The Original Plot For The Unfinished JLA/AVENGERS Crossover

It’s one of the great unfinished symphonies in the history of comics. After having successfully teamed up Superman and Spider-Man twice, Batman and the Incredible Hulk, and the X-Men and the New Teen Titans, in 1983 Marvel and DC were prepared to release JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA VS THE AVENGERS, uniting their two flagship teams in a single crossover book. Of the greatest excitement was the fact that this book was being illustrated by George Perez, who was not only just about the most popular artist in the business but who also had a history of working on both groups. In the end, the project was troubled and it never came to fruition–I don’t have enough time here to give chapter-and-verse on it, something that I may cover at some later date. But the key mistake made was that DC, who were producing the book, gave a green light to George to start drawing writer Gerry Conway’s plot before it had officially been approved by Marvel. This led to in-fighting among the two companies, as Marvel’s team didn’t feel that the plot worked as written. Eventually, Roy Thomas was brought in to revise the plot in an attempt to get the project back on track (and to use the 21 pages that George had already penciled.) But it was all for nothing–the window of Perez’ s availability had closed, and the book was never finished.

So the question remains: was Gerry’s plot so awful, so unusable, that the Marvel team was right to ask for extensive revisions? If you speak to those involved–Jim Shooter, Tom DeFalco, the late Mark Gruenwald, Roger Stern–the answer is undeniably yes. And in any event, it was a massive breach of protocol for DC editor Len Wein to have Perez proceed on drawing it before Marvel had signed off. Still, the proof is in the pudding–and I happen to have a copy of that original plot, which I will now share with all of you. It definitely has some problems in it, some stupid or ill-considered moments. But it also looks to my eye like the sort of thing that could have easily been corrected with a simple revision. Then again, I wasn’t there, and I don’t know all of the ins-and-outs of who said and who did what when. All I know is that everybody was deprived the pleasure of this book existing because two groups of people couldn’t come together and agree on something. And if there’s anything more 2022 than that, I don’t know what it is.

47 thoughts on “The Original Plot For The Unfinished JLA/AVENGERS Crossover

  1. I have often wished I could cross dimensions to the timeline where Steve Englehart and Steve Gerber stayed at Marvel for another five, ten years, and AVENGERS, CAPTAIN MARVEL, DEFENDERS, MAN-THING and OMEGA THE UNKNOWN stayed brilliant for much longer than here. I wouldn’t want to trade the Englehart DETECTIVES or MR. MIRACLE for them, I just want the best of both worlds.

    I absolutely cannot believe, though, that you want to live in a world where the absolute worst writer, editor, and human being who ever worked in comics got to shit all over the JLA/AVENGERS crossover which would almost certainly mean Kurt Busiek’s finest writing and one of Perez’s finest art jobs on the same concept would never exist.

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      1. I’m saying, if Conway had written JLA/AVENGERS, Busiek wouldn’t have, and that’s too depressing to even think about.

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    1. Gerry Conway, of ALL people, is the absolute worst writer, editor, and human being who ever worked in comics? Maybe you did cross dimensions after all.
      (And even if you were referring to Jim Shooter—geez, dial it down, man.)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The only person I ever read criticizing Conway has been Conway himself when he’d been unhappy with his own work (and often disagreed having enjoyed the bulk of his work I’d read) so this has to be yet another attack on Shooter. Yes, by all accounts he could have been a nicer person but he did fix a lot of problems Marvel had when he took over and left the company better for his successors.

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      2. While he certainly made Marvel function way better, I hated most of his creative decisions when he was in charge. It was a common enough sentiment among my friends I was surprised to learn that lots of people thought differently.

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      3. He certainly improved what was planned for the end of the Phoenix Saga you have to admit.

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      4. No, I don’t admit that.
        And Shooter’s “Phoenix killed lots of people she must DIE!” stance is unconvincing given he let his pet creation, the Beyonder, blows up several planets and then signed off on having Reed Richards save Galactus, who’s done worse than either of them.

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  2. Really appreciate you posting everything here so that we can see the script for ourselves. I half expected Marvel and DC to engage Perez to complete this story until 5 or 6 years ago when the great cultural changes (revolution?) seemed to commence (at least at Marvel, DC took a while to catch up). That said, in the meantime we did get a magnificent crossover written by Busiek/Perez, which will probably be seen as the ‘last gasp’ of the Avengers as depicted in the ‘classic’ fashion. That was, IMO, worth the wait.

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  3. My God, Tom — Thank you SO much for posting this! I never thought that Conway’s original plot would ever see the light of day. This was one of my comic book holy grails and I didn’t think that ANYBODY still had a copy to share! I can’t wait to read this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Reposting since WordPress ate my original attempt…

      It was fascinating to finally read Conway’s original plot after all this time. Again, I never thought this would see the light of day. I agree with you that there’s nothing here that another pass at the script couldn’t fix.

      I’m surprised that this plot followed the tradition of the early DC/Marvel crossovers (Superman/Spider-Man, Batman/Hulk, and Teen Titans/X-Men) by presenting them as living in the same world but meeting for the first time (Green Arrow seems well aware of who the Avengers are on pg. 6, for example). I’d long been under the impression that this would’ve been the first DC/Marvel crossover to have the characters in separate universes. That’s how George Pérez recalled it in his summary of the 1983 plot in the Collector’s Edition.

      One strength I think this plot has over the penciled pages is having the Lord of Time contact the Avengers and Kang contact the JLA. I think it’s a LOT more plausible that the two teams are manipulated into fighting each other if the villains are unknown quantities. It’s also just plain more FUN to see the Justice League and the Avengers fighting each other’s foes as you, Kurt, and George did with the Starro/Terminus switcheroo in the 2003 version. I wonder why they changed this.

      It’s also interesting that the plot includes Hercules and Wonder Woman in the WWI sequence instead of Zatanna and the Scarlet Witch as in Pérez’s pencils. Again, I wonder why that change was made, and if George did it when he penciled the job or if Conway did another draft after this one.

      On the Superman/Krypton scene on Galactus’ ship, I agree that it’s an out of character moment for the Man of Steel, but he seems to realize this himself on pgs. 19-20. It would not surprise me if this moment was somehow tied in with the extra-aggressive irrational behavior the Wasp notes on pg. 22. Those moments being so close together makes me think there’s a connection there. It’s certainly something that Conway could’ve made a bit clearer in his plot, though.

      The BIG thing I think this plot is missing is a coming together of the two teams at the end. We get a lot of fun skirmishes between the smaller groups, and then BOOM, it’s all over. I really wanted to see the two teams realize they were on the same side and pool their resources to take down Kang and the Lord of Time. As it is, they seem to defeat the bad guys almost accidentally, which isn’t too satisfying. The heroes parting as friends is a big element of the “superheroes fighting because of a misunderstanding” trope, and I really missed it here. Again, this is something you, Kurt, and George has the sense to include in your version back in 2003. (To be fair, though, you also had a LOT more space to work with. How long was the 1983 version supposed to be, anyway? 64 pages? 72? Whatever it was, it feels like we need more breathing room, and we’re just getting the first two thirds of the story.)

      I love the 2003 version we eventually got, but a part of me will always regret that this version didn’t come to pass. Eleven-year-old me would’ve LOVED it. It’s fascinating to finally read this after 39 years(!) and compare it with the Pérez pages, though. I’d love to read Roy Thomas’ revision and see what changes he made, using Pérez’s already-completed pages as a guide. I know that Roy added in an Aquaman/Namor fight, but I’m not aware of anything else he changed in his version. Do you have a copy of that as well, Tom?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I really wish I could find the exact quote, but as I recall Kurt Busiek said something along the lines of the implosion of this project can be chalked up to Marvel and DC at the time having two very different, and simply irreconcilable, editorial styles.

    Whatever the case, we did eventually get Justice League / Avengers by Busiek & Perez, and honestly,what we did get is probably much better than what we would have gotten if the original had come out. Perez was a much better artist in 2003 than he was two decades earlier, and we got four double-sized issues rather than just a single one, with a literal cast of thousands across the multiverse.

    Actually, I’ve always found JLA/Avengers to be a bit, well, nonsensical. It’s basically the comic book version of a big popcorn blockbuster movie. I love Busiek’s writing, but I personally believe he’s much better at writing these smaller, more intimate, personal stories. I think Astro City some of the greatest work of his entire career because it really fits his strengths & sensibilities as a writer. I just don’t find his work on giant spectacles like JLA/Avengers to be as engaging. But, eh, I doubt anyone who would have written that crossover would have made it some deep, insightful work. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I had been 14 years old when it came out, rather than 27. Oh, well, it definitely looked amazing.

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    1. “I really wish I could find the exact quote, but as I recall Kurt Busiek said something along the lines of the implosion of this project can be chalked up to Marvel and DC at the time having two very different, and simply irreconcilable, editorial styles.”

      I think you’re recalling Michael Eury’s analysis of what happened in his “Greatest Stories Never Told” article in BACK ISSUE #1, Ben. Jim Shooter was a micromanager in the form of his former editor Mort Weisinger, while Dick Giordano was more of the “pick the right people and get out of their way” school. In retrospect, it’s not too surprising that they clashed in their methodologies.

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  5. While I’m glad we got the Busiek/Perez instead the criticisms Marvel cited (an article in something back in the day) were hardly fatal — heck they pointed out solutions themselves (Flash is way faster than Quicksilver but the Rambeau Captain Marvel can fly at lightspeed).

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    1. Yeah, as I wrote above, most all of Marvel’s objections could be covered in dialogue. Scott Lang picked up the Avengers alarm in one of Hank Pym’s old Ant-Man helmets, or he was summoned under false pretenses like the others. And since the Flash/Quicksilver race hadn’t been drawn yet, it shouldn’t have been a big problem to change it to a Flash/Captain Marvel race instead (Even though that doesn’t have quite the same fanboy cool factor as the two speedsters racing each other).

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  6. First, I apologize, my original comment was done on my cell phone and is less coherent than I wanted it to be. I think the gist came through, and that gist is, in the universe where Gerry Conway wrote the JLA/Avengers crossover, Kurt Busiek didn’t, and that would primordially suck. Anyone who knows me knows Kurt and I have, sadly, a great deal of love lost between us, and I will always point out the flaws and limitations I see in his writing (and often, it takes a while) but JLA/AVENGERS was his crowning moment and a brilliant achievement for anyone. The comics world would be horribly lessened if that story didn’t exist, and it would be horribly besmirched if the Conway story had seen print. And if the Conway story had seen print, the Busiek story would not have. That’s my point.

    A few have asked me why I hate Conway so much. To me, this is much like someone asking me what I have against Trump and all his minions. If you’re a comics fan and you don’t hate Conway, I mean, honestly, I don’t know how to help you,. However, I expressed myself about one of his unfortunately not at all atypically odious scripts here, if you’re interested – https://www.facebook.com/darren.madigan.7/posts/7323214074385692

    I did a similar takedown on a true brainboggler of a bad script he turned in for SUPER VILLAIN TEAM UP (brain bogglingly bad for any other writer, even Mike Friedrich or Don Glut, but sadly typical for Conway). I can’t pull that one up again right now; maybe I sent it in an email to one of my buddies. I don’t know. But the horror Conway inflicts in THOR #207 is enough to illustrate why I consider him the worst writer to ever work in comics. Sadly, it’s not an unusually bad script for him. Conway understood early that all the editors at Marvel were looking for in a creator, text or art or anything else, was fast and reliable. His ‘writiing’ was always a thrown together mishmash of glib sounding phrases in the Stainless Stan Lee Style, True Believer, that made little or no sense, he was clearly happy to let his pencillers do as much plotting as they wanted to for no credit, which you can do with Kirby and Ditko but, dude, not so much with the Buscemas or George Tuska, you dig? I mean, the Absorbing Man decides to jack Thor after charging up by touching a TREE? Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck. This reminds me of that time Egon tried to drill a hole through his head, except not as funny. AND, he’s doing the second half of a Rutland Hallowe’en DC/Marvel crossover and the letterer says “Hey, Gerry, what’s the title of the issue” and Conway clearly does not know so after he ‘thinks’ for a second, he says ‘how about FIRESWORD’, with an exclamation point? (One time, my buddy Slappy and I were trying to come up with a title for one of his early issues of POWER MAN/IRON FIST and he was just baffled by it, it had Chemo running amok and he’d just turned someone, Bob Diamond and Colleen Wing, maybe, into glass statues and that was the cliffhanger, and Slappy could not come up with the title of the next issue, and finally I threw out, wincing because it was lame, “how about HEART OF GLASS”, because, you know, it was the 80s and we liked Blondie, and he was like “yeah, okay” and that’s the title that the story ran under, pretty decent splash by Ernie Chan/Chua too, but we both knew it was a shitty title, but that title is Alan Moore and Al Ewing and Steve Englehart and goddam William fucking Shakespeare compared to (gag) FIRESWORD!. I mean, seriously.

    But it’s more than just the bad writing. It’s the shitty way he treated people like Englehart and Gerber and Starlin during his six cataclysmic weeks as Editor In Chief, and the reason behind it was, he wanted to make more money per month, and the only way to do that when you’re working in comics in the 70s at Marvel or DC is, you get a title that pays more (like Editor in Chief) but if you’re still a greedy grasping dickdribble, well, you drive other writers off their titles and take them for yourself, even though you’re not fit as a writer to carry those guys goddam typewriter ribbon. This is what he did to Englehart and it’s why Englehart’s brilliant run on AVENGERS and DR. STRANGE and CAPTAIN MARVEL gets chopped off so abruptly, and it’s what he did to Gerber and it’s why Gerber’s brilliant run on DEFENDERS and MAN-THING and GUARDIANDS OF THE GALAXY also ended so abruptly. Conway took over writing AVENGERS and DEFENDERS and holy shit did those titles, which had been brilliant and awesome and godlike, immediately plummet into utter suckitude (“Egghead and his Emissaries of Evil!” It is to WEEP).

    Now, if Conway hadn’t done what he did, we wouldn’t have the Englehart DETECTIVEs and the Englehart and Gerber issues of MR. MIRACLE, but, still, what he did was unconscionable. And then he spent twenty years giving interviews telling everyone that it was those guys’ faults. . Yep. Englehart and Gerber and Starlin were all unprofessional and they had to GO and it was Hero Gerry Conway who finally got it done because Who Must Do The Hard Things He Who Can.

    Yeah, I know, Jim Shooter was a dick, too, but that man could write when he wanted to. WHAT IF THE AVENGERS HAD NEVER BEEN is pretty much the only good issue of WHAT IF ever, and it’s not just a good WHAT IF, it’s a brilliant story in its own right. Shooter has done a lot of stuff that’s very much worth reading and rereading (even if he’s never understood Captain America or the Hulk) and he may well be a terrible human being (I don’t know) but he’s never been the kind of asshole Gerry Conway was, and he’s never written a sequence where Thor is trapped beneath ‘a hundred weight of stone’ and has to summon Mjolnir back to him ‘by its secret name’ which is known ‘only to the very few, the very BLESSED few’.

    And Loki, Norse God of Mischief, has two magical wolves named Diablo and Satan and oh shit the power of Christ compels me to throw up. Or at least scream. AUUUUGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

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    1. Look, I’m going to let this stand, but I want to say right up front that I don’t agree with a lot of this. But even if I did, these boards are not a place where we’re going to permit this sort of bad-mouthing of creators—particularly for imagined slights. We can, for example, dislike the title of the story without needing to characterize the writer as an asshole or a hack because of it. So let everybody be on warning, I’m simply going to delete any posts that can’t stay on the right side of civility. Say what you want to about the work, but let’s leave the personal attacks out of it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Noted.

        Listen, I was asked, specifically, to explain what my problem was with Conway. I did. I find in this world that when I express my opinions, one of two things happens — I am sneered at for stating a point of view without supporting it, or, if I support it at great and elaborate length (I can support all my opinions at great and elaborate length, generally citing actual facts to support them, as I did in this case) then people don’t read my response and laugh at me for wasting my time. Or, if they read my response, since my points are pretty much always absolutely irrefutable in any way, then they get mad at me for being ‘uncivil’.

        People like you are in schoolboard meetings all over America now demanding that the history taught to their kids is ‘civil’, i.e., has nothing to do with actual history. My opinion of Conway is not subjective, as I demonstrated. He wrote what he wrote, he did what he did, if you can read that issue of Thor I reviewed at length and come away not shaking your head in disgust, I simply do not even know what to say to you.

        I am respectful to those who deserve it.

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      2. D.A., you really don’t need to double down like this. You can feel however you like about Gerry, I simply ask that you refrain from attacking any creator personally here. If writing one lousy issue of THOR was a capital crime, even Jack Kirby would be a guilty man. And in the case of Conway’s short tenure as EIC, having worked with all four of the people you speak of and having served behind a desk for three decades, my suspicion is that the truth is largely on Gerry’s side. As good as Englehart and Gerber were, it is inarguably that they also often had difficulties staying on top of deadlines, especially at that moment. And as the person brought in to ride herd on the operation, I expect that Gerry made the hard calls that he felt he had to make. The notion that he got rid of those creators so that he could line his own pockets is, frankly, ludicrous. But believe as you like, just keep things respectful when you come around here to discuss them.

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    2. We all have our individual tastes when it comes to certain creators. You may dislike Conway for multiple reasons — understood (I personally think he meshed better at DC than Marvel, but that’s just me). Conway would have been an ideal choice at the time because, not only had he been a more than solid JLA writer (if not, IMHO, up to the standard by his immediate predecessor Steve Englehart), but because he had been entrusted with the first Marvel-DC superhero crossover, SUPERMAN VS. SPIDER-MAN — and, in the eyes of most, knocked it out of the park.

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    3. I feel compelled to share this — I sincerely hope you will hear it.

      I don’t fault you for having favored or disfavored creators. When someone’s work speaks to us, we become fans. And when someone’s work (or apparently, even isolated instances of it) is distasteful to us, it can generate antipathy. Because we don’t know these creators as human beings, but solely via the lens of the work they create. They are only as good as how much their style aligns with our personal preferences.

      History is littered with celebrated artists who were monsters. And the inverse is true: people who are kind and compassionate can turn out artless dreck that critics take great delight in lambasting. Let’s put aside the matter of whether getting dopamine hits from recreational hating on things or people is unhealthy and habit-forming — the point I’m trying to make is that it is second nature but still WRONG to equate one’s creative output with the quality of one’s character. History has demonstrated time and again that one has NO bearing on the other.

      And in the matter of what happened nearly 50 years ago, when a guy in his twenties with no management training was faced with getting books out on time in a chaotic environment, I can’t judge because I wasn’t there. I DO know that different people recall events very differently from one another due to the limitations of memory and each person’s identity-defending point-of-view. I certainly have enough life experience to know that the more dysfunctional an environment is, the more conflict it creates between those — even friends — that exist within it.

      I would also encourage comic fans to extend the flawed, nuance of character we crave in our fictional characters to actual human beings. If Magneto can be a sympathetic villain due to being a victim of prejudice and a champion of an oppressed class — surely lesser, more trivial manifestations of good and bad exist in real people. None of us can claim to never having made poor choices — yet mercifully, our most of OUR mistakes aren’t part of the national record. And let’s not forget Hanlon’s razor: “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity,” (personally, I would use “ignorance” or “inexperience” instead of “stupidity,” but to each their own).

      And lastly, you can decide for yourself whether you need to hear this, but in my experience, letting go of antipathy unburdens the soul.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. After reading an unpleasant amount Conway tirade, I also feel compelled to proclaim that the final page of epilogue in Amazing Spider-Man #122 is one of the most emotionally compelling pages I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading — the cherry on top of one of the greatest Spider-Man stories ever written.

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  7. Hi Tom. Thank you so much for posting this. It’s nice to finally see the full plot. Would you also have access to Roy Thomas revised plot and would you please post it if you have it. Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on Doctor Multiverse and commented:
    There are things lost or never undertaken that mankind is the lesser for… the original JLA / Avengers crossover is one of those things. I can still recall hearing about this when I was a kid and it lit my entire being on fire. Yeah, I didn’t get out much. I still don’t get out much and it still gives me chills. I am still stoked that we got a crossover story in the aughts.

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