The Devil's in the Details
|Marvel's HEROES REBORN offers stories rehashed.|
At first glance, Heroes Reborn and Heroes Return appears to be a typical superhero "Event" run; a sort of "else-world" story that will either allow creators some temporary latitude to play around with old characters or that will allow the publisher to effectively reboot a franchise to generate new story lines, new characters, and new revenue. In some ways, it is a typical superhero Event, but it's also parody, satire, and political commentary.
Marvel frames the premise as,
A WORLD WITHOUT AVENGERS! Welcome to a world where Tony Stark never built an Iron Man armor. Where Thor is a hard-drinking atheist who despises hammers. Where Wakanda is dismissed as a myth. And where Captain America was never found in the ice because there were no Avengers to find him. Instead this world has always been protected by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Squadron Supreme of America. And now the Squadron faces an attack from some of their fiercest enemies, like Dr. Juggernaut, the Black Skull, the Silver Witch and Thanos with his Infinity Rings. But why is the Daywalker Blade the one man alive who seems to remember that the entire world has somehow been…reborn?
In this world, the heroes are parodies or pastiches of rival DC Comics' Justice League, riffing on the brooding Batman (now Marvel's Nighthawk), the warrior Wonder Woman (as Power Princess), Flash (now Blur), Green Lantern (re-imagined as Dr. Spectrum) and Superman (as Hyperion) as bloodthirsty, self-righteous, and blindly patriotic. The villains, meanwhile, are mash-ups of Marvel's own characters: Dr. Doom and the Juggernaut as Dr. Juggernaut, Scarlet Witch and Quick Silver as the Silver Witch, Venom and Red Skull as Black Skull, etc.
DC-pastiche heroes on the left, Marvel-mashup villains on the right.
With this cast, Marvel effectively plays with ongoing fan debates and meme wars about DC versus Marvel franchises.
But Heroes Reborn does something more. Despite Marvel's claims of being "apolitical," this is a very political comic. To begin with, it's DC-inspired heroes (first introduced in 2018) are frighteningly nationalistic. They invade Canada to claim it's resources for the United States. They justify their violence in the name of upholding American ideals. Their philosophy is an explicit and unapologetic take on colonialism and American Exceptionalism - exemplified by a monologue by Dr. Spectrum in issue 4:
Like most red-blooded American boys, I grew up dreaming of planting Old Glory on unexplored alien worlds. Of meeting the ancient native peoples of the darkest, most untamed depths of space... ...and punching them square in their jaws. Showing those savages firsthand the two-fisted glory of American Exceptionalism.
The series also employs a now well-establish comic book formula when it comes to American politics - blaming government failures on demonic intervention. As articulated on the Marvel Fandom Wiki, the heroes of this series - the Squadron Supreme of America - is a team created by Mephisto (a Marvel villain & extra-dimensional demon who rules a version of Hell) and programmed by the Power Elite (a cabal of influence brokers formed in response to the neo-Nazi HYDRA's takeover of the US & the political climate of the country) to serve as the USA's first line of defense. Government (SHIELD) agent Phil Coulson served as their liaison in the Pentagon. In Heroes Reborn, Coulson has sold his soul to Mephisto to gain the power to warp reality itself, creating a version of the world in which he is president, the USA holds dominion as the world's unchallenged and unchecked super-power, and the Squadron Supreme of America is unfailingly loyal to his vision of what America should be.
We've seen this before. Etrigan the Demon gets unwittingly drawn into the 1992 election. The 2015 Citizen Jack is premised on a demonic deal to win the presidency. Vote Loki harnesses the powers of the trickster god to win the 2016 election. A couple different stories in Army of Darkness engage demons to take over the White House.
The influence of supernatural evil in the halls of American government has been a rising trend in popular culture in recent decades. It was seen in The Simpsons Halloween specials in 1996.
It is seen in the ongoing campaign presence of Cthulhu for President.
It's even found in real campaign ads, like Carly Fiorina's infamous "demon sheep" spot.
It was the center of the short-lived sci-fi TV series BrainDead. (Read my brief discussion of that show online at In Media Res.)
Inserting demons, aliens, and dark magic into American politics, on one hand, reflects the public's general dissatisfaction with government and certainly echoes the divisive climate in which both sides paint the other as evil and vile. But, as discussed in chapter seven of Politics in the Gutters, and in chapter one of The Politics of Horror, introducing supernatural forces into the political spectacle only gives more power to the spectacle while reducing the power of people by relieving them of responsibility (and culpability) in the political process.
In the end, We the People - along with Phil Coulson of Heroes Reborn, Jack Northworthy of Citizen Jack, the voters in Army of Darkness, Vote Loki, and Etrigan the Demon - when asked why we didn't vote, stand up, or speak out, or why we knowingly voted for weak candidates, get to shrug and say, "The devil made me do it."
~Christina M. Knopf
5 July 2021