In life, they say only three things are certain: birth, death, and change. Within comic books, the three things that are certain are that there will be retcons, reboots, and resurrections. Retcons are elements retroactively added to a character’s history, reboots can either be revivals of a character/their title or extensive changes to canon, and resurrections are characters clawing their way back from the afterlife.
Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections.
*This week we continue the whole month of Captain America-focused entries that look at various times the star-spangled Avenger has faced retcons, reboots, and resurrections!*
When it comes to Marvel Comics, the idea of reboots tends to take a smaller scale than what DC Comics or other comic book properties have done in the past. It’s been said that Marvel has never really attempted a full-scale reboot when it comes to their mainline universe (Ultimate Marvel being an alternate reality attempt), but that’s not actually 100% true.
One can split hairs when talking about the original 1996 Heroes Reborn (which was tackled overall in this column months ago), since it was revealed at the end to be a situation with Franklin Richards having shunted those heroes into an alternate reality of sorts, but it was very much originally an attempt to reboot a handful of Marvel’s more Avengers related slate of characters.
Since that included Captain America, here is the story of Steve Rogers brush with the loaded word that is reboots.
To make a long story short (truly check out this past column for the full story), the ’90s were a very rough time financially for Marvel Comics. As many fans are very aware the company ended up filing for bankruptcy and laying off a third of its staff by the end of 1996. This is what led to them selling off the media rights to things like Spider-Man, X-Men, etc. to other studios before they of course gobbled them all backup thanks to the empire that is Disney in the past handful of years.
With sales of non-X-Men books flagging at the time, the powers that be had the idea to kill off and then reboot the Avengers and Fantastic Four in their own separate universe. The catch was that the books would be farmed out to Jim Lee and his Wildstorm imprint (for Iron Man and Fantastic Four) and Rob Liefeld’s Extreme Comics (Avengers and Captain America) both through Image Comics.
Using the very stretched-out all over the place Onslaught event (can’t wait to cover that one in this thread one day) to facilitate this reboot, they seemingly killed all the Avengers/Fantastic Four characters outside of a handful and began their fresh new lives for Heroes Reborn.
The Nitty Gritty:
While this was a reboot fresh start, surprisingly a lot of Captain America’s foundation seemed to stay in place for this reboot. The scrawny kid that takes the super-soldier serum to make a difference and fights in World War II till he goes missing and is seemingly not seen again. Even the costume that he wears is pretty much the same outside of swapping out the A on his cowl for an eagle just to hammer home that whole motif seemingly even more than usual.
Some of the backstory is very much the usual Captain America stuff, but the disappearance of the hero is where Liefeld and Jeph Loeb pulled the biggest change. Instead of ending up in the ocean and frozen in ice, turns out this Cap has just been living in the world ever since but without his memory. Back in the ’40s President Truman tells Steve the plan to drop the nuke on Japan to end the war, and Rogers very much disagrees with this plan and storms out with the promise that he’ll tell the world. Instead of handling it in any logical or sane way, Truman orders General Ross to recruit Nick Fury to create the organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. with the express mission to neutralize Captain America. Totally rational behavior.
Using stolen Nazi files they enacted a plan of the Red Skull called ‘Operation: Sleeper‘ that deactivated Captain America and placed him in a civilian life without memories until such a time that the United States government deemed him needed again.
The big threat that leads Abraham Wilson, an old colleague of Captain America and father to one Sam Silson, to find and revive Steve is the bigoted World Party, led by one Alexander the Great who is actually the WWII nazi villain Master Man in disguise, is rising up and is a threat to the United States.
We’re also introduced to one Rebecca “Rikki” Barnes who is the granddaughter of Peggy Barnes née Carter and Richard Barnes who were associates of Captain America during WWII, who becomes his modern-day partner Bucky. There is also a whole thing where Sam Wilson is gunned down by the Nazis but is revived by Captain America pouring his super-soldier (apparently green) blood into Sam’s mouth which makes him a super soldier too.
Halfway through the series, there was a creative change (with James Robison taking over writing, numerous artists including Joe Bennett, Joe Phillips and Travis Charest on art, and Wildstorm taking over control from Extreme) that kicked off with a whole issue retelling this Captain America’s backstory with some notable changes including S.H.I.E.L.D. claiming they revived Cap when it was actually Abraham Wilson.
The rest of the short-lived series focused on Captain America traveling across America to deal with the Sons of the Serpents and the Nazi infiltration of the country. Well before the twist of 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, this story shows that the Sons of the Serpent had infiltrated the government including S.H.I.E.L.D., and used a Nick Fury Life Model Decoy to take control and try to enact their plan against the country.
There were a bunch of crossovers for the final two issues of this and the other Reborn books, including crossing over with Lee’s Wildstorm characters, before everything whited out for them and they were returned to the regular Marvel Universe by Franklin Richards.
Like all of the stuff to do with this Heroes Reborn, it was kind of an all-over-the-place mess. Some of the ideas and elements had some potential, but a lot of the stuff in the first arc for sure is very too much on the nose (family man mind-wiped Steve’s favorite colors are of course red, white, and blue). Throughout the whole book, it’s very much a more brutal and tough take on Captain America, which was seemingly a precursor to the version that Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch would give birth to in the early 2000s for The Ultimates.
Overall the books didn’t bring any more sales for the characters, in fact, they declined a ton because of how all the continuity was jettisoned and turned off long-time fans, and many creative disputes with those involved (thus why Liefeld’s imprint was removed from the book) became too much.
Marvel’s quick move to just make it all a pocket universe so they could restore the characters to their normal state says everything one needs to know about this experiment. It’s good to take chances with things, as letting these characters/worlds become too stagnant isn’t great but sometimes those chances are not the best ones to be taking.
Next Week: The secret lives of the Captains America