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Cover date: December 2003
Writter: Kurt Busiek
Penciller: George Perez
Inker: George Perez
"A Contest of Champions"
Reviewed by: Michael Bailey (IronMunro@aol.com)
The Grandmaster and Krona face each other in the depths of space. Krona tells the Grandmaster of his past and how he was once a seeker of knowledge who wanted to know the origin of the universe itself. The other members of his race warned against this citing a legend that stated that learning the origin of the universe would lead to disaster. When his experiments ended in the release of evil into the universe his fellows condemned him to an eternity as disembodied energy. Eventually his presence traveled to other universes and he discovered that the legends were true as universe after universe died in his wake. Krona tells the Grandmaster that this is the reason he is there and that he is only telling Grandmaster this because his probes blocked Krona's quest. When Grandmaster mentions that he knows of someone who has witnessed the end of the last universe and the birth of the current one Krona is incensed and demands to know who this individual is. Grandmaster suggests that they should play a game to settle the matter.
The JLA and Avengers continue their battle in Metropolis. After the Flash manages to evade Hawkeye's boomerang arrow Batman and Captain America square off. At first they merely exchange blows to gauge the other's ability. After doing this for several moments Batman admits that Captain America could conceivably beat him and suggests that they may want to figure out what is going on instead of merely duking it out. Captain America agrees that they are merely pawns and joins the Dark Knight in a search for answers.
As they depart the Scarlet Witch realizes that she cannot manipulate the Chaos magic like she can in her home universe. After some concentration she finally manages to tap into the Chaos magic of the JLA's universe and senses that the magic is wilder in her own. She manages to teleport the Avengers out of Metropolis. Superman scans the immediate area and finds out they are not in a thousand mile radius. They decide that despite the fact Batman and Atom are missing they should continue their quest to find the artifacts.
Superman suggests that they split their forces between finding the artifacts in both universes, but J'onn points out that they were the ones the Grandmaster implanted with the knowledge of the artifacts. He sends out a telepathic summons to former and reserve members of the JLA to find the artifacts in their universe while they travel to the Marvel Universe. The Flash uses his speed to transport them to the Marvel Universe while he stays behind since he cannot tap into the speed force there. They appear in the Marvel Universe in the same space and find themselves along Interstate 95. The heroes are surprised that the East Coast is less developed than in their universe, but J'onn J'onnz points out that they should focus on finding the five items and split into teams.
In Avengers Mansion Yellowjacket, the Wasp and Triathlon are aware of the JLA's presence and call on their own reserve members to deal with the incursion. Triathlon agrees to stay behind as Yellow Jacket and the Wasp leave to help their fellow Avengers.
Back in the JLA's universe the Flash goes to Green Lantern's apartment to keep his promise to safeguard Kyle's Lantern and is ambushed by Iron Man and Hawkeye. The Flash gets back up to retaliate, but they are transported out of the apartment before he gets his chance. Hawkeye and Iron Man realize once they reach the Himalayas that the Lantern has disappeared. From his own cosmic vantage the Grandmaster looks over the Ultimate Nullifier and the Green Lantern Power Battery and muses on the fact that the score is now one to one.
In Santo Rico in the Avenger's universe Superman and Green Lantern search for the artifact when suddenly Wonder Man and Warbird attack. Meanwhile in Central City of the JLA's universe Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who is becoming weaker the longer she stays in the JLA's universe, find themselves besieged by Hawkman, Blue Beetle and Black Canary. At the same time on Asgard Wonder Woman and Aquaman find their quest interrupted by Hercules and She-Hulk. Each area becomes a battleground as the Avengers and the JLA fight to be the first to find their respective artifacts.
As the battles rage on Green Lantern locates the Orb of Ra, Aquaman finds the Eternity Book and Quicksilver locates the Wand of Watoomb, which brings the Grandmaster'sscore to 3 to 2with the JLA in the lead. Krona also watches this and grows frustrated that it is taking too long. The Grandmaster cautions patience, pointing out that Krona is missing the finer points of the game using the example that Batman and Captain America have removed themselves from the game.
In the Batcave Batman calls Captain America away from his "sightseeing" to show him what Oracle was able to dig up. Oracle reports that she wasn't able to find anything on the Grandmaster, but Zatanna is in the Watchtower tracing the Scarlet Witch's use of the Chaos Magic. While Captain America is not surprised at the Grandmaster's involvement Batman is surprised by Metron's place in the game since he is usually only a seeker of knowledge.
At that moment Metron finally locates Galactus and begins to doubt that Krona will play by the rules.
Back in the Cave Captain America informs Batman that they can't quit the game since the Grandmaster would levy dire consequences if they did. Batman agrees and tells Cap that they need to keep Grandmaster and their enemy distracted with the game while he and Cap investigate. Captain America activates a homing signal and Ben Grim, the ever-loving blue-eyed Thing appears on a strange vehicle. After introducing himself the Thing informs Batman that his vehicle is called a Time Bike and that Cap has a call waiting. Captain America speaks with Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four from a monitor on the bike and Reed informs him that he was able to find a way to track Metron based on readings he took at Monster Island. As Batman and Cap get on the vehicle Batman comments on the fact that Cap was more prepared than he seemed. Cap informs him that he had set certain wheels in motion before they came to the JLA's universe and Ben Grim was one of them.
As the heroes on both sides wait, the Scarlet Witch uses all of her abilities to hide Thor and the Vision's location. Iron Man suggests that they rely less of magic and more on science and begins to manipulate the Mother Box that had fused with his armor to that end. When Iron Man is ready Scarlet Witch finally transports herself, Quicksilver, Hawkeye and Iron Man Zatanna, who had been waiting for this occasion, sends the JLA reservists into action. In Happy Harbor of the DCU Firestorm and Red Tornado manage to get the artifacts of Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast before Thor and the Vision can. In Wakanda of the Marvel universe while Yellow Jacket and the Wasp fight the Martian Manhunter and Plastic Man the Black Panther gets the Psycho Pirate's Medusa Mask.
As Batman and Captain America track Metron's trail through the remains of a dead universe Green Arrow and Captain Atom are taken out by Iron Man and Hawkeye in Smallville, Kansas. Hawkeye recovers the Casket of Ancient Winters and the two teleport to where the Scarlet Witch needs them next. On Paradise Island, a weakened Scarlet Witch watches Steel and the Vision fight as the Flash takes the Evil Eye from Quicksilver.
Meanwhile as Green Lantern and Wonder Woman lose the Spear of Destiny to Quasar, Photon and Iron Man Captain America and Batman finally trace Metron's trail to the Grandmaster's base. There a relieved Atom reveals himself and shows the two heroes the Grandmaster's recording device and after they watch Superman make a disparaging comment about the Avengers universe's heroes they come across a recording of the Grandmaster and Krona making the plans for their game. Captain America realizes that not only is the Grandmaster trying to prevent Krona from destroying the Avenger's universe, but that the Avengers are fighting for Krona since he and the Grandmaster had chosen to trade champions.
On Apokolips Thor, Firestorm, Flash, Quicksilver, Hawkeye and Steel watch in horror as Darkseid holds the Infinity Gauntlet, which houses the Soul Gems. Though Darkseid senses that the Gauntlet is a source of great power he realizes that he cannot make it work and tosses it in the air with the intention of destroying it with his Omega Beams. Quicksilver tries to catch it, but the Flash recognizes the effect and knocks him out of the way to grab the Gauntlet for himself.
Finally both teams find themselves in the Savage Land of the Avengers universe. Above them the Cosmic Cube hovers and both teams stare at it in a moment of hesitation before Scarlet Witch calls her comrades to arms and the battle royal begins. While Hercules takes on Wonder Woman and Green Lantern fights Photon Thor and Superman wage a vicious battle. Superman unleashes his heat vision, which injures the Thunder God but Thor manages to summon enough strength to bring his hammer down on the Man of Steel. To everyone's surprise, mainly Thor's, Superman catches the Hammer and lands a vicious roundhouse punch, knocking Thor out. Thor's comrades see this and the strongest of their number pile on Superman.
Aquaman comes to Superman's defense while Green Lantern, weakened from his battle with Photon, makes a play for the Cube. As Lantern manages to draw power from the Cube, Warbird flies in and grabs it. Her victory is short lived as the Flash, using a device Steel built to keep his speed in the Avengers' universe takes the Cube from her. Capitalizing on the Flash's weakened state Quicksilver recovers the Cube. Suddenly both teams are shocked to see Krona and Grandmaster hovering over them. As he goes to claim victory Captain America's shield flies in, seemingly from nowhere, and knocks it out of is hands. Batman catches the Cube and before Hawkeye can take him out Cap orders him to stand down and that it is over.
The Batman goes to use the Cube's power, but the Grandmaster is quick to take it from him, pointing out that the artifacts were never meant to be used. He then asks Krona to leave since his side won. Krona refuses and viciously attacks the Grandmaster and demands to know who the being is that has witnessed the end and the beginning of the universe. Captain America orders the Avengers to attack Krona and Batman orders the JLA to back them up.
Suddenly, Krona gains the information he seeks and summons Galactus to the Earth. Galactus is incensed at this transgression and refuses to tell Krona what he wants to know. As Krona attacks Galactus the combined forces of the JLA and Avengers assault Krona. The Grandmaster crawls into the fray and informs Krona that the game was just a feint and that the items were not meant for the players to use. They were for him. As the Grandmaster calls on the powers of the artifacts Krona is distracted and the heroes watch as reality swirls around them.
In the end, there is nothing.
Story - 4: So who would win between Thor and Superman? Well, Superman of course.
Who wins in a battle between Superman and the combined forces of Wonder Man, She-Hulk, Hercules, the Vision and Iron Man? Well, the combined forces of the Avengers heavy hitters, of course.
I mean come on, people. Superman's good but not good enough to survive a battle with a Norse God and then have Iron Man, Wonder Man and crew hammer him like a railroad spike. I like Superman and all and will always pull for him, but I am also realistic.
Though I will have to admit that seeing Superman catch Thor's hammer and then deliver a terrific roundhouse while making a reference to THIS IS SPINAL TAP was pretty damn cool. The fan boy in me is satisfied.
Oh, there was more to this issue that a fight between giants? I apologize. I bought this book to see how the fight would turn out, but there is more to it than that so I guess I'll throw in my two cents.
I actually have mixed feelings on the second issue. On one hand I want to look at it from an objective view point and base my opinions on the merits of the story itself. On the other I am a comic fan and while I read comics for other reasons than seeing people in funny costumes duking it out I also read comics to see people in funny costumes duke it out. Call it what you want; a adolescent power fantasy or misplaced rage, but I like to watch a good fight, which explains why boxing is one of the few sports I will sit down and watch without outside influence.
(It also explains why as similar as comics and professional wrestling are I am not into the WWE or its competition. I mean on the surface the two are similar, but it is the weak storylines that make me lose all interest in wrestling.)
So let's deal with an objective look at the story first. I really enjoyed the story as it continued to unfold. The flashbacks between Krona and Grandmaster opened that portion of the story a little more and I liked how the heroes, specifically Batman and Captain America figured the plan out with the timely assistance of the Atom. There are still lingering questions, like Metron's involvement, but if I had to take a guess he involved himself for the main reason Metron always does; to pursue knowledge for his own selfish reasons. Galactus' involvement was inevitable, and in terms of the story makes perfect sense, so my hat off to Busiek for making the connection.
When the characterization was good it was very good. Photon's realization of how Green Lanterns power would affect hers was a nice touch. Hawkeye's reaction to Darkseid as he finally admits that something in the DCU is worse than in his own was priceless. His comparison of Thanos and Darkseid was even better than when Darkseid called Thanos a pale imitation of himself during DC VS MARVEL. Wonder Woman's problem with Hercules was a nice touch as well, since in her universe Hercules was responsible for the rape and subjugation of the denizens of Paradise Island. I guess it was lucky that Hercules didn't appear on Paradise Island.
And nothing beat Cap's reaction to the monument to Jason Todd in the Batcave. That realization that he and Batman had something that personal in common was very cool.
When the characterization was off it was confusing. While it made perfect sense to me that Cap and Batman would probably fight for all of five minutes before realizing that they should just work together it was slightly confusing that Cap would drop his mad-on for the heroes of the DCU so quickly while Superman kept his for the Marvel U. I guess it could be explained that maybe since Cap dropped out of the game whatever may have been controlling him and Superman (as I believed happened in the first issue) let loose its grip. I mean that's a possibility and does jibe with how Superman was willing to team up with Thor after the game was ended.
Still Superman's continued attitude bothered me in light of Cap's willingness to let it go. Then again, he could have been under some kind of influence, but considering there was no hard evidence of this I can't make a judgment call in either direction.
So outside of those minor quibbles on a story front I really dug the comic and wonder why some other reviews are so negative of the book.
Now, for your reading pleasure I present the shameless fanboy portion of tonight's program where I will give my take on the major fights and how I thought they should play out.
Cap vs. Batman: This went exactly as it should have and I have no complaints.
Thor vs. Superman: A surprise upset because in all honesty I figured Thor for the winner. He would be walking with a limp for a while and have some uncomfortable session in the little Thor's room, but overall I would have put money on the god. That said, I am happy with the outcome and know that this will ignite furious debate on message boards across the Internet.
Iron Man and Hawkeye vs. Captain Atom and Green Arrow: How in the heck did this happen? Seriously, I know Iron Man is touch and all, but its Captain Atom for god's sake. I don't care what kind of trick arrow Hawkeye had, Green Arrow would have been able to distract him while Captain Atom and Iron Man went at it and Captain Atom should have come out on top.
Green Lantern vs. Photon: I don't know enough about Photon's powers to make an educated guess on this one, but frankly I thought it should have been GL vs. Quasar.
Wonder Woman vs. Wonder Man: Only one panel, but I guess this was inevitable, and kind of funny.
Wonder Woman vs. Hercules: I actually felt kind of sorry for Hercules on this one since he is getting a beating he doesn't deserve, but this is one we needed to see so I am happy with it.
In the end, this is the other fifty percent of why fans came to this book and the fights were fun and well executed. We were given the battles we wanted to see and I think that's pretty cool. Overall I was very happy with the book and since reality ended on the last page I am eager to see what happens next.
Art - 5: Did anyone besides me have CRISIS flashbacks on the first page?
Seriously, it would take me about a week to really pour over George Perez's artwork for this issue because there were so many characters on each page. In my two readings of the book I can say that the backgrounds were very detailed and that the Perez knack for making every character unique shined through. Also, the page layouts were really interesting, especially during the fight scenes. You had to do a bit of work, but you could see some really neat little touches, like the Green Arrow/Hawkeye battle at the end of the issue happening in to separate panels with their bows drawn.
Again, I would like to sit here and lay out panel by panel why I loved the art, but it would take too long. So at the risk of offending George Perez I am going to lay the general, this art kicked all the *** and I hope this continues.
Cover Art - 5: Considering how I disliked the first issue's cover I have to say that this cover more than made up for. This image was my desktop wallpaper for about a month and half, which is usually about three weeks longer than any image stays on my monitor.
Having said all that, I did have a problem with some of the match-ups on the cover. For instance, I would have had Iron Man and Steel going at it instead of IM and Green Lantern because they both have the armor factor going on. Green Lantern I would have paired with Quasar, considering the cosmic nature of both their powers leaving Firestorm with Jack of Hearts, which is aesthetically pleasing considering their shared interest in poofy shirts. The Martian Manhunter and the Vision should have battled because the image of the two of them becoming intangible at the same time would have been cool. This leaves Wonder Man and Captain Atom as fighting partners, which also works since they both are energy based heroes. Also, I would have had Plastic Man and Wasp fight leaving Black Canary and Triathlon to duke it out, but only because I think Black Canary and Wasp made terrible dancing partners.
These comments are not meant as a slam against the cover. I really enjoyed it, but since I am reviewing this book I figured it would only be fair to mention it.
On a scale of one to ten on the GRAB ME METER this issue gets an eleven.
Yes, that was a reference to the Thor/Superman fight.
I know, lame joke.
Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2003.