Ten Years Later: Onslaught Reborn

It’s a return that well, let’s be honest, you probably didn’t see coming.

In November, Jeph Loeb and Rob Liefeld will team for a five part, weekly, miniseries that returns to the Heroes Reborn universe, and brings along the villain who got the whole Heroes Reborn ball rolling. The title?

Onslaught Reborn.

A bit of history, first – Onslaught was the name of a creature that came from…essentially, the union of Professor Xavier and Magneto’s minds. Basically, a “seed” from Magneto’s psyche took residence in Xavier’s mind, ultimately giving form to Xavier’s repressed anger and darker emotions. Hugely powerful, Onslaught threatened all of existence with its power, and, in order to stop it, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and Captain America sacrificed themselves, apparently destroying Onslaught.

Though they thought they sacrificed themselves, the Onslaught battle was the editorial component of a larger business deal at Marvel. For 12 months, the Marvel properties were to be packaged by groups of creators headed by former Marvel, and now Image creators, Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. Lee’s team took Fantastic Four and Iron Man, while Liefeld’s took Captain America and Avengers.

The four titles saw the characters redesigned and re-envisioned by the different creators with varying degrees of acceptance and success as judged by fans (although it made bucketloads of cash for Marvel and paid the creators handsomely). Ultimately, the Marvel heroes returned to the Marvel Universe in 1997’s Heroes Reborn: The Return, and things returned to where they were, albeit, noticeably recharged.

There was a return to the Heroes Reborn world (more on that below), and Marvel’s Exiles will visit the world as part of their “Worlds Tour” storyline, but since the conclusion of the roughly year-long event, the Heroes Reborn versions of the Marvel characters haven’t been seen.

That will change in November.

We spoke with Liefeld, Loeb, and editor John Barber for more about the story.

First off, while the project is a return to the original storyline from ten years ago, it’s also something more – something more personal to the writer.

“Well, I saw an opportunity to crack the other half of the Internet in half and took it,” Loeb joked. “I mean, why let Bendis have all the fun?!  [laughs]

“Actually, with the stunning success of Superman/Batman #26  - and I'm warning everyone right now, there are not enough copies being printed and there's a huge number being printed - where all of Sam's DC pals, and a couple of Marvel dudes pulled together to raise money for The Sam Loeb College Scholarship Fund, I've been looking for something that Marvel could do -- not in response to DC -- but in their own way.  Starting with Joe Quesada, Sam had his Marvel fans as well.  Sam was talking about doing a Spider-Man/Wolverine thing -- like Sam’s Superboy/Robin story -- that hopefully someday I can revisit for my son.  Hmm... Spidey and Wolvie... Do you think the apple fell far from the tree?! [laughs].”

It was Marvel’s success with the return to Age of Apocalypse last year that got the company looking at its other franchises that were having anniversaries, Loeb said. “Dan Buckley brought up that Heroes Reborn was having the 10th anniversary and Dan -- among others at Marvel -- had been a fan.  Say what you will, there's a lot of people who came to Cap and the FF because of Rob and Jim who had never read those books before. 

“Dan saw a way to make a connection here between a project that I had been involved in ten years ago - combined with my friendship with Rob -- to tie it into The Fund and create something special.

“Suddenly, we were presented with a way to reach a wide audience and at the same time offer a huge contribution to the Fund.  There are few people in the comic book business who were as close to Sam as Rob was -- they just cracked each other up. People who don't know Rob don't know how funny he is -- and his sense of humor is the core of our friendship.  Ask anybody when I talk about him, it's always ‘He makes me laugh’ which is the highest compliment I can pay someone.”

So – once the concept was decided upon, Liefeld got the call.

“I received a call following the Marvel summit last fall and the guys at Marvel asked if I was interested in participating in this,” Liefeld explained. “They explained that Jeph was involved and laid out how it would combine Onslaught and Heroes Reborn and it sounded like a great opportunity, so I jumped at it. I was really jazzed that I could be involved. I was in the middle of getting a couple other Marvel projects up and running and they immediately went to the back burner so Onslaught Reborn could happen. I'm so excited about this and I've had to keep a lid on it for months.”

Liefeld is the main artist on the five issues, Loeb said, but that’s not to say he’ll be the only artist working on the project.

“As to it becoming a big all star jam -- let's just say we're talking about adding some seasoning to the pot that will make this even more fun and raise money for this cause that means the world to me. “

For Liefeld though, re-teaming with Loeb was more than enough incentive to get rolling, as the original Heroes Reborn was the first time the two worked together.

“Jeph has great chemistry with everyone, especially artists,” Liefeld said. “He plays to an artist's strengths and desires. He enjoys giving all his artists a big canvas top work from which is why he attracts such a diverse group of talents from Tim Sale, Joe Mad, Jeff Campbell, Mike Turner, Jim Lee and Darwynn Cooke. Jeph also has great instincts as to what the readers will enjoy. Look at his run on Superman/Batman for an example of a him creating blockbuster arc after
blockbuster arc despite his creative team. His writing is very entertaining, filled with character advancement and enough twists and turns to keep you glued to the page. He's just a damn good writer. I've been saying it for years, he's the Jerry Bruckheimer of comics. He can give you CSI, Glory Road, Remember the Titans, Pirates of the Caribbean or a Cold Case at any given minute. He's diverse but he always hits the mark.”

Backing up a little, as Loeb explained, Buckley got this particular ball rolling by pointing out that 2006 would be the 10th anniversary of Heroes Reborn, however, it was Liefeld who brought Onslaught into the picture.

“That connection was brilliant,” Loeb said. “That's a character who hasn't been around in forever and who is mega powerful enough to take everyone on.  I'm kind of surprised he hasn't resurfaced until now and very grateful he hasn't since there's a story of revenge that is just delicious.”

For both creators, Onslaught Reborn had to be something…more. Not knocking fifth week events at all, but both Loeb and Liefeld wanted the story to have deep roots and wide ramifications. Case in point – it’s relationship to the larger Marvel Universe are related to the Scarlet Witch’s “No more mutants” line at the end of House of M, and…well, the original Heroes Reborn. Allow Loeb to indulge in a reminiscence…

“The roots of this go much further back.  Again, history will change things, but as controversial as Heroes Reborn was -- it was the biggest charge to that group of heroes until New Avengers came around.  And now, thanks to Mister Bendis, doing something like this becomes an even bigger event.  Thanks, Brian! 

“If we turn the clock back to those days, I was the monthly writer - yes, I actually used to turn out a book on a monthly basis - [laughs] - on both Cable and X-Force.

“And there was a convergence -- a Lost cross if you will [laughs] -- at WonderCon that year. I'd never met Rob.  So, when he came up to me and said that he liked what I'd been doing with Cable and X-Force -- I suddenly realized, "Sh*t!  I'm talking to the guy who created these characters!"  And he was an honest to gosh fanboy.


“We spent the day talking about comics --and I'm not sure that Rob even knew it then, but I had my own agenda.  Heroes Reborn had just been announced and for a number of reasons I knew it was going to be huge.  And I wanted in.

“But, in those days, I didn't have the access I have today.  That's what's exciting about this business.  As big as Geoff Johns is right now, it's hard to remember that he had a very loyal, but considerably smaller audience that he had earned from Flash and JSA. Then Titans came along and his profile got hotter.  Then, he did Green Lantern: Rebirth with Van Sciver and BOOM! He's on everybody's list to work with... and DC, smartly, gave him Crisis. Now he’s a superstar.  And it's changed his life - I know this, I work with him every day - and as his pal I couldn't be happier for his success.  I don't like having to pick up his dry cleaning and wash the car, but...

“Honestly, it's the most fantastic thing I've ever heard.

“And I see it happening to Greg Pak -- who I don't really know except from the summits -- and after Planet Hulk -- BOOM!  Another guy will reach hyperspace and that's REALLY important to our business to continue to grow from within.

“Soooo... Back to Onslaught... Heroes Reborn was my shot at the title.  Cable and X-Force were getting to be big hits, but being on Heroes Reborn changed my life. I couldn't have known it at the time, but it affected me years later as well.  Here's just two of the things I can now do that are completely unrelated to Heroes Reborn, but couldn’t have happened without Heroes Reborn or Rob: (1) It was the first of the "outsourcing" deals and without that project I NEVER could have done Superman/Batman #26 -- nobody had ever let someone outside New York package a book.  Today, DC believed in me and on #26 that they worked closely with me to put it all together and (2) I got to know Jim Lee very well at that time.  There simply would not have been Batman: Hush without Rob picking me to write Captain America and The Avengers.

“Between Scott Lobdell - who wrote Heroes Reborn: Iron Man, and Jim and Rob, I was the punk kid at the table.  They let me eat with the grown ups and I don't forget people who take chances on me.  That led to Awesome Comics and, again, say what you will, we put out some great comics with people like Alan Moore and Jim Starlin and Gil Kane, Ed Mcguinness, Brandon Peterson, Steve Skroce, Stephen Platt, Chris Sprouse, Jeff Matsuda, Ian Churchill -- and Rob picked me to be Publisher. Publisher!

“I learned more about the process of making comics in that short time - 18 months - then any where else I can imagine. So, again, there was more to Heroes Reborn than just the comics for me. If Rob was going to revisit that period, he was not going there alone!”

Got that?

Good.

For a touch more of the story, over to Liefeld…

“Scarlet Witch's  infamous ‘No more mutants’ line from House of M sets everything in motion and from there it's not too long before Franklin Richards and the entire Fantastic Four are confronted by Onslaught....things start moving very quickly from that point on....
 
“Franklin will inevitably be used to open up the doorway to the Heroes Reborn universe again, remember he placed the Heroes there in order to protect them from Onslaught in the first place. The HR characters will be confronted by Onslaught as his reach extends deep into their world and upsets the balance of both realities. All of the major Marvel heavy-hitters are present and accounted for, The FF, Thor, Hulk, Cap, The Avengers, Bucky, Namor, Loki, Enchantress....plus some new faces. Jeph broke the story down for me several months back and I was grinning ear to ear, it's big. And it sets up a lot of stuff to come. After Civil War fans can take a deep breath and then strap themselves in for this rollercoaster.”

And for even more of what’s going on….Onslaught Reborn editor John Barber:

“This is taking place right now – it’s not an ‘untold tales’ collection of stories. Onslaught is awakened here and now. Really, Onslaught was left in a position at the end, where there was a door for a return or a…rebirth.”

Additionally, this project will not be related to the actual Heroes Reborn world, which currently orbits the sun exactly opposite the Marvel Universe earth, and was seen in a collection of one-shot specials in 2000, and was, for a time, ruled by Dr. Doom.

“There’s some pretty complex continuity surrounding the Heroes Reborn world, which would make it a little difficult to bring in,” Barber said. “As Onslaught gets involved, let’s just say that there are other dimensions involved, and, as Franklin gets involved, more rifts in time and space. We’re pulling things out of different places…it gets a little complex to explain without giving it away, but it’s going to be a lot of fun. So – end of the day, we’re very much aware of the ‘counter-earth’ Heroes Reborn world over there.”

Barber also gave some pointers in regards to what gets the ball rolling for Onslaught this time… “Last time Onslaught showed up, he was a result or side-effect of not only Xavier’s instability, but also Magneto’s psyche becoming involved in Xavier’s psyche,” the editor said. “And of course, we haven’t seen Xavier or Magneto since House of M, and who knows what’s happened to them. Also, what kind of ramifications were there for Onslaught, as an entity, when the Marvel Heroes stopped existing in the Heroes Reborn world?”

The story, as explained, will feature the characters from the Heroes Reborn world…which means dozens and dozens. “With an event this big the challenge is to both service this enormous cast - the FF, the Hulk, Thor, and The Avengers including Iron Man and Cap -- but at the same time keep it grounded on a personal level so there's an emotional in for the reader,” Loeb said. “It all starts with Franklin, of course, but the book will have its own voice.”

And as Liefeld explains it, Onslaught Reborn allows the two creators to tackle some unfinished business.

Onslaught Reborn represents an opportunity to complete a job that was left unfinished storywise,” Liefeld said. “Everything here is brand spankin' new. This is a sequel in every sense of the word. It's ten years later, Onslaught is angry and powerful and ready to exact revenge on everyone. Onslaught is a terrific villian, and he's been restrained for a very long time...”

Ten years? Won’t anyone notice that Franklin Richards is still, relaitvley the same age as he was ten years ago?

“Unstable Molecules, man,” Loeb said, laughing. “They'll get you every time!”

And yes, Liefeld is aware of the double meaning some may read into his “unfinished” comment, given that he didn’t complete his full twelve issue run of Captain America ten years ago.

“As for the past history, the previous politics of Heroes Reborn, it may come as a surprise to any and all that I have only fond memories of that era, that work, everything,” Liefled said. “When it ended, I was happy my initial arc was completed. With all the turmoil that pre-bankruptcy Marvel was experiencing, I never thought we'd publish two issues much less the first six of both arcs of Cap and Avengers. Jim Lee and I had like three different sets of presidents, publishers and director's when we were working on it. Heroes Reborn certainly had it's controversy as the first
‘out-sourced, packaging’ deal of it's kind, it was terribly politically charged, but there's almost no one left from that era at Marvel and they've re-emerged from all their troubles, roaring back to the forefront of the industry. Jeph and I still get loads of Heroes Reborn comics shoved under our noses at shows. Those books reached a large audience, one of the largest in the recent history of those books. Fans have always been very generous in their support and enthusiasm for our
efforts on Heroes Reborn.” 

One final word on past history – Liefeld said that, over the past ten years, his version of Cap has been watching his carbs carefully, and has slimmed his upper body down, appreciably, referring to one of the artists’ more infamous images from the era.

And fort he final word…Loeb offered up some more teases.

“With this event, Marvel is going to for the first time collect the original stories and release them this fall.  C'mon, Jim Lee on the FF?  Whilce Portacio doing Iron Man?  Ian Churchill on Avengers?  And -- you can ask Mark Millar -- there’s more than a few tips of the hat to Heroes Reborn that went into the creation of the Ultimate Universe.  Rob and I had a blast doing those stories and we get to see them for the first time in years. Like Rob says, every time, at every show I go to, people bring those comics for us to sign. This is going to be fun!”

For more info on how you can donate money to the Sam Loeb Fund, please write to SAMLOEB4@aol.com

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