Hawkarang-in-the-eye: Heroes Reborn roundtable, week 5

Same Hawk-time, same Hawk-channel: Carla, Tom, Shane and JK continue to discuss Marvel’s latest comics event.

We are back this week for our fifth Heroes Reborn roundtable, where we break down the latest Marvel crossover issue by issue. This week Shane Bailey, Tom Bondurant, Carla Hoffman and I talk about Heroes Reborn #5, as well as two tie-in issues: American Knight and Marvel Double Action. It’s Bat-week! Three out of four bloggers would probably agree it’s also the best week of the event thus far.

You can read part one of our roundtable discussions here, part two here, part three here and part four here.

JK Parkin: Last week’s releases put the focus on Nighthawk, who, in recent years, has probably been the most fleshed out member of the Squadron Supreme, even if the guy we’re reading about here doesn’t really seem to be that same guy — if that makes any sort of sense.

In Heroes Reborn #5, we get a full-on Spider-Man/Batman mash-up, with a returning HarleyPool, Luke Cage as Commissioner Gordon, an Arkham Asylum stand-in, Green Goblin doing his best Joker impersonation and many more references that I’m probably missing here. Batman and Spider-Man arguably have the best rogue’s gallery of any superhero in their respective universes, and here we see the two come together to form a new kind of crazy.

Also, R.M. Guera! Jason Aaron reunites with his Scalped co-conspirator for another issue where the choice of artist really shines.

What did you think?

Shane Bailey: I…I actually kind of like this? They really leaned into the whole Spider-Man as Batman thing here, but it actually felt like it had a purpose. I think I liked all the books this week. What a shock!

This is another week where the Squadron member, Nighthawk this time, doesn’t come off as a complete asshole so that helps things just a bit.

JK Parkin: I really enjoyed the Nighthawk/Luke Cage dynamic, especially in American Knights … that certainly made Nighthawk more likeable than any of the previous Squadron members. Which is somewhat strange, because he’s the Batman analogy … I was expecting him to be an asshole!

Shane Bailey: I felt the cohesion in all the books released last week for Heroes Reborn led to a much better time. They all seemed to have one goal and that was to tell Nighthawk’s story so far. Which is what I thought we were supposed to be getting all along. Why these people are heroes now. What is their motivation? It’s just that two out of the four so far had horrible reasons for being who they were.

The way they used Kraven in this book was well done. A nice call back to “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” Hugo Strange and the Court of Owls/Owlman all at the same time.

Red Skull/Venom I didn’t get, though. I guess that was playing up the “Assassin Nation” storyline during Todd McFarlane’s time on the book and the connection to Peter’s parents now transferred over to Nighthawk? That could explain Sabretooth being there, too, as he showed up in that story, and two issues with Black Cat in Peter Parker way back. I know Sabretooth has a connection to Ravencroft, too, as was mentioned in the recent miniseries. 

Tom Bondurant: Heroes Reborn doing Bat-Week is what I would call a target-rich environment. The main issue felt like the Chuck Dixon/Doug Moench ’90s, with Guera’s art reminding me nicely of Denys Cowan and/or the inks of Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz. Gwen Stacy gets the fate of Joker-fied Tim Drake in the Batman Beyond timeline, Kraven gets to mangle Kevin Conroy’s famous motto, and the Black Skull has a two-faced moment. The Goblin’s Hawkarang-in-the-eye also mirrors the Joker’s distinctive wound from The Dark Knight Returns. Plus a secret lair under the Capitol, complete with pole access! I still haven’t figured out the story title, though. It sounds a lot like an episode of Community, but I doubt that’s what Aaron was going for….

Oh, and Marvel’s Scarecrow is in it, which almost feels obligatory at this point.

By the way, I see what looks like Iron Monger’s suit, Elektra’s gear and the hoods of the Hate Monger and Baron Zemo in the Nightcave — but is that supposed to be Devil Dinosaur at the top of page 7? It’s not Stegron, is it?

JK Parkin: It could be, but I was thinking it was Devil Dinosaur. But I loved that scene, and the reference to the “Hawkrod.” I liked that Aaron even played with some of the cheesier ’60s elements, like the pole access. Also the LMD switcharoo seemed like something out of the Adam West show, where Alfred would show up in the Bat suit to help preserve Bruce Wayne’s secret identity.

Tom Bondurant: The LMDs reminded me of the old Superman and Clark Kent robots, but I like your comparison better! And the “Hawkrod” line was some nicely repurposed Frank Miller. Last issue I thought Aaron was almost punching down at Hal Jordan, but this one I got the sense he was having a good time leaning into that over-dramatic Bat-narration.

Shane Bailey: Yeah ,there was just a treasure trove of Batman references throughout the book. Did you like Nighthawk better than you thought you would going in?

Tom Bondurant: So far, Aaron has hit the sweet spot with Nighthawk. Batman has such a wide range of interpretation and such a deep history that you have to work really hard to screw him up. This felt like it could be a set of Batman comics in a way that the other “spotlight weeks” didn’t. Honestly, the way he treated Miles Morales last week, and his self-absorbed worldview this week, didn’t make me like Nighthawk any more — but this week did succeed in helping me understand him. 

Before I forget — the flashback to the symbiote costume reminded me of one particularly irate (or so it seemed) fan of Amazing Spider-Man. I was an off-and-on reader, and I had just picked it up again with issue #300. A couple of issues later, someone wrote in to complain that Spidey belonged in the black suit because he was a “creature of the night!” In hindsight it could have been sarcasm, but the editorial reply was something like “we think you have him confused with someone else.”

Carla Hoffman: Oh boy, I get to play Debbie Downer once again…

Can Batman be parodied anymore? The grim, dark, “I AM THE NIGHT” monologue-er who skulks in the shadows and pontificates on the pain of existence while punching dudes until they stop… is that even parody anymore? Thanks to Snyder, hasn’t that become the mainstream view of the Dark Knight these days? Nightwing may be a Batman pastiche but it just seems old hat to have yet ANOTHER dark servant of justice running around in the pages of a comic, in new Marvel flavor.

So yeah, Heroes Reborn #5 didn’t break my internet in half. It just made me realize how Spider-Man’s rogues gallery are treated much more kindly than Batman’s. Peter Parker fights a lot of broken people, a lot of dudes in masks and gadgets or misfits of science like the Caped Crusader, but they go to prison. They have families that get affected, they have personal connections to Peter’s life and their actions change his life, he’s haunted in many ways by his villains and it matters. Why do I feel like Batman doesn’t have the same connection? That the Arkham inmates are just obstacles that Batman has to defeat and put away and wait until they pop up again? Why do I feel like keeping the status quo is what he’s for?

God, is Aaron auditioning for a depressing Batman run in Heroes Reborn??

Shane Bailey: Batman has several personal connections to his Rogues gallery, with two of his best friends being two of his now biggest villains, Two-Face and Hush. Catwoman is his lover, though I can’t really count her as a villain anymore. Joker killed his ward — well, he’s back now, but yeah…

I get the point you’re making, though.

Tom Bondurant: There’s also the al-Ghul family, which includes the mother and grandfather of his child. Hush was Bruce’s sociopathic childhood chum who tried to kill his own parents and bitterly resented Bruce Wayne for having the life he always wanted (dead parents included). Hush is a terrible villain (or at least he tends to be portrayed terribly), but does that sound like a Spider-foe (Harry Osborn, maybe)?

And just to be clear, I wouldn’t want Aaron and company to transplant these plots into the actual Bat-books. I’m just saying that these came closest to the source material — albeit the 20-to-30-year-old source material — while still being pretty convincing parodies. A big part of that is, those comics were pretty easy to parody. I can’t imagine these books being as nimble if Aaron had gone after Grant Morrison’s hyper-meta approach or Scott Snyder’s mind games. Maybe a “Martha” moment is upcoming?

JK Parkin: Just to touch on something that Shane commented on earlier, those first few pages featuring Kraven the Hunter wearing Nighthawk’s “skin” I thought put the rubber stamp on the “grimdark” parody angle … I mean:

Shane Bailey: I thought it was pretty clear that it wasn’t shown favorably.

JK Parkin: We see a lot of references and parodies to “I am the night” and “The hero we need,” etc. and to me the opening was acknowledging them but also moving past them to some degree — agreed, not shown favorably, but I took it as being very tongue in cheek.

Carla Hoffman: Was it supposed to be his skin?  I thought it was a bad costume to mock his enemy…

A parody of a hero parody of a hero that’s become a parody…

Shane Bailey: Not actual skin, he just calls it that, like in “Kraven’s Last Hunt.” Meaning it’s who Spider-Man/Nighthawk really is, the persona, not the actual person underneath.

Tom Bondurant: It kind of looks like the Nighthawk costume from Supreme Power. That costume didn’t have a cape, presumably because capes weren’t realistic enough.

Carla Hoffman: I am due for a reread of “Kraven’s Last Hunt” now…

Good catch, Tom!

Shane Bailey: It’s always a good idea to read J.M. DeMatteis again.

JK Parkin: I think Aaron’s dark sense of humor came through here, but I can also see it not being everyone’s cup of tea.

Shane Bailey: That looks like he’s going to go “SQUAWK! WHO WHO!”

Carla Hoffman: Those big ol’ eyes are a key giveaway.

Shane Bailey: I can see him doing that chicken neck move in that position.

Carla Hoffman: Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Aaron Dark Comedy but in the middle of Heroes Reborn when I’m already well-versed in the “Hey Batman’s a crazy guy!” trope.  Meh.

Shane Bailey: I can see that.

Tom Bondurant: That’s totally fair.

Shane Bailey: Yep. But you gave me an excuse to refer to Chicken Lady. So I’m good.

JK Parkin: Ok, maybe it’s time to move on … what about the back-up this time?

Carla Hoffman: Kinda disappointed that Moon Knight didn’t get the tap on the shoulder to be part of the team, but why choose anyone else but Black Panther?

Shane Bailey: I think they chose Black Panther because of the reveal at the end of last issue that Wakanda was still around.

JK Parkin: I thought the use of Ronin was kind of random, but fun. I like the idea that Wakanda has stayed “hidden” and he has to sneak out at night after his parents go to bed to be a hero.

Shane Bailey: I felt the backup was a bit more weighty this week with the fight between Ronin and Nighthawk. I actually thought it was Blade at first given his past as Ronin.

Has anyone on the Avengers not been Ronin now?

Carla Hoffman: It’s a handy suit they keep in the back for occasions like this…

Shane Bailey: I like the idea of Black Panther doing hit and runs for information, while hiding the fact that Wakanda is still around.

Also, I hope we keep bearded Cap around after this. I never thought about Nick Offerman as Captain America, but it works.

JK Parkin: Moving on now to the next book … I’ll go back to what you said earlier, Shane, about Nighthawk seeming more sympathetic this week than we’ve seen with the other Squadron members. I thought that really came through in American Knights #1, which explored the Batman/Commissioner Gordon relationship via Nighthawk and Luke Cage, the former criminal turned cop.

What did you guys think of that issue?

Shane Bailey: First of all, calling it American Knights isn’t too good. They were a Northern group out of Missouri that was accused of secessionist activities during the Civil War, drumming up support for peace talks and opposition to the Emancipation Proclamation . Do some research first Marvel. I get you were trying to tie it into Marvel Knights, but come on. 

Second, having Luke Cage as a cop during times like these…i’m not sure about the optics there, but the reasoning in the actual book makes some sense and it’s addressed there.

Third, I don’t know why I didn’t see they were putting Luke Cage in the Jim Gordon role before I actually picked up the book. I missed the obvious there.

Fourth and final thing, I actually enjoyed the book. I thought it added to the overall story they were telling in the main book with Nighthawk and actually fleshed out the world they live in more. I enjoyed how they worked in Matt Murdock in a Mephisto based world given his Catholicism in the “real” world. I liked what was done with Misty Knight and Jessica Jones too, having them set up as partners on the force. I thought this was one of the better books to come out of the crossover, just with an unfortunate name.

Tom Bondurant: My guess is that the name came from some play on Gotham Knights, an early-2000s Bat-book, but I agree that Marvel may not have looked too closely into its history. This book felt a lot like Gotham Central, what with Cage featured and Nighthawk in the background; and the Matt Murdock stuff was pretty clever. I did wonder which came first — Cage’s Christianity, or the need to have him say “Sweet Christmas!” in a Mephistized world.

Shane Bailey: I totally forgot about Gotham Knights. I loved that book with Devin K. Grayson writing.

Tom Bondurant: Speaking of which, what do we think about the increasing focus on Mephisto’s influence? It wasn’t really apparent until it came out at the end of issue #4, but since then it’s been fairly prominent. Do we think it’s just helping to set the mood and/or establish the stakes, or does it point to some sort of final-act plot point?

JK Parkin: I think it’s building toward something. It seems like it was subtly slipped into previous issues, then grew from there. I’m guessing it’ll grow in prominence even more over the next few weeks. Maybe Avengers vs. Mephisto in the end, or even Avengers + the Squadron vs. Mephisto and Phil?

Shane Bailey: Yeah Tom, as JK mentioned I did like how they talked about Christianity was a cult in this book as Mephisto’s religion took its place. That was a nice touch. They are mentioning Mephisto a lot more. I wonder why they didn’t do that from the first issue? Did we miss it?

Tom Bondurant: It was played like a big reveal, but it was also kind of obvious if you’d been paying attention to Avengers. I don’t think we missed anything explicit, so my guess is that we were supposed to get lulled into the Squadron being on the up-and-up (but still jerks, naturally) until the end of #4. In terms of JK’s predictions, I’m predicting that the Squadron eventually joins the Avengers against Mephisto. Maybe they’ll come out of this with their own parallel Earth again, free from Mephisto’s control.

Shane Bailey: I guess if you were only reading this book and not his run it would be? Are there people that are reading this but at least not following along with his Avengers run in some way? Through Twitter chats or articles or something like that if not just straight up reading the books?

Carla Hoffman: I want a comic about the Saint. 

This is what I’m looking for in the world-building aspect of Heroes Reborn.  Just telling me about the head honchos isn’t enough, it’s the more subtle flavoring of characters I already know that give me a better idea of how this new reality departs or is intrinsically linked to destiny.  Matt Murdock, sans radioactive goo and super senses, joins the church; this makes sense within what we already know about the Man without Fear.  But in this reality, he joins the Mephisto church, leading to similar yet different inner conflicts, descriptions of how religion is handled here and more nuance for surrounding characters.  Now, I think I get Doctor Spectrum a bit better and his fundamentalism, just by seeing more of the supporting characters.  I could really do without the Gotham Central-ing; I’m not feeling Commissioner Cage and the detective work, but I really want a Saint comic.

So about context for this event, do note it’s called Heroes Reborn and not Avengers: Heroes Reborn, which would have been a lot better branding as to who needs this book.  As a comic shop employee, I hear Heroes Reborn, I think of the last event called the same thing and shudder a little bit, but I would think I could recommend it to someone reading Iron ManHeroes Reborn sounds to me like a new look at classic Marvel heroes.  So far, this has nothing to do with classic Marvel Heroes and is honestly just another arc of Aaron’s Avengers.

Aaron did a #AskMarvel video on YouTube and directly addresses why it’s a tribute to Heroes Reborn: as in, he directly says it’s not.

“I mean this is really not, I guess, a way of paying tribute to the Heroes Reborn, this is – this story is not really connected to that story in any direct way. For all intents and purposes, the purpose of the world of Heroes Reborn, is the Marvel Universe at this point and time.” Gentleman, I think we’ve been bamboozled.

Tom Bondurant: I’d read a Saint book, and a T’Challa/Ronin book too, for that matter.

Agree completely on the event’s name. I wonder if someone ran the numbers and figured that it would sell better as a sorta-standalone event than an Avengers arc with assorted tie-ins. However, at the moment I can’t think of a more marketable name. There has to be one, though. (edited) 

Carla Hoffman: I’m sorry to be of the few fans who has any affection for Heroes Reborn the First (I was super into the Iron Man reimagining!), so I might not be the best person to ask if “Heroes Reborn” is a marketable term.

Tom Bondurant: I got all of ’em, and all of the Return series too. I am still trying to figure out that weird crossover with the WildStorm heroes (pre-DC purchase) and ran in the 13th issues.

Carla Hoffman: It was because there wasn’t supposed to be a 13th issue: Although the four titles in Heroes Reborn were slated for a 12-issue run, James Robinson wrote a thirteenth and final issue for each book. The storyline, titled “World War III,” was a crossover between the Marvel and WildStorm characters.

Tom Bondurant: Gotcha! I forgot it was James Robinson too. That guy’s everywhere!

Carla Hoffman: Late ’90s were a big time for him.

Shane Bailey: I was a huge James Robinson fan and really into Wildstorm in the 90s so i got all those too. But yeah, there has to be a better name.

Carla Hoffman: Just call it Avengers: Heroes Reborn and we’re good.

And no, this isn’t “the Marvel Universe at this point and time”, Mr. Aaron.  There are a ton of other books on the shelves that beg to differ.

Shane Bailey: What did you think about the Death of Sam Wilson? I was really happy to see some Dan Jurgens art again in Marvel Double Action. The guy still has it.

Ya know, since we’re talking about the 90s.

JK Parkin: Marvel Double Action was my favorite of the batch this time, and maybe my favorite thus far in the crossover. A lot of the charm was that they went all in on this being a “reprint” of a comic from the 70s, and the letter column, the text at the bottom of each page, etc. reflected that. Plus it was really cool to see Jurgens drawing interiors again. He and Tim Seeley worked really well together.

Shane Bailey: Yeah, I really liked this issue; it actually felt like reading an older comic from the time. Charm is absolutely the right word.

Tom Bondurant: MTA might have been my favorite issue as well. All along we have been talking about why the Squadders are unlikable. Is it some comment on DC attitudes, is it Mephisto, what? This issue does a great job combining early-’70s Spider-Man and Batman elements, but then it ends on that moment which has apparently made Nighthawk irreversibly grim. That’s pretty good for a comic which references the Spider-Mobile.

Besides, the early ’70s were full of superhero comics trying to find themselves after their long-running creative teams had left. I presume that Jason Aaron is about my age, if he was reading the same DC books as I was in 1979. For me (and probably for him), series-altering events like Gwen’s death and Dick Grayson’s leaving Wayne Manor were already well-established. To be fair, they didn’t come around every month — Peter started dating Mary Jane, and Dick was still Robin into the ’80s — but they helped open the floodgates for future creative teams. Accordingly, MTA hit me a little harder at the end, when I realized how foundational it was to Nighthawk’s development. And yes, this Nighthawk is an alternate-timeline of a character who’s basically a parody to begin with, but still.

Also, Dan Jurgens draws some nice approximations of both John Romita Sr. and Gil Kane! Very impressive work all around. His own style practically disappeared.

Coming up next time: Power Princess, Night-Gwen, Squadron Savage and Murder Hornet!

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