Heroes Reborn: American Knights #1 Review

by Charles Martin on June 02, 2021

Heroes Reborn: American Knights #1 Review
Writer: Paul Grist
Artist: Chris Allen
Inking assists by: Marc Deering
Colourist: Guru-eFX
Letterer: Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics

I don't read a lot of DC. But because I don't live under a rock, I have no trouble identifying the core premise of this comic: It's Washington D.C. as Gotham, with Nighthawk at his Batman-iest and protagonist Luke Cage filling the Commissioner Gordon role.

Artist Chris Allen has the greatest success bringing this premise to life. He takes a Christopher Nolan approach, granting a little superhero flair to Nighthawk and the red-suited vigilante that bedevils Commissioner Cage while holding to a thoroughly real-world rendition of the city around them. Characters are scrupulously detailed and costumed as though they just stepped off a real street, and the settings behind them are also rigorously believable.

Marc Deering helps out by supplying some extra-heavy shadows for the darker scenes. Guru-eFX also plays a large role in setting the mood, leaning on blues and greens to bring a nighttime city to life. But he does a lot of nice lighting tricks to link the colours to believable sources, further grounding this city in realism.

On the story side of things, author Paul Grist is at his best when he's tweaking familiar faces into new roles in the upside-down world of Heroes Reborn. We get Misty Knight and Jessica Jones as Commissioner Cage's lead detectives.

We also get Matt Murdock as a cleric of the Church of Mephisto. And he is, of course, the vigilante Cage is hunting. There's not a lot of room in this by-the-numbers plot for uncertainty about identities or outcomes. 

Where this comic's script gets interesting is in parsing the morality of its players, and this is where Mr. Grist starts dropping balls. Matt's main motivation for vigilante-ing is to supply the righteous wrath that he feels is missing from his Mephistan faith.

Nighthawk is shown working both sides of the street, maintaining ambiguous relations with both Commissioner Cage and with Turk, who's filling the issue's crime boss role.

And Turk has his own morally shady friends in the D.C. police, calling on a trigger-happy lieutenant to throw a monkey wrench in Cage's investigation.

I think this is our biggest look yet at Mephisto's position in the topsy-turvy world of Heroes Reborn. American Knights is frustrating because it raises more questions than it answers on this score. Matt's priestly and vigilante activities deliver mere hints of how morality works in this AU. Cage only muddies the waters when he mentions in passing that he was raised in a weird fringe cult: Christianity.

Where things get problematic is in this book's shallow meditation on police brutality. Commissioner Cage is committed to enforcing the law as equitably as possible -- when he's not beating information out of jailed suspects. His crooked lieutenant who loves excessive force happens to be white, while the book's criminal cast is overwhelmingly Black.

There would be ample room there to talk about 21st-century American policing in a meaningful, brave way. But between the mixed-up morality of Heroes Reborn and the author's commitment to plowing through his story in action-movie mode, the opportunity to say something of real interest or insight is lost. This universe is a little too alternate and this particular story is a little too shallow to provoke serious thought.

Heroes Reborn: American Knights is most successful when taken as a face-value parody of Batman, with the gritty art and the cinematic dialogue consciously conjuring a Marvelized version of the Nolan trilogy. It scores a few points for Heroes Reborn world-building as well, greatly expanding on Mephisto's sinister role. But a search for substantive thought about the meaning of Heroes Reborn will come up almost empty here. The morality of this AU remains barely investigated, and the opportunity to tie the characters' moral struggles to the real world passes untaken. 

Our Score:


A Look Inside


Charles Martin's picture
This comic has one great moment that drives home the wrongness of Heroes Reborn when it introduces the Church of Mephisto. Coulda used a lot more of that!