Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: George Perez
Publisher: Marvel and DC
Plot: (oh, yeah, that'll work!)
After the Grandmaster's last stand bait-and-switch of last issue, our heroes of two worlds find themselves shifting through both realties and times. Only a few can sense the inherent wrongness of this forced amalgam, while the rest seem easy prey to the frequent space-time flickerings. Along the way, Perez draws every hero has ever existed in either continuity (save for maybe Captain Comet - nope, he's there too, on the back cover!), while Kurt restates his themes from the first issue. He believes Cap and Supes are especially attuned to the way things SHOULD be, and lets the rest lament the character cataclysms of the nineties.
This issue is the Faberge of all Easter eggs for the long-time superhero fan. Never has so much attention and detail been lavished on this most maligned of genres. It's a celebration, a reward and a vindication for those of us who have been reading since long before Crisis, yet another step taken by George Perez to make-up for the havoc he and Wolfman wrought with that continuity-smashing (if maddeningly comprehensive and gorgeous) debacle. The art is more detailed than Geoff Darrow. The story is more continuity-rich than one by Roy Thomas.
There's a compelling feeling of sadness and doom to the mood in this issue's merged reality, as all of our heroes from two worlds seem haunted by what has gone before. They're worried not just about what might be lost, but about what's already been lost, that many of them (thanks to the free-flowing continuity shifts) have briefly, gratefully forgotten for the duration of this story. There are echoes of Busiek's tragic war stories (those involving the Presence, Ultron and Kang) from his Avengers run here, as we get both worldwide devastation and cities full of needy ghosts.
It's even better to see Perez try on all these old costumes again, as his career spans the decades back to Marvel's second surge in the Bronze seventies. He's drawn all these folks before, in the runs that defined his early career, designing some of their different costumes along the way. We get every version of everybody this issue, and not just on the stunning, rococo and completely zany cover. Including barely-there heroes like Tomorrow Woman, Aztek, Vibe, Silver Sorceress and the Great Lakes Avengers!? (And don't even start about Zan and Jana to me; this cover is a thrown gauntlet to all the two-page spreads Jiminez has been offering to various Secret Files, which of course themselves were homages to Perez).
It seems that no one is actually manipulating Superman and Cap towards their aggressive stances, at least not directly. Rather, the changes wrought in their mutual worlds seems to have somehow set up a disturbance in their very beings, a sympathetic vibration that urges them to correct what they perceive as the problem. That's more interesting than the first scenario, and another improvement this issue is that Krona, always a one-note bore, has been relegated to a force of energy with no dialogue. A supremely evil and powerful force of energy, but at least mercifully silent.
Busiek hasn't invested Krona with the sort of weary and sophisticated resignation he employs for the Grandmaster, who has a majestic final scene this issue. Art-wise, this sequence takes us from an Escher-esque mind bender to, a few pages later, the superhero equivalent of a Baroque ceiling fresco. This latter stunning circular composition leads directly into a twelve panel two-page spread where each hero confronts a horrible truth about his or her future. Aquaman loses his hand, Hal goes crazy, Superman and Flash die, Wonder Woman sees her mother dead, Wanda sees her children re-absorbed by Master Pandemonium, and more. Here are the truest ever tests of their character, as they decide whether to save the new amalgamated world (where they remain relatively young and scar-free) or to work to undo the merger altogether and restore the old order.
Basically, it's the best ever JLA/JSA crossover, only with the Marvel heroes along to darken and deepen the ride. Clark may not have much use for 'em, but we fans have been dreaming of this meeting for many, many years.
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