As I wrote in my review of Companion Vol. 1, the strongest aspect of the Heroes Reborn event was its commitment to its alternate world and alternate metafiction of a Marvel Comics, itself altered by the Avengers never existing. It was a clever, fun framing for a story that played up a Silver Age DC-tinged version of the Marvel Universe, one where Justice League stand-ins the Squadron Supreme are Earth’s Mightiest Heroes—and the inherent power inequality due to it.
Companion Vol. 2 gives context to that world, hoping to shine a light on portions of that world that don’t directly interact with the primary narrative—see where other characters might be, how the major altercation of time has shifted the struggles of their lives.
It does shine that light — but the issues in this volume are less concerned with the DC allusions, with only two new DC-inspired concepts: one take on Suicide Squad and one on Batgirl. Still another plays with that metafictional aspect more directly than anything else, with a Copper Age issue mock-up of Marvel Double Action featuring Nighthawk, the universe’s Batman character.
That issue, Marvel Double Action #1, does a lot of heavy lifting for the concept of the Heroes Reborn narrative — it carefully merges the dual natures of DC and Marvel of that era, both instilling the universe with a familiar sort of history and putting our invading character alongside Falcon and Green Goblin. It apes Captain America and Falcon, sure, but even more, the Amazing Spider-Man’s pathos, culminating in a send-up of The Night Gwen Stacy Died—without, of course, Gwen herself.
That’s because Gwen is over in her own Batgirl story, playing a compelling character that’s equal parts Barbara Gordon and Harley Quinn (if Harley had never fallen down her own insane rabbit hole); working at Ravencroft (which was a take on Arkham long before Reborn gave it an excuse to be so) with volatile criminals before hopping on a motorbike to be a young detective by night. It’s the issue that most feels like picking up an issue of its inspiration, but it maintains a certain Gwen-ness that makes it all the more powerful.
My largest complaint of Companion Vol 1 was that it tried too hard, at points, and that over-explaining of how clever it was strained the fiction. Vol 2 does not have that problem — nothing here exerts itself as heavily as the Peter Parker story from that book — but it doesn’t manage to feel completely unified, either. That issue of Double Action is a great send-up, but with none of the other books getting the true “this is an actual comic book from an alternate reality” feel, it stands as a diamond in the rough.
Not that the other issues are rough. A gritty, Jim Gordon-inspired Luke Cage story and a Wolverine/Alpha Flight story both illuminate different dark aspects of a Squadron world, with the Mephisto-worshipping United States both obliterating Canada to shut down non-Squadron superheroes and the religious strains leading Matt Murdock to an evil version of his usual brutal violence.
Behind the primary Heroes Reborn volume, Heroes Reborn Companion Vol. 2 is the strongest portion of our look into that world, but it highlights the disparate nature of the one-shot support. Only meant to deepen the fiction of the whole, the book succeeds, but without a central theme or through-line, the universe feels largely unbalanced (even taking into account the other one-shots).
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