Saturday, May 16, 2009

Handicapping JLA/Avengers

A couple weeks ago, I finally bit the bullet and purchased one of my very favorite comic stories, JLA/Avengers, in trade paperback form.

No, JLA/Avengers isn't Watchmen or any other sort of high art classic, but in my opinion, it's a dream project that revels in the excess it's built on and lives up to the hype by being epic, intricate, and most of all, fun. Of course my love of this book is also just simple math: I love the Avengers, I love the Justice League, I love Kurt Busiek on both of those teams and I love George Perez's art.

And boy howdy is this a showcase for the masterful work of George Perez. Only the original Crisis On Infinite Earths can compare in terms of the sheer amount of characters featured, and Perez does nothing better than cram panels full of dozens and dozens of heroes and villains. Busiek is both torturous and generous to his creative collaborator, providing him with not only a plethora of characters and costumes to illustrate, but Easter eggs galore.

Anyways, I enjoyed the heck out of re-reading JLA/Avengers, and I know it's always a story that will tickle me on a fanboy level, but it also inevitably gets you thinking about the whole Monday morning quarterback aspect of just who would win if these two teams faced off.

I mean, c'mon, there are few things more enjoyable for comic fans than sitting around and debating whether Superman is stronger than the Hulk or if Captain America can outfight Batman. Judd Winick and Brad Meltzer have both told me a great story about how when they were roommates post-college in Boston, neither could sleep one night, so they stayed up until sunrise plotting out their own JLA/Avengers story. I like to think that no matter how long I'm in the industry, I'll never get tired of debating who can hit more targets between Green Arrow and Hawkeye.

So with all that build, let's get to my inevitable (and, I swear, unbiased) picks in the marquee matchups of JLA/Avengers...

Superman vs Thor
Probably not the best matchup to highlight my aforementioned claimed lack of bias, but against what Busiek wrote in JLA/Avengers and probably against the conventional feelings of most fans, I absolutely think Thor could and likely would beat Superman. Every advantage Superman typically enjoys power-wise, from strength to flight to heat vision to invulnerability, Thor matches (in the case of heat vision with his hammer and ability to command storms). While Supes may be a bit smarter than Thor, but the Thunder God is a fucking warrior and has been fighting for thousands of years. The gamechanger though is that Superman has a clear and present vulnerability to magic, and Thor is made of magic. His hammer is magic, his lightning is magic and his fists are magic. For Superman, fighting Thor is like fighting a Kryptonite Man who actually knows what he's doing. Captain Marvel (the Shazam version) might be a better match for Thor, but I don't think the Man of Steel has a shot.
Winner: Thor

Captain America vs Batman
In JLA/Avengers, Steve Rogers and Batman have a bit of a sparring match where they match one another tit for tat before forming a truce and going off on their own. If they had to fight to the finish, Cap vs Bats would most likely be the most enjoyable fight to watch. There are a lot of x-factors working in Cap's favor, from his mastery of a particular weapon (his shield) to having seen action in wartime, and he'd certainly take Bruce Wayne to the limit. However, at the end of the day, Batman has an incredible assortment of training and skills, possesses amazing discipline, and is far more adaptable than Cap in my opinion. But the reason I do believe Batman ultimately scores the duke is one many have pointed to in the past: he's willing to fight dirty. Steve Rogers may not be the consumate boy scout that somebody like Superman is (we've seen that over the course of Ed Brubaker's handling of his solo title), but I still don't think he'd do whatever it takes as quick as Batman would.
Winner: Batman

Wonder Woman vs Hercules
There are plenty of great female Marvel characters, but really none who come close to Wonder Woman in terms of real world recognition as well as fictional power (there was no greater indictment of the fan voting in Marvel vs DC than Storm beating WW because she could shoot lightning bolts). This could be why Busiek kept Diana relatively clear of the likes of Warbird and She-Hulk during JLA/Avengers, choosing instead to have her only real solo battle against Hercules. While I find Herc to be a far more interesting character than Wonder Woman, part of his appeal lies in his lovably large ego, which would also likely be his downfall in this fight. Do you really think Hercules could keep his focus during a throwdown with a hot chick in a bathing suit? No way, and Diana wouldn't hesitate to kick his Olympian ass as a result.
Winner: Wonder Woman

Iron Man vs Green Lantern
Once again, I don't think the obvious pick is the right one here. Yeah, Green Lantern has the most powerful weapon in the universe on his finger, but Iron Man's weapon is far more versatile, and I say that makes the difference. GL could have Iron Man trapped in a green bubble or whatever but then Shellhead busts out a sonic disruptor to break his focus and follows up with a long-range repulso blast or up-close armor-clad fist to the face. Heck, it's possible Tony Stark could analyze the emerald energy while distracting his foe with a barrage of smart bombs and then use it himself. There are variables to take into account, like whether or not Iron Man has his Extremis abilities and who is wearing the ring (in JLA/Avengers it was Kyle Rayner, but obviously Hal Jordan would be the more relevant choice). If it were the more experienced Hal against an Extremis-less Iron Man, there's a good shot Green Lantern scores the win, but I call it a toss up and think the crafty Tony Stark has an edge.
Winner: Iron Man

The Flash vs Quicksilver
Winner: The Flash

The Vision vs The Martian Manhunter
Whenever I match up the JLA and Avengers, I always think about these two side-by-side as even though they are very different in some respects (one is an android and one is an alien for one), they are both (in my eyes) the heart of their respective teams (ironic, I suppose, given that both are currently deceased), both have a wide assortment of powers, and both have an aloof but lovable presence among their associates. In terms of a fight, Vizh does have a key strength in not having a traditional human brain for J'onn to utilize his telepathy against, which may give him a momentary advantage, but JLA/Avengers showed those powers do work to some degree. On top of that, while both men possess intangibility, I think J'onn is stronger, has that useful shapeshifting card to play, and has more experience--the Martian in a good one.
Winner: The Martian Manhunter

Aquaman vs Namor
Don't get fooled into thinking this would be a slapfight between two guys who tak to fish--if Aquaman and the Sub-Mariner locked horns (and I was bummed that they didn't during JLA/Avengers), it would be one badass fight. These are two dudes with massive egos who can withstand the crushing physical pressures of living at the bottom of the ocean and who will resort to any tactics necessary to put the guy standing across from them down. However, I think the talking to fish bit would actually come into play, and not in a good way, as Aquaman can fight, but he's too reliant on his telepathic abilities. Namor has gone fist-to-fist with true heavy hitters like the Hulk and the Thing, not to mention having held his own in as hostile an environment as you'll find in World War II. Aquaman is often unjustly seen as the weak link of the JLA, which I don't think he is, but he doesn't have the credibility of the Sub-Mariner.
Winner: Namor

Hawkeye vs Green Arrow
If this were just an archery contest, I think Green Arrow would have the edge, as his skills as a marksman are really the thing he has spent his entire career focusing on and utilizing. However, while Hawkeye may be a slightly inferior archer, he has diversified his repetoire over the years, training as a hand-to-hand fighter under no less than Captain America and picking up skills with weapons beyond the bow and arrow during his stint as Ronin. In the last couple years, GA has done his own extensive training as a multi-faceted fighter, but that's a fairly recent development; traditionally, he's a scrapper, and I think he'd be (slightly) sooner to resort to throwing hands than Hawkeye, and that would be his undoing.
Winner: Hawkeye

Zatanna vs The Scarlet Witch
Another difficult one to call; Zatanna is more purely powerful, but the Scarlet Witch is more unpredictable (that's the very nature of her powers). Neither one of them is that skilled or experience in non-powered combat, but I'd give Wanda the slight edge. On the other hand, Zee has spent a lot of time with Batman, so maybe I'm wrong there. What gets the win here: honed sorcerous skill or the mystic wild card? Hmm. I guess the deciding factor for me is that the Witch has played a decisive role in far more Avengers missions that Zatanna has in JLA ones; the Witch, but barely.
Winner: The Scarlet Witch

Agree? Disagree? Want to hear my thoughts on other matchups? Want me to shut up? Tough luck on the last one, because this is my blog, but I'd be curious to hear what you have to say on the first three in the Comments section.


JimmyGlenn711 said...

I agree with all of your calls (esp Hawkeye v. GA) except Iron Man vs. Green Lantern...

I think that Tony has no shot against the most powerful weapon in the universe... Whether its, Kyle,Hal, John, or Guy, I think GL wins hands down...

Now I want reread that trade...

Ben Morse said...

No question, that's the call I expected to be the most questionable in people's eyes, but I'll bust this one out: don't matter how powerful the weapon is, matters how you use it.

KP said...

Dude...does the Vision officially count as dead since the Young Avengers version is running around? Isn't he basically the same guy? I have no idea how actualy Avengers fans feel about this.

Ben Morse said...

Did you consider Teen Tony to be the real Iron Man?

KP said...

HA! Dude, I know you were trying to make a clever point here, but I TOTALLY considered Teen Tony the real Iron Man. That's probably the only time I ever bought that comic on a semi-regular basis.

I'm lame.

Ben Morse said...

Bless you, Kiel Phegley. I LOVE your eccentric taste in comics. It's one of my favorite things about you.

Rickey said...

My favorite thing is your butterfly kisses, Kiel!

Jesse T. said...

Unless my memory's failing (which it very well could be, as I'm an old-ass man), I remember the JLA/JSA 'Virtue and Vice' hitting around the same time as JLA/Avengers; the entire Wizard staff was in agreement that Geoff Johns knew how to write a team team-up book like none other, and Kurt Busiek had turned the what could have been the biggest comic event of the decade into a boring, trite, oatmeal-like mush involving the Time Trapper and Kosmic Kube.
Of course, it's been seven years since I tried reading any JLA/Avengers issues, and I've never read them in one sitting. Based on Ben's praise, sounds like I should revisit 'em.

Ben Morse said...

I won't recommend against it, but I would caution that my taste can run very old school and sappy in comparison to some other folks when it comes to projects like this. Be forewarned.