The Crossover That Wasn't
Intercompany crossovers have long fascinated comic book fans and pros alike. Before the first official Marvel/DC crossover, 1976’s Superman Versus the Amazing Spider-Man, various stories appeared that skirted around the legal issues involved to explore what might happen if the two publishers’ characters met. Perhaps the best example of this is the invention of the Squadron Supreme, transparent analogs of DC’s Justice League of America, who made their debut in Marvel’s Avengers #85 (March 1971) by Roy Thomas and John Buscema. The creative team reworked villainous versions of DC’s heroes, the Squadron Sinister, which they had created for a story less than a year and a half earlier, and added new characters to create an eight-member super-team from a parallel world. I thought it would be interesting to take another look at that two-part adventure and see how it would have played out if the Avengers were actually transported into the DC universe to meet the genuine articles rather than the pale imitations.
Here, then, is the “first meeting” between the Avengers and the Justice League, in “The World is Not for Burning!”
Following an adventure in the extradimensional realm of Polemachus, seven Avengers are ready to return home. Thor decides to use the space-warp capabilities of his enchanted hammer Mjolnir to return himself and his teammates to earth, calling upon the aid of his all-powerful father Odin to guide them on their journey. However, only three of them reach the correct world, while Goliath, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and the Vision are transported instead to a different destination. To their horror, the four heroes find themselves existing as intangible phantoms witnessing an earth in its death throes. All around them, people are dying from the unbearable heat as the sun swells to fill the sky. Quicksilver spots a discarded newspaper lying on the sidewalk, and its date reveals they have shifted some three weeks into the future. Out of pure desperation, the Scarlet Witch unleashes one of her most powerful mutant hex bolts, enveloping her teammates in its unpredictable energies. With a sudden jolt, they find themselves solid again as passerby are startled by their sudden materialization. Goliath finds the nearest newsstand to discover that it is once again mid-December. Things seem to be back to normal, though Goliath wonders why the clerk failed to recognize them.
The Avengers quickly return to the Fifth Avenue mansion that serves as their headquarters, but their collective sense of misgiving grows as the house is subtly different both inside and out. Immediately after entering the structure, however, their progress is halted by automated defense systems they are unfamiliar with. A deep, commanding voice rings out from the top of the stairs, and the four startled heroes look up to see a man in a dark-hued costume with a black-and-gold bat emblem on his chest. He introduces himself as Batman and calls them intruders. When the Avengers stand their ground, the Batman leaps over the banister and strikes the Vision squarely in the chest. Having increased his own mass exponentially, the Vision is unfazed by the blow, and realizing he is outnumbered, Batman slips through a hidden passageway in the wall. The Avengers pursue him into the depths of the mansion, only to discover an entire team of superheroes meeting in a high-tech conference room. They stop short as they come face-to-face with Hawkman, the Atom, Green Arrow, and the Black Canary.
Goliath grabs Batman before he can send a message warning the rest of his team that their security has been compromised. The inevitable argument is interrupted by a video message from a masked man identifying himself as Green Lantern, calling his teammates in the Justice League of America at their temporary headquarters in Gotham City. The Avengers finally realize they are stranded on a parallel world. Green Lantern, in Coast City with Superman and the Flash, reports that the rocket Brain-Child One is ready to blast off for its close-proximity survey of the sun. The Avengers quickly deduce that the dying world they foresaw was not their own, but this earth, and that the solar rocket must somehow be the cause. However, their intention to stop the launch is misread by the Justice League, and a battle breaks out, which rages for several minutes. Within the building, Quicksilver knocks out Green Arrow while the Scarlet Witch overcomes the Black Canary. On the street outside, the Vision and Goliath manage to defeat the Atom, Hawkman, and Batman. Taking charge, the Vision orders Goliath to bring the unconscious Batman along with them as they commandeer a sleek skycraft and head for California to stop the launch. As the craft zooms through the sky, Batman regains consciousness, but the caped crusader assures the Avengers that he believes they are sincere, despite their outlandish story. He agrees to help them save the world.
Soon arriving at the launch site, the Avengers rush to confront Superman, Green Lantern, and the Flash, but the members of the Justice League naturally assume they are under attack and initiate an immediate launch. However, the Scarlet Witch causes a malfunction in the rocket with her hex power, and the blast-off is aborted. Batman appears then, giving his teammates the code-word “Dark Tower” to establish his bona-fides, and then tells them he is convinced that the rocket poses a threat to all life on earth, and the launch must be delayed while they check it out. The Justice League members are puzzled because there should be nothing in the rocket capable of causing the sun to go supernova, for Brain-Child designed it merely for scientific research. When the Avengers ask who “Brain-Child” is, Green Lantern fills them in: a ten-year-old mutant super-genius named Arnold Sutton who designs sophisticated technology for the American military from his remote stronghold on an island in the Pacific Ocean. Sutton is a recluse, Green Lantern reports, due to his freakish appearance resulting from a distended cranium. The Vision suspects Sutton may be dangerously embittered and planning to unleash his juvenile wrath against the world. The Avengers and the Justice League agree to team up to investigate.
The eight superheroes travel to Sutton’s island stronghold and are met with robotic defense mechanisms. Through an intercom, Brain-Child freely admits that he designed the rocket from a special alloy that would have triggered a chain reaction in the sun, causing it to go nova and destroy the earth. Before the heroes can react, Brain-Child fires on them with powerful force blasts, causing them to retreat. The Vision suggests they split into teams of two to try breaking into the fortress at four different points. Agreeing with the plan, Green Lantern disables their enemy’s “spy-eye” device using the emerald energies from his power ring.
Thus, Quicksilver and the Flash approach the complex known as the Dark Tower (so called in reference to the works of English poet Robert Browning) at super-speed. However, they are met by a tremendous shock wave that knocks them off their feet. The resulting rubble then flies up and attacks them, animated by some unseen force. In response the two speedsters create a vortex that sucks up all the loose rocks. Unfortunately, no sooner have they dealt with that problem than they are attacked by the citadel’s very walls. Meanwhile, the Scarlet Witch and Batman succeed in opening an access hatch into a service corridor, only to find their way blocked by a large muscle-bound android. Batman attacks, but the unspeaking brute easily overpowers him. It then turns its hypnotic gaze upon the Scarlet Witch, causing her to lose all memory of who she is and what she’s doing there. The Vision and Green Lantern are also stymied upon entering the building when they encounter a giant amoeboid creature, which not only multiplies itself, but also adapts itself to negate their powers.
Only Goliath and Superman succeed in reaching the innermost chamber and confronting Brain-Child directly, but the super-powered “freak” turns his formidable mental energies against them, decking Goliath with a heavy piece of machinery and knocking out Superman with a massive discharge of electricity. Goliath recovers quickly, though, and uses some nearby wreckage to fashion a crude crossbow, using Superman’s unconscious form as the bolt. The impact sends Brain-Child crashing from his throne, and overtaxed by his exertions, the young villain passes out. Instantly, the fortress and all it contains dematerializes into nothingness, leaving the perplexed superheroes standing on a barren island. A groggy Arnold Sutton cries out for his mommy and daddy, as the dissipation of his mental energies has induced a form of amnesia, with an accompanying reversion of his skull to normal proportions. The menace of Brain-Child is no more. Superman and Batman assure the boy that he will be well taken care of.
Just as the superheroes begin to celebrate their victory, however, the Vision, the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Goliath do a fast fade as they are pulled back to their home universe by the tireless efforts of their teammates. Thor, Iron Man, and the Black Panther greet them upon their rematerialization in Avengers Mansion. While the others head upstairs for coffee, the Vision remains behind to brood. Quicksilver asks him why, and the Vision muses whether they are truly home, or merely on another of the seemingly infinite parallel earths that exist in the multiverse. They may never know for sure.
It seems likely that Odin was working behind the scenes in this story, given that Thor invokes his unfathomably powerful father on the very first page. Doubtless Odin dispatched the four Avengers to the other earth (whether it’s the Squadron Supreme’s world or the DC Comics version of earth), giving them first their ghostly vision of the planet’s impending doom. Then it was Odin’s hand, rather than the Scarlet Witch’s, that effected the time-shift, allowing the heroes to prevent that world’s destruction. He let Thor return to the Marvel earth, knowing the enchanted might of Mjolnir would be needed to bring the taskforce home when their mission was completed. Also, he almost certainly prevented the lost Avengers from being rescued too soon, which accounts for their dematerialization mere moments after the battle is won. This is more palatable to me than a string of wild coincidences.
At this time, the Justice League had its headquarters on an orbiting satellite, which would make it almost impossible for the Avengers to stumble into one of their meetings. Thus, I assume that the satellite was temporarily disabled, perhaps due to a damaging battle with a gang of super-villains, and the team was meeting at an urban installation owned by Bruce Wayne that bore an uncanny resemblance to Avengers Mansion.
At the conclusion of the original story, Doctor Spectrum uses his power prism to reverse Arnold Sutton’s “giant head” mutation. However, this would be beyond the capabilities of Green Lantern’s power ring, so I assume that the transformation occurred naturally as a result of Brain-Child burning out his mental energies battling eight superheroes simultaneously. This minor change still goes along with Roy Thomas’ intent of having a clean, happy ending in the tradition of Julius Schwartz-era DC comics, which he then counterpoints with the ambiguous uncertainties of the Marvel-style ending which follows.
Naturally, in this story produced exclusively by Marvel personnel, the DC characters wouldn’t make a very good showing of it. Superman, especially, would be embarrassed. If it had been meant to be an intercompany crossover, it’s very doubtful the editors at DC would have approved the story as Roy Thomas wrote it, since it kind of makes their heroes look second-rate.
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