Stellar motorcycle shots: Heroes Reborn roundtable, week 6

Carla, Tom, Shane and JK continue to discuss Marvel’s latest comics event and its tie-in one-shots.

The Smash Pages team is back this week for our sixth 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 #6, as well as two tie-in issues: Night-Gwen and Squadron Savage.

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

JK Parkin: For week six, we had three new Heroes Reborn comics, starting of course with the main miniseries, Heroes Reborn #6. We’re in deep waters now, as I believe this issue wraps up the spotlights we’ve seen on each member of the Squadron and next time will see them all assembled to take on the evil Avengers. This issue’s focus is Princess Power, aka Princess Zarda from Utopia Island, our stand-in for Wonder Woman. Like her DC counterpart, her story ties into mythology and she’s all about the power and fury, but unlike her DC counterpart, that doesn’t seem to be tempered by mercy or justice. Yes, once again, the Squadron is filled with assholes. She actually reminded me of a younger, brasher and meaner Thor or Hercules, more so than Wonder Woman.

A few things to note in this issue: first, Erica D’Urso, who I thought knocked it out of the park. She’s a great artist deserving of wider attention, so it’s good to see her working on such a high-profile comic. Second, going back to the “Squad of assholes,” I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me before, but the flashback Zarda has to Namor during World War II, where she talks about killing Nazis then having sex with him on the ocean floor while sharks eat the bodies they just killed … that felt like something out of The Boys. (Although in The Boys, it would have been a six-page, highly detailed sequence, rather than an aside). I don’t know why that comparison didn’t occur to me earlier, as Hyperion and Zarda and the rest have way more in common with Homelander and the Seven than they do with their DC counterparts.

And finally, we get more pages dedicated to an actual Avenger than we’ve seen since the beginning of the series. Thor is back! And he seems to have had his memory restored as well. With this issue playing like a “greatest hits” version of Jason Aaron’s run on Thor, I thought it was appropriate.

What did you guys think?

Shane Bailey: Yeah, I still don’t like this. I don’t want to read about nasty people being evil. It just seems like an exercise in Marvelizing DC characters instead of a book with something to say about them like the original Squadron Supreme was. It’s all flash with no substance, but we’ve said that over and over in myriad ways since we started this roundtable so I’m not going to dwell on that anymore. The art is very nice, like you said; Erica D’Urso has a nice style that fits here. Really the art on every issue of this series and the spinoffs have been great. I’ve been impressed there.

So Janet Van Dyne and Tigra become Wonder Woman villain analogues in the opening pages and Zarda takes on Thor’s villains and trappings as well as Wonder Woman’s in his absence.

She mentions in passing she melted Colossus into a blade and killed Magik with it. Who want’s to read this? Like Carla said, it’s out Ruins-ing Ruins.

Thor’s axe Jarnbjorn, The Destroyer armor, The Siege Perilous, and several Marvel monster heads are seen in her lair.

It’s also interesting to note that this is one of the only appearances of an Avenger in the main story, with Thor realizing who he is/was and that something is wrong with the world.

Tom Bondurant: Maybe I have gotten desensitized over the past six weeks, but I didn’t dislike Power Princess’ characterization in this issue as much as Hyperion’s or Doctor Spectrum’s. Although they’re all equally unpleasant at this point (with Doctor Spectrum having a bit of an edge), it’s the combination of knowing they’re supposed to be bad and realizing that Mephisto’s behind it. Zarda even says “merciful Mephisto” in place of … well, whomever she’d usually invoke. That to me was pretty telling.

Shane Bailey: Yeah, they’ve been doing that since the reveal in Spectrum’s issue, maybe before that. I have to admit I like the line: “Show me who you are with punches!”

“I punched him so hard his beard fell off,” is funny, too.

Her personality is growing on me, it’s almost like Maxima from the Superman/Justice League books at DC. Just spoiling for a fight 24/7.

Tom Bondurant: It stuck out to me because the actual Wonder Woman always swears to some Greek deity. I would have expected Zarda to swear to Hades or somebody. Anyway, in a fun coincidence, this week’s Wonder Woman #773 featured the Amazing Amazon squaring off against DC’s public-domain version of Thor — who was portrayed as self-absorbed, preoccupied with drinking and fighting, and generally not too far from Zarda’s attitude here. That storyline — written by Michael Conrad and Becky Cloonan, and drawn by Travis Moore — featured Wonder Woman slowly realizing her true self after spending a decent amount of time in an altered reality. In #773 she “wakes up” completely and fights off Thor and the ultimate villain behind it all. She’s relatively calm and confident as she reaches the end of the adventure, not unlike how Thor returns to normal here.

Shane Bailey: I’m behind in my Wonder Woman reading, but the couple of issues i did read were wonderful.

One thing I really noticed in this book, as it calls attention to it in Zarda’s comment above, is that Thor is his classic beardless form and his arm is restored. I wonder if a lot of these changes are going to be reflected when they return to the “real” world or if this was a way to get some characters like Thor, “back to basics” Marvel does that from time to time.

Tom Bondurant: That’s a good catch about Thor’s “restoration.” It’s like he and Captain America are basically in their classic forms because they come from the before-times.

Shane Bailey: Well, Cap is Nick Offerman Cap.

Tom Bondurant: Close enough.

Shane Bailey: Zarda is driven by straight bloodlust, it seems like she’s different than the other Squadron members as at least they have some sort of purpose behind their actions, mired in Mephisto’s multiversal mental metaphysical manipulations (Excelsior!) though they are.

I take it back, I guess I kind of did like this. I just still don’t like the overall conceit of the books. I’m waiting for something deeper and I don’t think I’m going to get it. That’s probably my fault.

This works within the confines of the series they’ve developed here. It’s not their fault they didn’t give me the series “I” wanted, but the one they wanted to tell instead. In other words I guess I need to get over myself.

Tom Bondurant: Well, we went into this with that Jason Aaron happy talk about world-building, and it’s like, “This is the world you’re building?” I agree that a more interesting miniseries would have cast the Squadders as actual good guys who have improved the Marvel U, and Mephisto’s daring the Avengers to undo all of that.

Shane Bailey: I can tell you, I’m enjoying talking to you all about it. Talking about comics with like minded lovers of the form. It brings out the kid in me that would sit and talk about the latest comics endlessly with his friends, regardless of how “good” those comics really were.

Tom Bondurant: Aw shucks!

Shane Bailey: It’s not that these comics are “bad.” They are put together well and the talent is there, especially the artwork. It’s just the overall story isn’t to our liking so far.

We’ve seen from Twitter some people are really getting a kick out of this series, and that’s fine with me. Like what you like, Flashpoint, which we compared this to earlier, wasn’t to my liking. A comic book trope that I’ve noticed is that every generation has their alternate timeline story they fell in love with and the previous generation hates.

Tom Bondurant: So about Zarda’s characterization: Part of me thinks it’s unconscious bias, like “she’s the woman so she has to be worse than the men.” However — and this could still be some unconscious bias — Wonder Woman has always had a very specific mission and worldview, formed by her Amazon upbringing. More recently she’s leaned into the warrior aspects of that upbringing, which is kind of why only she could kill Max Lord. Contrast that with most of her League teammates, who are basically ordinary people with worldviews formed out of their unique — but still generally Western/American — experiences. Even Aquaman, King of Atlantis, is the son of a lighthouse keeper; and the Green Lanterns all tend to push back against their Oan bosses. Take Superman out of Kansas, or away from the Kents, and he becomes a different person. Wonder Woman, though, is the Amazons’ ambassador, so she has to be the ultimate embodiment of their ideals. That always makes her a step removed from her colleagues.

Shane Bailey: That’s a good point. So that’s why Zarda is removed here and less “focused” than the other team members on being a good soldier or protecting the world?

She’s off on an island of her own. Bah dum bump.

Tom Bondurant: Literally! Plus, with this version of Zarda her sisters are all dead, so she’s pissed-off on top of everything else. That’s why the “Merciful Mephisto” was so jarring (even though it was probably just an Easter egg). It reflects the fact that even her Utopia Island home has been corrupted by Mephisto.

Shane Bailey: Reading this series I miss the much maligned spinoff Frontline series that people got tired of during every crossover of the pre-Disney Marvel. I actually enjoyed those series, as it gave a man on the street reaction to what was going on in each crossover as Ben Urich and his team would research the event’s impact. I feel like that would add a lot here, knowing how everyday people are living in this altered timeline.

Carla Hoffman: Out of all the Squadron Supreme, I dislike Princess Power the most. I know, right? All these terrible “heroes” and she’s the one that gets my goat? It’s because she’s just player two-colored Wonder Woman! That’s it! She’s a mean Wonder Woman and no one’s given her a miniseries, let alone a second thought to anything else! At least with Hyperion and Nighthawk, who are very clearly DC doubles, they gave them a short couple sentences to talk about the theme of what they represent. Hyperion isn’t just “mean Superman,” he’s a dark representation of ultimate power with strong nationalistic themes. Nighthawk is off brand Batman, but he has other facets to his character that at least make him a unique look at the tropes. Princess Power has no personality other than “fight.” That’s it. Maybe sad about being alone and drunk? Is “drunk” a personality trait now? No one ever puts in the time with her to make a fuller mythology with her, add spins on the tropes she’s based from, and tries to go further with the character. And they won’t today.

Going back to that The Boys reference, JK, Queen Maeve is complicated. Yes, she’s the most powerful woman in the world, she’s got that Wonder Woman vibe, but she has a complicated love life. She’s fearful of Homelander and struggles with her vices and is torn between offering support to new young women on the team and just being numb to this whole organization. That’s how you riff on and add to a legend of Wonder Woman. To add to Shane’s comparison, Maxima was a super-powerful woman spoiling for fights and bulldozing through to get her way, but she had lore. There’s a whole planet worth of backstory and consequence and interactions.

I know there’s only so much you can get with one issue to give you a general idea of the character and their place within this alternate reality, but you need to work a little harder than “she defeated everyone off screen, don’t worry about it, she’s the best.” Maybe it’s worse because she’s the only female hero on this terrible team and I feel like she’s gotten the lightest amount of thought, but bleh. None of these people are good, Princess Power is just lazy.

As for Thor’s return, I wouldn’t worry too much about the old school look he’s sporting at the end of this issue: if this is truly a world where the Avengers never assembled (or … maybe even became heroes?), of course Thor would look more in line like his first appearance. Though with him gaining his “memories” back (or at least an understanding that this world isn’t supposed to be here), I wonder if there’s going to be a big exposition dump of how all this came about.

JK Parkin: Of all the Squadron members we’ve seen, Zarda definitely got short-changed. The others at least had full issues to themselves, with some getting more than that, esp. Hyperion and Nighthawk when you take the various one-shots into account. Zarda got about half an issue, then it became Thor’s comic.

And with my reference to The Boys I was trying to equate it more with the overall tone of the entire series and how The Seven (and a lot of the other supes that appear in the series) is portrayed, vs. trying to draw a direct comparison between the characters, like Queen Maeve and Power Princess. I don’t think we saw enough of Power Princess, either here or in any of the one-shots, to get a good picture of who she’s supposed to be. Snow White’s Evil Queen, with muscles, maybe? Again, she seemed to get the least amount of attention and space dedicated to her character.

At the very least, this issue wraps up these character portrayals, and now we move on to the confrontation next issue.

But before we do that, there’s still two one-shots to talk about. Let’s talk about Night-Gwen first. I liked the characterization of Gwen in this one; I thought Vita Ayala did an excellent job of showing us who Gwen is and what her life is like. Nightbird presumably is a stand-in for Batgirl, but she didn’t feel like a carbon copy transported to this new universe, nor did she seem all that much like the Gwen we’re most familiar with right now, Spider-Gwen. I like that Ayala and artist Farid Karami were able to create this somewhat unique, fully formed character in the space of this one-shot, and she’s definitely a character I’d read more about. About the only part I didn’t like was the revelation that Flash Thompson was the psycho bad guy here, but it does go along with what we’ve seen in the Heroes Reborn faux-niverse thus far.

Tom Bondurant: I thought Night-Gwen stood on its own really well. For one thing, it was nice that I couldn’t peg her immediately to any particular DC counterpart. Batgirl, sure; but she’s got elements of Spoiler and Harley Quinn as well. I don’t have much of a Spider-Gwen background (except for the movie) so I wasn’t looking out for any of those references. Honestly, the biggest problem I had was trying to fit this story into the existing HR continuity. Did she recover after being gassed in HR #5? I guess this also takes place after Flash Thompson’s appearance in the earlier Peter Parker one-shot — so if you didn’t like Flash there, here’s some comeuppance.

Shane Bailey: Well, that was nice. I liked this. It was dark, like this universe is, but a lot of character work was done by the team in just a little bit of time. The issue felt dense.

And yeah, Tom, it was part Gwen, part Batgirl/Nightwing, part Harley and it all worked somehow. So much so that I wouldn’t mind reading more about this Gwen Stacy and her relationship with Misty Knight. I like how their working relationship was explained and how it related to Nightbird. I’m pretty sure this takes place before HR#5, so she’s not going to be here long, maybe? Most of the side characters seem to be doomed in this event. I think the Nighthawk corner of this crossover has been the best so far.

I would actually like Ravencroft to be similar to this in the Marvel Universe and be around more. Not it’s own book like they tried to do recently, but an actual place that’s explored.

Carla Hoffman: True story: one of my customers at Metro Entertainment (Santa Barbara’s number one spot for comics, toys, games and more!) picked up Night-Gwen #1 without any of the other Heroes Reborn books. When I mentioned he might want to pick up the latest issue of the main plot, he said that he wasn’t reading it: he was just picking up tie-ins that had characters he liked.

God I envy him.

Night-Gwen was amazing, if not a little awkward in the “everybody wants to date Gwen Stacy” trope. Still, it brought in a very easy to understand premise, great background characters and a full beginning-middle-end to the story. I would honestly read an ongoing Night-Gwen title and let her fight other foes that aren’t obsessed with wanting to be with her forever. She’s got a solid motivation to help people and the art from Farid Karami makes me want him on a Ghost Rider book stat (seriously, those motorcycle shots were stellar!).

As far as continuity goes, this book stands well enough on it’s own that any people missing from places in the main story are instantly forgiven. I think the next tie-in beat any solid reasoning for anything out of me….

Shane Bailey: You’re totally right Farid Karami would be perfect on a Ghost Rider book. Hell, make it Ghost Riders plural and put them all in. I’m right there with you that the book stands well on it’s own here. I think that’s a testament to the creators here.

JK Parkin: Our last book for week six is Squadron Savage, which seems to play off of Savage Avengers, as Elektra puts together a team that includes Punisher, Crossbones and a “new character,” Murder Hornet. My main question: Murder Hornet supposed to be someone we’ve met before? I was thinking she was either one of the Wasps, Nadia or Janet, or possibly the villainous Yellowjacket from some years back. I don’t think they ever called her by her real name, did they?

And oh yeah, what did you think of the comic overall? 

Tom Bondurant: I don’t have a lot to add about this issue, except to say it felt very Suicide Squad-y and I thought we had covered that with Baron Zemo’s crew. Maybe this is a riff on Gail Simone’s version of the Secret Six? Otherwise, this book really didn’t make that much of an impression.

Carla Hoffman: Okay, what was Squadron Savage? The chess thing was an obvious nod toward Checkmate, but everything else barely made any contextual sense. Bunch of horrible murdering criminals going on covert espionage missions by a shady organization sounds like Suicide Squad more than the last tie-in I thought was a reference to Suicide Squad! Murder Hornet had me scratching my head (I guess she’s a combo of Yellowjacket II and … Swarm? How does she feel about Germany in 1939?) and the Redeemers are a throwback to the Gruenwald/Ryan series, but Kang? KANG? Where the heck does Kang fit in to all of this?

Kang the Conqueror should be strong enough to really change the game on this whole alternate reality we’ve found ourselves in but …

Shane Bailey: Yeah, I didn’t see how this worked at all. Was Kingpin supposed to be an Amanda Waller stand-in? Pacifist Punisher and his golden life that wasn’t so golden after all. Mecha-Armor Crossbones with his scratched symbol on his chest. It had one too many twists for my taste too.

Carla Hoffman: And none of it mattered!  Mind wipes!  Mind wipes for everyone!  This issue didn’t exist!

Shane Bailey: Kang! Cloak is the one brainwashed! Punisher’s kids ARE really dead! Elektra is getting mind wiped too!


Carla Hoffman: I assure you: no one was asking where the Redeemers were.  No one was clamoring for that story beat to be explained.

Shane Bailey: I didn’t enjoy this like I enjoyed the Gwen issue. This seemed to similar to the other suicide squad book we already read. It was like it was just created to fill a slot where Savage Avengers was supposed to be.

Carla Hoffman: You cracked the code, Shane.

I’m just mad that freaking KANG THE CONQUEROR got punked out by a bullet to the head!  Kang!

Shane Bailey: I think after Night-Gwen proving you can do this the right way, a lot of the other books, including this one just look so much worse now.

Carla Hoffman: Night-Gwen and Young Squadron.

Shane Bailey: Yep, it’s no surprise that those two books are done by two-up and coming writers that understand what works today.

Carla Hoffman: Or at least took a throwaway mini-series tie in and brought 110%.

Shane Bailey: And all the books had great artists, but those two books were just head and shoulders above the rest, in my opinion. They made the most with what they had to work with.

Carla Hoffman: Like, no offense to the people who worked on these and were given a change to be a part of something big; that’s a big opportunity!  Not everyone can knock it out of the park.

Shane Bailey: Yeah, look, none of these were awful, and they worked within the theme, just some were better than others. It comes down to “Would I want to read another issue?” for me, and with this one, I don’t want to.

Carla Hoffman: There are elements to Squadron Savage I do like: pacifist Punisher is a neat thought experiment.  Elektra as a strike team leader.  Kang.  But all together it was not worth my $4.99 nor was it necessary to understand the event.

Shane Bailey: It reminded me of Thunderbolts when everyone was red. Red Hulk, Deadpool, Elektra, Punisher with a red skull… Remember that?

Carla Hoffman: I loved that time!  Elektra and Punisher went on a date!

Shane Bailey: It felt sort of like that, I guess because Elektra was in charge? Just not as good.

Carla Hoffman: They took turns being in charge. Ross was kind of overseeing the group, but they picked missions from a pool between all of them.  Even Deadpool!

Shane Bailey: Is Savage Avengers just the new Thunderbolts? I don’t read it, so I’m genuinely asking. I mean, the same concept? Because it’s what this book feels like it’s supposed to be.

Carla Hoffman: No.  I honestly don’t read it either — except for tie-ins, like this and King in Black.

Shane Bailey: They are Avengers, but they’re Savage, Classy, Bougie, Ratchet. Yeah!

Carla Hoffman: Shane with a Tik Tok reference!

Shane Bailey: I’m all about the Ticky Tocks.

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