Thursday, August 5, 2010

Versus: the Avengers vs. the Justice League of America

Doug: Hello to all the great debaters out there! Today we're going to pass inspection on one of those really fun arguments, of any era really: which team is better, the Avengers or the Justice League of America?

Doug: First off, I guess we need to set up parameters for judging. I'm here to say that as a co-commissioner of this exercise, I'm going to vote for NO RULES! Let's just keep it an organic conversation, flowing from one thing to another.

Doug: So I'll start with a general thought/impression -- if one were to look at the first incarnations of each team, which would you prefer? In the Avengers, we're talking Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Ant-Man/Giant Man, the Wasp, and I'm going to say Captain America, too, since he now has "Founder" status. Over at the Distinguished Competition, the so-called "original seven" were Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman.

Karen: Honestly, with all the changes DC has made in continuity over the years, I have NO idea who the original JLA founders are considered to be! So I'm just fine with your line-up, Doug.

Doug: Where to go from here? If I was a writer, I think the Avengers team would be more interesting. As it played out with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, there was certainly more opportunity for internal conflict among team members. Over in the JLA, those guys (and gal) always got along. So point to Marvel. If I were an artist, I think I'd also rather work on the Avengers. Just the appeal of drawing Giant Man and the different scales to deal with would make books a greater challenge. Additionally, the settings that revolve around Thor's character make for interesting possibilities. Yes, some of the space adventures that could be explored through Green Lantern or J'onn J'onzz might compete, but overall I'd pick the visual possibilities of the Avengers. Oh, and never underestimate the appeal of Iron Man's ever-changing armors!

Karen: You've basically described why I couldn't (and still can't) really get into Silver Age DC books. They were all the same guy with different costumes and girlfriends (and Batman had Robin). The Marvel characters could easily be distinguished by dialogue alone. The Avengers line-ups featured a lot of very different personalities.

Doug: Of course, line-ups brings me to a beef I have with the JLA anyway, and maybe I'm sort of a hypocrite. I was going to say that it irks me that Superman and Batman are considered part of the original team, but then I guess handing them that status isn't all that different from Cap being considered a founder of the Avengers. But let's talk line-ups -- do you remember when I posted that Alex Ross Avengers Assemble print a couple of weeks ago? Let's take those Avengers: Black Panther, Hawkeye, Cap, Iron Man, Goliath, the Wasp, Thor, Scarlet Witch, and the Vision. Then let's go with a classic JLA line-up of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, J'onn J'onzz, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Atom, and Green Arrow. Who ya got? I mean in a scrap, but also -- who would you like to read about?

Doug: I'd really love the adventures of that Avengers line-up. Hawkeye agitating everyone, Hank's angst, the Panther's nobility, the haughtiness of Thor, the moodiness of the Vision, the pomposity of Iron Man, etc. There's just some great characterization there. On the other hand, aside from Green Arrow, there isn't any potential for 3-Dimensionalism in that JLA group. I'm speaking historically, by the way. I know recent writers have given them (especially Batman and Wonder Woman) some personalities. But if you look back over the Silver and Bronze Ages, you'd just see some cookie-cutter heroes. You may have noticed I left Aquaman off that line-up. Yeah, cookie-cutter...

Karen: It's a no-brainer for me. Avengers has been my favorite team since I first picked up issue 92 and the subsequent rest of the Kree-Skrull War. While I've enjoyed certain incarnations of JLA, it doesn't come close for me.

Karen: Of course, if you're talking about a team to team match-up, that's a hard call. If it's a JLA that has pre-Crisis Superman, then I would say he, by himself, could beat that Avengers line-up! The guy could push the Earth out of orbit; essentially, he was God in a cape. But I thought Busiek and Perez did a nice job on the eventual JLA -Avengers throwdown...although I am still a bit peeved about Thor losing to that mortal...

Doug: Creative teams? You'd be hard-pressed to convince me that there's something better out there than Roy Thomas and John Buscema paired with either George Klein or Tom Palmer. I am a Dick Dillin fan, but his JLA isn't in Buscema's league. I'd offer that my second choice of Stan Lee and Don Heck, circa 1965-66 is better than the team of Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky.

Karen: I too love the Thomas/Buscema issues of Avengers, really the foundation for everything that followed. But I'd also throw the Englehart run in there, despite the presence of a strong regular artist. The Stern and Busiek runs were also great reads. For JLA, as I've said, my interests are limited. But I'd say check out Englehart's 12 or 13 issue run on JLA in the mid-seventies. He was brought in to "Marvel-ize" the JLA, and it's pretty interesting stuff.

Doug: How about villains? I guess Despero or the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3 would be the best-known JLA baddies. But can anyone over there hold a candle to Kang the Conqueror or Ultron? I say to thee NAY!

Karen: I can't say much here, as I'm just not as up on my JLA villains. Although I would venture to say that I'd take most Avengers villains over the likes of Starro. A giant

Doug: How about interrelatedness of characters? In the Avengers there is the whole triangle of Vision-Scarlet Witch-Wonder Man, and about the time you toss in Quicksilver, Ultron, the Grim Reaper, and Magneto it's a Jerry Springer show waiting to be aired! Hank and Jan also add a family touch, even if that touch is often dysfunctional. Over in the JLA, Katar and Shierra Hol are there, Ollie and Dinah, and even Ralph and Sue Dibney... but it's not the same. There's just no tension, no real possibility for storytelling built off of that.

Karen: Well, I wouldn't necessarily say that. I think over time they've differentiated the characters enough that there's more personal conflict. On either team, the only characters that the writer can really play with are the ones that don't have their own books. For many years that would have been difficult on JLA, where most of the characters appeared elsewhere. But I'd have to agree that there's a rich mine of emotional gold with the Pym-Vision-Witch-Wonder Man relationships that I think the JLA would be hard pressed to match.

Doug: So I guess we could on and on, but I think it's pretty clear -- we're a couple of died-in-the-wool Avengerphiles. However, what we'd like to hear is a kind word from those among you who are JLA or DC apologists. Give us an argument -- we'd love to be in that conversation!


J.A. Morris said...

I'll take an Avengers story any day over most JLA. Karen's right about the Silver Age versions of the characters,which is one reason it's hard for me to read any Silver Age DC stories that weren't drawn by Neal Adams.
Since you already mentioned the classic villains,I'll give a shout-out to my favorite villains of the Silver/Bronze Avengers:The Zodiac Cartel! When I first started collecting back issues,the Zodiac stories were cheap and fun. Looking back now,they were pretty goofy villains with few superpowers(and obviously a product of "the age of Aquarius")and goofier costumes. But their first appearance in #72 is great,the epic story covering #120-123(by Engehart,Bob Brown,J.Buscema & Don Heck) is one of the great overlooked stories of the era. It suffers because it's the story between 'The Avengers-Defenders War' and 'The Celestial Madonna'.
Doug wrote:
"You'd be hard-pressed to convince me that there's something better out there than Roy Thomas and John Buscema paired with either George Klein or Tom Palmer."
Dillin was one of the best,but I'll go further than Doug and say the Thomas and Sal Buscema(they teamed together for about 11-12 issues) were better than the JLA creative teams of that era. I will say one of my all-time favorite stories growing up was JLA #195-197. The HOF caliber team of Conway & Perez brought the formation of a new Secret Society of Super Villains,who proceeded to trash both the JLA and the JSA. Other than that,the only JLA I get into is the DeMatteis/Giffen/Kevin McGuire stuff from the late 80s.

Doug said...

J.A. --

That Zodiac story you referenced in Avengers #120-123 is a favorite of mine and one of the first Avengers "arcs" I owned. As a kid I thought Bob Brown's art was pretty good -- I see it with a bit of a different eye now, but it was still pretty solid.

It's funny -- at times, his figurework is not all that different from Dick Dillin, is it? Long and lean...

And I couldn't agree with you more on the Justice League revival after the Crisis. Bats taking out Guy Gardner with one punch, and goofy ol' G'Nort are pleasant memories of that series.

Thanks for chiming in,


Fred W. Hill said...

Interesting thoughts -- when Stan was tasked with coming up with a new superhero team to challenge the JLA on the stands, his most obvious route would have been to revive the All-Winners Squad of Cap & Bucky, Torch & Toro, Subby, Whizzer & Miss America. Obviously, Stan decided to try something a bit more original, even if it was a tweaking of Jack Kirby's Challengers of the Unknown. Then once Marvel had a stable of solo characters, Stan & Jack put together a more in the style of JLA, but after just 16 issues, Stan tore it apart and revised it with Cap and three former villains, forming a team that wasn't particularl all that "mighty." Nevertheless, it was fun to read! Of course, I only read it all in the Marvel Triple Action reprints, while also catching up with Englehart's terrific run, in the early '70s. The few DC issues I read back in those days just bored me silly.

Edo Bosnar said...

Easy choice for me, too, since I always was much more of a Marvel fan. Back in the Bronze Age I loved my comics full of tons of spandex-clad heroes, & both Avengers and JLA fit the bill, and I followed JLA quite a bit. However, although I liked Dillon's art, I think the only stories that left a real impression on me were the ones after his untimely passing, when Conway hit his stride and Perez was doing most of the art. To this day, I think that short run from that New Gods mash-up (which included the last issue drawn by Dillon) to issue 200 features all of the absolutely best Bronze Age JLA stories.
Meanwhile, with the Avengers you have the Thomas/Buscemas (John & Sal) run, the Kree-Skrull War, the Celestial Madonna saga, the Serpent Crown saga, the Korvac saga (hell, just the fact that all of these story arcs are called "sagas" says a lot), that Michelinie run with most of the art by Byrne and Perez (my personal favorite) and all of the "smaller" stories jammed in between and afterward. Verily, 'tis no contest!

Anonymous said...

Captain America did not join the Avengers until issue #4, although more recent retcons or reboots may include him as a founder. Superman and Batman really were founding members of the JLA from its first appearance in Brave & Bold #28. In the early issues they were often absent (tied up on solo adventures elsewhere) or made brief cameo appearances. That may have been because their editors did not want them over exposed. Of course, that changed in 1966, when DC was trying to exploit the Batman TV fad.

Anonymous said...

I was basically a JLA (and DC in general) fan in the Silver Age. But I was 7-10 years old at the time. A neighbor kid was about twelve and a Marvel zombie. (He fancied himself an intellectual.) So I really think that Marvel consciously aimed at a slightly older audience than DC. For that reason, it's hard to compare the two. It's kind of like comparing Star Trek to Flash Gordon, Gunsmoke to Roy Rogers, or Bob Dylan to the Monkees.

Anonymous said...

The original Avengers got along reasonably well, except for the Hulk, who left in #2. The Kooky Quartet offered more possibilities for internal conflict. (They also did not have their own solo strips, so there were fewer problems with tie-ins and cross-continuity, e. g., "How can Iron Man be with the Avengers in New York fighting Zemo while in Tales of Suspense he's in China fighting the Mandarin?") The JLA had cookie cutter characterization until the late Silver Age or early Bronze Age, when DC began imitating Marvel. Then they started bickering among themselves. There was even a love triangle developing with Batman, Black Canary, and Green Arrow, suspiciously similar to the Captain America-Scarlet Witch-Hawkeye triangle in the Avengers' Kooky Quartet era.

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