Inside Pulse 12

Retro-Reviews: Heroes Reborn Captain America #7-11 By James Robinson, Joe Bennett & Others For Marvel Comics

Captain America Vol. 2 (Heroes Reborn) #7-11 (May ‘97-September ‘97 )

Written by James Robinson (#7-11)

Penciled by Joe Phillips (#7), Ryan Benjamin (#7), Matt Broome (#7), Travis Charest (#7), Tom Raney (#7), Scott Williams (#7), Joe Bennett (#8-11), Al Rio (#8)

Inked by Scott Williams (#7), Travis Charest (#7), Sandra Hope (#8-11), Al Rio (#8), Homage Studios (#9), Mark Irwin (#10)

Spoilers (from nineteen years ago)

The entire Heroes Reborn initiative, which saw the former Marvel artists who started Image, such as Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, and Whilce Portacio, return to the House of Ideas and relaunch Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the Avengers, and Captain America in a separate universe outside of regular Marvel continuity, while things in the 616 progressed without them.

I remember thinking at the time that it was a bad idea, and was not surprised when events proved me correct.  Rob Liefeld took over Cap’s book, and we got the famous picture of Cap with weirdly distended breasts that has become the go-to image for 90s excess and terribleness.  These comics looked terrible.

I didn’t buy them though, so can’t speak to Liefeld’s Cap.  I never really intended to give any of the Heroes Reborn books a shot (even though I’ve always liked Portacio’s work), and settled in to not buying these books, even as the absence of these characters led to some interesting things happening in the Marvel Universe (such as the creation of the Thunderbolts).  

And then it was announced that James Robinson was going to be writing Cap’s book.  At this time, Robinson was writing Starman, my favourite DC book at the time (it’s still in my top five).  He was also writing the very enjoyable Leave it to Chance at Image/Homage.  His name being attached to what I thought would be just another Image-style book made me think twice about it, and I started picking it up.  Liefeld was gone, so I thought it would be okay.  Robinson didn’t stick around for long though, and once I saw that Jeph Loeb would be writing after him, I dropped the book again in a hurry (Liefeld and Loeb being, at that time and still today, the two creators I avoid the most in comics).

So let’s take a look at what he attempted to do with this title, and most interestingly, how it suggested some later comics.

Villains

  • Sons of the Serpent (#8-11)
  • Serpent King (#10-11)

Guest-Stars

  • Bill Clinton (US President; future primary candidate for first First Husband; #7)
  • Nick Fury (#7, 10-11)
  • Valentina de la Fontaine (#7)
  • Falcon (Sam Wilson; #10-11)

Supporting Cast

  • Bucky (Rikki Barnes; #8, 10-11)

Let’s look at the events of this series in detail, with some commentary as I go along:

  • President Clinton is in the Oval Office with Nick Fury and Val de la Fontaine (note the ‘la’ added to her name), talking about Captain America.  Clinton wants to know Cap’s full history, even after Fury explains that once Nixon learned the same facts, he resigned his office.  We learn that Clinton did not know about the Super Soldier Serum, and thought Cap was naturally buff and handsome.  We see in flashback how Cap was born (with a very nice Travis Charest double-page spread), and we learn that most people in the world thought that Cap died at the end of the war, and that the current Cap is his grandson or something.  Fury explains that Cap objected to the use of the atomic bomb, so SHIELD “shut him down”, putting him in suspended animation.  Later, he was revived, with his memories altered, to fight in Korea as Captain Battle, and later in Vietnam as Captain Strike.  In each case, he got all moral, and frozen again.  In the early nineties he was revived again, and given a wife, a family, and a normal life, before being put back into service to fight the revived Red Skull, Zemo, and MODOK (presumably during Liefeld’s run).  Cap walks in and asserts himself, stating that he will not allow himself to be frozen again.  He peels the SHIELD insignia from his forehead, and let’s Fury and Valeria know not to pester him.  Clinton agrees with him and salutes him, before Cap walks out.
  • It’s interesting that in this pocket universe, Cap is basically an American Winter Soldier.  I wonder if this story influenced Ed Brubaker in any way when he was getting that story underway.  One issue in, Robinson has set the character up as different from his 616 self, and has established an interesting take on things, with Cap’s hitting the road providing the opportunity for a variety of interesting stories.  Let’s see where things go next…
  • Cap explains to Rikki Barnes, the pocket universe version of Bucky, that he is leaving SHIELD to explore America, and therefore won’t be working with her for a little while.  He’s put an A on his forehead now, and is basically wearing his 616 costume.  He rides his motorcycle into Mexia Texas, and learns that the FBI is having a Waco-style stand-off with the Sons of the Serpent outside of town.  A smaller group of Serpents have taken over a diner and are holding hostages.  The guy who seems to be in charge of this group gets offended by an older black man in the diner, and spouts some racist nonsense for a bit, before Cap busts in and takes them out.  He and the older gentleman share a moment.  Cap talks to the Sheriff, who takes them to the giant compound the Serpents own outside of town.  The FBI agent in charge lets Cap call the group’s leader.  They debate the value of multiculturalism for a moment or two, and then the Serpents bust out in a variety of flying saucers and skycycles, shooting everywhere.  Cap wrecks one of their ships, and I guess the rest just fly away?  It’s not clear.  In the aftermath, Cap learns that there are Serpents chapters across the country, and decides that he wants to take them down.  For some reason, in this costume, Cap’s eyebrows are often visible, and it’s driving me nuts.
  • Cap has made his way to the Pacific Ocean, but we learn he’s not all that impressed with Hollywood or LA.  He’s continued to take out cells of the Sons of the Serpent across the country, and after taking down a group in LA, begins to work with a Detective O’Brian (who, apparently is Latino or something, although that’s not clear by his name or the colouring of the comic; he refers to himself as being non-white).  Cap is upset by the increasingly racist rhetoric of the Serpents, and threatens to drown one of them in the La Brea Tar Pits in order to get information.  This information leads him to two Serpents who like to argue about old TV sitcoms featuring magical women (it’s like Robinson is trying to recreate the casual hipness that suffused every issue of Starman, but with much less success), which in turn leads him to the location of the Serpents’ LA base.  We learn that the Serpents are getting weapons from the US government.  A group of Serpents tie up a number of Jewish Hollywood producers and directors, and plan to blow up the Hollywood sign with them there.  Cap appears out of nowhere, somehow above the sign, and starts fighting the Serpents.  He takes them all out, and afterwards one of the Hollywood guys thanks him for saving his mother’s life in WWII when she was twelve.  He hugs Cap.  Later, Cap learns that the Serpents attacked mosques and synagogues across the country, and have killed over three hundred.  He decides to pursue the group in Washington DC.
  • Cap meets Nick Fury at the Lincoln Memorial, and they discuss the fact that the Sons of the Serpent are receiving weapons from the government.  Cap agrees to go with SHIELD’s Stealth Flight Gamma (who appear out of nowhere) to fight the Serpents.  We see them begin their assault.  Before that, we see Cap chatting with Bucky/Rikki about whether or not they are actually friends, and Rikki’s intuition that there is something wrong with SHIELD.  We learn that Bucky is creeping around somewhere, probably secretly assisting Cap, but the single panel she’s in is not clear.  Before that, we see Cap patrolling with the Falcon, who in the pocket universe has received a transfusion of Cap’s blood to become stronger, and has decided to be a hero.  Now we see that he’s being beaten badly by someone.  Cap and some of the SHIELD guys, who are wearing gigantic mech suits, can’t find anyone in the Serpents’ headquarters.  He chats with the SHIELD guys closest to him, and learns that one is Jewish and the other Muslim (which, in the pocket universe is still being spelled Moslem, like we’re in a 17th century colonial novel).  At that point, the Serpents attack from all sides, and we get a lot of large action splashes and panels.  It looks like Cap is caught in a huge explosion.  Later, Nick Fury is debriefing the same SHIELD agents, and shows sadness that Cap is dead.  He flies off in his car, going to a mansion somewhere.  When he gets out of the car, Cap gets out of the trunk, and climbs the outside of the mansion, where, peeking through a window, he discovers that the Serpent King has Falcon prisoner, and that he is Nick Fury!
  • Serpent King Fury rants, in front of the trussed-up Falcon, to a bunch of collected Sons of the Serpent about how he’s destroying Washington DC before he wrecks the rest of the country.  Bucky creeps around a Helicarrier, trying to figure out what’s wrong with SHIELD.  She attacks two agents who are guarding a door.  Serpent King Fury keeps ranting, but is interrupted by Captain America, who talks about how disappointed he is in Fury.  Bucky gets into a cell and discovers someone surprising.  Cap starts to fight Serpent King Fury, who has some very weird, 90s anatomy.  While they fight, Fury rants about how broke he is, and how his pension from SHIELD is so small, he wouldn’t be able to live a good life (because I’m sure a war hero who ran the world’s top spy organization would never be able to get a book deal or speaking engagements).  He and his Serpents start to beat Cap down, but he throws his shield and frees Falcon.  The two heroes fight side-by-side for a bit.  Serpent King Fury aims a high-tech bazooka at Cap but is shot in the head by the real Nick Fury, and we learn that Serpent King Fury is an LMD.  Fury and Bucky join in the fight against the Serpents, while SHIELD arrives to assist.  I have no idea how Bucky and Fury knew where to find everyone.  Cap and Fury talk for a bit, and we learn that Fury was abducted after he thawed Cap and set him up with a real life.  As they talk, they are interrupted by a call saying there is an emergency in New York (I guess whatever the Serpents were doing to DC has been stopped off panel?).  We see that the threat is Galactus.
  • Issue 12 of this series was written by Jeph Loeb, and I’ve had a long-standing rule against buying his comics that I sometimes break, and then immediately regret.  I didn’t buy #12.

Reading this story arc, I can’t see the point of Heroes Reborn.  Nothing terribly interesting was done with Captain America that couldn’t have been done in the Marvel Universe.  In fact, with very few changes, these issues could have easily existed in the Marvel U.  I know that Marvel was desperate at this time, but once Liefeld left the book (if he really was the draw in 1996 that Marvel was hoping for), they should have tried to get someone more high profile attached to the title.  

This doesn’t read or feel like a James Robinson book.  Or, more accurately, it kind of predicts the more mediocre stuff that marked Robinson’s post-Starman career that really kind of continues to today (aside from his brilliant Airboy).  Even his current work on Squadron Supreme, which is good, is closer to this than it is Starman.

The art in this arc was similarly unimpressive.  I have often been amazed by Joe Bennetts’ work (I’m thinking of the Crew or his work with Hawkman, for example), but here he just seems like yet another 90s artist.

It is interesting to think of Heroes Reborn as a precursor to the Ultimate line, where Marvel rebooted some of its classic properties outside of established continuity.  The difference there is that with those books, a lot of thought was put, at least initially, into how those types of stories would be different if they began in the late nineties.  It was a much more successful experiment, but then it was also more writer- than artist-driven.

Anyway, once Heroes Reborn was taken out behind the barn, Mark Waid and Ron Garney were put back in the saddle.  Next time around, we’ll see if they lost momentum over their year away from Steve Rogers.

If you’d like to read any of the columns about Captain America that preceded this one, you can check these links.

#266-300 – JM DeMatteis and Mike Zeck’s classic run

#301-306 – Mike Carlin’s placeholder run.

#307-332 – Mark Gruenwald and Paul Neary’s run

#333-350 – John Walker as Captain America run (Gruenwald and mostly Dwyer)

#351-386 – Steve is back as Cap; Gruenwald, Dwyer, and Lim’s runs

#387-413 – Gruenwald and Levins, at least until I dropped it

#449-454 – The back half of Mark Waid and Ron Garney’s first run

If you’d like to read any of the stories I talk about here, you can follow these links for trade paperbacks that encompass some of these issues.
Heroes Reborn (Captain America)

 

Tags: , ,