Grandmaster and Krona immediately take them away from their champions anyway.

Making it all spring to life, Perez gets a little more liberal with his composition, and it holds together pretty well. A few splitscreen pages are particularly effective. His hand for detail, too, helps cover up those battles we didn't get to see.

So it's better. And for those not all that familiar with the characters' backgrounds, this issue feels more like something they'd want to read. It should have started that way; let's hope it carries the feeling through to the end.


Derek McCaw

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