I don't think even I much gave a crap at the time--I was psyched up for the Avengers et al to come back and do what, it was hoped, would be more marginally coherent stories than what we'd seen in the year previous. However, sometimes the primitive little knot at the top of my spine sometimes impels me to do things and thanks to yet another Marvel trade paperback sale, I got the complete Heroes Reborn: The Return series.
And oh, it's wonderful in its bizarreness. Not the initial series--it's competently done and rather pedestrian and I don't intend to spend a great deal of time on it, but in this collection it's backed with the 2000 fifth week event that revisited the Heroes Reborn universe and . . . hoo boy . . .that's well worth spending some time on.
But first, let's knock the miniseries out of the way. Heroes Reborn: The Return is a workmanlike attempt to accomplish the task of saying "OK, everyone back on the bus" for all the Heroes Reborn characters without it seeming so blatant. Peter David supplies us with a plot concerning Franklin Richards (who started this mess in the first place by wishing everyone into a big blue ball) and is forced by the Celestials to judge which Earth will survive. Naturally the choice is ultimately rather empty as both Earths end up surviving, but that's the engine that's driving us. At the eleventh hour Doctor Doom tries to steal Franklin's power and Thor knocks him off the bus. Then the Heroes Return (well obviously, or it'd be false advertising), and everything's back to normal more or less. At no time does Peter David ever bother to explain why the hell Franklin Richards has been seven years old for thirty-some years at this point, but I have a feeling sometimes that Franklin Richards is the person that keeps the Marvel Universe in a sliding timeline and generally keeps everything in that weird "illusion of change" bubble it's always in. That would be a great idea, but better to save it for a story that's not just a plot move, I reckon.
Art is provided by Salvador Larocca, working in his proto Fantastic Four/X-Treme X-Men style and not that grotesque photo-referenced lifeless stuff he does in Invincible Iron Man now. It's of it's time here and keeps things very lively.
So, at the tally at the end of this series (told you we weren't going to dwell on it for long) all the heroes are back, apart from Thor and Dr. Doom, who will be along shortly--sooner for us poor souls approaching the back of the book, and the HR Earth has been wracked with several devastating natural disasters, including a flood in New York City. Boy, good thing they didn't use that trick as a fresh jumping on point for a previously fresh jumping-on point again, huh?
And that's where we pick up our fifth-week event. The frame story for this is two issues by Mike McKone and our buddy, Chris Claremont. Here's the plot in a nutshell: Doom falls to Counter-Earth, nearly drowns, and recruits a woman to help him conquer the Earth, who is actually our identifying character through the whole thing--Lancer. Lancer is the prototypical Claremont heroine, and this gives us a great opportunity to discuss Chris Claremont's notion of what constitutes a "strong female character."
You start with a capable, spunky, but vaguely unfulfilled woman, who, through a debt of honor, romance, or mental or physical domination, because super-powerful, and usually undergoes some further kind of darkening or degradation (occasionally overtly sexual, but generally couched in some metaphorical stand-in) and all of a sudden, she's "Never felt this much alive." At best, it's The Story of O with the serial numbers filed off. At worst, it has some unpleasant textual and subtextual things to say about female characters being unable to find their own channels of power without the involvement of a man, preferably loaded with some kind of sadomasochism/power imbalance or, to be more blunt about it, to be raped (usually metaphoricall not literally) until she likes it. And this is a "strong female character."
Lancer fits this like a glove. She's holed up in a skyscraper in New York City (after the big flood, the Atlanteans took over the flooded sections of the city) and just happens to be looking out her window at exactly the right time to see Doom fall to earth. And the she resuscitates him. With mouth to mouth. Through his mask. I quote:
" . . .I take the man of metal in my arms . . .and imagine his lips are those of my sweetheart. To Doom, I give my love, my passion, my air."
That's verbatim, y'all. Lancer's understandably pissed off--after all, while all this was going on, their superheroes were on the bus and weren't doing shit to protect them from the floods and all that, but she considers Doom a hero anyways despite the fact that's, y'know, really fucked up. He holes up in the Baxter Building and as a way of saying "Thank you," shoots Lancer up with Super-Powers In A Can and she has whatever superpowers the plot needs her to have, and to celebrate her new empowerment, naturally she chooses to clothe herself in a contempo-casual dominatrix pantsuit.
And with that, off to the races we go. Things continue in Heroes Reborn: Ashema, where the avatar of the Celestial who tried to get Franklin to choose which Earth existed back at the end of the series, is a powerless human running around naked and trying to avoid Divinity, who's a great big ol' blob of tentacle rape. Lancer shows up because Claremont hasn't yet shown us just how badass she is, and Ashema is rescued, we get an inkling of the real threat (another renegade Celestial--alas, not Oneg the Prober) and Lander fights Toomazooma, the Living Totem, because uh, why not? Oh, and at the end of it, Doom tells the reader that he's going to conquer the Earth, because when Doctor fucking Doom shows up, we never know whether he's got world domination on his mind, or flower arranging on his mind.
Following that up is Heroes Reborn: Masters of Evil by Joe Casey and Charlie Adlard, which is our first of the HR books that isn't written by Claremont and plugs in only faintly to the main story. Essentially casting the Masters as the Flash's Rogues Gallery in a very noirish story, Masters chiefly concerns the Black Knight's scheme to endear himself to Doctor Doom and Whirlwind's scheme to escape his life of crime as the criminals have turned on each other in the wake of the heroes leaving. It's not a bad story, really, and I don't often say that about Joe Casey's work. In a way, given its unconventional style, Masters and a few other books in the HR event really seem like previews for the unorthodox stuff Marvel will be doing under Bill Jemas very soon.
Heroes Reborn: Rebel, unfortunately, isn't as good. Joe Kelly attempts to write a post-apocalyptic western with a guy wearing the Heroes Reborn Iron Man armor for . . .uhm some damn reason. It's hopelessly light on plot--we're given no real insight into Rebel's character or his circumstances (which undercuts the shock ending more than a little--if we don't give a shit about him, why would we care about that?) and loaded with the most ridiculous melodramatic narration you can imagine from someone not named Chris Claremont. Matt Haley's stuff isn't bad, he's not quite suited for the western milieu intended here.
Heroes Reborn: Remnants is a whole other plate of potatoes, however. Kelly does a good deal better here, working in a much more familiar mode. Essentially Heroes Reborn: Deadpool, Remnants consists of dorky parody stand-ins for the HR superheroes pitted against their mentor, the Swordsman, who ends up becoming Deadpool and facing off with his former proteges and while it's not exactly inessential, it's a great deal of fun. Joe Kelly does a lot better with the comedy than with the drama. Oh, and Ethan Van Sciver's art is dramatically different from his current style--a lot lighter on the detail, a lot more exaggerated and comedic.
Say what you will about Fabian Nicieza, apparently he has the right idea at not exactly the right time. Heroes Reborn: Young Allies stars Rikki Barnes, AKA Bucky, AKA Nomad, AKA Not Carrie Kelly as leader of a group of superheroes, all of whom are in-name-only homages to other Marvel superheroes. As this is Fabian Nicieza and Mark Bagley, what you see is what you get--competently done superheroics coupled with somewhat engaging characters (as they only had this one issue and a few spots in Thunderbolts) that, while not as adventurous as some of the other issues in this event, is classic-style superhero'ing, and people who like that sort of thing will find it is the sort of thing that they like.
The whole shmear wraps up with Heroes Reborn: Doom, wherein we join Doom and Lancer and their new team of badass killing people and breaking shit. And this means it's time for a ROLL CALL!
DIVINITY--Like 40% of Chris Claremont characters, Divinity is a icky squiggly blob who talks in an irritating syntax and enslaves people. Seriously, he's that indisctinct.
SHAKTI--Shakti is a sorceress, and like 20% of Chris Claremont characters is an ultra-bitch on wheels dominatrix type who does very little except use magic to turn Lancer into a sex slave (Hey, I didn't write it!) in a way that backfires spectacularly and by "spectacularly" I mean, "really sleazy."
DORMA--Prince Namor's main squeeze, Dorma has been re-imagined as a hard-assed man with breasts, like 20% of Chris Claremont's characters, who spends her time when she's not killing the hell out of people trying to have sex with Doom. More or less, anyways.
TECHNARX--Like the Phalanx, Technarx infects his victims with the transmode virus and drains their energy. I can't decide whether "zombify/vampire, then kill" puts him in the category of "slaver" bad guys like Divinity or not, but he tries to enslave Lancer but fails, because Lancer is TOO FUCKEN AWESOME.
ASHEMA--Well, not technically a member of the group, but nevertheless important to the finish off this mess. Like 20% of all Claremont characters, Ashema is a haughty bitch who needs Doom to kick the shit out of her to earn his respect, which is supposed to mean that like Lancer, she's on her way to real power and . . .you know how I said this was icky before? I forget it happens twice in the same story, with two separate characters, possibly more.
Anyways, I'm tired and need this to be over and thankfully this is a pretty lightweight denouement, as essentially it's Lancer being awesome as each of Doom's generals try to take her down, neglecting that she has Shift-Y Plot Convenience, which makes her immune to everything, but not in time to spare us from Shakti turning her into a harem girl (only for Lancer to reverse the spell and turn Shakti into a sex slave. She even makes Shakti kiss her foot. Man, that's three.) and Technarx trying to mouth-rape her with circuitry and failing and . . .yeah, look, that whole business with the sex slave shit really pissed me off, so let's just say they all get their shit wrecked because Lancer is so damn cool (God, the Freudian implications of that name now, eh?) and Doom makes Ashema and the Dreaming Celestial fight and activate his whatever technology, shifting the HR Earth into the real Marvel Universe, with Doom in charge.
Yyyeah. So, as utterly demented as Heroes Reborn was it's not a patch on turning it from Earth-Liefeld to Earth-Claremont, huh? I'm completely stunned by this volume in retrospect. You see, after Heroes Reborn collapsed in on itself people turned on it in droves and treated it like it was utterly radioactive, so they very hurriedly get everyone back and forget about it for a couple years, then assume somehow that there's some nostalgia for the damn place and cut loose on it again a mere two years later, I guess they were hoping readers would forget how silly the whole idea was in the first place.
Good thing they learned their lesson and never tried anything like that again, eh?