PUBLISHER: MARVEL, 1997
WRITER: PETER DAVID
ARTIST: SALVADOR LAROCCA
Produced totally in house, this was a four-part weekly mini coping with the matter of actualy physically returning the Fantatic Four and the Avengers to Earth-616. Written by proper writer Peter David and drawn by the excellenet Salvador Larocca it should have been a triumph but what's happening is a real mess. Most of the pertinent information is dumped in the recap of the first issue with the rest of it being about Franklin Richards (who isn't bad as comic kids go but is also not exactly great either) arguing for the survival of the world he created with the Eternal Ashema. It's something of a foregone conclusion that the snot-nosed little genius will convince her to save everyone and that our heroes will successfully traverse the journey back to their own world but really you'd hope for a better story to get there.
Franklin and Ashema's telegraphed dialogue - him trying to plead for the sanctity of all life, her seeing the big picture but wouldn't you know it gradually coming around - takes up far too much while the actual heroes are given a somewhat perfunctory role in it all. Franklin is able to project himself to Reed and Sue and tell them what's going on; they buy it and rapidly talk around everyone else. It would be a difficult thing to do well to be fair but that doesn't make it any easier to read as Tony Stark abandons Pepper or Cap leaves Bucky behind with no reason on the word of a kid from another universe. Amusingly the gathering of who's from the real world is conducted by Franklin from memory and he (or rather Peter David) gets it wrong by including several characters who weren't absorbed by Onslaught, including She-Hulk and several Inhumans (only Crystal, as a serving member of the Avengers, made the trip).
David throws in Spider-Man (a hapless passenger when the 616 Hulk and the HR Banner, separated in the battle with Onslaught, find themselves reunited) for no readily apparent reason beyond providing clunking exposition, which considering that sort of thing fills every avaliable narration box feels a bit needy. The one flash of innovation comes later on when Dr Doom attempts to betray everyone by taking Franklin back to the Heroes Reborn Earth, hoping to rule it unopposed. While Franklin is saved Doom does end up going back to set up a thread on what would become known as Counter-Earth that was occasionally revisited; this avenue full of potential, with the planet packed with villains created by Franklin and opposed only by a handful of heroes like Bucky and the Swordsman, would get the occasional visit but was sadly never fully explored. And there was a Jeph Loed Rob Liefield revisit to the whole Onslaught thing in 2006; you cannot pay me enough to read that.
It's an underwhelming end to an underwhelming experiment; the general feeling is that Marvel want to get these guys back in order as soon as possible and just get over the whole thing. The four titles would relaunch under the Heroes Return banner with tip-top creators including the magnificent Kurt Busiek, Alan Davis, George Perez, Mark Waid, Scott Lobdell and Sean Chen.
The universe's more telling legacy might have been in the Ultimate universe which launched two years later. The Ultimate series made a clean break with the rest of Marvel's output and didn't replace the long-established originals, featured decompressed storytelling that gradually introduced both heroes and the updated versions of their supporting cast rather than the breakneck pace of the Heroes Reborn titles. Young, hip writing talent was recruited to match the stature of the artists rather than trying to revisit old glories. The result was hugely successful and while it inevitably began to collapse in on itself after a decade Heroes Reborn managed that in months, so the lessons would seem to have been learnt.