[Guest review by Doug Glassman]
Heroes Reborn: Avengers is a study in bad comics and good. What starts out as as early exercise in alternate continuity (like the Ultimate Universe) goes terribly wrong, but some smart writing brings it back from the brink.
Issues #1-7 of the "Heroes Reborn" Avengers collected here were co-plotted by Rob Liefeld; the scripts for these issues were provided first by Jim Valentino, then by Jeph Loeb. Because of this, Avengers feels like an early Image title, with clichéd dialogue and a bland plot which serves as an excuse for a series of fight scenes.
What bogged me down in the first issue is Loki's truly horrible narration. A lot of people mock Thor and the other Asgardians for the Old English tone of their words, but Old English is actually a language with rules. Valentino doesn’t seem to realize this. Every other sentence has a “what be” or an “e’en” in it, and it becomes incredibly distracting. I have an English degree, and for a class, I had to be able to translate passages Beowulf into modern English for a test. To see such a blatant disregard for language is insulting, similar to a bad translation from Spanish.
Then there's the art. Chap Yaep is the primary artist at first, and his art isn’t too bad by 1990s Marvel standards. His women have ridiculous proportions and every one seems to be snarling, but that’s par for the course. But the other reason I couldn’t get past the first issue is what I can only describe as a “smash cut.” As the Avengers assemble against Loki, we see the Vision and Scarlet Witch running through a hallway, and then BAM! Double-page Liefeld spread. From there, it descends into what feels almost like a Rob Liefeld parody, with constant snarls, tiny eyes and the ridiculously long legs of the Enchantress.
Ian Churchill takes on art duties later on, and along with Jeph Loeb's script, the title slowly improves. It’s not helped by some terrible costume designs. Hellcat has suddenly become Feral from X-Force, but without a nose. Had this been Tigra, it would’ve been more understandable, but the lack of a nose makes the character look strange. Hawkeye has been given a putrid brown costume and a full face mask. It seems like Liefeld and company wanted to have Wolverine but were saddled with Hawkeye, so they gave him a version of the tiger stripe costume and Wolverine’s mask. Ant-Man has a robotic costume with huge antennae which make him look like the Tick.
The best of the worst is the Swordsman, who has, for reasons I cannot explain, a Moe Howard haircut. I think they were going for a samurai look, but it just made him into a trio of unintentional Three Stooges homages, with Hawkeye’s wing-mask as Larry and Vision’s bald head as Curly.
By the eighth issue, the reader can see how Marvel decides that the Heroes Reborn experiment had failed, and they start folding their characters back into Marvel's original continuity. Along with Peter David’s Heroes Return mini-series, they changed the creative team on Avengers to Walt Simonson and Michael Ryan, who turned it into one of the greatest comics I’ve ever read. Ryan’s cartoonish art is okay for the story Simonson is telling. At the time, manga’s influence was growing in the comic book world, with Humberto Ramos and Todd Nauck becoming rising artists; Ryan’s style has wide eyes and brighter colors to match this style.
Walt Simonson turned Thor into a frog and made it a work of genius, so you can imagine what he brought to this title. He creates a clever fake-out in issue #9 as the dialogue of the Asgardians descends into even worse Old English; Thor actually says “If this be the way of the Avengers, then mayhap Thor be Avenger no longer!" At first, this was disconcerting, since Simonson’s run on Thor is one of the Eighties Marvel Epics (I’ll get into my redefinition of that term next month). I was concerned that Simonson lost his touch. But then, at the end of issue #9, the real Thor appears, and it all clicks.
Simonson turns the entire title into a self-parody of the first eight issues. The Asgardian dialogue is so bad because Counter-Earth is the creation of a young child (Franklin Richards) and based on his memories. When the real Thor encounters the Counter-Earth Thor, he notes that “You speak strangely, warrior ... as though thy tongue were twisted into knots!” The Enchantress’ legs remain ridiculously long and the Scarlet Witch’s costume keeps shrinking, parodying the earlier artwork. Characters keep having random revelations, much like the hints about Counter-Earth’s “wrongness” early on, like the Swordsman knowing Mantis, which were never picked up on again. There’s even a joke about being unable to find the proper sound effect for a fight scene; Simonson often works with John Workman, the creator some of comics’ most memorable sound effects.
Heroes Reborn: Avengers is a bizarrely prescient version of the Ultimate Universe. It’s a world with heavy SHIELD influence where a squabbling superhero team starts out poorly, continues without focus and is killed off one-by-one during a reboot-oriented massive event. I went into this volume believing Heroes Reborn: Avengers to be the worst Avengers book ever, and the first part of the book bears this out. I wouldn’t recommend buying it, but if you can get it for really cheap or can check it out of the library, you should do so, if only to see the transition from badness into brilliance.