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Fri, March 2nd, 2001 at 12:00am PST

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Beau Yarbrough, Columnist

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'OVER 20 YEARS SINCE I STARTED THIS PROJECT'BUSIEK, PREZ TO DO 'JLA/AVENGERS' MINISERIES

[JLA/Avengers]
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Yes. At long last, DC Comics and Marvel Comics have cut through the red tape and pushed aside all the other hassles, and the JLA/Avengers team-up is finally happening, the companies announced Friday afternoon at Megacon in Orlando, Florida.

"It'll be a 4-issue mini-series, each issue a 48-pager," Kurt Busiek told the Comic Wire on Wednesday. "Same length as ['Batman: The Dark Knight Returns'], same length as 'Marvels.' We figured we needed the room ...

"I'm writing it. George Prez will pencil and ink it. Tom Smith will color, Comicraft will letter, Tom Brevoort and Dan Raspler will edit. And DC and Marvel will publish alternate issues."

Don't look for even an estimated publication date this early in the game, however.

"Nope. Not this year, though -- George has 200 pages to pencil and ink, which'll take a while. It'll be scheduled when he's close to done ..."

And, as for how fans should refer to the project, that's equally ambiguous.

"For some strange reason I can't quite fathom, DC calls it 'JLA/Avengers' and Marvel calls it 'Avengers/JLA.' Can't imagine why.

"Anyway, that's as official as it gets at the moment. I expect Marvel's issues may have a logo at the top that says 'Avengers/JLA,' and DC's will have 'JLA/Avengers,' and index-conscious fans will curse our names, as they try to figure out how to file it."

Work on the project has only just begun at this point, Busiek said.

[JL A]
The above logo was distributed on photocopies during the official announcement at MegaCon today.

"I've got a rough structure outlined, that both companies have okayed, and I've been doing research. This weekend, we'll be having editorial meetings, since we'll all be in the same place, and once we've done that, I'll be getting the first plot done and to George just as soon as I can."

Of course, Comic Wire readers may remember that less than a month ago, Busiek went on record throwing a little cold water on the rumors that the project would, at last, see the light of day.

"I said I wasn't working on a script (as had been reported), which is quite true. At the time, I wasn't even seriously working on a plot, just playing around with structural ideas and looking for the right villains.

"And while Marvel and DC had hammered out the major details of the deal a couple of months earlier, as of when I was asked, nobody had signed anything. I think the deal got signed about two days after that, which was nice for plausible deniability."

As recently as almost exactly a year go, at Wonder-Con in Oakland, CA, this was still a project that looked like it was never going to happen, due to an apparent roadblock over legal issues unrelated to the comics themselves.

"I know that crossovers between the two companies got stymied for a while over a dispute between the two companies over something to do with a sticker company in Italy," Busiek said. "I never really had the details straight. I assume that got settled at some point, or they shrugged their shoulders and moved on. Nobody keeps me up to date on these things -- for which I'm eternally grateful.

"Anyway, at some point, the idea of actually doing it came to life again, but didn't go anywhere because Marvel management at the time just wasn't interested. And then Marvel management changed, and that opened things up again. Joe Quesada asked Tom Brevoort about why the project had never happened, and gave him the OK to see if it could get started up again. So Tom called George, called me, contacted DC, found out they were interested too (no big surprise there; they'd been interested before), and he and I worked up a rudimentary project proposal that got sent over to DC, to put something on the table that gave the people who actually negotiate these deals something to actually negotiate over. And there were hitches, and Joe and Dan and Mike Carlin and Paul Levitz and other guys stepped up to the plate and solved them -- and eventually, it was a done deal."

"I think what may have started the ball rolling [on JLA/Avengers] even faster was me resigning from 'The Avengers..."


- George Prez

"I think what may have started the ball rolling even faster was me resigning from 'The Avengers,' honestly," Prez told the Comic Wire on Thursday. "The worry that doing JLA/Avengers would take away from 'The Avengers,' was moot. ... When I signed the contract with that waiver for JLA/Avengers, they have full knowledge I had gotten letters of intent."

And then, of course, he started to look at going to CrossGen, who would put him under exclusive contract, as they have with their other creators.

"In order to make my decision, I had to give Marvel and DC a deadline. ... They had a certain date, they had to tell me this is the format, this is what we expect of you, et cetera, et cetera."

"When CrossGen got the message from me that I was going to do JLA/Avengers, they decided to go ahead and put me under contract anyway" with a stipulation that he could do work on the project.

So now, Prez will be finishing his first four issues of 'CrossGen Chronicles,' and then taking year's leave of absence to do JLA/Avengers."

"To all publishers: Don't call up looking for work!" He's still under exclusive contract to CrossGen, and if he's not working on their projects during this period, he's certainly not doing any outside work.

And speaking of other Prez projects: His Gorilla comic "'Crimson Plague' is cancelled. ... If, for any chance, JLA/Avengers did not [happen], I would have had time to do the book."

And if it feels like this has been in the works for a very long time, that's because it has been.

"By the time I finally get through with it, it'll be over 20 years since I started the project," Prez said. "Obviously, there's a great feeling of elation that this fanboy dream of mine finally bears fruit."

Twenty years is longer than you may realize: Prez was the only person working on the upcoming miniseries who was even working professionally in comics when the project first began.

"I think the previous attempt -- the one everyone remembers -- was back in '83 or '84, so yeah, it's well over a decade," Busiek said. "Gerry Conway had plotted it, and Roy Thomas was going to script -- and had done some plot alterations too, I think. George was penciling it. Who was going to ink, letter or color, I have no idea."

The project may have benefited from the delay, according to Prez.

"I think that Gerry treated this [team-up] as a job. Kurt has a lot more pressure on him. There's a lot of anticipation here. I do not envy Kurt here. I would not want to be the writer on JLA/Avengers.

"Kurt's going to please a lot of people, Kurt's going to anger a lot of people, but there's no way he can please everyone."

By Prez's estimation, he wouldn't have been capable of inking the book when it was first dreamed-up. And in the time since, he feels he's both improved as an artist and had a chance to tweak both the DC and Marvel universes towards his sensibilities along the way.

"Wonder Woman is the Wonder Woman I helped define," he said. "I think the only thing that I really feel is going to be added to this, compared to the last time, with Kurt Busiek involved, with all due respect to Gerry, it'll be done with a lot of tender loving care. ... I don't know that he would bring a lot of the emotion to the project that Kurt will."

He regrets that Mark Waid won't be involved, though.

"Since Kurt and Mark are friends, I wouldn't be surprised if his ear is bent once in a while."

Two summers ago, there was a flurry of excitement around the possibility of the project again, with then "JLA"-writer in-waiting Waid speaking publicly at Comic-Con International in San Diego about his desire to do the crossover in the pages of "The Avengers" and "JLA." Waid, though, isn't going to be formally involved in this crossover, now that it's finally happening.

"Mark has great timing," Busiek said. "How was he supposed to know that once he signed an exclusive deal with CrossGen, 'JLA/Avengers' would suddenly happen?

"If I'm remembering correctly, though, only five writers have written both the JLA and the Avengers in their own titles -- not mini-series, not specials, not guest-appearances, but their own ongoing books. Those five writers are Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Mark Waid and me, since I wrote four issues of 'JLA' back in the Eighties (well, five, but only four were published), including one of the last JLA/JSA crossovers.

"Since Mark and I are currently the regular writers on the two series, it would make the most sense for us to co-write, or split the writing duties somehow -- and I'd love to have done the project in tandem with Mark. He's terrific at structure, has an unparalleled knowledge of DC history (while I wind up desperately calling friends and asking, 'Quick, quick -- what are all the great items of cosmic power in the DCU? Name me some DC intergalactic warlords! Aiee!') and knows the characters inside out. Our only disagreement, I think, is over whether Batman or Captain America would win in a fight ...

"But anyway, like I said, Mark's CrossGen deal didn't permit him to take on the project, so I seem to have gotten it by default. I can thank the fates for conspiring against Mark that day, instead of me.

"But I've got a lot of support, and while I'm mostly thought of as a Marvel guy, I've done a reasonable amount of work for DC over the years, and I've been reading the books for longer than most current readers have been alive. And Tom Brevoort's more knowledgeable about DC than anyone suspects, too -- so with me and Tom being smarter than we look, and Dan and the DC folks to help out, we shouldn't screw up too badly ..."

Busiek may not be prohibited from doing new projects, but he's already got a number of other projects he's committed to. Not to worry, though.

"Actually, I've got a lighter load than usual, these days. I've got 'Avengers,' and 'Defenders,' which I only co-write -- and I've got 'Astro City,' which my health problems are still keeping moving at a snail's pace. The other stuff I'm doing, whether it's the 'Thor' mini with Steve Rude or the stuff I've done through Gorilla, is all mini-series or one-shots, and for the most part, it's unscheduled. So it's not that hard to juggle things around and make room. Beyond the regular books, I've just finished a few things, and am starting some others -- but we can pace it all out so that not too many things all hit at once.

"Plus, I'm recovering from surgery, so if things went as well as the doctors tell me they did, my work time should be expanding, not contracting. Knock wood."

As noted above, the project will be handled by both "JLA" editor Dan Raspler and "Avengers" editor Tom Brevoort.

"Tom's editing two of the issues and Dan's editing the other two," Busiek said. "Though I'll be talking to both of them all along, of course, and they both get to look over everything that gets done. It'll be a co-production all the way."

[Dan Raspler]
"My job, and Tom's job, is to sit back and let Kurt and George do what they do best."


- Dan Raspler

"My job, and Tom's job, is to sit back and let Kurt and George do what they do best," Raspler told the Comic Wire on Wednesday. "It's no accident that they have the job."

And fans shouldn't worry about competing editorial visions for the project.

"It's one of those classic situations, where my ideal Avengers, and Tom's ideal Justice league, or Kurt's vision of what Superman would say to Iron Man" are all in harmony, Raspler said. "Luckily, all of our ideas kind of mesh."

"If we do our jobs right, the fans shouldn't really notice any disparity between the various issues," Brevoort told the Comic Wire on Thursday. "I'm editing the odd numbered issues, and Dan's got the even numbered ones, but we've both got approval powers on our respective characters for the duration, and the particulars of the story are going to have to be worked out before diving into the project. So this won't be a case where I just produce issue #1, end on a wacky cliffhanger, and then Dan has to solve it -- though that could be fun, come to think of it.

"Bottom line: the creative team will be the same throughout. Dan and I splitting up the books between ourselves is more a bookkeeping issue than a creative one."

Given that the project has been in the works for almost two decades, does the creative team feel any additional pressure beyond that which they'd feel on another issue of "The Avengers?"

"Oh, sure," Busiek said. "This is a book that many fans have been waiting years for -- and not waiting patiently! They've got all kinds of expectations, and if we don't hit this out of the park, they're going to hound us forever for failing them. Pressure? Yeah, a little!

"That's one of the reasons we want the project to be as long as it is. We've got to do the usual crossover stuff that everyone expects, we've got to go the extra mile (extra mile? Extra 50 miles?) to make it the kind of thing it's been built up to in longtime readers' minds, and I wanted some extra room to throw in the kind of twists that I like to do, so there's room for me to make it a Busiek story along with all the other stuff that has to happen. Let's face it -- it's got to have both grand scope and tons of detail, and that takes room.

"But along those lines, let me say this: I've set up an e-mail address, JLAAvengers@aol.com (note the double A -- type it with a single A and it's someone else), and I'd like to hear from the fans, to get some sense of what their expectations are, since so many people have so many different ideas about what this should be. I'm not asking for story ideas, or for the main villains -- we've got that framed out already. But if you've been waiting for half your life for this book, and there's one thing, just one thing, that'll ruin it for you if it isn't there, I'd like to hear about it. A particular villain showing up somewhere in the story? A particular pair of heroes interacting? A location? A cameo? Hawkeye toasting marshmallows over Firestorm's head? Wonder Woman arm-wrestling the She-Hulk? Whatever, I'd like to hear about it -- I can use all the input I can get.

"But just to caution people -- don't expect me to use every single suggestion! We've only got 200 pages, after all. And the guy who wants to see the Creature Commandos meet the Legion of Monsters somewhere along the way is just plain outta luck, I'm sorry to say. So no promises -- but we do plan to have a lot going on over the course of the story, so who knows what there might be room for? Let me know.

"And to all three of you 'Buried Alien' fans: Forget it. Can't do it. No way."

Of course, Busiek's partner in crime has some ideas of what he'd like to be included: "I guess there are certain things I'd like to see," Prez said. "I'd like to see some of the great locations for both universes. In the original story, we never would have had Apokolips. But Apokolips would be great to be in there."

Brevoort remains cognizant of the anticipation around this project that's built for longer than the lifetimes of some JLA and Avengers fans.

"Well, sure," he said. "That's why we're doing four bookshelf-sized issues, rather than a one-shot. On one level, I do have the fear that this thing has been so built up in peoples' minds that no story could possibly equal the expectations. That said, the challenge is still to meet and exceed them. In terms of confidence level, I would expect that Dan might have more reservations than I do -- not that he's said anything to that effect or anything -- simply because I've worked with this creative team for a number of years, and the interactions are smooth and instinctive at this point. So in that respect, it's really not that different from doing an issue of 'Avengers.'"

By now, readers of this article have most likely stopped, at some point, and looked at the new promotional piece Prez has done for Megacon, featuring members of both the Justice League of America and the Avengers. Note to panicked fans: This is not the final roster of who is going to be in the book.

"Well, that group shot is a promo shot," Busiek said. "We're not 100 percent sure who's going to be on each team yet, as I type this. We're flexible. But we know that whoever we pick, the book's going to come out at least a year later, so the odds are good that the active membership of one or the other teams will have changed from whatever we thought it was going to be right now. We're more concerned with delivering a JLA and an Avengers that'll be what readers really want to see, not reflecting that at-this-moment line-up. So yeah, we'll find a way to get Hawkeye in there -- Avengers fans want Hawkeye to be involved, so we'll do it. And if Batman gets voted off the island again, don't worry about it. He'll be on the team here."

And just as the rosters may not reflect the current rosters in "The Avengers" and "JLA" the moment the books are released, don't look for any au currant subplots from the books sneaking in either.

"We don't know what they'll be, in a year's time. We don't really want to make this something that only makes sense at one specific moment in time, and then instantly starts to date horribly. So we'll be working to get the characters right, and get their relationships with one another to feel appropriate and have life and energy -- but nobody's going to be able to go, 'Look, Kyle was mad at Wally in this issue of JLA, but then he beat the crap out of Justice and felt better, and that's why they're getting along better now.' Even if we wanted to, we've just got too long a gestation period to fit it all together.

"So we'll split the difference, and do something that feels modern and current, but that also works for the long term, for the classic strengths of each team and each character. Just exactly what that means, I can't tell you right now, but we've got a plan, honest ..."

Of course, with Prez at the helm, who has drawn both teams in the past, along with literally almost everyone in the DC Universe during the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" series in the 1980s (including some panels that seemed to include all of the characters, all at once), as well as including at least a cameo of every Avenger in first issue of the "The Avengers" relaunch a few years ago, some fans might be hoping to see every Leaguer and every Avenger at some point in this story.

"This book is being drawn by George Prez. Nothing is impossible.

"George is not only the only guy considered for the art on this book, but he's the powerhouse that can make it all work. He's the only artist I know who you can ask to draw 83 villains on a page, and have him not only make it look great, but add in another 25 just because he felt like it. The problem won't be too much stuff, it'll be holding George back -- there'll always be another clash, another location worth using, another cameo, another moment of power and emotion. And George's standard answer to 'Which of these things should we do?' is 'All of it!'"

"Believe me, as far as I'm concerned, anyone who has ever set foot in the Avengers mansion, anyone who has ever set foot in the JLA, is fair game," Prez said. "There were some characters I would have loved to have drawn into that promotion piece. Plastic Man, for one thing."

"So at the very least, you'll see a whole lot of Leaguers and Avengers getting involved," Busiek said. "All of 'em? Well, you know what George would like. But wait and see ..."

As for nitty-gritty details as to what the decades-in-the-making story will be about, don't look for much information at this point, so early in the game.

"I will say it'll be a story of cosmic scope, that'll involve characters all the way from the Eternity scale down to the very, very human," Busiek said. "Worlds will live, worlds will die -- in fact, we may start off by blowing up a couple of universes, just to set the stage. Galactus and the Shaper of Worlds aren't out of the question. Neither are Krona and Darkseid. Heck, neither is Alfred, or Foggy Nelson. You never know.

"It'll be bigger than anyone expects, I hope. It'll be stranger than anyone expects, I can practically guarantee. And we may have a few twists that'll take everyone by surprise ..."

When DC and Marvel have allowed their heroes to play together in the past, it seemed like things always devolved into violence at some point.

"I'm sure there'll be some of that, since readers seem to want it -- and in fact, don't talk about much else than which heroes should square off against which other heroes," Busiek said. "But the thing people should understand is that, for all that we'll be doing some of that, this is 'Avengers/JLA,' not 'Avengers versus JLA.' And even the battles we do, we're not going to have everyone split up, and one guy from one team fights one guy from another team, until someone falls down. These are teams. They'll act like teams, not like solo heroes in an elimination championship. Besides, Marvel and DC already did that crossover ..."

While Busiek and Prez have worked with both the JLA and Avengers previously, for Brevoort and Raspler, this is a rare opportunity to play with the competition's toys.

"I'm an 'old school' DC fan," Brevoort said. "Pretty much anything Julie Schwartz edited, I liked. So the current JLA squad is pretty comfortable to me (with the exception of Plastic Man. Sorry, Dan, sorry, Mark, but I think he's a square peg in a round hole in JLA.) However, in the last 10 years, with all of the crossovers that have already been done, we've seen most of the obvious one-on-one meetings already. So my focus here is on my team meeting their team -- how are they alike, how are they different, what does this signify. How do the teams react to one another, rather than how the individual characters react to one another. We've seen Batman meet Captain America -- but how does he react to the Scarlet Witch, or the Wasp, or Thor? What does Iron Man make of the Martian Manhunter, or Wonder Woman, or the Atom? And how does the 'spirit of the Avengers' interface with the 'spirit of the League?'"

Speaking of previous intercompany crossovers, DC and Marvel have a long history of such works, stretching back into the 1970s.

[Superman vs. Spider-Man]"My favorite is probably the first Superman/Spider-Man," Busiek said, "Just because it was so cool, so new, and so big. I was the right age, it was a heck of a roller-coaster ride, and it was full of big moments that looked great on those tabloid pages.

"Batman/Hulk was another fun one, with great art, and X-Men/Teen Titans was dramatic as all hell. I still want to see Iron Man/Batman, though ..."

"There's a certain place in my heart for the first Superman/Spider-Man one," Raspler said, "But I think the ultimate one of all was the X-Men/Titans by [Chris] Claremont and [Walter] Simonson. ... Tremendous story. Both teams were in the full flush of their strength. The villains were terrifically well realized."

"There have been a handful of really good crossover books in the last bunch of years, but for me it all goes back to 'Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man," Brevoort said. "It was the first, it was an amazingly holistic project -- having been produced by creators who'd worked on both characters in the past -- and it was groundbreaking just by its very existence. Everything since has had to compete with the simplicity of that high concept. Since then, I also liked 'X-Men/Teen Titans' (though not when I first read it so much. At the time, I felt that Chris Claremont didn't have all that great a handle on the Titans' speech patterns. But reading it again in recent years, I found it was really terrific.), I thought the Dixon/Romita Jr. 'Batman/Punisher' was tremendous, I liked both of John Byrne's entries -- 'Batman/Captain America' and 'Darkseid/Galactus' -- and, of course, I thought that the 'Hulk/Superman' project I finished up worked out well."

So, when the fourth issue of "JLA/Avengers" or "Avengers/JLA" or whatever it's called, appears in comic stands (presumably) some time in 2002, a long-unfinished chapter in a superhero comics history will finally be coming to a close. How does it feel to be given the chance to finally do the project so many fans have been waiting for, for so many years?

"Feels pretty good," Busiek said. "Ominous, in that if I screw up, then I'm the guy that broke the toy everyone was looking forward to seeing, but I feel good about the story we've got, and I think readers are going to like it. We're not going to be taking the obvious route with things, so I'm pretty sure it won't be ho-hum."

"It's a huge opportunity. I've worked on a lot of comics I'm real proud of, that people seem to respond well to, and I would put this up there with those," Raspler said. "This is a special one, because it involves the Marvel fans at well. ... Of course, we're fans, too, otherwise we wouldn't be doing this. ... We're real aware of how important this is for everyone."

"The last one, while fun, was based on the single premise of the JLA battling the Avengers. But that has been done now. DC versus Marvel, the Access [DC/Marvel crossover] books," Prez said. "I know that I am not going to coast through JLA/Avengers. It's given me, as much as CrossGen, motivation to watch my health ... This may be my last hurrah on mainstream superheroes for some while. So this bears the burden of that.

"After JLA/Avengers, frankly, where else can I go in the superhero genre? If I'm hanging up my cape and tights -- and lord knows, that's not a pretty sight -- it seems like a fitting place to end it."

Related Information
News Stories
George Prez on CrossGen Move


Busiek: No JLA/Avengers Progress

Message Boards
Avengers Message Board


JLA/JSA Message Board

Front page flash animation by Mike Kowalczyk.

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