"A Contest of Champions"
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: George Perez
Pawns in the game between Krona and the Grandmaster, the heroes of two Earths search desperately for icons of power on both. While they skirmish, the more clever members begin to learn about each other, while the more emotional ones judge their foes harshly. Whether they win or lose, both universes are in deadly danger from the knowledge-mad Krona.
This is one awesome issue. The love lavished on story and art by Busiek and Perez is palpable and evident on every page. I can cope with the loss of Busiek's failed DC property, the Power Company, while reading this. I can forgive George for his involvement in the DC-damaging Crisis while scanning these gorgeous pages.
Busiek has always had a drawback to me as a writer, a willingness merely to reiterate the best of past eras rather than come up with something new. In his best work, however, he transcends his influences to reach a voice that is fully his own, and of our time. Astro City takes that nostalgia as its subject. The Avengers under his reign relived some of their classic battles on a grander scale than ever. Here, after fears of mere formula in the first issue, he deepens his look at both character and situation with his chosen players on every level.
There's fun to be had in the offhanded comments (especially from the competing archers). Kurt dreams up both surprising and expected match-offs for this volume. But he's stepped back a bit from the sense that the heroes are being manipulated to be less insightful and more battle-happy than usual. In fact, they figure out pretty much everything that's going on this issue, a refreshing move for the second issue of a mini-series.
And the contrast between the two worlds hits home even harder than last issue, on a variety of levels. Superman's disapproval of Marvel's relatively grubby (read, more flawed) Earth doesn't abate. Marvel's elite superteam is stunned by the power of their counterparts, as even their best (Thor, a "small god of a small world" in Superman's enraged eyes) falls before his foe.
Other good moments pit Diana against an incongruously cheerful Hercules, find She-Hulk battering on Aquaman, and have Red Tornado meeting up with the Vision, something I've been waiting for since about 1972. It's sad to see Captain Atom bested without a fight, though, and Martian Manhunter's intransigence is unlike that thoughtful hero.
More importantly, Wanda proves a powerhouse on either world, tapping into what I think is Arion's power source and paying the price for doing so. Zatanna, who knows what her sister Witch is doing but not how or why, finds a fascinating counterpart in Wanda. Pietro, meanwhile, still awed by the success and popularity of the DC speedsters, tries vainly to tap into the speed force. Kyle, however, is successful in powering up from the Cosmic Cube once his lantern is stolen.
Most important of all, the over-obvious set-up of the game for the power icons turns out to be just that: a set-up by the Grandmaster, well aware that Krona has no reason to play fair. Perez wonderfully portrays the final twist involving the gamesmen in the book's finale. His Krona is a brutish tyrant, while his Grandmaster is ever the wizened manipulator.
There's just too much to praise to single out details of Perez's art. Can it be said that he captures the best aspects of EVERY character? It must help that he's drawn them all before, but this is clearly the project, and the writing partner that fit him perfectly.
Will even Galactus fall to Krona's mad quest? At the end of this issue, I have no idea what to expect next, and that's the best place I could think of to be. Bravo!
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