This summer, Marvel is revisiting the branding of its somewhat infamous, but massively impactful Heroes Reborn, a 1996 event of sorts that sent the Avengers and Fantastic Four to their own world away from heroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men.
Even though the new Heroes Reborn arises from the current Avengers story arc 'Enter the Phoenix,' and Earth's Mightiest Heroes are conceptually central to the event, it's not the Avengers that will be "reborn" this time.
In the world of Heroes Reborn 2021, where the Avengers never formed, the heroes who will be revamped and recast in the new reality as Earth's Mightiest Heroes of a sort are the Squadron Supreme, a team of superheroes (or occasionally villains) who are meant to resemble characters from DC's Justice League.
Created in the '60s as a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way to have the Avengers and the Justice League fight, the Squadron Supreme has since evolved into a team all its own – and spawned a Marvel (and DC) tradition of having their characters fight pastiche versions of the other publisher's popular heroes.
With Marvel emphasizing the DC-stylings of the Squadron Supreme, perhaps in an attempt to celebrate Marvel Vs. DC (another 1996 event that shares its 25th anniversary with Heroes Reborn), the Squadron's history seems to inform the new world formed in Heroes Reborn 2021.
But who are the Squadron Supreme, and how does their history point to something much more sinister brewing in the world of Heroes Reborn 2021?
We'll answer these questions right now.
Who are the Squadron Supreme?
Way back in the late '60s, legendary Avengers creators Roy Thomas and Sal Buscema had a funny idea to pit Earth's Mightiest Heroes against DC's Justice League, a clash that was on the minds of fans even in the early days of both teams. But without a publishing agreement with DC, they had to go about things on the sly.
Enter the Squadron Sinister in 1969's Avengers #69 – a team of doppelgangers created by the cosmic Grandmaster to challenge the Avengers who resembled core members of DC's Justice League.
Thomas definitively stated in an interview in the book The Justice League Companion that the Squadron was purposely designed to resemble the Justice League, as a way to have them fight the Avengers in an era when such a crossover between publishers was unlikely to happen - kinda like the current comic environment of 2021.
Initially comprised of Hyperion, a solar-powered Superman analog; The Whizzer, a Flash-style super-speedster who takes his goofy name from an even goofier Golden Age Marvel hero; Nighthawk, a brutal vigilante in the style of Batman; and Doctor Spectrum, who can build light constructs sorta like the Green Lantern, the team would quickly grow into something else entirely when creators and fans latched onto their potential as characters.
Following their debut as the Squadron Sinister, Roy Thomas and Sal's brother John Buscema (who together with Thomas also created the Vision, Ultron, the Kree-Skrull War, and even the relationship between Vision and Scarlet Witch that forms the basis of WandaVision) revamped the characters in Avengers #85 as the Squadron Supreme, a team of heroes from another world in Marvel's Multiverse that expanded the roster beyond Hyperion, Nighthawk, Doctor Spectrum, and the Whizzer. Instead of doppelgangers, the original Squadron Sinister were revealed as having been summoned by the Grandmaster from their home reality.
Through their subsequent appearances titles such as Defenders and Thor, the Squadron became an expansive team on their own world, including characters such as Power Princess (Wonder Woman), Amphibian (Aquaman), Skymax the Skrullian Skymaster (Martian Manhunter), Golden Archer (Green Arrow), Lady Lark (Black Canary), Tom Thumb (the Atom), Blue Eagle (Hawkman), Moonglow (Zatanna), and Nuke (Firestorm).
They even had a whole team of villains known as the Institute of Evil, some of whom were also DC analogs who eventually joined the Squadron, including Apex (Gorilla Grodd), Lamprey (Parasite), Mink (Catwoman), and Shape (Plastic Man).
Some of the Squadron also came to the core Marvel Universe for extended periods of time.
Nighthawk, who was often philosophically at odds with his fellow members of the Squadron, became a part of Marvel's Defenders (who will get a new title this summer). Revealed to have a history as wealthy playboy Kyle Richmond, Nighthawk remained in the Marvel Universe for some time, even spawning some core Marvel Universe successors.
Meanwhile, the Squadron Sinister version of the Whizzer became Spider-Man villain Speed Demon, a one-time Thunderbolt who still runs around the Marvel Universe causing trouble.
Many of these characters were created or got their first prominent stories in the '80s thanks to writer Mark Gruenwald (who also co-created John Walker/U.S. Agent, Flag-Smasher, and many other ideas that'll appear in Disney Plus's upcoming The Falcon and the Winter Soldier streaming series).
In a 12-issue Squadron Supreme limited series, Gruenwald, alongside John Buscema, painted a picture of the Squadron's world where they had taken over the United States, deciding to turn it into a utopia – though things predictably go wrong.
(He also leaned heavily into the team's DC-pastiche origins, adding touches like Hyperion putting on special glasses when he used his powers – the opposite of Clark Kent's gimmick of removing his glasses to become Superman).
Over the years, that's the take that has often informed the themes of later Squadron Supreme stories. Though they've been rebooted across other continuities a few times, including the Marvel MAX title Supreme Power, the concept that the Squadron Supreme are easily corrupted and sometimes power hungry has translated through many versions of the team.
The Squadron has also been shown to be easily manipulated by villains, from their original summoning by the Grandmaster, to a post-Heroes Reborn story in which the Squadron accused the returning Avengers who had been trapped in the Heroes Reborn universe of being imposters, under the manipulation of the Controller.
(Oddly enough, that story, from writer Kurt Busiek and artist George Perez's Avengers run, predated their official Avengers Vs. JLA limited series by just a few years).
One version of Hyperion, the last survivor of a world in Marvel's Multiverse that was destroyed in the lead up to 2015's Secret Wars limited series, joined the Avengers for a while before forming his own short-lived version of the Squadron Supreme consisting of sole survivors from dead worlds.
In the current Marvel Universe, the Squadron Supreme consists of team leader Doctor Spectrum, Hyperion, Nighthawk, Power Princess, and Blur (R.I.P. the world's worst codename 'The Whizzer').
They operate as the Squadron Supreme of America under the guidance of agent Phil Coulson and General Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross (the Hulk's old rival), as a U.S. controlled answer to the globally-focused Avengers.
Though it was initially unclear which versions of the Squadron were on Coulson's team, it's since been revealed that they're all beings magically created by the demonic Mephisto as part of a deal with Coulson.
Since they became the Squadron Supreme of America in writer Jason Aaron's current Avengers run, the Squadron has fought the Avengers on several occasions, with Coulson becoming increasingly hostile toward the Avengers and pushing the Squadron more and more.
That brings us to the present – or the future of May 2021, kinda – where the upcoming Heroes Reborn will introduce a world where the Avengers never formed, and Coulson and the Squadron Supreme of America are the world's greatest protectors.
Dark new world
In the new world of Heroes Reborn 2021, the Squadron Supreme of America are nominally the world's greatest heroes, facing off with Marvel mash-up characters such as Doctor Juggernaut, Zemo and the Siege Society, and more.
Many of the tie-in titles and stories of Heroes Reborn 2021 focus on story elements that tie the Squadron Supreme back to their roots as DC analogs. Hyperion in particular is getting some DC-style attention, with his own version of a history as Superboy with the Legion of Super-Heroes, which brings in another classic Marvel pastiche on a DC team in Hyperion and the Imperial Guard. He'll also get a Jimmy Olsen style sidekick in Peter Parker, who is no longer Spider-Man, but instead a Daily Bugle cub reporter and Hyperion's pal.
But digging deeper into Marvel's plans for Heroes Reborn #2021 shows a sinister mean streak for the Squadron Supreme of America, who executed their world's version of the 'Mutant Massacre,' leading to Magneto and the Mutant Force replacing the X-Men as their world's protectors of what remains of mutantkind.
What's more, the fact that these versions of the Squadron are in fact constructs of the devilish Mephisto calls right back to the team's origins as the Squadron Sinister, who were creations of the Grandmaster.
There are a few more interesting wrinkles that paint the Squadron Supreme of America as the ultimate villains of Heroes Reborn 2021. For one thing, the Phoenix (whose new host is still unrevealed) is kept imprisoned in Ravencroft Asylum. And for another, Blade the vampire hunter is apparently the only person who exists in both the mainstream Marvel Universe and the new Heroes Reborn world.
It's also worth noting that during his time in the core Marvel Universe, the original Nighthawk died and was resurrected through magic - eventually making a deal with Mephisto himself for more power.
With Phoenix's reality remaking power potentially locked away, and Blade's connections to the supernatural putting him in an interesting position in the new world of Heroes Reborn, is it possible that it won't be the Phoenix's power which remakes the world, but Mephisto's?
Or, perhaps worse, could Mephisto be the new Phoenix host?
If so, that may be the perfect set up for a new Avengers to form (or regain their memories) and take on the Squadron Supreme in an ersatz Avengers Vs. JLA showdown, perhaps in the pages of Marvel's still-unnamed finale one-shot which will cap off the event.
Time will tell, with Heroes Reborn #1 launching in May. Watch for Marvel's full May 2021 solicitations later this month on Newsarama.
Heroes reborn is just the latest Marvel event to be revived, including some of the best Marvel stories of all time.