Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The Heroes Reborn event refuses to die, because vol. 2 issue #13 kicks off a whole new crossover, World War III, complete with a whole bunch of characters from another company.
The previous issue ended with the Earth being devoured by Galactus. After that, in the tie-in issues, Dr. Doom time-traveled to the past where the Marvel heroes eventually saved the Earth. Then we circle back to issue #13, which ignores the time travel stuff and takes us back to the timeline with the destroyed Earth. In this continuity, the destruction of the Earth causes all of time and space to rewrite itself into yet ANOTHER new timeline. By my count, then, the Heroes Reborn universe concludes by being split into five alternate timelines.
Remember how Amalgam Comics mixed and matched the Marvel and DC universes in all sorts of kooky ways? This World War III crossover does the same thing, but with Marvel and Jim Lee’s Wildstorm characters. Wildstorm, formerly of Image Comics, is of course the imprint that gave us WildC.A.T.S., Gen13, and a bunch of others. The issue begins with a short recap of the Marvel heroes fighting Galactus, along with the Wildstorm heroes fighting a villain named Damocles in their universe. From these two events came this new timeline, where New York is under attack by an alien force. Fortunately, the WildC.A.T.S. jump to help. This WildC.A.T.S. team contains Grifter, Zealot, Void, Warblade, and Emp – and also Giant-Man and Gorgon from the Marvel Universe are also C.A.T.S. now. Their enemies are a combination of Skrulls and the C.A.T.S.’ old enemies the Daemonites. The fighting goes on for several pages with narration telling us that the Defenders and D.V.8 have already fallen to the aliens. Then the S.H.I.E.L.D. Black Knights, including the Inhumans’ Karnak, join the battle.
Cut to two teens, who are watching the battle as it appears on a TV military enlistment commercial, and they consider signing up, saying NYC isn’t what it used to be. We go from there to the Baxter Building, which has been abandoned for months. Four individuals come through a portal – it’s a new version of the Fantastic Four, featuring Reed, Sue, Maul from the WildC.A.T.S. and Burnout from Gen13. They’re returning from the Negative Zone where they’ve been searching for their lost friend Ben. Villains Annihilus and Defile follow them through the Negative Zone portal, though, ready for a fight. Then there’s a few more pages of fighting as this new FF toss the baddies back through the portal and close it.
The FF then get a message from S.H.I.E.L.D., which is now run by Lynch, originally from Gen13. Lynch says that Nick Fury and Ursa Major recently died in a battle against Dr. Doom, so Lynch is taking over for Fury. Reed tells Lynch “I found a way to beat them! I found a way to win!” He tells Lynch to assemble a team, made up of “everyone.” Lynch summons the Avengers, led by Spartan, who in this reality is the new Captain America, along with Thor, Scarlet Witch, Swordsman Freefall, Hellstrike and Brass. The second group is Stormwatch, made up of Vision, Triton, Fairchild, Battalion, Fuji, Hellstrike, Winter, Jenny Sparks, and Jack Hawksmoor. Third is Wetworks, made up of the Wetworks regulars Dane, Claymore, Jester, Mother-One, and Pilgrim, along with Hawkeye. Fourth is the WildC.A.T.S. team with Gorgon from the start of the issue.
Lynch meets with S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Kitaen (who was Voodoo in the original WildC.A.T.S.), who tells him that three lone guns, Iron Man, Majestic, and Steve Rogers – the original Captain America before Spartan – are still out there somewhere. Lynch fills in the reader about this whole alternate history, where the Daemonite invasion became known to the public and their teaming up with the Skrulls, and Dr. Doom taking advantage of the alien invasion to make a move and conquer all of Europe. We also learn Reed has developed new cell phone-like devices that help ordinary folks tell whether someone is a Skrull in disguise. This becomes another recruitment ad, after which we meet up with those two teens from earlier. They’re Rick Jones and Grunge, sign up to join the “United Forces.” Then there’s an epilogue in the Negative Zone in which a silhouetted character who appears to be Ben befriends a mysterious stranger, and they start looking for a way out.
The next chapter is in Avengers #13, where Iron Man comes out of hiding to help Wetworks and Hawkeye to destroy a Skrull bioweapons facility in Italy. All the heroes gather aboard the Stormwatch satellite, where Iron Man explains that he’s been in hiding since the alien invasion, developing new tech to fight them. Reed then explains that the FF went into the Negative Zone to find a new energy source to fight the aliens. Johnny died, and Ben was lost. Reed says he glimpsed numerous alternate realities while in the Zone. Reed says their current reality was formed from two realities when both experienced a simultaneous cataclysm, and the only way to stop the alien invasion is separate this universe back into two universes. Further, somehow Dr. Doom is the one who has a “lock” on the universe, keeping it from splitting back into two. What the heroes don’t know is that Doom, the Daemonite leader Helspont, and the Skrull High-Emissary are spying on the heroes’ every move. The “lock” exists half on Earth and half in the Negative Zone, so the heroes plan to split into two groups for two assaults. Before they can, though, the Skrulls attack the Stormwatch satellite, destroying it.
In Iron Man #13, the team attacking Negative Zone catch a glimpse of other realities, and then fight Annihilus and Defile again. The heroes win the fight, with some of them dying the process. Dr. Doom announces that he’s taking an army into the Negative Zone. We finally meet Steve Rogers, the former Captain America who is now fighting crime as Nomad. Agent Kitaen finds him and gives him back his shield, hoping he will join the fight. Among the survivors of the Satellite, Iron Man reveals that he was the one who lowered the satellite’s defenses, allowing the Skrulls to destroy it. Iron Man fights the Stormwatch team. At that moment, the Thing escapes from the Negative Zone and fights Iron Man. The Thing’s new friend is Deathblow, who also fights Iron Man. The two of them defeat Iron Man, who turns out to be a Skrull in disguise. The heroes on Earth fear they can’t attack Latveria until the battle in the Negative Zone is won, and there’s talk among them of whether the situation is hopeless, only for Captain America to join them all and announce, “It’s time to take back the world!”
Then we go to Captain America #13, we see that Rick Jones and Grunge are joining the attack on Latveria, and the new combat tech has given them the equivalent of ten years’ combat training in a single day. Majestic – Lynch’s third “lone gun” is also here, having been horribly scarred from fighting the aliens. The battles in the Negative Zone and Latveria occur simultaneously, with a lot fighting and superheroes dying. To fight the Latverian attackers, Helspont releases the Elementrons – four heroes possessed by Daemonites. These are the Human Torch, the Hulk, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and former Gen13 member Rainmaker. There’s even more fighting with more characters dying. Spartan sacrifices his life to destroy the Negative Zone’s half of the lock. In Latveria, Captain America and Deathblow die while getting to the lock, but not before Cap hands a grenade to Rick Jones so that Jones can destroy the lock in Latveria.
With both halves of the lock destroyed, reality falls apart to re-form into two universes. Reed and Dr. Doom have the last words as everything fades away around them. Doom tells Reed that he, Doom, won in this universe, and he says they will both remember this, on some subconscious level, in whatever universe they find themselves in next. Then everything fades to white.
And we’re still not done with Heroes Reborn. One more week… one more week…
Unstable molecule: During the battle, Reed stretches out his leg to super-kick a Skrull in the face. Awesome.
Fade out: When the Elementrons attack, Sue is so desperate to win this fight that she actually stabs Johnny in the chest with a force field, killing him. Hardcore.
Clobberin’ time: Ben and Deathblow become immediate friends, finding commonality in how they are both soldiers. In one of the few character moments in this event, Ben also befriends Maul. Ben says Maul did a great job filling in for him while he was gone.
Flame on: We’re not given the specifics of how Johnny died and/or was possessed by Daemonite. In his absence, we’re told Burnout became a valued member of the team, helping them fight the Mole Man and the Mad Thinker.
Fantastic fifth wheel: I suppose now we’ve got to add Maul and Burnout to the list of alternate FF team members. Burnout will return in the Fantastic Four/Gen13 special in a few years.
Commercial break: Did anyone actually get these glasses and watch Nickelodeon’s 3-D broadcast? Did it actually work?
Trivia time: These comics hit shelves mere months before Jim Lee sold off all the Wildstorm characters to DC Comics. As such, they’ve never been reprinted. Those original issues could be big money if a WildC.A.T.S. movie ever gets made.
Speaking of crossovers, Reed’s two-page vision of other universes is a real headache of copyright issues, with appearances not just from Spider-Man, Ghost Rider and the X-Men, but also Batman, Charlie Brown, Mickey Mouse, Chance from Leave it to Chance, Quantum and Woody, and a blonde girl whom I think is supposed to be Gully from Battle Chasers, but it’s hard to tell.
Fantastic or frightful? I’m at a loss as to how and why this storyline came about. Maybe the Wildstorm guys thought this was their last shot to have their characters crossover with the Marvel Universe. Either way, this story is so rushed and plot-heavy that there’s little time to have any fun with Wildstorm and Marvel characters interacting. It’s like reading chapter 12 of a 12-part story. Outside of the novelty of seeing tons of superheroes in each panel, there’s not much else to say about these.
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