JLA/Avengers Collector's Edition Hardcover
By Kurt Busiek and George Perez
Published by DC and Marvel Comics; $75.00 USD

I was starkly disappointed by the formulaic first issue of JLA/Avengers when it shipped last year, but good word of mouth on later issues had me interested in checking out the rest of the series. It seems to me like creators Kurt Busiek and George Perez started off on auto-pilot but got more passionate and interested in their story as they went along -- if I were feeling more charitable I might theorize that they were merely paying tribute to the Giant Calamities and Crises tropes of past projects like this, and that might even be true -- but the fact is that this is a superhero story that improves greatly as it goes along.

A lot of this is still Corporate Comics Crossover Paint-By-Numbers (especially that first, gather-the-items-of-power chapter), but the key entertainment of the series is to be found in the relationships that develop between the DC and Marvel heroes (and the accompanying dialogue, which finds genuine humour in the differences and similarities between them), and the super-detailed artwork of George Perez. His is a style that often threatens to overwhelm the story with its wild angles and energy and nearly fractal attention to detail; but the oversized pages and incredible production quality throughout make his art a true pleasure to see.

There are two volumes here in one slipcase, Volume One presenting the story in its entirety, the other, slimmer volume a DVD-style extras package that disappoints on a number of levels. Firstly, a planned new essay on the failure of the aborted iteration of this book from 20 years ago does not appear (likely for political reasons). What remains to document the original, failed version is 22 pages of Perez's artwork from two decades ago (some of it poor reproductions from photocopies), and reprints of house articles from Marvel and DC explaining what went wrong from the point of view of each company -- articles from 20 years ago.

Not that this is the most historically significant comic book ever -- or even the most historically significant superhero comic book ever -- but the originally solicited piece of comics journalism promised something with a bit more gravitas and credibility than the fluff pieces presented here.

Better are the included plots by Kurt Busiek that show the evolution of the series, material of interest to students of how corporate comics projects of this scope and scale come together. The supplement volume also includes awkwardly-presented introductions by Stan Lee and Julius Schwartz, both beginning in seperate columns on the same page and continuing onto the next, a silly and distracting nod to the companies' Most Favoured Nation status throughout the project.

On the whole, though, this is an impressive presentation of a Major Corporate Comics Event, of interest to superhero readers and essential to fans of the characters and creators. Volume One Grade: 4/5; Volume Two Grade: 2.5/5

-- Alan David Doane

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