Characters Appearing: Bucky (Rikki Barnes), Captain America, Falcon
Captain America #1-5
Issue(s): Captain America #1, Captain America #2, Captain America #3, Captain America #4, Captain America #5
I originally intended to just cover all of Heroes Reborn in a single entry the same way i did for Age of Apocalypse. In terms of impact to the larger Marvel universe, they are similar: a pocket universe/alternate timeline which eventually gets reset and everyone mostly forgets about. A few new characters survive and slip through to the main timeline, although there are fewer and they are less important here (X-Man>>>>>>>> Rikki Barnes).
But AoA was a coherent event by a set number of creators. By contrast, for Heroes Reborn there is a major creator upheaval in the middle, with a major change in direction. So it's worth looking at that more closely. (There's also a technical reason: issue #2 of each series contains the annual Statement of Ownership and in order to track that data i have to put each in a unique entry.)
The downside to this is that while i originally hoped to just get away with a quick summary review ("It sucks!") followed by highlighting a few things i found interesting, i'm now going to feel the urge to talk in more detail. In my favor is the fact that the plots are both incoherent and boring and it will be virtually impossible for me to describe them with any accuracy. My brain will simply shut down before allowing me to do that. So don't be fooled by the multiple entries, and don't be disappointed when i don't describe exactly what's happening in the Heroes Reborn universe. What's important is that the heroes killed during Onslaught are now trapped in a nightmare world, living out twisted, nonsensical rehashes of their history.
(Also, since i originally intended to put all of this in one entry, and also because i just don't care, i didn't track footnotes between Heroes Reborn books. So if Iron Man #4 references the events of FF #1 or whatever, you won't see it in the References section. I'm also not counting tributes/rehashes as References. So the only References you'll see are legit footnotes referencing to Marvel universe books, which really means very occasional references to Onslaught. There ARE a lot of intra-Reborn footnote, for what it's worth, and kudos for that.)
It's also worth noting that at this point these creators were a bit past their peak. If this event had happened in the early 90s, these books might have been received differently. Long term fans would still have hated it (the same way Claremont fans hated Liefeld's X-Force). But the books might have become as "hot" as Lee and Liefeld's early 90s mutant work. But by now the speculator market had crashed, and that small subset of fans that actually bought into the hype had mostly come to their senses. No one wanted this. But Marvel executives were still trapped in the mindset of a few years earlier, hoping the boom could go on forever or be rekindled, and so we were all forced to go through this.
Rob Liefeld's Captain America is the flagship of the Heroes Reborn series in the sense that it's exactly as horrible as you'd expect an Image takeover of the Marvel Universe to be. Probably the most famous (i.e. much-mocked) art from the series is not from the series itself, but from promo material:
This pic has its defenders, but it's objectively awful. Nothing in the actual issues is quite so disproportionate (well, more accurate to say each picture is warped in its own unique way), but one thing that really stands out is how every single character looks dangerously dehydrated, like their face skin has dried out around their skull, desiccating their lips.
There's also Cap's absolutely dead eyes and the weird decision to replace the A on Cap's mask with a (SHIELD) eagle.
The macabre semi-joke (some people don't mean it as a joke) is that the first issue of this issue literally killed Mark Gruenwald, who had a heart attack and died shortly after seeing an advanced copy of the first issue. Sean Howe in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story puts this in context of what was happening at Marvel due to the collapse of the market and the bankruptcy, with Gruenwald having "been in the position of removing dozens of freelancers from titles and seeing his longtime colleagues put on the streets". Liefeld's desiccated lips, clenched teeth, and warped female bodies were really just a symptom of all of that.
Actually, some of the elements of Liefeld's story are quite fascinating. For one thing, he does introduce the only unique/new character of any significance, and she's the one who developed a minor fanbase and made the transition back into the regular Marvel universe.
That's Rebecca "Rikki" Barnes, who becomes this universe's Bucky (in issue #12, post-Liefeld, it'll be said that she's the grandaughter of Bucky Barnes and Peggy Carter). And she and her brother give us a window into the Neo-Nazi/Master Man/Red Skull plot that kicks off this series. The plot is basically nothing unexpected for a Captain America book, but it's kind of interesting seeing how Rikki's brother gets recruited into the Neo-Nazi organization. We see the brother talking about white replacement theory, which is actually getting a kind of (alarming) real world resurgence at the time i'm writing this.
There's nothing too deep about this, but normally the existence of Neo-Nazi goons is taken for granted. For once we're seeing how low-level goons are recruited into such an organization.
Another interesting thing is a change to Cap's modern-day awakening. Instead of having been on ice since WWII, it turns out that Cap has been living for decades in a kind of simulated life with an LMD family...
...after he was brainwashed by SHIELD because he objected to the nuclear bombing of Japan.
Putting Cap at odds with the American government is an interesting choice, and condemning the US's actions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is still something of a controversial, lefty position (one that i agree with). In fact, by issue #12, even as the series is ending, a point is made to retcon away this sequence. It's surprising to see it in 1996 in a book by a creator who hasn't shown much interest in real world politics. The series starts off with a seemingly earnest recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance...
...but has Cap disavowing the government by issue #3; it's pretty wild.
Chuck Dixon gets a "plot assist' credit on issue #1, and he's done more political stuff (i wouldn't call him a lefty though). From what i can tell (two CBR Comic Book Legends Revealed links, here and here of which i'm getting via wayback machine due to the state of our internet nowadays), Dixon had two contributions. The first was to differentiate between the boyscout style goodness of Captain America and the nature of Nick Fury, who Dixon describes as "Humphrey Bogart-the 'slob' hero". It's Fury who brainwashes Cap, and later depictions of Fury in the (first half of the) Heroes Reborn universe range from Machiavellian realpolitik to downright explicitly evil, to the point where, after the midpoint change of direction, this version of Fury is retconned away as an evil LMD. So i guess that starts with Dixon, who i don't think intended for Fury to look that bad.
Dixon's other contribution was the early plot outline of the Neo-Nazi story. But his idea (although depicted by him as being a unique one in the CBR link) is the same tired old rehash that we see every time Neo-Nazis or Hate-Mongers are used, where a false equivalency is established between the Nazi and some radical minority, and it turns out both are being controlled by the racist supervillain. None of that survives into the actual plot, but it's possible that smaller tidbits, like the nuclear protest, stemmed from discussions with Dixon (although the reveal about Cap's resignation doesn't come until issue #3).
Beyond whatever Dixon contributed, Liefeld is credited with things like "story" and "plots" (and, of course, pencils and he was also apparently editing himself, unlike Jim Lee). Jeph Loeb is credited as "writer", which seems to mean scripter (but possibly also co-plotter?).
Despite those few interesting ideas, nothing is really done with any of it and the issues are as incoherent as a typical 90s Image comic. Cap fights a Crossbones, Master Man (who looks suspiciously like Cable, especially on this cover),...
...and the Red Skull.
The art is so bonkers, so unworldly, it's hard to describe. On the one hand, compared to his X-Force work, it feels fuller. Less crosshatching. Definitely better inking and coloring. But that somehow makes the actual artwork seems weirder. It's an uncanny valley problem. The X-Force art was such a mess it didn't matter that the characters all looked so unrealistic. But now they have real flesh and really! weird! faces and bizarre poses. The only way to really get the point across is with a deluge of pictures, so brace yourself.
Liefeld seems to take more care with Bucky.
Eh, it's probably all swiped from somewhere, but some of it actually looks pretty good.
We also meet Sam Wilson, who will become the Falcon. He starts off mad at Cap because his dad was killed while waking Cap out of his brainwashing.
It's worth noting that unlike every other character in these issues besides Cap, Falcon is possibly the "real" Falcon since he was one of the characters who was killed by Onslaught. He gets powered up in this universe thanks to an impromptu blood transfusion (or whatever you want to call this) from Cap.
But nothing in particular is done with him; he might as well be another phantom created by Franklin Richards like everyone else here.
In the end nothing here "matters" except the introduction of Rikki. All the other books start off with at least a hint that not all is as it seems with the Heroes Reborn "universe", but Cap's book is played straight.
Regarding the Statement of Ownership numbers: i've never known how many issues back the "Single issue closest to filing date" is. The SOO numbers appear in issue #2, but i doubt that the "closest" number is for issue #1. That probably means that the bump you're seeing there is for the Waid/Garney run. On the other hand, the last SOO numbers for Captain America were towards the end of Gruenwald's run and they were at ~114,000. So the Waid/Garney "bump" wasn't even bringing things back to the numbers at the end of Gruenwald's run, which had long since run out of steam. As for the Heroes Reborn sales numbers, all i know is that Sean Howe says, "Although sales had increased, the degree of improvement couldn't justify the high fees" of paying the Image guys.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 79,676. Single issue closest to filing date = 110,031.
Quality Rating: D
Chronological Placement Considerations: This storyline shows Cap waking up from his long brainwashing, so it takes place before Cap's appearance in Avengers #1. In issue #3, Fury says that he wants Cap to meet the Avengers, and it's during a bit of downtime, so Avengers #1 could take place during issue #3. But i'm not too worried about fine-tuning the chronology for these comics, and reading issue #1-5 as a block works well enough.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
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