What would a world without the Avengers look like? That is the premise of Heroes Reborn, a weekly event from writer Jason Aaron and artist Ed McGuinness that started this week with an oversized, blockbuster issue.
The answer, at least for now, is…a lot like the DC Universe! In this new world, the Squadron Supreme of America—a pastiche of DC’s Justice League—protect the United States while regular Avengers like Thor and Iron Man either labor in anonymity or remain blind to their heroic destinies.
Aaron, whose Avengers run laid the groundwork for this new Squadron Supreme, drops the reader right into this new status quo with a healthy dose of exposition courtesy of Blade, the one character aware of the old Marvel Universe. Most reality-bending comics crossovers have characters that serve this role — Bishop in Age of Apocalypse and Layla Miller in House of M, to name just a few — but Blade is a particularly inspired choice. He exists as the reader’s entry point to this world, but he is no neutral observer and his tendency toward, well, making things bleed does not bode well for the masterminds behind this new universe.
From the start, is is clear that someone (or something?) commandeered this reality into existence and a key mystery will be figuring out who and why. As with most summer comics events, there is no expectation that this DC-inspired world is here to stay, making the plot a secondary concern to the world-building and action.
What makes this issue stay with you is the exciting new character designs — featuring mixed-up characters like “Doctor Juggernaut” and “Silver Witch” — and Aaron’s colorful dialogue, which takes the usual camp of superhero stories to another level. (If you can pull off having a character saying, “Your iron-faced fascism will never be stronger than the hunger for pure old-fashioned liberty,” you already have my respect.)
The other intriguing element of Heroes Reborn is its nods to Marvel history. Any comics fan growing up in the ’90s remembers the words “Heroes Reborn” as a prelude to the return of star creators like Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee, who Marvel invited to reboot books like Captain America, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, and Avengers.
The reboot was justified in-universe as an outgrowth of the “Onslaught” event, where the consciousness of Magneto and Professor X merged. This time around, more than just two characters are “merged.” There’s Doctor Doom and Juggernaut, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, plus characters in future issues based on Spider-Man and the X-Men.
Even if other parallels between the two events do not bear out, the use of the name itself is striking. Marvel revives event names (Secret Wars, Civil War, Clone Saga) all the time, but Heroes Reborn was far from a much-beloved event.
At the time, the publisher’s decision to outsource its premier titles to the studios of its former star employees reeked of desperation. It also marginalized the staff remaining at Marvel, who had weathered that decade’s speculator boom. “I don’t think it’s the death knell of Marvel, but as a person currently working for Marvel, I’m insulted that they had to go outside of the company to ‘save’ the company,” Tom Lyle, then the artist on Punisher, told Wizard magazine. “I don’t think it needs saving.”
The comics business has not exactly thrived in the decades since that industry crisis, but the market has weathered a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and risen to a level of cultural prominence few comics geeks could ever have predicted. Heroes Reborn, an event referencing one of the more-derided parts of Marvel history, featuring characters drawn from Marvel’s chief competitor, isn’t just a fascinating stroke of marketing. It’s a flex.
Whether the comic proves to be anything memorable is anyone’s guess, but it sure looks to be fun. For seven more weeks, Aaron and a rotating creative team will drop a new issue of the main event alongside a slate of intriguing tie-in issues. High on my radar is writer Steve Orlando and artist Bernard Chang’s Heroes Reborn: Magneto & The Mutant Force #1, which includes new versions of Magneto, Emma Frost, Frenzy, Jubilee, and Rogue.
If you love geeking out about this stuff, the next two months of Heroes Reborn content will be right up your alley. By June 23, the day Marvel caps off this event with “Heroes Return,” I’m not sure what we will have learned from this venture. Could Hyperion and the Squadron Supreme be an interesting statement on nationalism and the commodification of heroes? Will Blade satisfy his hunger? Will DC strike back with its own faux-Avengers event?
I’d be happy to see more depth from this story and I am sure Aaron and his collaborators have bigger plans than just an action fest. But, look, the weather is getting nicer in the United States and it’s been a long year. An action fest doesn’t sound so bad.
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