Magpies and rats: The Heroes Reborn roundtable, week one

Carla, Tom, Shane and JK assemble to discuss Marvel’s latest comics event.

Marvel kicked off a new Heroes Reborn miniseries/event last Wednesday, the first of eight issues (and several tie-ins) that tell the story of a Marvel Universe where the Avengers never assembled. Instead, the Squadron Supreme, which takes its direction from a Phil Coulson who is much more menacing than Clark Gregg ever was, is now the MU’s primary super team.

With the first issue by Jason Aaron, Ed McGuinness, Mark Morales and Matthew Wilson now out in the wild, Shane Bailey, Tom Bondurant, Carla Hoffman and I thought we’d discuss the event each week, roundtable style, like we did with Future State earlier this year.

So grab your copy of the first issue and let’s get to it …

JK Parkin: Heroes Reborn #1 arrived in comic shops last Wednesday, kicking off the big event/storyline that imagines a world where the Avengers never came together — and the Justice League (or, actually, their non-union counterparts) filled the void. What did you think of the first issue?

Shane M. Bailey: I went into this after realizing that Aaron’s event driven Avengers just isn’t my thing, but his spearheading of this actual event looked interesting. It really reminds me of Age of Apocalypse more than Heroes Reborn, as it’s yet another alternate world where everything is suddenly different. Those can be fun when done right, but you kind of have to clear your mind and just run with it, hoping all your questions will be answered later. And boy do I have a lot of questions…

Did anyone else get an Age of Apocalypse vibe with Blade being the new Bishop in this world?

I have a lot of nerdy questions about how the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak works too, but I’m sure we’ll get to that in a minute.

Tom Bondurant: At first it reminded me of the Justice League: A Midsummer’s Nightmare miniseries, where Doctor Destiny reorganizes reality so that everyone has superpowers except the Justice League (and Titans, Young Justice, etc.). The villain mashups also give off a strong Amalgam Comics vibe. And considering that the Squadron Supreme is usually portrayed as a bunch of arrogant jackholes, I thought this was a pretty reasonable (and even heroic) take.

Shane M. Bailey: Yeah, I didn’t mind the Squadron Supreme as heroes here. And that Amalgam vibe is there for sure, or the recent Warps comics.

Doctor Juggernaut being the most noticeable here. Though he should have totally been called JUGGERDOOM! I don’t get the gem changing his armor to Juggernaut armor though. I didn’t think the gem did that, maybe Doom’s magic helped it a little?

Tom Bondurant: I can’t help you with Marvel magic mechanics. :slightly_smiling_face: I did re-read the issue to see where the temporal “hinge point” was, and it looks like the Squadron’s insertion into the Marvel U. From what I understand, they’re from another Earth entirely, right? So presumably they assembled, as it were, after World War II but before the Fantastic Four’s rocket launch?

Shane M. Bailey: Honestly at this point I don’t know. I know Hyperion and others were present in Hickman’s Avengers era. Nighthawk was there since Defenders, but I think he was a different Nighthawk, and then a rebooted Nighthawk got a series by Walker and Villalobos for a short while and they had their own book on Battleworld in Secret Wars. After that I think they showed up in Avengers when Coulson formed the team so the U.S. could have someone since the Avengers are now working for the world at large and not the U.S.

Shane M. Bailey: I’m thinking they were assembled right around the time the original Avengers came to be in our timeline. They specifically mention not finding Cap, so I’m going by that. Whatever Marvel’s sliding timeline version of that was. Right before Desert Storm? [laughs]

Here’s part of the solicitation text: “Welcome to a world where Tony Stark never built an Iron Man armor. Where Thor is a hard-drinking atheist who despises hammers. Where Wakanda is dismissed as a myth. And where Captain America was never found in the ice, because there were no Avengers to find him. Instead this world has always been protected by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Squadron Supreme of America.” I’m not sure what “always” means.

Tom Bondurant: Originally the Squadron Supreme (and the Squadron Sinister before that) was on an alternate Earth. From what I can tell — and that may not be much — they are on Earth-616 now as refugees from Earths destroyed in the most recent Secret Wars. (Gosh, that sounds familiar!) Therefore, they haven’t “always” been around in the MCU — unlike, say, the Sentry or the group from Marvel: The Lost Generation — so inserting them into the pre-FF Marvel U would give you this sort of setup.

Shane M. Bailey: I’m thinking you’re right. We were learning a little bit more about what happened in last year’s Miles Morales issues, before all this Clone Saga started, but that’s getting a bit off topic.

JK Parkin: Marvel has played fast and loose with continuity in recent years, especially in the years since the Hickman Secret Wars series. The idea of the “sliding scale” timeline plays along with that — it’s all very vague and in the background most of the time, until something comes along to call it out. Most recently, we saw this in The Marvels #1, where instead of Flash Thompson and the Punisher going to Vietnam or Desert Storm or whatever “war” keeps them at their current ages, they’ve now gone to a made-up foreign country to fight a war that can happen in whatever timeframe Marvel wants it to have happened. Ten years from now that war could have happened in 2020, for instance. Instead of trying to tie these characters to actual wars as they did in the past, now they’ve come up with a fictional analogue that won’t cause anyone to look cross-eyed at the story.

All that being said, I also get the sense that there isn’t a big push at Marvel to come up with some sort of “map” of continuity that incorporates the Squadron Supreme, Miles Morales, etc. into a set timeline. Unlike DC, where it does seem like someone has been interested in answering those questions and keeping things straight (although maybe that’s changed with the new regime), I feel like Marvel would prefer that we never actually ask about that. Miles is here, Squadron Supreme are here — how did that happen? Not important. Is the Squadron Supreme the same team that came out of the Mark Gruenwald and Paul Ryan’s miniseries? Are they the JMS group, with its harder edge? Or are we supposed to think of them as something different? I don’t even think Hyperion is the same one we saw hanging around with the Avengers a few years back, and I almost get the sense that it’s just not important to the story. They might as well just be a new group entirely for how they’re written in this.

Getting back to the first issue itself, I’m a little disappointed with it; I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it felt pretty light overall, in terms of the story. Avengers has been mostly one big-blockbuster action story after another under Aaron, with very few character moments or progression (although last month’s issue seemed to be trying to rectify that); it’s had some pretty grandiose ideas and concepts that rarely seem to translate into something that feels fully formed or satisfying. Squadron Supreme has been kind of hanging out in the background of Avengers since Aaron’s run started, and it just feels like it was time to put the spotlight on them now, even if the story is kind of a riff on Age of Apocalypse or other similar stories that we’ve all seen done before. Maybe that will turn around over the next eight issues, or at least I hope it does. But the first issue just fell kind of flat with me.

Carla Hoffman: This is awful.

I hate talking ill about comics, especially ones pushing the envelope and trying something so new it could lure in new readers, and Heroes Reborn is an easy pitch to those intimidated by jumping into the main Marvel Universe.  “What If?… the Avengers Never Happened” is a good pitch and it will be fun to see how characters are changed by the event and how other rise to new personas.  The art is big and bold as only Ed McGuiness can provide and the dialogue is just campy enough to follow.

But I came not to praise Caesar, but to bury him, and I do not think I am the target audience for this event.  First: I hate the Squadron Supreme.  Can’t stand ‘em.  It was a neat idea to thumb the ol’ nose at DC and say, “Ha ha, here’s our take on your Justice League!” but after that they just become this blank slate powerhouse for general mega-powers or too much information on how dark and edgy they are.  Remember J. Michael Straczynski’s reboot?  I do and not only was it late, but it was a terrible cliche of “superpowers but in the real world” and I checked right on out.  Every once in awhile they try to make the Squadron Supreme a thing again and it does not work for me. Superman but in the Marvel Universe sets my teeth on edge.

Second, Blade is narrating right out of a Frank Miller noir, and I wish he would stop.  First issues should set the scene and give you a more general idea of how the world works now, and having Jason Aaron’s hip-talking vampire hunter narrate this brand new world just makes me think of that meme with Steve Buscemi asking, “How do you do, fellow kids?” 

The Watcher would have been a better choice, even if Blade is our de facto main character of the story, just a dispassionate third person view that doesn’t refer to himself as a “bloodsucking nutjob.”

Third:  Silver Witch?  This is Pietro erasure and I will not let it stand.

To answer some of your other questions thus far:

  • The Gem of Cyttorak is how Juggernaut gets his powers.  He found it in a cave, like you do. Yes, it’s tied to the “Crimson Bands of Cyttorak,” the Dr. Strange spell.  Yes, you can pass the gem around, which is how you got Piotr becoming a Jugger-Colossus awhile back.  Yes, the armor comes with the gem.  I can totally see a Doom not driven to compete with Richards in the realms of science resort to items of magical powers like the Gem of Cyttorak.
  • The Squadron still seems like a buncha douchebags to me, whether or not they work for the government.  Again, not the biggest Squadron Supreme fan.
  • Nighthawk is a cool name and it just gets used a lot. Obviously, this squad’s Nighthawk is the more traditional BATMAN YOU GUYS LOOK BATMAN so I think he is distinct from the Defenders’ Nighthawk and the mini-series guy.  If not then… LOOK OVER THERE! *runs away*
  • Time travel always involves petty details we’d rather not think about and, if the story is engaging enough and pulls us in, we won’t ask things like, “When is this happening?” and “If Cap got frozen, did the Invaders exist?  Where’s the Human Torch or Namor?” But here I am, wondering those things and that’s not a great way to start the event of the summer. Also, why is Thor in Norway?  Where’s Donald Blake?  If he truly knows nothing and is some hard-drinking atheist, shouldn’t he be moonlighting as a doctor in New York? Did Odin banish him to Midgard without tying him to a mortal soul?  Again, details.

JK Parkin: Honestly those kinds of little details have bugged me throughout Aaron’s run on the title. It’s little things, like when Moon Knight went after Iron Fist and they acted like it was their first meeting ever — which it was not.

As for the Squadron Supreme, I loved the Gruenwald/Ryan miniseries, but haven’t really been a fan of much that’s been done with them since then. This Squadron is at least closer to that concept than the JMS one, but again, I don’t know how they fit in overall with everything that’s come before. It seems like every time we get a new Squadron Supreme appearance or title, it’s their first appearance all over again.

Carla Hoffman: Exactly! Being the Squadron just means you are a JLA analog and nothing else.

Tom Bondurant: Since it looks like I may actually be the target audience — casual Marvel fan, knows the broad strokes but not the deep cuts — for me, this was a fine first issue. Granted, this week I also read Crime Syndicate #3, so I got a double dose of alternate Justice Leagues. I thought Aaron’s exaggerated dialogue did a good job of evoking stereotypical DC exposition. Yes, the Squadron is a bunch of d-bags, but dialing that back even a little bit makes a difference. (Don’t get me started on Supreme Power, the miniseries which started slow and grim and was content to stay there.) In fact, my biggest problem with this issue is its assumption that everyone knows Phil Coulson is evil. One, i (and probably a lot of casual Marvel fans) know Coulson primarily from Clark Gregg. Two, I had kind of forgotten that he had turned evil; and three, even though I’ve been reading Aaron’s Avengers, I don’t think Coulson’s dark turn was ever explained in its pages. So for most of this issue I felt like Blade: The world has changed, and maybe that’s not so bad…?

Carla Hoffman: But can you smell blood all the way up in Antarctica, Tom?

I think the exaggerated dialogue is important, but it doesn’t explain why Blade starts out calling this new world “better” than where he came from.  I get that we, the readers, are supposed to be impressed, but why would Blade be?

Tom Bondurant: Blade does say he hasn’t smelled any vampires in weeks, so that’s probably a plus for him. Come to think of it, since Dracula and company have been such a big part of this Avengers volume, their apparent absence is even more noticeable.

Shane M. Bailey: How many times did they mention that Blade ate magpies and rats? 5? 6?

I think it’s saying that The Squadron eliminated vampirism. Using that as a shortcut to say they are doing a good job, but the thing is we automatically don’t trust them, unlike the what eventually became White Martians in JLA or the future JLA in DC One Million. We trusted them more because they were vouched for.

I’m also with you guys; I loved the original Squadron Supreme as an alternate take and having them take over the world, but I didn’t like Supreme Power and I haven’t really liked them since. Like you said, it’s become deja vu every single time.

Carla Hoffman: From Jason Aaron’s newsletter, where he shows off his well loved copy of World’s Finest #258 – his first comic!:  “It’s not a completely new world. It’s the Marvel Universe you know but remixed in a wild new way I feel pretty confident in saying we’ve never really seen before. And to understand and appreciate what that means, I think you’ll just have to see it for yourself. Issue #1 is in stores today, with art by Ed McGuinness, Mark Morales and Matthew Wilson and a whole host of different covers. And the other issues will be following weekly, featuring a killer line-up of artists, including Dale Keown, Federico Vicentini, James Stokoe, R.M. Guera, Erica D’Urso and Aaron Kuder. Together, we’ll be telling you one big story, while also giving you a wealth of glimpses into the new world we’ve built, one filled with surprises, and fueled by a joyful, all-consuming love of comics, that for me can be traced directly back to those 68 jam-packed pages of World’s Finest #258.”

Shane M. Bailey: There’s just not a lot of story there though, much like Avengers. As a kid I would have absolutely loved this, as an adult, if I turn off my brain, I kinda like it, but i have questions galore, that like you all said, probably won’t be answered.

Carla Hoffman: If this event sucks I’m blaming World’s Finest #258.

Shane M. Bailey: So the first issue wasn’t a success; I guess I went in with such low expectations I actually thought it was ok. Though it all seemed very, very familiar. I’m pretty sure Blade will team up with a team of “replacement” Avengers that are like the Avengers but made up of villains that are really heroes in issue 2.

Carla Hoffman: Oh no no no!  Don’t let me dissuade you: Heroes Reborn isn’t going to be about the main storyline.  These kids of event books rarely are for readers; think Age of Apocalypse or Secret Wars. What we want is invention!  Mixing up character origins to make new but familiar stories!  What’s Peter Parker gonna be like now?  Why is Aurora with Wolverine?  Is that Magneto in a wheelchair?  That’s the joy of these mix ’em ups is that if you’re disappointed by one thing, well it won’t matter in the long run and you can go look into some other weird change that might float your boat.

The first issue was success in so much that it got the ball rolling.  It did nothing so egregious that I’m not willing to recommend it to readers or skip the event myself.  It just kinda started off in some ugly shoes.

Shane M. Bailey: I still think it loses points for naming the Doom Juggernaut mashup Doctor Juggernaut instead of JuggerDOOM!

Carla Hoffman: He’ll always be the JuggerDOOM in our hearts.

John Parkin: So, with the first issue done, we have quite a few titles to look forward to over the next month, which look like they will, as Carla said, “mix up character origins to make new but familiar stories.” Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to in the coming weeks?

Tom Bondurant: I don’t think there will be a lot of DC-izing overall, but I am very curious to see how much Jimmy Olsen goes into this version of Peter Parker.

Shane M. Bailey: There’s actually three books I’m looking forward to that have been announced. American Knights is interesting because it deals with Detective Luke Cage. I just need to see how that happened. I’m a huge fan of Ed Brisson’s Wolverine and I love Alpha Flight, so Weapon X and Final Flight looks good to me. And finally, Magneto and the Mutant Force is by Steve Orlando and Bernard Chang, which should be good. I’m actually wondering if we’ll see a version of Krakoa in the Heroes Reborn timeline here.

JK Parkin: I’ll echo the Spider-Man/Jimmy Olsen mash-up and the Weapon X stuff, which visually just looks very cool (who doesn’t want to see Aurora wielding Mick Foley’s baseball bat?). Also Hyperion and the Imperial Guard is just a fun idea, teaming a teenage Hyperion with the Imperial Guard, who, like the Squadron, are a riff on a certain DC superhero team that features teens from the future.