Review by Tony Keen
2021’s Heroes Reborn/Heroes Return event shares little with its 1990s namesake, Marvel’s ill-advised shunting off some of its major characters to be reimagined by Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. Instead, this story posits a world in which the Avengers never existed; Tony Stark never built the Iron Man suit, Carol Danvers never left the Air Force, and Captain America is still frozen in the Arctic.
This spins-off from Jason Aaron’s run as writer of the regular Avengers series. In that, Phil Coulson (a very different character from his Marvel Cinematic Universe equivalent) had, with the aid of Mephisto, created the Squadron Supreme of America, the latest version of Marvel’s Justice League pastiche who have, in one form or another, been around since 1969. This incarnation are meant to be an overtly American superhero team, after the Avengers have gone global. Regular followers of the Squadron through all its incarnations will not be surprised to find out they are mind-controlled.
In Heroes Reborn, Coulson and Mephisto have remade the universe so that the Avengers never came to be; instead, the Squadron Supreme have always been America’s (not Earth’s) mightiest heroes. But one Avenger remembers the world as it ought to be. Blade, the Vampire Hunter sets about trying to restore reality, by bringing the Avengers (back) together.
After an introductory chapter setting everything up, each of theprimary Squadron members (Hyperion, Blur, Dr Spectrum, Nighthawk, and Power Princess) have their own chapter. Shorter tales follow the progress of Blade and his growing set of allies. Finally, the Squadron all come together to find the Avengers, and the whole thing ends in an almighty slugfest, as the two teams fight for their respective realities. Eventually, of course, regular Avengers continuity is resumed.
The concept of a world without the Avengers is in initially intriguing, but the execution is fumbled. The problem is that the Squadron are the focus for most of this story, and as presented they are not very attractive. Arrogant, smug, jingoisitic, happy to kill to achieve their objectives, careless of collateral damage, they are everything the Avengers are not, and everything you might expect from a cheap caricature of the Justice League. Hyperion (Superman equivalent) has a few qualms as he tears the Hulk into pieces, or elsewhere, but that’s the most that’s seen. As a result, the reader develops little in the way of sympathy for the Squadron and a more effective story would have ensured it genuinely seemed as if something would be lost if the Avengers’ world is restored. And, unless you’re a complete Marvel purist, you may feel it’s a bit of a travesty of the Justice League, rather like the nasty version of the Avengers that turned up in Mark Millar’s Authority.
Regular Avengers penciller Ed McGuinness draws the opening (see sample image) and closing chapters, the Doctor Spectrum story and the short back-up strips, whilst various other artists handle the other chapters. No-one is terrible, but no-one massively impresses either. Two companion volumes collect a number of cross-over comics connected to the run.