It's a tale of two universes. In one live the Justice League of America and it is a universe closer to the ideal of what humanity might become and the heroes are perhaps a wee bit more noble. In the other live the Avengers and it is a universe closer to the reality of what humanity actually is and the heroes are are perhaps a wee bit more human. But they are all heroes nonetheless, so when a presumed threat invades from beyond their universe they respon.
It begins with a bang.
The world of Poelmachus ruled by Arkon and his consort Thundra is destroyed. Likewise Qward which was itself already under attack by the Crime Syndicate meets a grisly end when an alien presence appears searching for something unknown. It eventually finds the Grandmaster and that unknown thing reveals itself to be Krona, a scientist who long ago breached the bounds of mortality by seeking the secrets of how all creation began.
Cut to an Earth which is under attack by Terminus and confronted by the Justice League of America. They defeat the invader from the stars.
Likewise on another Earth the Avengers repel an attack by the peculiar alien invader Starro.
Both teams become aware that their respective universes have come under threat from well outside the normal order.
The Grandmaster appears to warn the Justice League that to save two universes, they must acquire twelve objects of power, six they already know.
The League travels across the barrier between universes and gets a glimpse of this new world. They don't like what they see, a world rife with dictators, devastated landscapes, monsters of many kinds, and vigilante justice.
Likewise Metron of the New Gods appears to warn the Avengers of the twelve objects and to warn them that enemies from another universe are seeking them.
The Avengers use a Boom Tube to travel to this new world and find a nigh-utopian environment where superheroes are worshiped.
The stage is set for action as suddenly the two teams confront one another. And something else, some of the members seem to think and behave differently, more belligerently.
Thus it is no great surprise when an angry Thor smashes an equally angry Superman.
Apart from all this, the Grandmaster and Metron meet to evaluate the game they have put into play and discuss the true threat posed by Krona. They are watched themselves by The Atom.
And that wraps the first installment of the awe-inspiring crossover event.
The story by Kurt Busiek is at once complex, but still possessed of a commanding momentum which doesn't allow it to become bogged down by the myriad details that populate the pages. Likewise George Perez is supremely capable of telling a story full of wonder and action with polish and sophistication, possessed as he is with a simply uncanny knack to render small images still capable of being grokked immediately. These two talents were absolutely ideal for this project, the best the industry had to offer, and in Perez's case arguably the best the industry has ever had to offer on a project of this magnitude.
The story is dependent, like so many of these on the Maguffins, the twelve objects of power described by the Grandmaster and Metron. All the objects are in themselves delightful callbacks to classic comics moments. Ironically the Evil Eye is reminds one and all of the great Avengers-Defenders Clash, which this story (like its unrealized 1983 predecessor) does in rough form resemble.
What really makes this work, despite a plot which does what it must (get the two teams to develop sufficient animus to battle while simultaneously making both still heroic) is offer up scores of insightful and deft character beats. Whether its Hawkeye mouthing off, Plastic Man being a cretin, or Batman running his mates with Machiavellian efficiency, the characters all feel recognizable and fleshed out and not merely pawns in some role-playing event.
More to come next week.