Cover by: George Perez
Here’s a Christmas treat for you, readers: the cover to end all covers. The fanboy’s dream. The ultimate “mic drop.” From 2003, it’s JLA/Avengers #3, which showcased almost all of the important players of the Marvel and DC Universes on one cover, as drawn by master artist George Pérez. Honestly, this is less a cover and more of a “Where’s Waldo” for anyone who has a love of superhero comics.
A little history: JLA/Avengers represented the bittersweet climax of the DC/Marvel crossover phenomenon. Prior to that, we had a period in the late 70s and early 80s where the two companies paired on a few select occasions: first with—believe it or not—a joint adaption of MGM’s The Wizard of Oz film, the companies soon moved into some stories of truly epic proportions with Superman vs. Spider-Man (twice!), Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk, and finally, X-Men vs. The New Teen Titans. Unfortunately, the two companies entered into a crossover lull after that, with an attempted Justice League/Avengers crossover—drawn by Pérez!—which never saw the light of day due to editorial disagreements.
However, something happened in 1994 which was akin to lighting a match in a field of gas, and DC and Marvel suddenly had a mass explosion of crossover specials. It seemed like month after month, we were hit with the likes of Batman/Punisher (twice!), Batman/Spider-Man, Green Lantern/Silver Surfer, Batman/Daredevil, Batman/Captain America…well, Batman was a “go-to” guy for a lot of these stories. We even had the DC vs. Marvel mega-crossover which essentially pitted the two companies against each other with the survival of both at stake. Unfortunately, DC vs. Marvel was pretty weak in the execution with inconsistent art, a contrived storyline, and the mistake of letting the fans vote on who’d win the major fights which resulted in the factually impossible result of Wolverine beating Lobo—and off-panel, at that.
The intercompany crossovers continued on for a few years, but began to dry up by the 2000s as political changes at both companies resulted in some sour grapes. Still, somebody with some intelligence managed to convince both companies to agree to one last crossover: a revived Justice League and Avengers crossover which completed Perez’ originally planned crossover, at least in spirit (though the story itself made a nod to the unfinished story). What was great is that both companies were in a neo-renaissance at the time with an idealized mix of new and classic elements. The Justice League was primarily made up of Grant Morrison’s “Greek Pantheon” which was a variant of the original seven members. The Avengers had a mostly-classic lineup headed by Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor, and the crossover brought in comics legend Kurt Busiek who was already some 50 issues into his own Avengers run. In many ways, JLA/Avengers was the DC vs. Marvel crossover done right with a great creative team, a fantastic lineup of characters, and a plot that made sense for both teams (something about Krona and the Grandmaster having a contest to see if they could find key “items of power” from both universes).
The cover was great for two reasons. One, it was symbolic of the overall story within the particular issue. JLA/Avengers #3 concerned the Marvel and DC universes being “squished” together and their respective histories being altered, so that it was like the teams had been having team-ups for years. We saw snippets of faux history for both teams where they teamed up during the early Silver Age, the 1970s, the JLA’s “Satellite” years, and more. In essence, we got snippets of every version of both teams to date, and the cover symbolized that story by including every character who’d been on either team as of 2003.
Second, it’s just a just plain fun cover. An attentive reader could spend hours poring over every detail of who Pérez drew on there. It all looks very natural as well—sure, some characters had to be stuck in the background, but they all fit and nobody appears squished or overlooked. There’s even some fun placement in where Pérez put all of the characters—for example, the various speedsters (several Flashes, Quicksilver, and the Whizzer) are all across the bottom in opposite placement of each other, or the fact that many of the non-powered characters are being carried by a Green Lantern.
The cover is also a bit of an exercise in comics history. It features multiple versions of many of the members of each team. Why? Apparently, Pérez included each identity of a character that was on a team, not each costume. So for example, you’ve got two versions of Diana Prince on the cover—the regular version just to the left of center as Wonder Woman, and the non-Wonder Woman version of her from the mid 1990s when she lost the title to Artemis (check the upper left between Thunderstrike and Kilowog’s Green Lantern bubble). However, the Wasp only appears once, because she’s only been in the Avengers as the Wasp (and Perez would have gone crazy if he had to draw all of her costumes!). If you know your comics history, you’ll have a lot of fun spotting a particular costume and having that “Oh, I remember that!” moment. A lot.
So here’s a Christmas game for you, the reader: how knowledgeable are you about the cover? Check it over, do some research, have fun, and highlight to see the answers!
- How many Green Lanterns are on the cover? (Seven: G’Nort, Jennie-Lynn Hayden, Kilowog, Kyle Rayner, Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Guy Gardner)
- Why is the Invisible Woman transparent on the cover? (Pérez originally forgot to draw her in and added her on top later.)
- Which original member of the Fantastic Four is not on the cover? (The Human Torch—the one on the cover is the original android from the 1940s, not Johnny Storm.)
- How many versions of Hank Pym are on the cover? (Five: Regular Hank Pym, Yellowjacket, Goliath, Ant-Man, Giant-Man. One of the other Goliaths on the cover is actually Hawkeye from when he had Giant-Man’s powers. One of the other Ant-Men is Scott Lang.)
- Why is Batgirl on the cover if she was never a JLAer? (That’s the alternate-dimension Batgirl who appeared in Zero Hour and was given honorary JLA membership after she died. Yes, Barbara Gordon’s Oracle is also on the cover, represented by the green head floating over Hal Jordan’s ass.)
- Why is USAgent on the cover twice? (He’s not—one is Steve Rogers as “The Captain,” the identity he used when he wore the costume while John Walker was Captain America. Steve was an Avenger in that identity for just a few short issues!)
- Who’s the only member of the X-Men on the cover? (The Beast. This is pre-Bendis Marvel, so Marvel wasn’t yet in the habit of putting every X-Men member in the Avengers yet!)
- How many stretchy guys are on the cover? (Four: Plastic Man, Elongated Man, Mr. Fantastic, and Flatman.)
- Who are all the bowmen (and women)? (Clockwise from bottom: Green Arrow (Conner Hawke), Hawkeye, Green Arrow (Ollie Queen), Yondu, Huntress, and Maya—who you probably don’t recognize from the Justice League Europe.)
- Which character on this cover has appeared in both an Avengers and a Justice League comic? (Technically nobody! However, Mantis—the lady between Scarlet Witch and Zatanna—was created at Marvel by Steve Englehart. When he took a writing job at DC, he introducred a character named “Willow” into Justice League of America who he effectively intended to be Mantis even though it couldn’t be officially acknowledged. Mantis has been back at Marvel for awhile, though.)