A strange new world is taking shape in the pages of Marvel Comics. And it’s a world where the Avengers never became Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Captain America was left on ice, and Tony Stark is just another selfish billionaire. As for Thor, he spends his days drowning his sorrows in a never-ending supply of mead. Instead, the world has new protectors, though something about them seems a little…off. They are the Squadron Supreme of America, and they intend to keep the planet safe by any means necessary.
That’s the setup for Marvel’s newest crossover event, Heroes Reborn. While it borrows its name from the 1996 crossover of the same name, it has nothing to do with that. Instead, this is an extension of Jason Aaron’s Avengers run, and the series presents a unique twist on Marvel’s past and present. However, there’s still one person who remembers how the world is supposed to be: Blade, who joined the Avengers back in the series’ landmark 700th issue. Faced with circumstances well outside of his expertise, the vampire hunter has no choice but to gather his lost teammates and try to make things right.
Aaron has been shaking up the status quo for Marvel’s A-listers ever since he took over Avengers in 2018. And it’s only fitting that his two biggest contributions to the series (Blade’s Avenger status and the re-introduction of the Squadron Supreme as a hyper-militant peacekeeping force) serve as the basis for Heroes Reborn, which Aaron describes as “celebrating the joy and fun of comics, while still telling a story that has important undertones.”
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For this series, Aaron has teamed up with a rotating cast of artists that includes his frequent Avengers collaborator Ed McGuinness as well as Dale Keown, Federico Vicentini, and R.M. Guera, Aaron examines this bastardized universe from a multitude of different angles, with individual issues zeroing in on specific Squadron members. Marvel is also releasing several tie-in issues that explore how other heroes are adjusting to their new reality.
SuperheroHype recently caught up with Aaron to discuss the genesis of Heroes Reborn. Plus, he was even kind enough to share an exclusive preview of Heroes Reborn #4, which will hit comic book stores on Wednesday, May 26. Check out what he had to tell us below!
This iteration of the Squadron Supreme has been around since the early days of your Avengers run. Has it always been the plan to create an alternate universe where they’ve replaced the Avengers as Earth’s mightiest heroes? Or did the idea come later on?
Jason Aaron: I always liked the idea of doing a story where one day the Avengers woke up and the world had changed during the night and we got to see this completely different version of the Marvel universe with the Squadron at the center of it. But you know, when you have an idea for something and you plan it…I didn’t know if that would be an arc of Avengers or a bigger thing. So as we went along, I liked the idea of doing it as one story that kind of runs through what’s really a collection of one-shots.
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After the opening issue, the other issues of this kind of focus on a specific one of the Squadron members, and then we also get one that focuses on all of them together as a group. So I like thinking of it as basically a line of comics, you know? If we got a glimpse into, “What are the Marvel comics that are published about this alternate reality?” This is it, you know? So this is basically like our glimpse of “Hyperion #842” and “Doctor Spectrum #497,” and giving you teases of all the adventures these characters have been on before.
Heroes Reborn centers on Blade, who now lives in a world without vampires and takes it upon himself to try and set everything back to normal. Has it been fun bringing him even further out of his comfort zone?
For sure. I think that’s always fun to take a character and put them in situations they’re not used to, right? Blade has been really fun to write–you know, shooting him into space, and having him deal with gods and all sorts of different things he’s not usually used to crossing swords with. So yeah, I liked the idea of a different character you could pick to be the one who wakes up and realizes something’s not right with the world [and] something got changed.
To have that be Blade I thought was interesting because he’s not the guy you usually expect for that role. And it puts him in the weird position of a guy who kind of just became a big part of the Avengers–now he’s the one who has to try to recreate them and try to impart what the Avengers even are to a character like Captain America, who doesn’t remember any of it.
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The issues also feature backup stories that show Blade trying to round up his allies. Why was it important to structure the series this way?
In my mind, it was very much a story that’s about this other world, which means it’s about the Squadron Supreme. It’s about the characters who are at the center of that, right? And what does that world look like? So that was the thing I was most interested in exploring and that’s kind of what the middle chunk of this story is: giving you a taste of how do these Squadron characters fit in the Marvel Universe, how has their presence changed some of the great stories we know from Marvel past, how has that realigned the various other heroes and villains from the Marvel Universe.
But at the same time, we’re still building a story as things go, so I like the idea of using the backups to continue Blade’s story. He’s out searching for other characters who don’t fit in [or] realize something’s not right. He’s basically out rebuilding the Avengers. And those little backups have lots of Easter eggs hidden in them too–little touches and references to other characters and other moments. They’re also kind of part of the overall world-building.
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We know from your Avengers work that Mephisto is pulling not just the Squadron Supreme’s strings, but Phil Coulson’s as well. Since these characters feature prominently in the new series, should we expect Mephisto to make an appearance in this warped reality as well?
I think that’s a fair assumption to make, and as things go along, you’ll kind of [see] bits and pieces here and there, breadcrumbs dropped in each one of the stories. And in a lot of the issues, there’s different characters who seem to realize that something’s not right with the world, something’s been changed, something doesn’t seem to fit together. Some of the characters are kind of discovering that for the first time, other ones seem to have [been doing] that for a bit. Other characters [are] completely oblivious and don’t see that at all [and] embrace this world as kind of the one and only.
So all those breadcrumbs are kind of leading along the way. And you get bits and pieces as to who’s responsible for this and also you know exactly how they hid it. That all leads to the end and sort of the question of why–not just who did this, but why did they do this and what’s the goal here.
Based on the first two issues, it seems like Hyperion is unaware of the timeline change. But Nighthawk seems like a different story. Does he know what’s really going on?
Well, I think we’ll just have to wait until we get to the Nighthawk issue to answer that question…
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Clearly, [Hyperion] was feeling some doubts over the course of that issue, and [certain] interactions he had seemed to create some kind of questions in his mind. I think you should see by the end that because of the kind of guy he is, he sort of squashes those questions. And in some sense it doesn’t really seem to matter. He feels like he knows who he is, no matter what questions there might be around him. He’s not going to change from the hero he’s been.
What kinds of steps did you take to distinguish Heroes Reborn from other alternate-reality stories like Age of Apocalypse and House of M?
You know, I’ve never really worried about that. I mean, sure, we’ve seen a lot of different alternate versions of the Marvel Universe over the years, [and] we’ll continue to see stories like that. I felt pretty confident that this was a version pretty unlike one we’ve seen before. And I just leaned into that. Again, structure-wise, I knew how this would look, and that it was sort of me doing an entire line of alternate-world comics [and] working with a group of amazing artists. And it just felt like the world that we were all building would be a version of the Marvel Universe nobody had ever seen before.
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It seems like you’ve been using the Squadron to comment on American militarism. Has it been easy for you to strike a balance between social commentary and entertainment?
I think that’s a balance you’re always trying to strike. And it changes from story to story and project to project. Like this Hyperion issue, I wrote I think [in] July or August of last year, so the comic industry had shut down [and] a lot of creators had gotten penciled down. Everybody was stuck at home and people were sick and dying and the world was in an unprecedented state, right? So coming out of that, this was one of the first things I got to write. Then issues started to pick up again, the wheels started to turn again, [and] I sat down and wrote Heroes Reborn. So part of the drive for that was to write a love letter to comics. Something that had been an important part of my life going back to childhood as a fan. And of course in more recent years as a creator.
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Comics are profoundly important to me. This was me pouring everything I’ve learned and taken from comics over the course of a lifetime into one project. But at the same time, I think it is very much a story of its time. So I also wasn’t oblivious to the state of the world and the debates that were raging at the time (and still are). I do think you see some of those darker threads going through the book. It is very much trying to be that balance between a joyful celebration of a world that is utterly unlike the one outside of our window (it certainly was when I was writing it). But at the same time you see the influence of that world on the story.
Why was it important to work with different artists on every issue?
I liked the idea that we were looking at an entire line of books. This is not just a Marvel Universe that’s different in the present. This is a Marvel Universe that has always been different. The Squadron Supreme are now–and have always been–the characters at the center of the Marvel Universe.
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So that being the case, the entire history of Marvel Comics is different. These are the series that we would be publishing. So I like the idea of giving you a look at all those books, you know? These are the main books from Marvel Comics that represent this particular alternate world. So that being the case, I wanted to work with a different artist on each one. Ed McGuinness [has] been the main artist on my Avengers run, [so it] makes sense for him to be the one to do the alpha and omega issues–you know, the setup and the big finale–and then in the middle to use different artists for each one of those issues as they focused on different Squadron characters.
I think we were able to assemble a pretty amazing group of artists. Some I had worked with before, some I never had the chance to work with. Dale Keown, who did Hyperion [in Heroes Reborn #2], has done a few issues of Avengers. And he also did a few of the prehistoric Avengers issues, which was a lot of fun. R.M. Guera, who draws Nighthawk, is someone I’ve worked with a lot over the years, actually on creator-owned stuff. And then you have someone like James Stokoe, who I’ve been such a huge fan of for years, but never got the chance to work with. And he does the Doctor Spectrum issue [Heroes Reborn #4]. So we get to see James Stokoe doing his usual brand of craziness on a big cosmic scale.
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How have you been coordinating with the creative teams working on Heroes Reborn offshoot titles?
Not really at all. I mean, it’s very much about me writing these issues. Again, I had to work way in advance because I was writing eight books that would come out over the course of two months, so the entire story’s really been written for quite a while. So Marvel was then able to take those issues, which, again are packed full of a lot of teases of characters, references to past storylines and such, and basically they can use my issues as a bible to build tie-ins from them and extrapolate on.
It seems like the series is building toward a major conflict between Hyperion and Captain America. Is there anything you can tell us about the characters’ inevitable confrontation?
I think you can assume it’s all building toward a big conflict between a lot of characters, right? As issues go on, each issue and one of those backup tales will give you another piece of the puzzle in terms of who is Blade looking for, who is he targeting, [and] who is he going after to try to put together this new group of Avengers. I think you can expect a pretty massive, oversized showdown between those re-formed Avengers and all the characters in the Squadron Supreme. But I think if you’re picking up on all the signs in that issue, I think you’ll see there’s something going on between Captain America and Hyperion that even the two of them don’t quite understand.
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Heroes Reborn #4 hits comic shops next Wednesday, May 26. You can view our full preview of the issue (featuring art by James Stokoe) in the gallery below.
Have you been enjoying Aaron’s work on the series so far? Let us know in the comment section!
Recommended Reading: Avengers by Jason Aaron Vol. 1: The Final Host
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Heroes Reborn #4 Preview
Heroes Reborn #4 Cover by Lenil Francis Yu
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