WARNING! MULTIVERSAL SPOILERS AHEAD! WE'LL HAVE TO SLINGSHOT AROUND THE SUN!
Title: A Contest of Champions
Release Date: November 2003
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Penciller: George Perez
JLA Members: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, the Martian Manhunter, Plastic Man, Aquaman, the Atom, Firestorm, Zatanna, Green Arrow, Hawkman, Blue Beetle, Black Canary, Oracle, Captain Atom, Steel, and Red Tornado.
Avengers Members: Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Vision, Hawkeye, the Wasp, Triathlon, Yellowjacket, Warbird, Wonder Man, Hercules, She-Hulk, Black Panther, Photon, Quasar, and Jack of Hearts.
Guest Stars: The Grandmaster, Kismet, Metron, Galactus, the Thing, Mr. Fantastic, Darkseid, and DeSaad.
Bad Guys: Krona.
Cameos: The Gods of Asgard, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, the Watcher.
So what happens?
We start with a quick flashback to when the universe-destroying Krona first met the Marvel Universe's Grandmaster. Krona explains that he was once a scientist, obsessed with learning the ultimate secrets of the origin of the universe. When his time travel experiments unleashed catastrophe on his own people, they reduced him to disembodied energy and let him harmlessly roam the universe. In time, he was able to reformulate himself, and he passed into other alternate universes, where his endless quest for impossible answers ended up destroying every universe he visited. Krona threatens to also destroy the Marvel Universe, but the Grandmaster mentions that he knows a being who knows what came before the Big Bang. He proposes a contest to Krona, in which two teams of heroes from two universes will go on a scavenger hunt for a bunch of powerful artifacts. If the Grandmaster's side wins, Krona has to leave the Marvel Universe forever. If Krona's side wins, the Grandmaster has to let Krona force the secrets of the universe from this immortal being, even though it will destroy the Marvel Universe...
Back to the main bulk of the story, where in DC's Metropolis, the Avengers and the Justice League are pounding the stuffing out of each other. While their teams knock each other around, Batman and Captain America have a quick sparring contest, realize that a battle between them would take forever and that they aren't actually enemies, and then propose an alliance between the two of them. After Bats and Cap depart to investigate on their own, the Scarlet Witch discovers that the chaos magic she relies on back home does not work the same in the DC Universe--it's much more powerful and dangerous, both to her opponents and to herself. After the first hex she casts knocks everyone on both teams on their spandex-clad asses, she teleports the Avengers away.
After alerting the Justice League reservists that they need to help protect the DC Universe's artifacts, the JLA has the Flash transport them over to the Marvel Universe so they can start tracking down some of Marvel's artifacts--but the Avengers' reservists, warned to keep watch for the Justice League's quantum signatures, know they're there...
So everyone starts fighting each other and collecting artifacts. Since the Justice League already grabbed the Ultimate Nullifier, the score starts out 1-0 in favor of the JLA.
We take a break to follow Batman and Captain America, who are visiting the Batcave. Cap notes that a contest between the two teams perfectly fits the Grandmaster's usual M.O., but Batman wonders why Metron, a straightforward, emotionless explorer, is concerned with this game. When they decide to try to track Metron down, Cap activates a homing signal, and the Thing materializes in the Batcave, bringing along a fancy Time-Bike that Mr. Fantastic rigged up for them. Bats and Cap take off in the bike, looking for Metron. We also briefly visit Metron, who is checking up on the Marvel Universe's Galactus, who survived the collapse of the last Marvel Universe billions of years ago and witnessed the Big Bang itself. Meanwhile, Steel has rigged up a harness that Flash can wear that will collect extra Speed Force energy that the speedster can use to power himself if he has to make a trip over to the Marvel Universe again. But back to the contest...
- After the Flash heads to Kyle's apartment to pick up his power battery, he gets ambushed by Hawkeye and Iron Man (who's really groovin' on the Mother Box that's been added to his armor). They grab the power battery of the Green Lantern. Score is tied 1-1.
- In the Marvel Universe's nation of Santo Rico, Superman and Green Lantern stomp on Warbird and Wonder Man to grab the Orb of Ra. Score is 2-1 for the JLA.
- In the MU's Asgard, home of the Norse gods, Wonder Woman eagerly beats the hell out of Hercules (in legends, he was the "despoiler of Hippolyta", and Hippolyta was Wondy's mom). Aquaman isn't able to do much of anything against She-Hulk, so he just quits the fight and runs off to grab the Eternity Book. Score is 3-1.
- In Central City's Flash Museum in the DCU, the Scarlet Witch (looking progressively unwell, thanks to the malign influence of DC's chaos magic) and Quicksilver (who'd really like to figure out how to tap into DC's Speed Force) are able to beat Hawkman, the Blue Beetle, and Black Canary to seize the Wand of Watoomb. Score is 3-2.
And we take another break to check on the progress that Captain America and Batman are making. They've managed to trace Metron's trail to the Grandmaster's lair, and it's a vast museum of games, all with a DC/Marvel theme. While there, they run into the Atom, who stowed away on Metron's teleporting Moebius Chair and has been stuck here since then. However, he's figured out how to use the Grandmaster's recording devices and has discovered the security tape he made of the game rules he made with Krona. But Krona insisted on one change to the rules: the Avengers will be fighting for Krona's side, instead of for the Grandmaster. In other words, if the Avengers win, Krona is going to destroy their universe! But back to the contest...
- In Happy Harbor, Rhode Island, Firestorm and Red Tornado out-maneuver Thor and the Vision to get the Green Bell of Ulthool, the Silver Wheel of Nyorlath, and the Red Jar of Calythos. Score is 4-2 in favor of the JLA.
- In Wakanda, the Martian Manhunter and Plastic Man defeat Yellowjacket and the Wasp, but the Black Panther still manages to grab the Medusa Mask. Score is 4-3.
- In Smallville, Kansas, Iron Man and Hawkeye stomp Captain Atom and Green Arrow and get the Casket of Ancient Winters. Score is tied, 4-4.
- On Paradise Island, Vision foils Steel, and Scarlet Witch is looking way, way far from healthy, but the Flash outraces Quicksilver to take the Evil Eye. JLA pulls back ahead, 5-4.
- In the Blue Area of the Moon, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern are beating Photon and Quasar (though Photon is trying to use her light powers to match the frequency of GL's power ring energy), but Iron Man uses his new Mother Box to pull an ambush, and the Avengers are able to capture the Spear of Destiny. Score is again tied, 5-5.
So the contest is over, right? The Justice League won, so Krona has to go away, right? Well, it turns out that Krona is a sore loser. He attacks the Grandmaster, forces Galactus' identity from his mind, summons Galactus, and starts trying to rip Galactus' secrets from him! Bad news: that's usually what immediately precedes a universe going kerflooey, and the JLA and Avengers aren't able to get him to stop! But the Grandmaster reveals one secret he's kept from Krona--the contest was just an excuse to gather all those powerful artifacts together in one place, so the Grandmaster could use them to stop Krona! And then everything spirals down into an empty void. This can't be the end of everything, can it? They've still got two whole issues to go!
- On Apokolips, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and Thor are competing against Firestorm, Steel, and the Flash to get hold of the all-powerful Infinity Gauntlet... which is already in the possession of the cosmic megalomaniac Darkseid! Even without the Gauntlet, he's probably more than powerful enough to stomp all six heroes without breaking a sweat, but with the Gauntlet, he could use its power to reorder the universe to fit his evil whims. Only problem is--Darkseid says the Gauntlet's soul gems don't work in this universe. So he tosses it away and shoots it with his all-destroying Omega Effect! Flash is able to grab the Gauntlet just before the beams hit it, so the JLA pulls ahead again, 6-5.
- And finally, all of the Avengers and all of the Justice Leaguers are teleported to the Savage Land in the Marvel Universe, where the last artifact, the insanely-powerful Cosmic Cube is hovering in the air between the two teams. So both teams start pounding on each other again. Highlights: Superman beats Thor, then all the Avengers jump on Supes yelling, "Don't you do that to our little Thor, you big meanie!" and lay the major smackdown on Big Blue; Photon is able to drain the energy out of Green Lantern's power ring, turning her all green; Green Lantern re-powers his ring with the Cosmic Cube, turning him all silvery; Quicksilver is able to outrace the Flash, now that he's deprived of the Speed Force; and at the last second, with the Grandmaster and Krona hovering over the battlefield, Captain America knocks the Cube away from Quicksilver, letting Batman catch it to give the JLA the win, 7-5.
In the first issue, Marvel's Eternity was revealed as the embodiment of the universe, and in this issue, DC's Kismet is the physical representation of the DCU; Batman and Captain America have some interesting similarities, we learn--both are unpowered, expert fighters, and both have lost young partners (Bucky and the Jason Todd Robin); the Grandmaster's game museum is very impressive, with playing cards, pool tables, dice, roulette wheels, slot machines, 3-D chess boards, and even Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, all with Marvel and DC themes, characters, and planets; the faceoff against Darkseid is mighty impressive, just because Darkseid is such a badass mofo; the power-ring-powered Photon and the Cosmic-Cube-powered Green Lantern were both very cool; we also learn some interesting trivia--most notably, the DC Universe's Earth is slightly larger than the Marvel Universe's Earth, mainly to accommodate all the extra cities that DC squeezes in here and there.
It's all really freakin' complicated. And it's only going to get worse, 'cause I've seen the cover art for the third issue, and it includes at least 100 characters! Ay, mi cabeza! Also, Superman still acts like an arrogant elitist almost all the way through this issue, which is irritatingly out-of-character.
The Thing, admiring the giant penny Batman keeps in the Batcave: "Yer idea a' small change, huh?"
Firestorm, worrying about the Watcher sitting outside the JLA Watchtower: "I gotta go to the bathroom. But if he sees through walls..."
The Atom, giving direction's around the Grandmaster's HQ: "Now a hard left by the hundred-foot-wide 'Hungry Hungry Hippos' set with what looks like real, Satanic demon-hippos..."
Final Grade: A
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