Currently, Sean McKeever and Filipe Andrade are releasing Onslaught Unleashed, the latest chapter in the saga of Marvel’s sinister hybrid of Charles Xavier, Magneto, Juggernaut and Apocalypse. With the recent surge of popularity of this once-toxic property, it made me reflect on the recent comic miniseries Onslaught Reborn by Jeph Loeb and Rob Liefeld. I’ve always felt the need to talk about it, but never got around to it.
I rag on Jeph Loeb a lot. A LOT. A WHOLE. FREAKING. LOT. It was my bread and butter for a couple years, but with Onslaught Reborn, I can’t continue that hate. It’s no Long Halloween, but this comic is Jeph Loeb’s best work in the past decade. There’s no murder mystery, so that helps a lot. There’s also a reason for there to be a big ensemble cast instead of adding in extra guys from all over for no reason.
Then again, the whole Earth/Counter-Earth thing boggles my mind. Didn’t the Heroes Reborn characters stop existing or something when things returned to the status quo? I mean, I guess not, but in that one Thunderbolts storyline… No, I’m not falling down this rabbit hole. I have a review to write.
To catch you guys up on what’s going on for this story: Onslaught was this big bad from the 90′s created from Xavier mind-raping Magneto and gaining his powers and corruption. Once defeated by the team of Mega Man and Venom (with Arthur as their helper character), Onslaught turned into some kind of evil black hole fog thing and a bunch of superheroes sacrificed themselves like lemmings. Franklin Richards used his childhood omnipotence powers to create a second Earth on the other side of the sun where these dead heroes would live on in EXTREME recreations.
That brings us to our story, which takes place a day after House of M. As Scarlet Witch has removed the powers of most mutants, the mutant magic of Xavier and Magneto has merged together to recreate Onslaught as his own being. Now he’s out to track down and I guess take over Franklin Richards. Franklin sneaks away to the Counter-Earth he created, where he meets the teenage girl version of Captain America’s sidekick Bucky. He and all the heroes of Counter-Earth, as well as a couple villains, have to team up to take down Onslaught.
As I mentioned, Rob Liefeld is on art duties and this comic shows how much Rob Liefeld’s skills have improved over the years. Liefeld usually holds a stigma for that crazy face everyone always makes. Gone are the days of faces like this.
…um… wait, that may or may not be from this comic. But what about this image from a couple pages later where Franklin looks like he’s drawn by John Romita Jr?
See, Liefeld’s turned over a new leaf here. He’s even drawing feet! Look!
He’s drawing invisible feet that we can see. That’s beautiful irony.
Another example comes from this scene where Namor makes himself known in the Baxter Building while holding Donald Blake’s staff. Take a look.
At first I was confused. Why is he still so wet? And why isn’t there a trail of water? I was ready to damn this art at first, but then I figured it out. Namor is peeing.
Namor is peeing himself as a way to insult Reed Richards and Ben Grimm and drench himself in liquid so he doesn’t lose strength. It goes back to Loeb’s inventive writing, but I suppose Marvel’s soft ways wouldn’t allow Namor to outright say what he’s doing.
One could say that the massive delays on this project – in which it took over a year for five issues to be released – could be attributed to Liefeld finely honing his craft. Making sure he gets all that shiny shading right. Or it could be that Loeb realized the complexity of having a second set of Norse Gods on the other side of the sun. Like, how does a second pairing of Thor and Loki work? Is there a separate Asgard for Counter-Earth? Do they share the same one as regular Earth? Did Franklin create a second Odin with his very mind?
Damn it, I said I wasn’t going to do that! Let’s continue.
Another part that needs to be lauded is the fantastic mystery centered around who Hawkeye Reborn is. For the uninitiated, Hawkeye of Counter-Earth had an air of ambiguity over his identity under the mask. Originally, he was hinted to be Simon Williams. Walt Simonson started writing the series and decided he was simply Clint Barton.
Loeb, never one to accept what another writer wrote, decided that neither was true. This needed to be a reveal on the level of finding out that Swamp Thing wasn’t a man who became a creature, but a creature who thought he was a man. A mystery as satisfying and sense-making as the time Xorn turned out to be Magneto or the time we discovered that Iron Fist was masquerading as Daredevil.
First, let’s look at Hawkeye Reborn.
Okay. I can think of a million people that can be. Could it be Victor Creed? Marc Spector? Penry the mild-mannered janitor?
In the third issue, Captain America stirs up the pot just a little more.
Bub?! Who the hell says that? Could it be Ben Grimm? No, Grimm’s already being used. Cain Marko? Yeah, I bet it’s Cain Marko. The twist will be that nothing can stop Hawkeye’s arrows or something cool like that.
In the fourth issue, Hawkeye removes his mask for reasons that I’m not worthy to understand. Especially since it’s back on the next time we see him.
Holy crap! Why is Cain’s hair all weird and Wolverine-like there?! Or maybe it isn’t Cain. Hank McCoy? Pietro Maximoff? Some Shi’ar character?
The last issue shows what appears to be Hawkeye without his mask on, waving adamantium claws around. Could it be that Wade Wilson Reborn has a full head of hair? It is a reimagining, after all.
Then in the last issue, they finally drop the bomb on us.
I’m flabbergasted. Who knew? Who could have called it? Nobody. Nobody could have called it because you assholes all thought it was going to be Cain Marko. You fools. You make me sick.
Another great thing to come out of this book is how it brings Rikki “Bucky” Barnes into regular continuity. Fans have been clamoring for this for years. By the end of the book, the different Avengers, Fantastic Four members and Masters of Evil take it to Onslaught to the point that he completely forgets that he can take over their minds. Teen girl Bucky takes a moment to tackle Onslaught into the Negative Zone, which somehow strands Onslaught and causes her to land on Earth. She finds herself in a brave, new world where Captain America’s death is front page news.
Yes, yes. Over the course of a couple hours, we’ve gone from the end of House of M to the end of Civil War. Loeb’s writing has bent time and space to his will. You know who else does that? Grant Morrison. Ergo, Jeph Loeb is as good – if not better – than Morrison.
Speaking of other writers, Loeb would be annoyed with Ed Brubaker for how he refused to ever write any stories that picked up on this plot thread. That dumbass was too busy believing that people wanted to read about that other Bucky who became Captain America. Thank God we got those Sean McKeever backups in Captain America where Rikki becomes the new Nomad. I myself buy Captain America every month. From what I hear from those who read the Nomad backups, they’re very nice.
Then Nomad went and joined the Young Allies, becoming the team’s most interesting member. Well, after Gravity. Not to mention Araña. Firestar and Toro too. But after them, Nomad’s definitely the coolest one on the team and a character I would love nothing more than to see continue on. Good show, Mr. Loeb.
Onslaught Reborn shows that two wrongs may not make a right, but they do make for a good comic miniseries. To learn more about Onslaught, clenched teeth and ill-fated status quos, visit your local library.