It was a bunch of punching: Heroes Return roundtable, the big finale

Lo! There shall be an ending!

This is it! The moment you’ve all been waiting for! The final chapter in Marvel Comics’ spectacular summer event, Heroes Reborn comes to a close in Heroes Return #1.

Tom Bondurant, Shane Bailey, Carla Hoffman and the jovial JK Parkin bask in the final faceoff between the Squadron Supreme of America and the remnants of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for the answers to all our questions! Who will win? Who changed reality? What was Mephisto’s secret purpose? And why were these books $4.99??

Grab your copy of the finale and read on!

Carla Hoffman: This is it! What did you folks think of the finale to Heroes Reborn in 2021?

Shane Bailey: It was a bunch of punching! I feel like we were supposed to feel sorry for the Squadron, but the story never made us actually feel that they were used or abused in any way that didn’t benefit them. So I wasn’t like, “Awww, Hyperion can’t take advantage of Peter Parker anymore. So sad!”

I didn’t feel bad when they all got taken out. Honestly the whole thing felt cheap. The Avengers win in one issue? The Squadron were that weak? The Avengers didn’t struggle at all, Thor just beat on Hyperion the whole time. I’m supposed to believe that the rest of the universe couldn’t stand up to the Squadron but Captain America, Thor, Black Panther, Blade, Echo Phoenix (which I can’t get behind) and Baby Starbrand can beat them without a sweat?

And it was all an example to show what Mephisto could do? So there really was no point. And the thing with Coulson changing stuff like sodas in restaurants was dumb.

Tom Bondurant: Well, I say the Squadron lost because they didn’t pull the Justice League’s classic “Fox Maneuver” of switching opponents so you’re not fighting your obvious counterpart. Did Jason Aaron learn nothing from those old DC books?

Shane Bailey: Right?! [laughs]

Tom Bondurant: Also, there really should have been a Justice League International-esque tie-in issue. I am sure it would have been a jarring change of tone, but the tie-ins were a little eclectic anyway.

Shane Bailey: I wanted to like this so much going into it. At the end I’m just like, “Blah.”

Yeah, the tone changed the whole event. It would have fit. I feel like that’s what they were trying to do with the Tom Thumb tie-in where we were supposed to root for the Nazi Zemo. They just failed.

Tom Bondurant: So I have questions, mostly about this Pandemonium Cube. Is it just another version of the Cosmic Cube, or is it more of a straight-up weapon? We saw on page 1 that it helped Coulson take out Reed, Ben and Peter, but that seemed kind of messy given what the regular Cube can do. And speaking of Reed, Ben and Peter, how did they all get together? How did Peter’s eight legs heal? Is he their intern or something, in between getting humiliated by Hyperion and/or Flash Thompson?

Shane Bailey: Apparently it’s filled with Mephisto’s power, so I guess it can do what he can do? It can change reality at least.

Yeah, there were a ton of holes here. The whole thing seems thrown together last minute and unorganized. Like there was no outline for the story at all. Jason Aaron is no Larry Hama.

Oh, but the art was pretty! [laughs]

Carla Hoffman: That’s Ed McGuiness for you.

Tom Bondurant: I did feel like McGuinness got into the “… but EVIL!” spirit with this issue. His Squadron especially chewed a lot of scenery, and that was fun.

Shane Bailey: But to your point, I’m not sure why Coulson was firing lasers instead of just saying, “No more Avengers again.” I’m guessing Mephisto had taken off by then, abandoning him.

Tom Bondurant: Mephisto gave him the Cube in “free for 30 days” mode.

Shane Bailey: So maybe it was depowered? “You gotta wait for that summer deal they have on subscriptions.”

What did you guys think of the ending? Once again he’s cribbing off previous Marvel work.

Tom Bondurant: Yeah, that made me want to break out the Jonathan Hickman Fantastic Fours with their Council of Infinite Reeds or whatever. I will also point out that this week’s Infinite Frontier #1 brings back a super-team with two different Superman counterparts and an Iron Man pastiche, so multiverses all around!

Shane Bailey: I feel like he’s just flipping through old ideas and changing them slightly –he’s just moved on to both The Council of Reeds and World War Hulk. (BTW that idea was resurrected in Venom this week). It just feels like Marvel’s greatest hits but, ya know, not as good. I want to believe his whole run is going to all click at the end and it’s going to be some big revelation that makes it all work, but I’ve lost faith.

Carla Hoffman: Okay, so I did some intensive 12 second Google research and this is what I learned: The (sigh) Pandemonium Cube is new. It’s just a different version of our favorite McGuffin, the Cosmic Cube, but now with 50% more Hell powers. When Mephisto resurrected Phil Coulson (back in 2019’s Avengers #18 – Calculating Carla), he gave him this Hellahedron to create this alternate reality where the Avengers were replaced by the Squadron Supreme. It does whatever in exchange for Coulson’s soul, bingo bango bongo, we have a whole new world. Cosmic Cube’s are not known for their organized power set.

How “S.H.I.E.L.D. Labs” got to the White House with Peter Parker (honestly, the panel where he’s depicted I thought Coulson had Bucky in an upside down display for some reason), I have no clue. One of the benefits of doing this “reality replacement” storylines are all the fun little details you get to fill in yourself, as the reader. Obviously, the creative team should not hold your hand and escort you through decades of Marvel continuity, they should imply and infer as necessary to keep the plot moving or let comic aficionados like us enjoy the Easter Eggs. This felt like we had missed an issue somewhere along the line, but it’s only a page and they had punching to get to.

The super secret reveal of a Council of Red (or Ooops All Mephistos!) has actually been coming for a long time.  Not just in Aaron’s Avengers with the teasers of the Age of Khonshu, but in previous Mephisto appearances like Ed Brisson’s Ghost Rider as well.  Our favorite deal-maker has been building up his power for some time, whether or not that leads to a full on multiverse of devils is a whole other question…

Also, Coulson is Max Lord.  Discuss.

Tom Bondurant: I’ll take Coulson as Max, especially since both of them were cool civilian fanboys who inexplicably went bad one day. (No, I still can’t get over how the MCU’s beloved Phil Coulson became Mephisto’s puppet.)

I did like the Squadron having various degrees of remorse (including none in Nighthawk’s case) about the whole thing. I especially liked Hyperion’s apparent reformation, and the fact that he was looking for his “pal” Peter Parker once things got back to normal.

Shane Bailey: Hey I just remembered in one of the preview images there was an FF one where what looked like it could be Ben Grimm minding a Negative Zone prison. Did we ever get that?

We didn’t really see these much…

I mean we saw Hulk briefly in issue #2, but did we see Reed?

Tom Bondurant: I thought we saw Reed in the Hyperion spotlight, or maybe it was the Peter Parker one.

Carla Hoffman: Okay, so the picture on the left is from the “Things to Come…” page from Heroes Reborn #1…

Shane Bailey: Maybe, but it was like just a panel or two. They made it seem like these were big deals. The others were JuggaDoom, Thanos with the Infinity Rings, Peter Parker, and The Silver Witch or whatever she was called.

None of them played a huge part at all.

Carla Hoffman: The Hulk died in his first appearance in this event!  Wait, did we just get pranked, bro?  Is there more art to this series than story?!

Shane Bailey: It’s just another thing that makes me think this wasn’t planned the way it happened. Right?! It’s such a weird series.

Carla Hoffman: I think reality got warped while we were reading this.

So in the end, this sudden reality shift into another world where the Avengers never assembled was caused by Phil Coulson, who is evil now. He was granted the Hellehedron in exchange for his soul, so Coulson used it like the Cosmic Cube to create all of this so he could be the President of the United States and could be in charge, and thus more powerful than Earth’s Strongest Heroes.

This plan doesn’t work because Blade remembered the 616 universe as it should be and collected otherworldly forces (the Phoenix, the Starbrand, Thor) and Steve Rogers to combat the Squadron Supreme to prove that this is the wrong universe.

They defeat the Squadron, Phil Coulson is forsaken by Mephisto and the world goes “back to normal”. Some Squadron members remain in the right universe, possibly cloned or magicked into creation; those guys are being held and a super-secret base. ‘Baby’ Starbrand was aged up slightly in the reality warp and is officially a ‘little kid’. Hyperion is free, but confused and still remembering bits of the universe before.

And Mephisto, the power behind this alternate universe shift, has gathered other multiverse Mephistos to create a huge council of Mephistos for… ultimate power. Reality domination. Whatever devils of that much power would want.

This sound like everything? What did we learn from this event?

Shane Bailey: Well, Nighthawk swears he’ll get his world back. And the Squadron were around before this so i be guess they just remember the universe the way it was when Coulson changed it, but not all the Avengers do? Just Blade?

Tom Bondurant: I feel like this event took a good idea and spread it around a handful of one-shots so much that the main story got lost in the shuffle. If you had just read the first and last issues, would you really have missed that much? Ironically, the story points out that this was basically just a test run for the Council of Red’s real attack, so I guess we have that to look forward to.

The Squadron’s transition back to regular Earth-616 also leaves me with questions. I think we touched on these previously, but this Hyperion isn’t the same one who was in Hickman’s Avengers, right? And this Nighthawk clearly isn’t the one from the original Defenders. I know this spins out of Secret Wars to a certain extent, so maybe Marvel history has been already rewritten (gasp!) to account for it, but it’s still confusing. Plus the next event is World War She-Hulk, which doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Heroes Reborn.

Ultimately I appreciated what Aaron and company were trying to do, and it produced a good number of clever moments, but I’m left thinking it wasn’t much more than a two-month diversion.

Shane Bailey: No, but they were in Aaron’s Avengers some. Like everything else in this series, what came before wasn’t really explained.

JK Parkin: [walks in the door] Hey, sorry I’m coming in late as I return from vacation, where I toured Avengers Campus at Disneyland:

I don’t have anything really to add about the final issue that you guys haven’t already covered, but I will say that it left me with the same feelings I have about the miniseries/event overall — very few high points, many low points and a general feeling of “What was the point of all that?” If the point was to show off some excellent art by a wide variety of artists, then mission accomplished. If it was to tell a fully developed, coherent and fun story, it really missed the mark. Like Tom said, it was a good idea that was spread too thin — and never really seemed to advance beyond its basic premise. I’m guessing at some point we’ll see Phil Coulson and the Squadron again, but will they even be this version? Based on past history, probably not, and I think I’d actually prefer that.

I think the only thing it left me with is some trepidation about picking up the next Marvel event and also the feeling that I’ll probably be okay not reading the rest of the current run on Avengers, as this miniseries really emphasized a lot of the problems I’ve had with it overall.

Shane Bailey: Mephisto be praised. Amen.

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