Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

Avengers: Heroes
Reborn

By Rob Liefeld, Jim
Valentino, Jeph Loeb and Walt Simonson; art by Rob Liefeld, Joe Phillips, Joe
Bennet and Al Rio.

Collects Avengers (vol
2) #1-12

 

Why I Bought This: I
love me some Liefeld art and I love me some Avengers. So even though Heroes
Reborn is notoriously bad I grabbed it off Amazon after I had previously found
issue one in a $1 bin and thought this is a promising start and the art is
terrific so maybe it’s better than its reputation. Alas Liefeld only draws two
chapters and as for the writing, read on.
The Plot – The
Avengers died fighting Onslaught only to be reborn in a pocket universe where
basically their origin starts from scratch thus allowing us to see what the
Marvel Universe would be like if it had been created by Image in the 90s
instead.
 
(spoilers below)

 

Chapter 1 – Loki arrives in the Reborn Universe and notices
there is no Asgard here. Meanwhile Donald Blake is an archeologist and he finds
Thor frozen in a block of ice. Loki’s astral form peaks in on the Avengers
although he does not recognize any of them and through him we meet Scarlet
Witch, Swordsman, Hawkeye, Hellcat (looking a lot like Tigra), Vision and Cap.
Also years before the ultimate universe and movies we have Nick Fury and SHIELD
in charge of assembling the Avengers. The team is sent to Blake’s location and
frees Thor from the ice. Loki then appears and tells his brother the Avengers
are responsible for his fate and we get a fight scene. But when Cap saves Thor
from Loki’s backstab and Thor picks up his hammer he sees the truth (and almost
remembers Onslaught but takes it to have been Ragnarok instead). Thor decides
to join the Avengers. Loki retreats and recruits Enchantress who reveals
Scarlet Witch is her daughter.

Chapter 2 – Thor impresses everyone with his strength. We
meet the Pyms for the first time. Kang attacks the team and no one can
penetrate his force field. Kang’s spaceship blasts everyone. Kang then takes
the captured Avengers to Mantis as a gift of love.

Chapter 3 – Kang takes down Fury. Thor summons his hammer to
him and frees the team. Loki meets with Agatha Harkness. Kang’s force field
keeps the human Avengers at bay but they distract him long enough for Wanda to
shut down his force field and one hammer blow later ends the fight. Swordsman
wants to kill Kang but Mantis talks him out of it and this gives Kang and her
time to teleport away. Vision’s body then falls from Kang’s ship and Wanda
fears he may be dead.

Chapter 4 – Hulk is doing his usual Hulk smash thing (only
naked in this universe). Meanwhile Pym and Ultron attempt to repair the Vision
at Pym’s lab. Wanda returns home and we learn Enchantress is now masquerading
as Agatha. Thor is out drinking when Hulk attacks Avengers mansion leaving only
the three humans and Hellcat there to fight him. Hulk wins with only Cap giving
him even a mild fight.

Chapter 5 – Thor arrives and we get some epic Liefeld splash
pages as he and Hulk throw down. Meanwhile Avengers Island apparently has a
gamma reactor on site which is what attracted the Hulk and now due to
collateral damage is about to go nuclear and destroy Manhattan. Hulk wins the
fight with Thor.

Chapter 6 – So apparently this Hulk story crossed over with the
FF HR book and that issue is not reprinted here. So we open with Reed and
Banner working to shut down the reactor while SHIELD evacuates the unconscious
Avengers. Loki’s astral form contacts Nick Fury but says nothing of note. Iron
Man arrives to help with the reactor. Hellcat wakes up and sniffs Bruce realizing
he is the Hulk and tries to attack him. Cap stops her but its too late Bruce
changes into the Hulk.

Chapter 7 – So the Hulk fight was resolved in the pages of
Iron Man (not reprinted here). Iron Man has now joined the Avengers and the
Avengers have split from SHIELD, although Fury is keeping Vision’s shutdown
body claiming it is SHIELD property. Pym meanwhile is still inside the Vision
as Ant Man trying to repair him (and also wearing the ugliest costume ever) and
is running afoul of Vision’s antibodies. Tony also creates Avengers Mansion
and invites Thor inside (but there is no Jarvis in this reality). Hawkeye has a
flashback of working with a cyborg version of Grim Reaper alongside Hellcat in
the first Avengers mission to track down Zemo where apparently Reaper did not
make it out alive. Cap is sitting vigil at Swordsman’s bedside as Hulk put him
in a coma. There is a knock on the door. Thor answers and there is Wonderman
barely able to stand saying he needs help; but it’s a trick as Wonderman attacks
Thor when his guard is down. He is soon joined by the Lethal Legion which
includes Enchantress, Executioner, Ultron and Scarlet Witch.

Chapter 8 – Loki confronts Kang and Mantis and absorbs their
essence as he has discovered the nature of this reality (ergo many of these
people don’t really exist and are just figments of Franklin Richards’
imagination). Meanwhile the battle rages on and Ultron is destroyed (apparently
not adamantium here) by the mansion security system making it probably the
first time that has ever stopped anyone. As the Avengers rally Enchantress and
Wanda teleport away, abandoning their teammates who lose a panel or two later.
The Avengers turn the villains over to SHIELD. Meanwhile Loki sneaks aboard the
SHIELD prison and absorbs various villains from Captain America’s solo
title. Meanwhile inside the Vision, Ant Man finds his brain and hooks up to it
and presumably sees images of the real Marvel Universe which causes him to pass
out. Meanwhile the Avengers are attacked by the Masters of Evil (in the form
C-list Silver Age villains) and a missile explodes. In the prison Loki finds
Executioner and absorbs him. Loki reveals he knows that he himself is not real
but he has a plan to become real.

Chapter 9 – The Masters have the Avengers on the defensive
for all of two pages and then literally three of them trip over each other
breaking legs and hitting heads in the process. Iron Man and Thor punch the
last two and when the fight ends the villains can’t even explain their motives
for attacking. Thor wants to execute the prisoners but Cap puts a stop to that
and then Thor, Hawkeye and Hellcat all quit the team. Loki meets up with
Enchantress & Scarlet Witch for a new plan. Jan (Wasp) asks the team if
anyone has seen Hank who has been missing for days and for no particular reason
Iron Man deduces where he is and takes her to the Hellicarier. Loki teleports
in and absorbs the Masters. Ant Man wakes up and discovers Vision’s memories
are being transmitted back to Avengers
Island and decides to
return to the real world. He emerges just in time to meet up with Tony, Jan and
Fury—who claims he knew Pym was inside Vision all along. Vision then self
destructs for some reason and the Avengers leave while Fury rants like Jonah in
a 60s cartoon. Thor is depressed that he does not get to do Viking activities
like “reaving, pillaging and executing” in the 20th century so
Enchantress teleports in to recruit him to Team Loki by making out with him.
Cap discovers Swordsman is not in his hospital bed (presumably Loki absorbed
him since this subplot is never explained or picked up on again in the series).
Loki rants about Vision blowing up since he was the one using his memories.
Wanda returns to the mansion and is attacked by Hellcat. Wanda claims she was
an undercover agent for the Avengers, at which point Loki ports in behind her
and zaps her. He then offers to put Hellcat’s mind in Wanda’s body so she can
seduce Cap if she will join Team Loki. Cap & Tony are at the gamma reactor
and see some more old (mainstream M.U.) Avengers’ foes materializing but a
single repulsor ray stops that. This causes the energy in the reactor to coalesce
and form Thor.

Chapter 10 – So apparently this is the true Marvel Universe
Thor who assumes he has been reunited with his teammates in Valhalla
after dying in battle with Onslaught. Also Jan is now the Wasp for literally no
explained reason at all—in this entire series she’s not had powers or been on
the team or involved in anyway except as Hank’s wife and yet now she is in
costume and flying with wings. Anyway Cap and Tony have no idea what Thor is
talking about and when they tell him about the reactor Thor is like ‘in what
mad reality would a nuclear reactor be kept in Manhattan?’ and Cap is like ‘good point.’
Loki and Witch-Cat recruit Hawkeye to Team Loki. Reed of the FF comes to
investigate and discovers the reactor is actually a dimensional doorway. Fury
locates Kang’s ship and finds security footage of Loki killing Kang and Mantis.
He shows the footage to the Avengers and MU Thor leaves to investigate. S-Witch
returns and Cap indeed confirms she was an undercover agent known only to him
but then she starts making out with him so that Hawkeye can get a free shot in
with an Asgardian bow. Witch-Cat then fake reveals she liked being bad when she
was undercover so she’s turning heel permanently. HR Thor joins the battle and
starts beating down Iron Man while Enchantress takes out Pym with a sleep spell
kiss. Hawkeye defeats Wasp. HR Thor is about to kill Tony when MU Thor returns to
make the save. Tony zaps Clint as the Thors fight. Loki uses the confusion to
drain the cosmic energy in the reactor.

Chapter 11 – Loki is now giant-sized and he immediately
betrays Enchantress & HR Thor. Heroes and villains regroup together at
which point Agatha’s cat shows Witch her reflection which shows her to be
Hellcat. The mirror then draws in Hellcat’s soul and explodes. Enchantress then
turns the cat back into Agatha. Loki has put a force field around the reactor
that even both Thor hammers combined cannot break. A giant Odin confronts Loki
and they fight with Odin using a Thor hammer. A cut scene reveals Odin is
actually a mystic construct created by the combined magic of Witch, Enchantress
& Agatha. Meanwhile Stark and Pym create a science gizmo powered by MU
Thor’s hammer to break Loki’s force field while he’s distracted. Loki fatally
wounds Odin whose image dissolves into that of HR Thor. Loki takes down the sorceresses
with a mystic bolt and confronts the remaining Avengers. Wasp zaps him in the
ear and then the SHIELD Hellicarrier arrives to blast him with cannons. Loki’s
power is fading and he shrinks to normal size. Cap goes toe to toe with him for
a bit and Thor throws his hammer for the victory shot as Loki dissolves into
purple bubbles. HR Thor dies in MU Thor’s arms. Cap visits Clint in the
hospital where Clint apologizes for going bad but decides to keep the costume
Loki made for him (basically his regular purple costume as opposed to the brown
Wolverine knock off he wore the first 10 issues) as a reminder of how he messed
up.

Chapter 12 – The finale of this universe was a 4-part
“Coming of Galactus” remix. This is part 2. Part 1 was in FF in which Galactus
ate the world but Doom time traveled at the last minute. This chapter opens with
a Viking funeral for HR Thor. Doom arrives and warns everyone that Galactus
will destroy the world tommorow but the Avengers and Fury don’t believe him.
After Doom leaves SHIELD apparently has a satellite near Saturn and detects the
Heralds (Galactus has five in this reality) coming so Fury mobilizes the
Avengers, FF and Hulk. Pym kisses Jan goodbye since she is on one of the four
teams while he’s staying behind to do science. He then resurrects Vision, while
Witch casually mentions Enchantress is not her mom after-all. The FF battle
Silver Surfer. They do okay considering how outgunned they are but Doom is
taking no chances and takes control of Russia’s Nukes and launches them at
the battle site. This succeeds in killing the FF but Surfer is unharmed. Surfer
is touched by the love and nobility the FF showed in death. Another watery Herald
faces SHIELD. She wins rather easily but the Hellicarrier kamikazes the
Galactus planet eating machine on the way down—again impressing the Surfer. In Antarctica
Hulk gets his butt handed to him by Firelord. Vision and Scarlet Witch lend a
helping hand with Vision getting his staff from him. This gives Hulk time to
land a KO punch before he collapses. Vision uses Firelord staff to destroy the
Galactus engine. Banner dies in the snow and Surfer watches. Our final fight is
Avengers vs. Terrax. Terrax kills Hawkeye with ease. Cap gets some hits in.
Tony and Wasp follow up and Wasp dies too. Thor throws his hammer and takes out
both Terrax and the machine, though he is wounded in the explosion—and yes
Surfer watches this too. Then for no reason I can tell the rest of Doom’s nukes
malfunction and blow up. Galactus arrives with Air Walker. The Avengers Big
Three go to confront him but are casually blown away by Air Walker and Galactus
reveals he has a back up machine and with that he starts to eat the planet. The
heroes realize they can’t win but to save other worlds they decide to detonate
the interdimensional reactor to take Galactus with them. Surfer agrees to help
and the entire Heroes Reborn universe ends in an explosion. In the blackness we
learn Doom has time traveled again over to Iron Man #12.

 

Critical Thoughts:
The Heroes Reborn arc is a notoriously bad era for the Avengers and for the
most part this trade lives down to that reputation. Look at how many writers
and artists thing has for a one year stint. No wonder it never gels into a
solid story. The one thing I will say in its defense is Liefeld’s original
vision for this title is actually better than the jumbled throwing everything
at the sink with a side of meta commentary abomination that Simonson turns it
into when he takes over from chapter 8 on. Don’t misunderstand: I am not
arguing that Liefeld is a better writer than Simonson. What I am saying is that
Liefeld at least presented a coherent vision of a superhero team book even if
that vision was a mostly bland retread. Simonson on the other hand is bending
himself into pretzels to undo Liefeld’s story while also finishing it up and
preparing for a larger crossover to get the characters back home. Look at the
chapter recaps: Liefeld’s chapters are more or less short and to the point,
Simonson’s are big unwieldy things because he has so many random tangents in
them.

Let’s examine the Liefeld chapters first. Chapter one really
is a good setup chapter. It pays homage to the classic history by having Loki
be the first villain and having them find a hero in ice. The change of that
frozen hero being Thor rather than Cap is understandable seeing as Cap had a
solo book in this line and Thor did not. It looked fantastic and overall is a
very good first issue for a rebooted universe.

I think the subplots in that first issue all work well. We
start with Loki immediately being aware that the universe isn’t real, and that
is a good way to get the reader invested in what was a controversial reboot at
the time.  I’m pretty sure Loki’s last
prior appearance to this involved being in the Ultraverse with the Infinity
Gauntlet so it is entirely possible the real Loki could have ended up here
after that inter-dimensional mess ended, making it a nice long-term subplot to
keep the reader guessing. I think the interpretation of Thor as being out of
touch with the modern era and still thinking like a Viking is a fun take on the
character for this universe. I also like the plot twist of Scarlet Witch being
Enchantress’ daughter. This is a universe with no mutants so you need to
explain her powers and you don’t have Magneto. This concept is an alternative
that is inline with spirit of her original origins: she is still the daughter
of a master criminal who is sometimes capable of nobility for the greater good
and it later gets her on the Masters of Evil which in the original Silver Age
was very similar to the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. It was a very promising
start.

However it quickly becomes obvious that Liefeld doesn’t have
much new to say about these characters after that first issue. Now in his
defense I feel the same way about the Ultimate Universe too. If you are going
to reboot these classic characters in a new timeline are you saying anything
new to make the reboot worthwhile or are we just retelling the same stories
with better science jargon and updated technology in the peripherals of the
story? Because if it is the latter, why bother?

With that in mind let’s look at the team. In this book Cap is
fine. While his own Heroes Reborn book was god-awful, here he mostly just
serves the capable leader role that he usually fills on the team. I already
spoke that Thor and Scarlet Witch had some changes that were mostly positive
for trying something new. The other characters though are characters only in
the loosest of terms; all that is different is ugly redesigns of their costumes.
Vision has the same look and powers he usually does but all he does is speak in
weird run-on sentences and then gets blown up in chapter 3. Hawkeye has an ugly
costume with a mask that completely covers his face. It is alleged there is
some mystery there but it is never developed. In Liefeld’s last chapter he gave
a flashback that Hawkeye is responsible for the Grim Reaper being a cyborg but Simonson
doesn’t follow up on it. Mostly Hawkeye just bitches about Cap’s leadership
like it is the Silver Age Cap’s Kooky Quartet era which is a waste of the
character’s legacy given what he’s done since then. This brings us to
Swordsman: a character no one has ever cared about in the main reality, and who
is even less interesting here. He fills Quicksilver’s role of also bitching
alongside Hawkeye in the Silver Age quartet, while power-wise he is just a dude
with a sword—not even a trick techno sword like the Silver Age version or a
magic sword like Black Knight, nope just a dude with a sword who tries to fight
the Hulk. Hellcat is also just an uglier version of Tigra with the occasional
feral rage—a trope Liefeld seems to love.

Later heroes include: Ant Man, whose costume is the ugliest
thing in this book. He is never really member of the team. He contributes
science stuff before Tony joins and we get a redux of his journey inside the
Vision from the Kree-Skrull War that is not half as good as the original. Wasp
isn’t even a superhero in Liefeld’s version until Simonson has her full on
manifest her classic powers with no explanation. Tony had his own book in this
universe making him a late-comer to the team. His new armor looks good and he
does exactly what you expect him to do in an Avengers’ book: no more, no less.

As for the villains, other than the Asgardians, they are
completely interchangeable. Kang’s appearance is a shallow call-back to his
first appearance under Stan Lee. He just shows up and challenges the Avengers
to a fight so he can impress a girl; that is the extent of his grand plan. It’s
a not a bad fight by any means. It takes two issues, Kang gets an early victory—perfectly
serviceable in a surface way but there is nothing under that surface. Also no
one wants to see Kang date Mantis because it reminds us of The Crossing, which
is the worst Avengers’ story of all time. Ultron evolving every issue is kind
of cute (ergo he’s Ultron-1 in issue 1, Ultron-2 in issue 2, etc) but he joins
the Lethal Legion off-panel which dilutes the payoff. Worse his fight scene
occurs under Simonson, who has the frickin’ mansion security system blow him
up–a staggering anti-climax for the Avengers’ greatest foe. The Hulk chapters
are again typical Silver Age Hulk-smash vs. the Avengers but that kind of thing
is always fun and the Liefeld-drawn Hulk-Thor throw down is a tremendous use of
art and action: I think it ends up being the best thing in the book.

Then we come to Simonson and nothing makes sense anymore.
The villains became even less developed and defeated easily on purpose so he
can show they aren’t real. Suddenly there are two Thors for no particular
reason other than I guess Simonson is most famous for writing Thor and he must
have hated Liefeld’s take on the character so he wanted to bring in the “real”
Thor and show how he should be done, which seems petty since you’ve already
replaced the guy on the title. In fact his writing here is full of petty
touches. When Hellcat goes bad and is revealed, Cap is like we never noticed
she was missing well no wonder then (shrug). Yes Hellcat in this story is a
completely forgettable character but it feels like you’re taking cheap shots
for no reason. Ditto when he has Witch reveal the Enchantress mom-thing was a
lie, A) how would Hank Pym even know to ask that question, B) Enchantress did
not say that to Wanda to get her to join her, she said it to Loki why we she
lie about that to him? and C) the characters are going to their home universe
to be restored so who cares who her mom is in this one? It is just another petty
way to insert how much you think your predecessor’s ideas on this title sucked.
(See also MU Thor’s first sentence being ‘Building a nuclear reactor in Manhattan is the height
of folly’ when he arrives).
Grade: Liefelds’
title may have generously been a C. It was not very good as yes there were too
many characters that no one cared about or were poorly developed among the heroes,
while the villains had very basic motivations; however there were also some
decent mysteries being developed for the characters Liefeld was concentrating
his efforts on and the fight scenes ranged from perfectly serviceable to
excellent. Simmons’s run is a bunch of jump the rails nonsense, invalidating
what came before without building to anything new and is easily an F. Overall I
give the entire trade a D+ primarily
for the two chapters of excellent Liefeld art.