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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

X-amining Onslaught: Marvel Universe #1


"With Great Power..."
October 1996

In a Nutshell
The Avengers & Fantastic Four sacrifice themselves to defeat Onslaught!

Script: Mark Waid
Plot: Scott Lobdell & Mark Waid 
Pencils: Adam Kubert & Joe Bennet
Inks: Dan Green
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Steve Buccelato
Enhancement: Team Bucce
Editor: Bob Harras

Plot
Uatu the Watcher watches as the heroes of Earth make their last stand against Onslaught. Though the X-Men rescue Professor Xavier from the clutches of Onslaught, they are quickly overwhelmed, until they are joined by the Avengers, Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom, and Hulk. As Onslaught, determined to wipe out man and mutant alike, creates a second sun in the skies above the planet, the heroes work together to disrupt his force field. Meanwhile, the captive Franklin Richards & Nate Grey work to escape & cutoff Onslaught from their power. After the heroes manage to breach Onslaught's shields, Hulk asks Jean Grey to turn off the Bruce Banner part of his mind; completely savage, he attacks Onslaught, destroying his armor & seemingly killing him. But Onslaught survives, now as a being of pure psionic energy. Thor, seeking to contain the energy in a vessel that can then be destroyed, flies into the energy. Onslaught remains, but Mister Fantastic realizes the energy diminished. One by one, the various heroes enter Onslaught, each disappearing & taking a bit of his energy with them, save for the X-Men, whose mutant nature would risk empowering the mutant Onslaught. Once all the heroes have entered Onslaught, the X-Men strike, killing him just as Franklin & Nate emerge, safe and sound. Franklin looks for his parents, but finds only the weary X-Men, left behind to suffer the blame for the loss of Earth's greatest heroes, and mourn their loss. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue marks the conclusion of "Onslaught" (though a series of epilogue issues and some additional ephemera remain), as the X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four and Hulk team-up to finally destroy the villain, though it (apparently) costs the lives of all but the X-Men to do so. 


This is due to Onslaught's final evolution transforming him into a being of pure psionic energy; in order to contain it, and give the heroes something to punch/blast/claw, the non-mutant heroes fly into the energy, with each disappearing as they do so. It's a little unclear what is happening, but once everyone is "inside" Onslaught, the X-Men attack the energy and it goes away, taking the heroes with it. 


This is presented in-universe as the deaths of all those heroes, and the general public is left blaming the X-Men for those deaths, but in reality, the characters have been shunted off to another universe, where the subsequent "Heroes Reborn" titles will take place. These series will feature relaunched and revamped versions of the classic characters guided by former Marvel superstar artists and current Image creators Jim Lee & Rob Liefeld; shockingly, while both creators will launch their respective series (Lee on Fantastic Four, Liefeld on Captain America & Avengers, with fellow Image creator and former Uncanny X-Men artist Whilce Portacio on Iron Man), neither will be able to last even a full year on the books, and by the end of that year (following a 13th issue of each series) all of the characters will return (in the aptly titled "Heroes Return" initiative) to the "main" Marvel Universe and resume (mostly) their classic looks & continue the existing history that is presented as ending throughout this issue. 

But, for the next year or so of publication time, within the Marvel Universe itself, the Avengers & Fantastic Four are gone, and various series (including a few of the X-books) will engage to varying degrees with that reality. 

When the heroes do return, it will be revealed that the "universe" of "Heroes Reborn" was created subconsciously by Franklin Richards as a means to save his family and their friends, and that it exists within the blue ball he is seen holding without mention at the end of this issue. I don't believe Marvel already intended to cut "Heroes Reborn" off after a year as of this issue's creation (my understanding is that the initial sales were good enough on the "Heroes Reborn" books that Marvel wanted more, but once Lee & Liefeld lost interest, the decision was made to cut bait and bring the character's back), so the ball is, presumably, an attempt to give the creators a back door in case they needed it (which, in the end, they did). Franklin, meanwhile, will end up spending some time in Generation X and starring in the Daydreamers miniseries alongside Artie & Leech. 


There's also a bit of "Heroes Reborn" foreshadowing and Franklin's role in creating that universe, when, at the moment of Onslaught's defeat & Franklin's escape, he briefly makes contact with his passing mother, and "hope is reborn". 


During the fight with Onslaught, Hulk asks Jean Grey to turn off the Banner part of his brain, enabling him to go full "savage Hulk" against Onslaught. 


The subsequent fight results in Banner becoming physically separated from Hulk, after which he joins the other heroes in absorbing Onslaught, leaving behind the unconscious Hulk. This then allows for both the main Marvel Universe and the "Heroes Reborn" universe to have a Hulk (with the now more savage, Banner-less Hulk remaining in the MU while Banner eventually gets transformed into a Hulk again in "Heroes Reborn"). 


Apocalypse, absent since the events of Cable #35, shows up one last time to make ominous pronouncements, declaring with the heroes gone, an Age of Apocalypse can begin. Nothing really comes of this, as he next appearances in some Incredible Hulk issues (turning Hulk into one of his horsemen) and then in Cable a few years from now; "The Twelve", coming at the end of the decade, is his next big story. 


The Watcher, for his part, counters that the legacy of the departed heroes will endure, though the use of the damaged "Imagine" mosaic in the Watcher scenes is, perhaps, a but of subtle commentary on the part of the creators, reflecting the general feeling amongst (the remaining) Marvel staffers about the outsourcing of some of their biggest characters and the "death" of the Marvel Universe. 


What's the Plan, Stan? 
Onslaught, who has realized he hates humans for hating mutants, and hates mutants for craving acceptance from humans, plans to wipe them all out by creating a second sun (whose proximity, given its energy & gravitational pull, will destroy Earth). Why he makes it a "drawing ever closer" thing and not just a "bam, there's a sun *right there* and Earth is destroyed" thing is unclear (aside from, you know, genre conventions). 


A Work in Progress
In a bit of "the Marvel Universe is ending" commentary, the Watcher opens the issue by declaring his work is done (don't worry, he'll still turn up to lend gravitas to future crossover events). 


For whatever reason, the big hero shot of the X-Men arriving to rescue Professor X is missing some characters (like Beast & Iceman), even though they'll be shown at the scene later in the issue. 


It seems like Black Widow is amongst the non X-Men heroes to respond to the X-Men's predicament, despite it later being a plot point that she wasn't present for the Avengers' big sacrifice and remains behind as (one of) the sole Avengers left standing. 


Though they aren't really drawn in, dialogue establishes that the non X-Men are wearing the psi-shield devices that were the subject of the last batch of tie-in issues (with the X-Men saying that Onslaught is weakened enough that Jean can do the work of the shielding their minds on her own). 


There's a scene where Gambit & Black Panther share dialogue together, and I just felt like that was the sort of thing that needed to be pointed out (as much as the "X-Men interacting with other Marvel heroes" parts of this crossover are some of its best moments, that kind of random pairing doesn't happen nearly often enough). 


A series of panels shows characters from around New York responding to the arrival of Onslaught's second sun and the threat of extinction. 


Another bit of "end of the Marvel Universe" gravitas comes from Reed & Sue discussing how maybe everything they, the original Marvel superheroes, have done has been leading to their sacrifice against Onslaught. 


The Fantastic Four's mail carrier, Willie Lumpkin, as well as a very off-model Trish Tilby, occasional reporter friend to the X-Men, make appearances a well. 


Artistic Achievements
Kubert does a neat thing where, when the narration mentions the characters fighting beside old friends, he uses a series of panels to depict some classic groupings: Namor and Human Torch (who, via the original version of Human Torch, were frequently paired up and/or fighting one another in Marvel's Golden Age comics), the "Cap's Kooky Quartet" era of Avengers featuring Captain America, Hawkeye, Quicksilver & Scarlet Witch, and the Captain America & Falcon partnership that was a huge part of Cap's 1970s status quo. 


Young Love
Vision, damaged during the assault on Onslaught's force field, shares a brief moment with Scarlet Witch, acknowledging their past relationship. 


A similar moment also occurs between Giant-Man and Wasp, who are in the same kind of "long-time romantic partners but currently not together" status quo. 


Human/Mutant Relations
Xavier notes that Onslaught's final revenge may well be the fact that, in defeating him, the general public, not knowing any better, saw what appeared to be the mutant X-Men turning on their own comrades. 


Scott Lobdell on "Heroes Reborn" & "Onslaught"
When word comes down that Marvel was shipping off those characters to another universe, me and [then Editor-in-Chief] Bob Harras are sitting around trying to come up with a story that makes sense for the X-Men to stay where they are, but those other characters to go. The question became, who has that power? And I said, well, Onslaught can do it. So we started to figure out why the X-Men would be involved too. But it was really once there was the need for "Heroes Reborn" that we reverse-engineered the creation of Onslaught."

    Scott Lobdell, Newsarama 2016 

Mark Waid on "Onslaught"  
"'Onslaught' is a very plot-driven story, but it's really a very simple plot. We're trying to pair off the X-Men and Marvel Heroes in interesting combinations, so the attraction is in how the characters interact, and how they face what very well may be their last mission ever. They will, in the course of this story, face their greatest defeat ever and have to rise from those ashes." 

    Mark Waid, Wizard: the Guide to Comics #59

Austin's Analysis
Tasked with both concluding "Onslaught" and a certain iteration of the Marvel Universe, as the Fantastic Four, Avengers, and assorted characters peripheral to them are shunted off for "Heroes Reborn", this issue accomplishes those tasks mostly through action scenes peppered with some brief character moments. In that regard, the narration throughout the issue from the Watcher serves two purposes: for one, it imparts a certain level of grandeur, the notion that this more than just the end of another big splashy crossover but something more. For another, it makes for easy exposition, allowing Uatu to explain some of what's going in the art: things like Rogue & Vision piercing Onslaught's force field and the opening being held apart by Thor & Namor are abstract enough that the art, while plenty energetic and effective at conveying the intensity of matters at hand, needs a little help in telling the story. 

Regarding the issue's objectives, as a conclusion to "Onslaught" the crossover, this is fine. The title character's motivations and goals have been so obtuse & inconsistent all throughout that it's hardly this issue's fault everything comes down to, essentially, "punch Onslaught really hard". The twist, that Onslaught's final defeat involves the heroes the public loves disappearing into Onslaught and then Onslaught being destroyed by the heroes the public fears & hates is the most clever thing about it, a "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory" moment as the X-Men technically save the day, but at the cost of their friends & colleagues and in a manner which only heightens the public's distrust of mutants (on top of all the terrible things Onslaught, a mutant, has wrought on New York). 

This isn't something subsequent issues will tackle all that directly, but it does essentially cement in place the notion of the X-Men as anti-establishment, anti-status quo figures, which began in earnest around the introduction of Freedom Force (and loosened a bit post-'91 relaunch with the formation of the current incarnation of X-Men and the buddying up of the X-Men with Val Cooper). By issue's end, the world has watched the X-Men destroy, however well-intentioned, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, the "good", lawful & pro-status quo heroes, in the course of defeating a mutant-gone-mad. All else aside, the X-Men are more poorly positioned, publicly, more feared and hated, than ever before, fighting, not to maintain the status quo, like the Avengers, but for the protection of their species. It is, if nothing else, a great setup for the forthcoming "Operation: Zero Tolerance" crossover and, as much as that story may squander that potential, it is essentially the place, to varying degrees and with a few deviations, from which the X-Men will operate from now until the start of the Hickman/Krakoa era. Whatever flirtations they had with "officialdom" & more traditional superheroics since the disbanding of Freedom Force is over; "Onslaught" and the events of this issue lock in the same tide of anti-mutant sentiment over the last few years that led to Onslaught's rise in the first place.  

The issue's second objective, to essentially write out a good chunk of significant Marvel Universe characters, provides the issue its emotional throughline. Both Waid & Kubert deserve kudos for highlighting some core relationships, both overtly and subtly, in the run-up to the heroes' big sacrifice, and the Banner-less Hulk pounding the crap out of Onslaught is a genuine fist-pump moment that almost justifies the presence of the lackluster Incredible Hulk tie-in issues. Reading this for the first time, and then several more times in my younger years, it was that sense of the Marvel Universe "ending" which impacted me most (I don't remember if I already knew - or at least suspected - that "Heroes Reborn" would be a done-in-one-year excursion and things would go back to "normal" after that, but at least the first time through, I remember it didn't feel that way). Even as a younger reader, it was the sense of history & shared narrative that drew me to these stories, and this felt like a significant break of that history & of the narrative, even if, ultimately, it turned out to be a herald to simply more similar, mostly-survivable, breaks rather than a watershed moment in its own right. 

Reading it now - as a parent, especially - the emotional impact is felt much more via Franklin. His arc in this issue (and really, most of the story) of being inspired by his parents to fight back in order to be reunited with them, only to succeed just as his parents sacrifice themselves to save the world (and him) is heartrending. Upon first reading, I understood, intellectually, that this was a kid who just missed saying goodbye to his parents and had no idea they'd be back (thanks, in large part, to his efforts), but I was much more affected by what the disappearance of the Avengers & FF meant for the Marvel Universe. Revisiting it now, the moment when Franklin emerges from his imprisonment and asks where his parents are hit me harder, emotionally, than this comic probably intended (or deserves). 

That is, ultimately, the real story of "Onslaught" the crossover, a sprawling, bloated, messy event forced into serving too many masters (serving at once as the yearly X-Men crossover coming after months of build-up, the vehicle for the launch of "Heroes Reborn", and a marketing department-driven grab for any and all of the cash left in the busted boom market of the early 90s) that succeeds, when it does at all, in the individual moments largely disconnected from the churn of a main narrative that barely exists: the chilling reveal of Onslaught-as-Xavier, the coming together of the X-Men, Avengers & Fantastic Four in one big story for arguably the first time ever, John Romita Jr. drawing the Spider-Men fighting Sentinels, Thor ripping Xavier from Onslaught, Mister Sinister lording it over the insufferable Nate Grey, the Fantastic Four saying goodbye to their own history, and a small boy left alone after desperately fighting to be with his parents. This issue is much the same: loud, punchy, and head-scratching, but also effective (or, effective enough) at selling its own import thanks to a few key moments. As a cohesive story, "Onslaught" is pretty terrible, but its greatest trick is making us care, even if just a little bit, about some of its nonsense. 

But then, that's true, to some extent, of all these comic book stories, isn't it? 

Next Issue
Next week: we enter the epilogue phase of "Onslaught" in Cable #36, Uncanny X-Men #337, and X-Men (vol. 2) #57! 

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22 comments:

  1. I will never stop laughing at Wolverine slashing at this mass of energy with his bone claws. I feel like giving him a gold star for trying.

    And again, the Avengers and the FF being "killed off" in service of a X-Men cross over to be handed over to the Image boys for a year just sums up '90s comics perfectly for me. I also knew from my experience with Image in 1993 and 1994 that (1) the characters would come back and (2) the Image founders would have trouble sticking for their full runs. I also only just now found out that Marvel's using Heroes Reborn as a name AGAIN, so...wow. Never change, Marvel.

    And here I go, for a while, into the unknown. I have no idea what happened with the X-Books once Ellis leaves Excalibur until post-Operation Zero Tolerance, so I'm interested in seeing if maybe I should have stayed on or if my instinct was accurate. At least I know the coverage will be great as always.

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    1. Yeah, Wolverine slashing at Energy Onslaught always makes me laugh. "This can't possibly make a difference, but we can't NOT draw Wolverine in there!"

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  2. Great write-up!

    Funny that you specifically call out the "lackluster" Hulk tie-ins here. At this time, "Incredible Hulk" was the only Marvel comic I was still reading. The X-titles had driven me away years before. I was super-annoyed that the ongoing storyline that Peter David was spinning monthly got so completely interrupted by Onslaught. So, I agree, the Onslaught issues of Hulk are bad, but I was coming at it from the other angle, not so much lamenting their place in the Onslaught serial, but lamenting that they represented such a dip in quality for the ongoing Hulk continuity.

    My resentfulness was powerful enough that I completely avoided all things branded with "Onslaught" or "Heroes Reborn," all the way up until they did the "Heroes Reborn: THE RETURN" miniseries to bring everybody back. (It helped that Peter David wrote that one.)

    Years later, I decided to bite the bullet and go back-issue diving, and grab at least the minimum amount of comics from the Onslaught era and the subsequent Heroes Return era, that I would need to read just so that PAD's Hulk would make sense, and not have any jarring "Wait, what happened between this issue and the last one?" type of awkwardness.

    "Onslaught Marvel Universe," being the one that breaks Hulk and Banner into two people and shunts Banner away, was on that list of course.

    Reading it years after the fact, I came away with similar impressions to what you write about here. I was pretty impressed with the way Waid scripted it. I agree that it does manage to convey the feel that this is an IMPORTANT moment, and the end of the (Marvel) universe as we know it. And was also impressed that Franklin and his little globe were there, appropriately foreshadowing how things come to a head in the "The Return" mini a year later.

    (Even things you call out as being arguably awkward in light of later events, like Apocalypse's cameo, were candy to me since -- as you point out -- he would next appear in Peter David's Hulk. Man, it worked out great!)

    Speaking of Apocalypse, Cable #34 was the other comic I picked up on the rebound, and I almost laid out all this FASCINATING exposition of my own reading habits in a comment on your write-up for that issue ... but then I missed the window. So let me just say, far too late, as a long-time Hulk reader, Ian Churchill didn't do too bad at all on drawing those different Hulks. You had said that other artists (regular Hulk artists specifically) historically did a better job of making the green and grey Hulks look different even apart from the coloring; that is true for a couple of them, but some of them basically did the same thing Churchill did: drew every Hulk the same way, and let the colorist be the one to make it clear which one we were looking at. (Jeff Purves comes to mind.)

    Also, Churchill's Hulk was much cooler-looking to me than Angel Medina's, who was the regular Hulk artist at that particular time. He was one of the weakest Hulk artists of the whole PAD run in my opinion, and I always thought his version was too off-model. So that Cable issue that I had avoided for years and years, when I finally read it, I actually found the Hulk in that one to be, visually, refreshingly conventional. I was pleasantly surprised!

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    1. Thanks Jason!

      I always love hearing reactions to stuff like this from people only reading one of the titles involved in a big crossover that nevertheless has a big impact on the title.

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  3. Great analysis, and I agree completely with you on seeing this thing through Franklin more than I ever did when I was a teenager.

    This is another issue I vividly remember reading the day I got it, sitting in an easy chair in our family room. My recollection is that there was a lot of loud stuff going on around me, but I couldn't wait for a quieter moment to read it, since I just had to know what would happen.

    Reading it now, I actually really like it. As you say, "Onslaught" itself was a bit of a mess, but Waid does the best he can here to try to explain, if not what Onslaught's plan was, what it has at this point become. So that's something, at least.

    Plus, the moment at the beginning, where the X-Men are beaten down by Onslaught, it looks like they're on the ropes, and then the Avengers and FF arrive, is goosebump inducing. The way Kubert draws the panels so it's like you're the X-Men, seeing a flash of Cap's shield here, a glimpse of Thor's hammer there, etc., as they emerge from the smoke -- it's like an MCU scene in comic book form. (Which I realize is kind of a funny thing to say, but I trust you get my meaning.)

    I just wish the "Avengers assemble!" moment later on had a better image to go with it. I mean, Cap yelling it as the heroes charge into Onslaught is perfect in my head; I just think the art lets the moment down. It would've been better as a shot of the group charging toward the camera, rather than running at Onslaught in profile.

    (I also wish all our heroes were wearing their classic costumes for this event, but what're you gonna do?)

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    1. "...shockingly, while both creators will launch their respective series ... neither will be able to last even a full year on the books..."

      Technically, I seem to recall that Lee and Liefeld each had a contract requiring them to draw six issues of one of the two titles they were each given. Not that I'd expect either to last much longer than half a year anyway! But they did both fulfill their contracts to that extent, with Liefeld penciling six issues of CAPTAIN AMERICA and Lee doing six on FANTASTIC FOUR.

      But while Liefeld jumped ship entirely after the first six months of the project, turning art and plotting over to new teams on both of his titles, Lee actually stuck around for the long haul, co-plotting both FF and IRON MAN all the way through for twelve issues.

      "(my understanding is that the initial sales were good enough on the "Heroes Reborn" books that Marvel wanted more, but once Lee & Liefeld lost interest, the decision was made to cut bait and bring the character's back)"

      Yeah, I read an interview with one of the assistant editors of this era where he said that "Heroes Reborn" was considered open-ended to the extent that Marvel editorial had no idea when they would get the characters back. Apparently Bob Harras used to have editorial meetings to brainstorm what to do in scenarios where "Heroes Reborn" either ended early or was extended.

      Sometimes I do wish it was extended. Not that I wanted more of Liefeld and Lee on those four books, and not that I'm a fan of the behind-the-scenes politics that led to "Heroes Reborn" happening in the first place, but simply because, from a story perspective, I really liked seeing the Marvel Universe try to go on without the Avengers and FF. The dynamic was so different. Plus, what would THUNDERBOLTS have looked like in its second year if "Reborn" had run longer? I wonder if Kurt Busiek had a backup plan.

      That said, I've always found it odd that, in-universe, the Avengers didn't continue. I get that for branding purposes, Marvel would not want two AVENGERS titles running concurrently in separate continuities, but realistically, there were plenty of ex-Avengers still running around in the world, and the team could have carried on. Heck, you could practically re-form the entire latter-day Roger Stern team with the leftovers, aside from the loss of Wasp. But Monica Rambeau, Black Knight, Hercules, Starfox, and She-Hulk were all still in the real Marvel U. post "Onslaught".

      (Now that I think about it, Stern was originally attached to the upcoming HEROES FOR HIRE series before dropping out, and that team included Black Knight, Hercules, and She-Hulk -- though I think Shulkie's arrival was long after Stern departed the project, since he only plotted issue 1.)

      "During the fight with Onslaught, Hulk asks Jean Grey to turn off the Banner part of his brain, enabling him to go full "savage Hulk" against Onslaught."

      Giving him the opportunity to use both classic catchphrases, "Hulk is strongest one there is" and "Madder Hulk gets, stronger Hulk gets!" I loved that.

      "For whatever reason, the big hero shot of the X-Men arriving to rescue Professor X is missing some characters (like Beast & Iceman), even though they'll be shown at the scene later in the issue."

      What happened to Cyclops's costume? It was intact last time we saw him, yet it's shredded here. (It's also intact in all the Joe Bennett-drawn scenes, making the whole thing even more confusing.)

      "A similar moment also occurs between Giant-Man and Wasp, who are in the same kind of 'long-time romantic partners but currently not together' status quo."

      I really liked both the Vison/Scarlet Witch scene and this one, but I like this one more for the Stan Lee-eque dialogue Waid gives Wasp.

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    2. I also wish all our heroes were wearing their classic costumes for this event, but what're you gonna do?

      There is definitely some added indignity to the fact that so many of these heroes have to face their "ends" while wearing terrible looks.

      I get that for branding purposes, Marvel would not want two AVENGERS titles running concurrently in separate continuities, but realistically, there were plenty of ex-Avengers still running around in the world, and the team could have carried on.

      Now that you mention it, it does make me wonder if HEROES FOR HIRE was an attempt to do this (feature an Avengers-like team in a world without the Big Three and other assorted "name" Avengers, but without the Avengers name so as not to make the branding confusing), and then that overall goal got downplayed in the journey from idea to final execution.

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    3. "Now that you mention it, it does make me wonder if HEROES FOR HIRE was an attempt to do this (feature an Avengers-like team in a world without the Big Three and other assorted "name" Avengers, but without the Avengers name so as not to make the branding confusing), and then that overall goal got downplayed in the journey from idea to final execution."

      When Stern was still involved, I would not be surprised if that's exactly what he was going for. I know I read someplace why he dropped out of the project, but I can't remember what the reason was. I've sometimes wondered how the series would've gone had he remained as writer, but I really liked what John Ostrander did with it, so I can't complain too much. My only real regret with H4H is that it didn't last longer! It was a really fun title, and 19 issues was too short a run.

      I remember being especially dismayed at the series' cancellation because it had passed the 12-issue mark, where a few of the other series launched out of "Onslaught" died (see QUICKSILVER, MAVERICK, and MARVEL TEAM-UP) -- but it couldn't manage the 20 issues that Ka-ZAR and ALPHA FLIGHT reached!

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  4. If you haven't listened to Rob's podcast about all of this, I would recommend doing so. It goes into detail about how sales weren't pre-bubble burst sales numbers that Marvel wanted, Jim Lee almost fully took over Marvel but an editor fought against it, etc.

    This story to me is beyond frustrating. A second son. Sentinels that were all over the city and now nowhere to be seen. A Psionic Being that if regular people go into loses their strength. Why wouldn't the average person watching jump in and help? Somehow Scarlet Witch goes into it even though she's a mutant at this time. Mutants can't go, sigh, good X-planation. I can't remember how they combined the Bruce/Hulk from the two different worlds back together when this was done.

    Biggest issue is this would have been an amazing time to do a World of Doom type of storyline or even World of Apocalypse or Mr. Sinister. Heroes are gone, X-Men pushed to the end and all the villains are like, cool, we'll just go home. WTF? Have they never watched WWE with the Money in the Bank case? You turn that in when the guy you want to beat just went through a tough match, not just watch it happen and then go back and hold onto your MitB case. Come On. How cool would a World of Doom be while all the hero's are in this other world. X-Men are too beat to take on Doom at that time, he just makes himself the ruler of the world. Doombots become security in the US. Sentinels restructured to giant Doombots, etc. Instead, we had some of the worst X-Books. Think of how the Hero's would come back and have to get their original world back. Thunderbolts have a bigger motive of actually helping people during the World of Doom, etc.

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    1. You bring up some good points about missed opportunities that I had thought about myself.

      It's explained that Scarlet Witch's powers are specifically the reason why she is the only mutant that can go through. Also, didn't Doom also enter Onslaught? I could see Apocalypse starting his push for world domination but Mr. Sinister has never been about world domination. He just wants to play with his toys.

      Still, there were other would be conquerors who could have stepped up to the plate. Marvel always seems to miss the Big Ideas that could really come out of these crossovers t instead of immediately switching back to the status quo. I think Dark Reign was as close as we're ever going to get to that.

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    2. It goes into detail about how sales weren't pre-bubble burst sales numbers that Marvel wanted, Jim Lee almost fully took over Marvel but an editor fought against it, etc.

      I feel like I've heard that bit about Lee almost taking over everything somewhere else (maybe Howe's book?), but what a fascinating turn that would have been, with the ripples affecting 20+ years of comics as we know them across the Big 2.

      Sentinels that were all over the city and now nowhere to be seen.

      It is *very* clear that the Sentinels existed in this story just to serve as cannon fodder/easy ins for tie-in issues. I'm fairly certain the only "Phase" issues (as opposed to the more ancillary "Impact" books) they factored into were the two Adjectiveless issues, and even there, they were mostly just a backdrop/an excuse for some action to underscore exposition.

      Biggest issue is this would have been an amazing time to do a World of Doom type of storyline or even World of Apocalypse or Mr. Sinister.

      As Drew mentioned, Doom went into/was dragged into Onslaught (presumably since he was needed for "Heroes Reborn" FF) and I get that the desire to do a "Apocalypse domination" story wasn't there a year after "Age of Apocalypse" wrapped, but you're right that more could have been done with the "world without heroes" setup (for example, if I'm armchair quarterbacking, this would have been a fun time for a Kang: World Conqueror story, striking while the Avengers are gone and the rest of the hero community is weakened). Really, while the absence of the Avengers & FF books led to some neat series that likely wouldn't have come out otherwise (like KA-ZAR and HEROES FOR HIRE), the best example in-universe of a book taking advantage of the new status quo is THUNDERBOLTS. Which is a fantastic book (and arguably the last "core" series to enter the Marvel catalog of "series/concepts that may get retooled but always come around in some form", aside from maybe RUNAWAYS) but it certainly isn't taking advantage of the new status quo in the big flashy way you're describing. Zemo forming the Thunderbolts to stop some big world conquering threat and using that acclaim to sell their bonafides to a public thirsty for Avengers-style heroics would have been a neat way to kick off that series on a bit of a grander scale (not that I mind how it kicks off as is).

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    3. Agree 100% with Thunderbolts being great. Really enjoyed the majority of that series. Ka-Zar was fun with great Kubert art, Heroes for Hire turned into guest stars of the week and not much overall direction very quickly. I'd probably throw New Avengers in there with Runaways. I remember liking both at launch and the first six issues or so.

      Forgot that Doom was off the table but would have fit this narrative the best. Kang would have been a great choice. Great time to invade from the Negative Zone. What about the Kree/Skrull/Shi'ar? Marvel knew that Heroes Reborn wouldn't last forever so a year of villains in control and Heroes Return would mean something a lot more than it did.

      Sentinels with Bastian in control would have been better than no follow-up at all. At the same time, the MCU was a complete shell/mess at this time. Teen Tony, bug version of Wasp, stripper costume Thor, etc. They were throwing crap at the wall and seeing what happened. They needed a reset of some of these books.

      Kang eventually did do this type of take over in one of the mid 00's Avengers stories right? I remember thinking, where are the X-Men. If you have this mega event where someone takes over the whole world, how does that happen without every other super hero team getting involved. This type of storyline where half the major players are off the board would have been a great time for something like that.

      Dark Reign is a great storyline. The Thunderbolts and Dark Avengers books are simply amazing at this time. I love the idea of the Dark Illuminati/Cabal. It's just so much fun.

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    4. Frankly, the idea of Jim Lee running Marvel is much more appealing to me than the reality of Jim Lee running DC. I guess maybe because he started and rose to prominence with Marvel, but Lee as DC's publisher has always felt weird and wrong to me -- whereas if he was Marvel's publisher, I doubt I'd blink twice about it.

      As far as the rest -- I'm not sure I would've liked a big event coming out of "Onslaught". There is lip service paid to the idea that villains are running amuck in a "hero-less" world in THUNDERBOLTS, but part of the point is that the T-Bolts have stepped in to fill the void left by the Avengers, and are mopping up those bad guys.

      Plus, as I mentioned in my comment above, the world wasn't entirely without heroes. There are plenty of former Avengers still out there, and you have groups like the Heroes For Hire and a revived Alpha Flight coming into the picture as well.

      In any case, Marvel wasn't really doing the whole "year-long linewide status quo" thing back in the 90s. You'd have a big event once a year, but that was about it. And even that, insofar as "Onslaught" touched nearly the entire line, was unusual -- the events were usually contained to various families of titles.

      I don't think it was until the mid-00s that they started dabbling in the sort of thing you guys are talking about (i.e. "Dark Reign"), where some major upset spins out of an event and touches every book in the line. And honestly, that sort of thing is part of what drove me from reading Marvel regularly. I don't mind when one character's or family of books' status quo is changed for a while, but I hate when something like that is imposed on the entire line.

      I do like Austin's idea above, though, of maybe starting THUNDERBOLTS off with some huge threat that the heroes defeat in order to win the public over, rather than having them make their public debut fighting the Hulk and the Wrecking Crew. But it's also possible Marvel was wary of "world-shattering threat fatigue" and didn't want to do something like that coming straight out of "Onslaught".

      (Guh, I still really, really want to start reading T-Bolts as we come out of "Onslaught"!)

      I actually remember liking this upcoming year of X-Men issues between "Onslaught" and "Zero Tolerance", but not as much as I had enjoyed the year between "Age of Apocalypse" and "Onslaught". At the very least, I know I liked the immediate post-"Onslaught" issues of X-MEN and UNCANNY, and I really enjoyed the X-Men's trip to Hong Kong just before OZT. (Once UNCANNY went into space, though, I wasn't as into that series.) I'm interested to revisit all this stuff over the next several months and see what I think.

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    5. @Scott: Kang eventually did do this type of take over in one of the mid 00's Avengers stories right? I remember thinking, where are the X-Men.

      Yeah, that was the "Kang War" arc that closed out Busiek's run on AVENGERS. To your point about wondering where the X-Men were, my biggest complaint (aside from some inconsistent art) with it is that it occurred during the Jemas/Quesada era when they considered continuity (big C or little C) a bad word and every little family of titles was intensely siloed. So you had this big, sweeping, epic story involving Kang taking over the planet (he razed DC to the ground at one point!) in AVENGERS and it was referenced nowhere else in any other books. I'm not even saying turning it into a 50 part event like they would have done had it come out ten years later is the solution, but something more akin to the "Surtur War" would have been nice, something which acknowledged the story took place in, you know, a shared universe with other superheroes who would probably notice when a super-villain and his army conquered the planet.

      CIVIL WAR and the event craze it reignited has its problems, but it was so damned refreshing to see the Marvel Universe functioning as a *shared narrative universe* again after the Jemas years.

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    6. I hated the lack of continuity during that time. I wasn't reading Busiek's Avengers but the same thing happened at the end of Morrison's Planet X arc where Magneto essentially trashed New York and somehow this wasn't a thing anywhere but in New X-Men. You would think Daredevil and Spider-Man might have noticed that New York was almost obliterated.

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  5. Here are other storylines they could have resolved with Onslaught/Hero's Reborn:

    Spider-Man Clone Saga - Send Ben Reilly into Onslaught and let him be the Spider-Man of the other universe. He doesn't need his own book, but he's there.

    Ultraforce line of books were just about to end as Hero's Reborn was happening. Onslaught opened a rift to other dimensions and these Ultraforce Hero's came into our world and sacrificed themselves - easily brings back Black Knight, Sienna Blaze, Juggernaut, and Reaper back into the MCU.

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    1. Scott, I somehow never thought about it, but sending Ben into Onslaught would've worked great! It gives him the noble death the writers wanted to send him out with, and it gives Peter a reason to become Spider-Man again -- plus, it keeps Ben around on Counter-Earth and gives him chances to pop up now and then whenever that world is revisited (as it was a few times in THUNDERBOLTS).

      I wonder if Marvel ever considered this. I know they were already heading toward the end of the Clone Saga and had plotted out, more or less, what would happen, so it probably would've interfered with their plans, but still. I like it!

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  6. I bought the Heroes Reborn stuff because Jim Lee was involved and it was made perfectly clear in the first issue of Fantastic Four that these were the 616 heroes without their memories so I knew right then and there and this wasn't an actual reboot but just a storyline with an end end date. It was especially clear by the sixth issue of Captain America (if not sooner) that they were in a bubble dimension.

    I also remember that Liefeld didn't leave his books willingly. I don't remember the reasons specifically Liefeld was fired but it lead to him doing that Fighting American series that got him sued by Marvel.

    As for this issue, it does had some great cheer worthy moments and it feels monumental enough to sell it as "The End" for the affected heroes. I feel like this is the kind of climax to a big crossover that we don't just get anymore. Marvel's events from House of M to current day usually boil down to a handful of the same heroes solving the conflict in an almost anticlimactic fashion. In fact, most of these big events seem less like stories themselves rather than just set up for the new status quo Marvel wants to push forward.

    I really liked the X-Men comics coming out of this event, however, and I'm looking forward to revisiting them.

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  7. Do you plan on reviewing "Onslaught: Epilogue"? I didnt see it on the review schedule. I fondly remember reading it. Dealt with Xavier and Bastion stuff to start the buildup for Zero Tolerance.

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    1. I will be reviewing it, but because Marvel, in all their infinite wisdom, released it several months after the end of "Onslaught" and its immediate aftermath issues, I won't be getting to it until the back half of this year (when I review the issues published in December '96).

      Though as you say, it really is more of an OZT setup issues than an "Onslaught" epilogue, so maybe it's less the publishing time that's inaccurate and more the title. :)

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  8. What happened with Hulk when the heroes returned? Did Hulk and Banner converge together? Or was there more than one Hulk running around? Did Heroes Reborn Hulk stay in the pocket universe?

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  9. ...
    Well, I enjoyed the Willie Lumpkin cameo.

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