Tom Russo
September 05, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

If the makers of ”Freddy vs. Jason” thought that getting those two together was a nightmare, they should get a load of the back story on ”JLA/Avengers” ($5.95). DC and Marvel first planned to unite their superteams in a crossover in 1983, in part because of the success of prior collaborations like ”Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man,” and because readers were drooling for it. After all, the Justice League of America boasted Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, while the Avengers included Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. But with a sizable chunk of the comic already penciled by George Perez, Marvel infamously clashed with DC over the story’s direction, and the project fell apart.

Flash forward 20 years, and enough grudges have been settled (and enough players have changed) that the dream teaming is finally a reality. Writer Kurt Busiek (”Marvels”) offers some deft contrasts between the turmoil-filled Marvel universe, where the visiting Flash is stunned to stumble onto a mutant lynching, and the comparatively rosier world of DC, where the transported Avengers are giddily asked for their autographs. But the four-issue saga’s motivating element — a contentious race to secure a dozen cosmically powerful objects and thereby stave off doomsday — is a MacGuffin that would have played a whole lot better if we were still in junior high.

Still, setting what has to be a Guinness record for persistence, Perez supplies the art, and his fantastically detailed old-school line work has only grown finer over time. When Thor’s mystical hammer knocks the bloody spit out of Superman in one climactic, full-page illustration, we are back in junior high, in the best sense.

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