What if Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, and the rest of the Avengers cast were forced to take on their roles for real? That is the premise behind the Image series written and illustrated by Bryan Hitch. Though this opening chapter spends the majority of its pages setting up the title’s main premise, it allows readers to familiarize themselves with the ensemble cast.
The issue opens with a painful and emotional sequence from perhaps the most infamous moment in U.S. history: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. To be specific, the attack on the World Trade Center in New York is rendered. Hitch depicts a scene rarely played out in the various fictional and nonfictional accounts of that day – a family watching the events unfold with the knowledge of a loved one at Ground Zero. The purpose of this scene is unclear given the rest of the issue. Even worse, it comes across as a cheap attempt to hook readers in emotionally. Whether or not it plays a larger role in latter installments remains to be seen, but as it stands right now it is a jarring and unnecessary addition to this book.
It’s unfortunate that Hitch felt inclined to open the series with that scene, as the rest of Real Heroes #1 is an engaging read with the potential to outshine much of the superhero fare from the Big Two. Hitch does not shy away from creating a world meant to be our own. Newscasts are on CNN. Movies premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Even up-and-coming director Josh Trank has a cameo as the director of The Olympians – an Avengers analogue that is respectful right down to the matching box-office success. With the inclusion of these details, Hitch creates a world that is familiar and, by extension, welcoming to readers.
Known primarily for his (often stunning) artwork, the script is perhaps the most impressive aspect of the issue. Perhaps because they are based on real-life celebrities, the characters share an authenticity that is easy for readers to buy into. The clear standout is Danny West, who Hitch depicts as a pre-rehab Robert Downey Jr. The parallels between the two are so uncanny that Hitch has an entertainment reporter specifically call out their similarities in a moment of self-aware humor.
Having set up the world and its primary cast, Real Heroes #1 turns everything on its head in a lengthy, bombastic action sequence. What was once a world that resembles reality now has murderous robots and alternate worlds. These are traditional superhero tropes that Hitch has fully embraced instead of casting aside. The potential for where the series goes from here is near limitless, and for that alone this issue is worth picking up.