It takes a quite bit to genuinely surprise me when it comes to mainstream comics, but the freshly concluded Heroes Reborn story arc by Jason Aaron is one of those comics. This arc must have evaded my radar entirely, as when I was sent the trade to review, I assumed it was a return to the Heroes Reborn pocket universe created in the aftermath of the Onslaught Saga in the mid-’90s. Thankfully, this is far removed from that series of books, and lets the uber-competent Aaron (with the help of a slew of talented artists) tell a truly compelling story that doesn’t seem like a disposable “What If…?” type adventure.
In many ways, this book is an exploration into what the Marvel Universe would be like if it were the DC Universe. Rather than the rise of the Avengers to defend Earth, we have Squadron Supreme (a less than subtle parallel for the Justice League) taking center stage as the focal superheroes in this cosmos. In addition to regulating members of the Avengers to lesser heroes or unknowns, Aaron amalgamates several important figures into new creations. The Marvel characters you know have been twisted and altered by this different universe, with only Blade aware that something is awry in this alternate universe as he works to uncover its secrets.
The book collects Heroes Reborn #1-7 and Heroes Return #1, as well as a batch of the variant covers for each issue. While the run produced many of tie-in issues, those other books don’t seem to be necessary to follow the core storyline present in this trade.
I appreciate how this miniseries is structured around the monthly comic format. Each issue has a different artist, and often focuses on a select character of the Squadron Supreme or characters in their orbit. The second issue focuses on Hyperion (the Superman stand-in), or Doctor Spectrum taking on an unhinged Rocket Racoon in issue #4. While I generally prefer a single artist and writer working to develop a single vision for a run of this nature, having different visual perspectives on each chapter helps build this universe, making it seem long-lived and full. You can imagine a whole different timeline where these various artists are dozens of issues into their respective monthly titles existing in this universe. It’s only in the last few issues that the conflict between the Squadron Supreme and a version of the Avengers becomes clear, leading to their clash in the final issue of the run.
The first four issues were genuinely excellent, my interest piquing with each subsequent issue. Unfortunately, the ending of the run suffered from anticlimactic conclusion that left the promise of some of the earlier issues hanging. It’s abundantly clear Aaron loves these characters and had a clear story to tell, but its final chapter just doesn’t contain the punch the run likely intended.
That being said, I would like to see Marvel return to the concepts presented in this run in the future; the evident talent and absurdity bounding off huge swaths of this run are estimable and rousing. There are a lot of unmined ideas just below the surface of the run. Thankfully, the final issue of this collection (Heroes Return #1) does leave the door open to such a possibility.
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