WARNING: This article contains spoilers for History of the Marvel Universe #5, by Mark Waid, Javier Rodriguez, Alvaro Lopez, VC's Joe Caramagna and Carlos Lao, on sale now.
While it's almost impossible to imagine now, the Avengers used to be the B-listers of the Marvel Universe. In an era when the X-Men and Spider-Man and violent heroes like Ghost Rider and the Punisher dominated, the classic Marvel heroes of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four simply fell out of style.
After one particularly brutal battle, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four were exiled to the Heroes Reborn universe, an alternate world where they were rebooted in the late '90s. Although the Heroes Reborn era only lasted for a year, it's still one of Marvel's most infamous periods, and it quietly laid the groundwork for Marvel's cultural dominance.
As that era comes up in the ongoing discussion between Galactus and Franklin Richards at the end of time, History of the Marvel Universe #5 cements how important Heroes Reborn was inside the Marvel Universe too.
When he was a child, Franklin used his reality warping powers to create the Heroes Reborn world to save his parents in the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. This issue affirms how that was the moment when the all-powerful Celestials realized that Franklin was one of Marvel's most powerful characters.
The Avengers and the Fantastic Four seemingly sacrificed themselves to defeat the powerful villain Onslaught, the living embodiment of Professor Xavier and Magneto's dark sides. However, an adolescent Franklin Richards created a pocket universe where characters like Iron Man and the Fantastic Four were reimagined for the modern age.
In reality, Marvel gave control of those heroes to Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld, two superstar artists who left Marvel to form Image Comics a few years earlier. For one year, Avengers, Captain America, Fantastic Four and Iron Man were revamped to highlight the energetic, action-centric storytelling of the era in a move that drew heavy criticism, which persists to this day.
After just over a year, the world of Heroes Reborn ended in Peter David and Salvador Larroca's Heroes Reborn: The Return. In that miniseries, the Celestials who laid the foundations of the Marvel Universe realized that Franklin had created his own universe. Although the angry Celestials wanted him to destroy his pocket reality, they relented when he brought the Avengers and the Fantastic Four back to the main Marvel Universe. But as the adult Franklin tells Galactus, he thinks that the Celestials were simply jealous of his limitless potential to create new worlds.
In a miniseries that's tasked with condensing 80 years of Marvel history into a few issues, highlighting such a divisive, often mocked era and its largely forgotten conclusion might seem like an odd choice. However, the mere mention of it reinforces that era's importance in Marvel history. Even if the endeavor interrupted Mark Waid and Ron Garney's acclaimed run on Captain America, Heroes Reborn and the Heroes Return comics that followed it proved that the Avengers could still be a sustained commercial force that inspired passionate responses from Marvel fans.
Behind the scenes, Heroes Reborn set a template for the Marvel Knights imprint, where characters like Daredevil and the Punisher were forever redefined under the editorial watch of then-outside creators Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti. Heroes Reborn also set a precedent for rebooting characters that was greatly expanded on a few years later with Marvel's wildly-successful Ultimate Universe.
With all of that in mind, Heroes Reborn is one of the many dominoes that led to the eventual creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In the same way that Heroes Reborn hinted at Franklin Richards' untapped potential, it began to reveal at the untapped potential of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four in the modern age. While the potential of the Avengers has been thoroughly explored and realized over the past decade, the truly unimaginable potential of Franklin's powers has still only really been revealed in a few jaw-dropping moments.
While Franklin has only used that level of power irregularly since then, History of the Marvel Universe seems to be setting him up to have a major role in building whatever comes after the end of time. Fortunately for him, Heroes Reborn gave him plenty of experience in creating his own Marvel Universe.