I wish Johnny Quick would put on a shirt: Heroes Reborn roundtable, week 7

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 penultimate 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 #7, as well as the final tie-in issue, Weapon X & Final Flight.

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

JK Parkin: With issue #7 Heroes Reborn we’ve moved past the character spotlights and we see the whole Squadron Supreme together, as they investigate the “mystery” of these Avenger hooligans.

They start questioning the nature of reality itself, which is driven home by the back-up story featuring President Coulson and his friend Mephisto. We also get a few sparse details on the Civil War between Hyperion and Nighthawk, and also learn that, like Superman, Hyperion died in this new timeline at one point — and his killer was someone a bit surprising.

Anyway, what did you think of Heroes Reborn #7?

Carla Hoffman: Oh please, Hyperion didn’t die. He got better.

This issue is our first real opportunity to see how this Squadron works as a team and surprise, surprise: not very well. They’re all a little overpowered, grandiose and seem cold, despite the biggest conflict these heroes ever had was over a love triangle? I mean, I know we’ve been looking into super-hero love lives WAY TOO MUCH this week, but is there any chemistry at all between them? Princess Power mentioned in the last issue that she had Hyperion on speed dial, but that is the only inkling of their dynamic. You can say the Squadron’s ‘Civil War’ was the ol’ Superhero Registration Act quibble but, Hyperion said it himself: Nighthawk’s alter-ego is a Senator. They are very clearly a USA government backed team.

Tom Bondurant: I was kind of hoping that the “civil war” would be more Kingdom Come-ish, but what we got made a decent amount of sense. The love triangle is nothing new — it’s become a part of the Crime Syndicate’s evil Trinity dynamic, so much so that it was a plot point in Forever Evil. This issue especially felt like it took place on Earth-3, what with annexing Canada and invading Wakanda. However, its scope and setting have set it apart from just another Crime Syndicate story. For me at least, it’s been a journey from “these guys aren’t so bad” to “yikes they’re irredeemable.” That’s not insignificant, even if the miniseries does tend to linger on the horrific deaths of familiar Marvel folk.

And just to be clear, I am also enjoying the current Crime Syndicate miniseries, although I wish Johnny Quick would put on a shirt.

Shane Bailey: Well, my first reaction to this issue is, “Damn, Aaron Kuder is amazing.” I remember first seeing him at DC and loving his work, but he really leveled up since he’s been at Marvel and does wonders for the story here.

I really like that he moves the “camera” around a lot going from close-ups to pulled back wide shots that give us a real sense of place. Dude has chops. Also he made Guardian in the Box-like armor look freaking cool.

I…I… think I liked this issue quite a bit. It felt like it was all finally coming together. The Squadron didn’t seem like they were as asshole-ish in this issue and they sort of worked together to find out what happened. I didn’t even mind the flashbacks to the horrible stuff that happened in this timeline. I even liked the reveal of the MacGuffin at the end. A big part of why I liked it is that it all looks so good, but really, this should have been issue #1 and all the backups should have been a zero or Alpha issue. Nothing happened in the previous issues that would have been missed except those backups. It’s not like they made us like the characters any better or really have us any insight that wasn’t available here.

This issue even made me want to find out more about Alpha Fli…ahem..Weapon X and The Final Flight.

Carla Hoffman: I wholeheartedly agree, Shane. If these books were marketed differently, as Avengers: Heroes Reborn, with Alpha and Omega issues, with direct character one-shots or backups, just some editorial rearanging, I think this event would have gone over better.

While I won’t say the issue is bad, I will say it had way too much plot for the second to last issue. It had been fine if they never explained the Civil War reference and let we the readers kind of fill in the blanks. The love triangle, the one page reference to One More Day with the Sentry, just glimpses of something we at this point will never know more about. I love the Howling Commander-in-Chief reference, but why do I need this story beat now?

JK Parkin: I don’t think marketing was the problem here, or at least not the main problem. I think flimsy characters and a lack of a real story were the problems, and this issue drove that home.

I went back and read all of the Heroes Reborn miniseries to prepare for this week’s discussion, and honestly I think that just soured me on the whole thing, as the similarities from issue to issue were much more apparent.

Talking specifically about the main Heroes Reborn series, we had five issues of background, basically, with the purpose of showing us who the Squadron Supreme are (as well as a bunch of Easter eggs about past adventures that mirrored old DC or Marvel storylines). We’ve noted many times over the last few weeks that they’re all jerks, but the bigger problem is they’re pretty much two-dimensional jerks.

With the exception of the Blur and Nighthawk issues — and I think Nighthawk gets a pass more because he had several one-shots that fleshed him out more — the rest of the characters were pretty interchangeable. The dialogue on the Doctor Spectrum issue may as well have been Hyperion’s for how it was written, and you could almost say the same for Power Princess. They’re all just stand-ins for their DC counterparts, with more of an Earth-3 twist, as Tom has pointed out, and the story didn’t seem to really care about making them more than that. The Squadron Supreme stories we’ve seen in the past that actually worked well did that — treated them as more than just a bunch of cardboard cutouts of DC heroes.

What really happened in this miniseries? You can explain the premise as “Evil mystical forces replace the Avengers with the Squadron Supreme, who are jerks” and that’s pretty much the set-up we’ve gotten in every single issue. It’s all been background, with no forward motion.

Issue #7 felt really drawn out to me; like its predecessors, it’s a series of vignettes that reference things longtime Marvel and DC readers are going to recognize, which is kind of fun, but none of those really do anything, story-wise or character-wise, to move things forward. And so, seven issues later, I feel like I spent five issues watching someone decide which character they wanted to play as in a fighting game. Then with this issue they hit “pause” while they went to get another Mountain Dew. I guess next issue we get to see them fight, finally? But I wish there had been more to this. I wish the five characters we’ve spent these issues with had even half the characterization that Night-Gwen or the Young Squadron did.

Tom Bondurant: That goes back to Aaron’s emphasis on world-building. At this point we have a great sense of just how bad things are, but the plot is only starting to kick in. More focus on Cap and the other Avengers would have been nice, of course. We could have seen them figuring out how to take down the Squadron issue by issue, and that would have allowed Aaron et al. to weave in all the DC-fied details. It still might not have helped with the Squadron’s characterization, since the main miniseries would have been even more removed from them. Still, John, you’re right that now it’s just one team versus another, with the wild card of the Cosmic Cube lurking in the background.

Shane Bailey: It’s a D&D game where the GM talks about the world the whole time and doesn’t let you actually play the game.

JK Parkin: I’ve probably been guilty of that myself as a DM!

Carla Hoffman: It’s been a neat thought experiment without any connective issue to make it a real story with a beginning, middle and end.

JK Parkin: Yeah, I think someone mentioned this in a previous week, but it would make for a fun sourcebook or “Official Handbook” special. When it comes to an actual story, though, it was lacking.

So, the final one-shot, Wolverine and Final Flight. I dug the name. As far as the issue goes, like a lot of these, it was dark, in a “What if the Phoenix lived (and went on to destroy everything else)?” kind of way. That overshadows a lot of the other elements; I think the best thing I can say is that it was far from the worst Heroes Reborn one-shots I’ve read, but I wouldn’t put it up there with the best, either. What did the rest of you think?

Shane Bailey: Yeah John, this was definitely another depressing one, but I found myself wanting to know more about these characters and their lives. I enjoyed the writing and the art on this one. Wolverine’s fate was a downer of an ending, though. Can we get a heroic Sasquatch again sometime soon? I’d like a back to basics Alpha Flight book while we’re at it. I don’t know what it is about any iteration of the Canadian team but I always love the books they are in.

JK Parkin: I also have a soft spot for Alpha Flight and all their various iterations, so it is good to see them again in any circumstance. Also, seeing Claire Hudson in the Box armor and following in the footsteps of her parents was a nice touch.

Shane Bailey: Yeah, she’s one of the characters I really wanted to see more of. I’d like her to somehow pass back into the”real” universe when this is over.

Tom Bondurant: Since I know less about Alpha Flight than I do about the X-Men — and I basically got through the ’70s and ’80s knowing very little about the X-Men — this issue was not that essential for me. No disrespect to Alpha Flight, who seem to have been served well, all things considered. The plot made a good counterpoint to the Squadron preparing to invade Wakanda, and of course it drove home their ruthlessness. I wonder if we’ll see Wolverine in the big finish, considering that the Wakandans or Star Brand could possibly rescue him?

Shane Bailey: I didn’t think about that, he very well could, but given that he wasn’t hanging around the Avengers pre-Heroes Reborn, I doubt he will be.

And yeah, this book drove home the imperialistic ruthless nationalism of the group. They’re willing to do anything in the name of Mephisto and their President Coulson, including attacking and destroying most of Canada.

Carla Hoffman: Read more Immortal Hulk, Shane: we’ve got a Doc Samson Sasquatch waiting for you!

Why was this tie-in released here? As the final side story to Heroes Reborn, I feel it could have been placed better towards the start of the event and would have given more of a global feel to what essentially comes down to a very America-centric super-hero team. The fact that we’ve kind of ignored CANADA BEING A WASTELAND shows the imbalance of where our focus has been through Heroes Reborn. It’s important to see the Squadron, don’t get me wrong, but they are practically foreign to most readers. Showing how the world around them has changed gives us context for the team and is a much better way to get across the new setting.

I liked the issue a lot: I thought the characters were well done, feeling very dire in a way that What If? books are known for.

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