History of Heroes Reborn #2 : Heroes Reborn Captain America

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Heroes Reborn was an ambitious experiment by Marvel to revamp lower performing titles (Captain America, Iron Man, Avengers, and Fantastic Four). This experiment had the prodigal sons- Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee return to Marvel for the first time since leaving to start Image. Liefeld and Extreme Studios would assume production of Avengers and Captain America. Jim Lee and Wildstorm Studios would helm Fantastic Four and Iron Man. Despite being a financial success, the event coincided with Marvel\’s Bankruptcy. This resulted in Heroes Reborn changing direction. The History of Heroes Reborn seeks to provide the context to what is one of the most important moments in comic book history. You can read more about the background and development of Heroes Reborn in Part 1.

It’s time to talk about Rob Liefeld and his magnum opus— Captain America. That’s right this Captain America.

YET ANOTHER INTERNET COMIC BLOG MAKING FUN OF HEROES REBORN CAPTAIN AMERICA

Yes, I know, I am yet another comic blogger dragging out this picture of Captain America and doing it in 2022, no less. But before you close out the web page, please continue reading. I am being genuine about this being Rob\’s best work. This is not a bit. Heroes Reborn Captain America is Rob Liefeld’s greatest comic work and manages to be prescient of a new trend in action and espionage fiction—The secret sleeper agent. That and the rise of Alt-right forces in America that capitalize on the disaffected White youth of America.

It is well ahead of its time.

Before diving into the comic, let’s talk more about the development of the series and Rob Liefeld’s relationship with Marvel. As mentioned last article, Rob (along with Jim Lee) were brought in by Marvel to resuscitate a number of Marvel properties, namely the non-mutant titles that were struggling in the early 90’s—Captain America, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, and Avengers. As a part of the deal Rob and Jim’s respective studios (Extreme and Wildstorm) were given near complete autonomy over their characters. Marvel editorial was largely relegated to a rubber stamp role, if even that.

What to do about Mark Waid?

Waid (left) and Garney (right) from Wizard\’s Magazine #72

With complete creative control all but assured, Liefeld begins to make changes to Captain America. Of all of the Heroes Reborn titles, Captain America’s changes proved to be the most controversial and it wasn’t due to anything done in the book itself. Instead it deals with this man—Mark Waid

In the years leading up to Heroes Reborn, Captain America went through some wild changes including Werewolves and Mech-suits. These were all near the end of the Mark Gruenwald era. Liefeld speaks about this on his podcast, Robservations, and talks about how they were all a fall from grace for the Sentinel of Liberty. He digs against Capwolf, in particular, by dragging the Cable cover issue (Issue #406).

Capwolf is a national treasure.

How dare Rob “Blodwulf” Liefeld trash the Lupine Avenger?! Capwolf rocks.

Either way, with the Gruenwald era coming to an end, a successor was named, the rising comics star Mark Waid. Waid would be paired with journeyman artist Ron Garney to begin a run on Captain America.

Waid’s arrival on Captain America was heralded as a big deal in various corners of the comic media with Wizards and Hero Illustrated giving the series high praise and the series started seeing a modest sales boost. With all the critical praise and sales to back it up, why did Marvel dump Waid for Liefeld? That question infuriated fans and lead to Liefeld and Waid addressing the issue throughout the next year in various interviews.

Bob Harras on the idea of Waid writing Heroes Reborn. Wizard Magazine #60
Rob’s thoughts on Waid writing Heroes Reborn during the initial Heroes Reborn announcement. Wizards Magazine #51

Liefeld’s description of events goes along these lines—He liked what Waid was doing on the title and offered him a chance to script Captain America. Waid would decline and that was it. Waid’s side of the story was a bit different with Waid confirming the scripting offer but explaining that it was just that. Scripting Rob’s plots and finished art. With no creative input on the title plus the feeling of being scorned by Marvel at large, Waid turns down the offer.

Waid and Garney from Wizard\’s Magazine #72

Of course, the answer to the question tormenting Captain America fans for years, you know “WHY WOULD THEY FIRE WAID FOR LIEFELD?!” one, is answered simply as this—Marvel did not expect Waid’s tenure on Cap to be a big hit. At least Marvel Corporate. They were the ones making the deals with the Image creators for this unfinished business deal. Marvel Editorial hated the pending deal and tried to buck the trend. That’s why Waid was selected for Captain America. He was a rising star in the industry. He just took over X-men, Flash was hot, and oh yeah his seminal classic was due to be published in the near future. You know the one.

Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross

Despite moving Captain America comics, Waid and Garney were unceremoniously booted from the title. According to an interview in Wizards #70, the two weren’t even told they were fired. They figured out from the press and each other.

Waid and Garney from Wizard\’s Magazine #72

NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME

Liefeld’s Sketches Wizards Magazine #60

With Waid and Garney gone, Rob goes quick into building his new Captain America. According to Liefeld, Marvel encouraged both Lee and Liefeld to revamp the designs of the characters for the new launch. Neither creator did a wholesale revamp for their big projects (Lee-Fantastic Four and Rob-Captain America). Lee’s Fantastic Four redesigns are surprisingly subdued and hemmed closer to the classic look than many would expect. That said, the Fantastic Four revamp looked progressive compared to Liefeld’s approach to the Captain America Design. Rob pretty much just swapped the A on the forehead for an eagle. Rob would go so far to say that Captain America would never wear the A again. A statement that would be reversed by issue 7 of the series once Liefeld is booted from Heroes Reborn. That is getting ahead of ourselves. More on that later.

Rob Liefeld’s bold claim Wizards Magazine #60

With the “revamp” look for Captain America settled, Rob sets out to draw the pages. He describes the idea for the new origin filled him with passion that he hadn’t felt since the launch of Image (Roberservations—Heroes Reborn part 2).  This is where we come to one of Rob Liefeld’s quirks—He demands complete control of the comic but cannot script. He insists on writing the plots for the comic and does the art before working with his writer. Once the plot and art are completed, he then gives it to a writer to create dialog and make it work.

It is a tweaked Marvel Method. In the traditional Marvel Method, the writer would come up with the plot and the key action beats. The artist would then create the art for the issue. Afterwards, the writer would develop dialog for the issue. This is done for overall speed and allows for the dialog to fit the story drawn. It is also known for allowing the artist to have more creative input.

Liefeld’s version of the Marvel Method has Rob creating a comic that may not flow as logically as he thinks it does and often creates a problem for the writer to explain what is happening in dialog or caption in order to move the plot forward.  Liefeld thinks in big ideas, and they can be great. Yet, Rob cannot write. He knows this and that’s why he often pairs himself with scriptwriters.

Liefeld is particular about his story beats. It does make Rob difficult to work with. Just look at the original scriptwriter for Captain America #1—Chuck Dixon. The two had a falling out over the story direction and Rob cut him. Rob fired Dixon just 2 months before release of Heroes Reborn #1. Liefeld does find a replacement after looking around. He found a rising star at Marvel that has history working on Liefeld’s former creations (X-force and Cable) that was willing to just script. It is in this moment that Liefeld would find longtime collaborator and business partner— Jeph Loeb (Roberservations Heroes Reborn #2).

Why Heroes Reborn Captain America Works

What makes Liefeld’s Captain America surprisingly great and one of his finest comics is the story and premise. It\’s actually good!

Rob\’s story that he was so dead set on telling was astonishingly future looking and displayed understanding of the ugly undercurrent of American Society of the mid-90’s. That’s right, Rob managed to pop a wheelie on the Zeitgeist here.

The Plot:

Captain America #1

Steve Rogers is an every man, blue collar factory worker. He finds himself behind the wheel of a large automobile. He finds himself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife. Steve keeps having these sepia toned dreams of a battlefield in Europe. He’s leading the fight wearing this star-spangled costume. These dreams keep invading his mind and messing with him to the point where he asks himself, “How did I get here?”

Very much a Red Flag, Steve. (Captain America #1)

While dealing with this existential crisis (and getting understandably concerned looks from his coworkers) Steve is being followed by Abraham Wilson (Liefeld claims he is reminded of John Lewis when looking back at Abe Wilson—I got nothing).

Rob Liefeld’s John Lewis (Captain America #1)

 Turns out Mr. Wilson served with Steve during WWII and that Steve was Captain America. Not only that but Abraham has Cap’s Shield. This unlocks something in Steve, but not before being attacked by the main antagonist in the series—The World Party. During this attack, Steve begins to regain his memories and takes down the World Party goons. This does come at the loss of Abe Wilson.

Steve rushes home to save his family from the World Party. Only, Steve returns home to find they are Life Model Decoys and meets one salty Nick Fury. With Steve’s memories returning Nick is there to give him one mission—take down the World Party. SHIELD’s spy infiltrated their base only to go missing before reporting back what he found. Turns out World Party has nukes and are fixing to use them. Only Captain America can stop them.

I have a lot a questions about the lifelike nature of LMDs. Steve had to notice something.
(Captain America #2)

We then learn the new origin of Captain America. Instead of being frozen in ice for decades following a fateful battle again the Nazis at the end of WW2, Cap was forcibly brainwashed into a sleeper agent civilian life. The reason? Captain America’s objection to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Captain America opposed the bombings of innocents and refused to endorse in front of Congress and the American people.

Here we have the brand-new origin Marvel wanted. I must say, it works well. It’s obviously been done heavily in the media and even in future Captain America stories (Winter Solider, for instance). It is a sensible update and very much of its time. Whereas Cap being frozen in a block of ice is indicative of silver age storytelling. This concept is a novel one and I am honestly surprised that it hasn\’t been used for more updates to Captain America such as the Ultimate Universe or even the MCU. If anything the reason he gets \”brainwashed\” is a potent one. Steve taking a stand against something unjust and morally despicable such as the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, speaks to the integrity of Steve\’s character.

A New Bucky for a New Age

The B-plot of Liefeld’s Captain America tells the tale of Rikki Barnes and her efforts to stop her brother from joining the World Party.

Liefeld bring you the youth (Captain America #1)

It is through her eyes we see the evils of the World Party as she attends the rallies and hears the charged, hateful rhetoric coming from her brother’s mouth. Rikki ends up being the main character that sticks around from Liefeld’s run.

I still can’t believe they made a sequel.

Even going so far to return in the sequel—Onslaught Reborn and branching into the main 616 Universe. Rikki seeks to infiltrate and take down the World Party on her own. Her story doesn’t directly encounter Cap until the final pages. Yet, her story makes up the bulk of the issues. Liefeld and Loeb used her well as the point of view character, but we get some growth from her as she confronts her brother. There were bigger plans for Rikki in the back half of the original twelve issues of Heroes Reborn, but they were changed following Liefeld’s termination following issue #6.

Rise of the Falcon

How old is Sam? Abraham was a WW2 Vet.

The C-plot of the story is that of Sam Wilson. This arc introduces Sam Wilson in the second issue and as he is the son of Abe Wilson, he resents Steve Rogers because Abe spent his life hunting down Cap to return his shield. When the two meet at Abe’s funeral, they get into an argument before being captured by Crossbones. During the final fight at the World Party Castle, Sam is critically injured but saved by the green…blood of Captain America.

Yeah. It’s a thing. -Barf- (Captain America #5)

Either way it gives Sam a dose of the Super Solider Serum, and that’s it. We won’t see him as Falcon proper under Liefeld. Though, costume designs were made Rob would be dismissed from Heroes Reborn project at the halfway point. As for the designs? It looks like one of his New Mutants/X-force designs. Not too fond of it, personally.

The Falcon’s Design

The Conclusion

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This is a sick spread, honestly. (Captain America #4)

Steve and Sam have been captured by Crossbones and are interrogated by the Red Skull. Skull taunt Steve and draws attention to Steve fitting the Nazi ideals. Steve responds to this with righteous fury and rips the chains restraining him off the walls and reclaims his shield. Sam gets shot in the escape and is healed by the green…blood—still gross—and the duo rescues Rikki. The new Bucky makes quick work of her brother as Steve and Sam stop Master Man. The Red Skull manages to sneak off and sets up the future arcs that would not be picked up as Liefeld got sacked by Marvel.

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I FEEL SO PATRIOTIC RIGHT NOW! (Captain America #5)

The arc ends with Nick Fury showing up in his most mid-90’s Liefeld look and the missiles set to launch.

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Not enough people talk about this Liefeld Aesthetic (Captain America #5)

You’d think it would be picked up next issue, but nope. Next issue is a crossover with Cable and features a small epilogue for the Heroes Reborn Crossover—Industrial Revolution. This issue just features Cable, Cap, and Rikki taking down AIM including MODOK, in their hunt for the Red Skull. Big revelation that Cable knows the original heroes are alive and we start getting hints of Pocket universe in the canon of the story line. That’s about it.

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Rikki just straight up attack the Beekeeper Convention. (Captain America #6)

The World Party and the Rise of American Fascism

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Not even hiding the Nazi symbology (Captain America #1)

The World Party is the most compelling piece of the story. The World Party is a far-right reactionary party built upon racism and attracting disaffected white males to their ranks. The Party openly uses Nazi-symbols but hand waves it away. The World Party is openly led by Master Man—an old Bronze Age/ throwback villain for Captain America. Master Man claims to be Alexander the Great and promises the crowd to right their perceived wrongs. The World Party is controlled by the Red Skull, from the literal shadows (because of course). They are in pursuit of Captain America’s shield for…honestly, I couldn’t find a reason other than “Because” I think that was lost in the various writers’ taking a crack at it.

The World Party is treated as a semi-mainstream vein of US Politics. The group operates out of a church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and it is obviously a Nazi party with swastikas strewn about. Liefeld describes The World Party being based on what he saw in the news and media of the time with Neo-Nazi’s rising in infamy. The difference is that Liefeld plays them straight compared to most media portrayals of Nazis at the time. In mainstream media, neo-Nazis were presented as jokes—regulars on the Jerry Springer show or cheap villains in a video game—or they were given a charismatic face to reach the masses but were secretly heinous. After all, no one would willingly join the Nazi party unless they were a punchline or were duped into it. The World Party could almost be written off as being too farcical to be taken serious as a threat given how over the top the group displays their allegiances.

Yet, given the last 4+ years of American politics and the rise of the Far Right and openly fascists politicians, the World Party seems to be more realistic in their portrayal of the worst of the worst. People know what they are doing when they support these evil people. They are not being conned. Their supporters could seem like a joke, perfect for dunking on over at Twitter, but they are a very real threat. The World Party is very much that. They are no joke. The World Party, despite being “too on the Nose” captures the nature of American Fascism. We live in an era that is beyond satire.

Review:

Loeb’s writing is definitely a Loeb style comic. This is evident using real-world quotes in narration and wide sweeping emotional beats. Thing is, Loeb is a sloppy writer most of the time. Loeb often utilizes emotional beats in his work, but they are often not set up in way to have them feel earned. It is almost like he knows that comics need these elements to work and just throws them in.  In Captain America, it is no different. The narration and dialog have tough time working around the art though. Loeb drops plot points midway through the story for no reason other than it didn’t come up in the art. Doing this in a Marvel style ala Liefeld creates a rather rough plot. When you get an issue full of full-paged splashes and double-paged spreads, there is little room to get dialog, narration or anything across for the reader.

Take this OPENING PAGE DOUBLE PAGE SPREAD from Captain America #6. This is the Cable Issue as you can see. It follows the Nick Fury reveal from the previous issue.

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Even Cable is confused how he managed to get here (Captain America #6)

Loeb is working his best to make this opening scene make a lick of sense. We are previewed Cable only in a textbox. Now he just shows up in the opening pages with ZERO explanation. It is obvious Liefeld wanted to include Cable in Heroes Reborn for either the fans or his own self-interest. There was zero leg work by him. The role Liefeld wanted Cable to play was to get it into Captain America\’s head that his universe was false somehow. It is a mess of an issue though as Rob is obviously rushing this one out and Loeb is stitching together the pieces to try to make something cohesive.

Liefeld’s art is something. This era of Liefeld is probably my least favorite artistically (though to be fair, it isn’t much different from the current 2021 Liefeld). There are some dynamic compositions in the story but the trappings of Liefeld can’t be ignored. The anatomy is wonky and the shadows don’t work at times. These things are almost impossible to critique about Liefeld. It is very much his “Style” and he isn’t going to change it. Most either love it or hate it. I don’t care for it most of the time. In Captain America it is some of his better work of this era. Especially given the context going on at the time with the Image divorce and the pending Marvel bankruptcy, it is surprising to see it look as well as it does.

What makes this comic Liefeld’s magnum opus is that despite the plot being a mess and the art being polarizing, is that Liefeld cared a lot for this story. The concept of a sleeper agent Cap coming back to stem the rising tide of American Fascism is a great story hook. Rob speaks about Captain America being the main reason he agreed to go back to Marvel. This passion can be found in interviews at the time found in Wizard Magazine and Marvel Visions, and even recently in his Robservations podcast. The art isn’t my favorite Liefeld Style, but you can tell he tried to tell his vision. He had no editors. He could have phoned it in and collected the checks. While it isn\’t my favorite, t is still the best art Rob Liefeld produced since the New Mutants/ X-Force days. The story, as messy as it can be at times, is fairly to the point. It has one message, and it is told well. The story has surprisingly aged well given these dark times of the last four years.

That said, passion and intent only go so far. The issues are pronounced. It feels very choppy and the lack of writer input on the pages hurts the pacing. Liefeld had an excellent concept. It was mostly executed well, but it is flawed. That is the definition of a Rob Liefeld comic. The ideas behind the comics are (usually) fine. His ego though interferes. Liefeld got popular at a young age and he will not let anyone tell him anything.

Heroes Reborn Captain America is not the best Captain America comic, and it probably isn’t anyone’s favorite. It is very much the epitome of Rob Liefeld. That is why I consider Captain America #1-5 (lesser extent #6) Rob Liefeld\’s Magnum Opus.

Heroes Reborn Marches On

These 6 issues of Captain America would make up the bulk of Rob Liefeld’s work on Heroes Reborn, but he did have a hand in Avengers providing pencils for a couple issues along with plots. We will take a look at the brief Extreme Studios run on Avengers next time in History Heroes Reborn #3: Who let the Swordsman into the Avengers?

References

Wizards Magazines #51, #55, #57, #60-62, #70, and #71
Marvel Visions (1995) #4, #6, and #8
Robservations Heroes Reborn #1-https://podcast.robliefeldcreations.com/heroes-reborn-part-1/
Robservations Heroes Reborn #2- https://podcast.robliefeldcreations.com/heroes-reborn-part-2/
Robservations Heroes Reborn #3- https://podcast.robliefeldcreations.com/heroes-reborn-part-3-marvel-bankruptcy/
Robservations Heroes Reborn #4- https://podcast.robliefeldcreations.com/heroes-reborn-part-4-fallout/

Special Thanks to Shane M. Bailey for helping me locate Marvel Vision and Wizards Magazines.

Jordan Jennings

Jordan has written for wide array of comic review sites over the years including Comicosity, Comicon, and Comic Book Revolution. He has been reviewing and discussing comics for over 10 years. In addition to comics, Jordan enjoys various types of games be it video games or trading card games.

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