PUBLISHER: MARVEL, 1997
WRITER: JAMES ROBINSON
ARTISTS: MIKE WIERINGO, MICHAEL RYAN, LARRY STROMAN, RON LIM
With the 12-issue contract with Image (or more Wildstorm by this stage) done with and a glorious return to in-house at Marvel ready to go the Heroes Reborn universe seemed to have ran its' course. However, a 13th issue of each title still came out, a crossover with Wildstorm's superhero books. Why I'm not sure - maybe as a thanks to the company for stepping in, maybe as a contractual thing, maybe as a last-minute fill-in. There's a certain oddness to the way it's presented in that each issue has nothing on the cover really announcing the presence of the Wildstorm heroes, depending on readers recognising the likes of Maul and Burnout, so it doesn't seem to be to give the Image studio a big money-spinning golden handshake.
The rub is that via the Negative Zone an alliance of Doctor Doom, the Skrulls and the Daemonites have been able to bind the Wildstorm universe and the Heroes Reborn universe together through a dimensional lock and the resulting alliance is winning the battle for Earth. It's really just an excuse for some smashing mix-up team line-ups - the Fantastic Four consist of Reed, Sue, Maul and Burn-Out; the Avengers of Captain America (actually Hadrian from WildCATs), the Scarlet Witch, Thor, Hellstrike, the Swordsman, Freefall and Brass; Stormwatch are Battalion, Hawksmoor, Fuji, Fairchild, Winter, Jenny Sparks, the Vision and Triton of the Inhumans; Wetworks consist of Dane, Jester, Mother-One, Pilgrim and Hawkeye; WildCATs are made up of Lord Emp, Zealot, Goliath, Gorgon, Grifter, Warblade and Void. Iron Man, the Thing, the Human Torch, Namor, Deathblow and the Hulk among those already MIA, Captain America is off being Nomad and Nick Fury's just died, replaced by Jeremy Stone as head of SHIELD - whose main weapon is Dane Whitman's Black Knights. No, Dane didn't get Onslaughted but there he is.
Now, if that's all got your eyes rolling this isn't for you. But I love this kind of mash-up and the writer is the superlative James Robinson, who turns in an 88-page action thriller full of everything you want from a crossover. There are deaths galore, big action set pieces, minimal plot intrusion, smart lines and a general "deal with it" attitude. There's also lots of detail thrown in that makes this amalgamated universe feel more natural than it should and each issue manages a great "oh shit" moment. Most of the Wildstorm characters get short shrift surprisingly though it's not really a story where characterisation is the aim of the game anyway, more just increasingly violent deaths as the combined heroes realise Doom's game and try to separate the universes as much as possible.
It's arguable that part of the success is that the basis in Heroes Reborn is only really recognisable due to a few design choices (like the Iron Man armour) and a few cast choices (fair play to Robinson for remembering the Swordsman when most of the Avengers writers didn't). It all makes for some good balls-to-the-wall comic book fun, something lacking over the preceding year. Sadly, with the copyright situation of the Wildstorm characters now being owned by DC and World War 3 being so minor league a reprint looks unlikely and it does deserve better than that.