Hello, my friends. Superhero teams are a good way to find synergy within a group of crime-fighting protectors, but it’s time that I bring in one that has a bit of a Japanese twist. In honor of this particularly gallant gathering celebrating its 20th Anniversary and the fact that its own movie already has a season of animated TV delight under its belt, I think it’s the perfect time to commemorate the occasion as I proudly present…
How this particular team came about in the first place was nothing short of fascinating. Creators Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau (who presently work with Joe Kelly and Joe Casey at Man of Action Studios, which is responsible for Ben 10, Generator Rex, Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers Assemble among other projects) were working together on Alpha Flight, vol. 2. As the team was somewhat referred to as “Canadian X-Men”, they decided to create a light-hearted group and base it off of pop-culture trends from Japan, essentially forming a “Japanese Alpha Flight” as it were. It makes sense that this was an untapped venture at the time, since the late ’90s saw the rise of America’s growing interest in Anime.
First debuting in 1998, they were originally supposed to debut in an issue of Alpha Flight. However, a scheduling conflict delayed that intent and thus the first issue of their three-part mini-series came out first. Written by Scott Lobdell, drawn by Gus Vazquez, inked by Bud Larosa and colored by Leeann Denham, the team’s in-universe creation would be vastly different than how modern audiences came to know.
We open on a shrine commemorating the life of Shiro Yoshida a.k.a. Sunfire. He was hailed as Japan’s greatest hero until he lost control of his powers due to a worldwide EMP blast from Magneto. As a result, the Japanese government imprisoned him and even placed a power-dampening collar on his neck. Sometime later, his cousin named Kenichio Harada a.k.a. Silver Samurai found out and teamed up with Wolverine to break him out. Afterwards, Logan tells Shiro to head towards Canada’s Department H in order to get help in controlling his powers. After rigorous tests, he was told that his own solar flames have given him radiation poisoning, especially since he discovered a malignant mark on his right side. Through time, it had grown to cover the entire right half of his body. Many years later, he’s supposedly dead as a young boy named Hiro Takachiho pays his respects towards his super idol before his personal bodyguard named Baymax tells him that it’s time to head home.
We then cut to the next day as he hilariously yanks a tired Hiro out of bed and into the shower before eventually dropping him off at school. As he heads into school, he and his fellow classmates notice a young woman looking at him from afar before he stumbles his way inside. Later during science class, Hiro presents an oral report on why Sunfire shouldn’t be entirely blamed for his powers flaring up uncontrollably. Afterwards, his teacher informs him that the superintendent wishes to speak to him.
As he arrives in the office, the door behind him suddenly slams shut as he finds someone else in place of Superintendent Roshi. As he summons Baymax for help, the man lets him know that the proper supervisor is unharmed before revealing himself to be Silver Samurai. After Baymax arrives, Harada proceeds to inform them on the nature of this meeting. Using a hologram, he explains that there are plenty of superhero teams in the United States, yet there’s hardly any outside of the country. While Canada has Alpha Fight and Russia as the Soviet Super Soldiers, Japan doesn’t have a team to call their own. As such, he extends “a very sacred and honored invitation” towards the boy into joining “a potential operative” towards helping their country’s people. However, Hiro turns the offer down explaining that he’s only an intelligent youth and that his mother should have been asked first. Kenichio says that he did so but was also shot down as the lad takes his leave.
Later on at his home, Hiro learns from his mother as to why she declined the offer for her son to join Big Hero 6. Even though she and her deceased husband would have been proud of him serving for the greater good of their country, they want him to live his childhood. Shortly after he’s been laid down to sleep, Hiro suddenly gets an alarm as he springs out of bed and opens up a hidden monitor. He tells Baymax that his Bio-Atomic Parcel Detector has picked up a particular signal as he discovers that “he” has been found. We then shift over to the Giri Corporation as Mr. Oshima scolds Silver Samurai for not being able to recruit Hiro, especially since he had to do a lot of convincing to the board in order to have a former mutant villain be placed as team leader. After he takes his leave, fellow teammate Leiko Tanaka a.k.a. GoGo Tomago voices her hatred towards Oshima and chastises Kenichio for being an easy pushover to him while Aiko Miyazaki a.k.a. Honey Lemon criticizes her poor attitude.
Over at an abandoned monastery within the Quonon Province, Hiro and Baymax are searching through the ravaged building for their specific target. Suddenly, they’re confronted by his childhood hero as his B-APD turned out to have a successful read. However, Sunfire exclaims that he didn’t want to be found as he reveals what has become of his body before telling Hiro that his own powers are slowly killing him. As Baymax restrains the unbelieving lad, Shiro inadvertently unleashes a sudden burst of flames in an attempted gesture. Because he’s programmed to protect Hiro, Baymax transforms into a battle-dragon creature. Before he and Sunfire can fight each other, Hiro struggles to break up the scuffle.
Just then, Silver Samurai and his female compatriots arrive. GoGo Tomago proceeds to coils up to form an energy ball around her body as she launches herself at Sunfire before dragging Hiro away. Afterwards, Honey Lemon pulls a radioactive dampening blanket out of her Power Purse and throws it at Shiro which proceeds to wrap itself around him. By the time Sunfire manages to free himself, Harada holds him at blade point in order to bring his cousin in to his superiors. Just then, Hiro breaks free from Leiko’s grasp just as Shiro unleashes his atomic flames. Fortunately, he demonstrated enough control and precision to leave the team unharmed.
As he tells them to leave him alone, he coughs and keels over. Hiro tries to convince him to return with Big Hero 6 in order to have their scientists try to find a cure for him, to which Sunfire says that he spent the last several months at Department H before being told that there wasn’t a cure. He came back to Japan in order to live out his remaining days and mentions that he has “no true home to speak of” since no one was around to greet him upon his return. In the end, he agrees to go but wishes to die as Shiro Yoshida and not as a hero. Later, Hiro and Baymax arrive back at home as the lad finds it sad to see his heroic idol reduced to a hopeless husk, but he’s still glad that he agreed to return with Big Hero 6. After Baymax transforms back into his humanoid form, they head inside as Hiro suddenly smells some burning. He’s shocked to discover his mom disintegrated as he and Baymax see their astral culprit. As such, Issue 1 ends with a ghostly figure named Everwraith proclaiming that Hiro will now work for him.
As Issue 2 opens on Hiro’s narration about what a man thinks about during their final day of living, Sunfire is being scanned by physicians with Honey Lemon by his side. He’s informed that because of his fluctuating powers, Shiro’s cellular structure is in a degenerative state. As Aiko confesses that he’s been an inspiration to her, Sunfire shoots that notion down since he believes that the public only saw him as a glorified hero, but he’s still a man who fulfilled a responsibility to his country. However, he doesn’t see his acts as anything that the people should admire or emulate.
The physicians then try to calm him down since they don’t see his conversation as helpful. In his rage, Shiro flares up yet only melts the plexi-steel observation window just enough so that they can’t see him talking to Honey Lemon. He explains that after his Department H experience, he doesn’t trust governmental organizations. Aiko wonders why since those same physicians were only trying to help despite diagnosing his condition, to which Sunfire rebukes by stating that it was those same people who told him he was dying. Suddenly, the security alarm goes off as it turns out that Hiro & Baymax have broken in and are confronted by Giri’s security team. Fortunately, he came equipped with an EMP gun which makes their handguns malfunction by disabling their firing mechanisms. He then heads over to a computer console to retrieve some important details while Baymax holds off the guards.
Just then, he’s confronted by the Silver Samurai as they try to tell him that while he and Hiro are still declining the offer to join Big Hero 6, they don’t have the time to properly explain their situation. From there, they engage each other in a brawl before Harada knocks him out. Fortunately for Hiro, he’s able to take advantage of Kenuichio’s concern over his fallen foe as he’s almost downloading his targeted information. However, GoGo Tomago arrives to stop him. Fortunately, Hiro tells them that he needs their superheroic help in saving his mother.
Overseeing this through security cameras, Oshima finds it odd that the same kid who turned them down has now returned in need of their assistance. However, he understands Hiro’s high-level intelligence as a major reason for his Giri Superiors’ interest in him as he hopes that Big Hero 6 can properly function. Over in Tokyo, Everwraith talks about how Japan has risen since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to become “a better empire” as he reveals that he’s a collection of the deceased citizens. However, he hates how the Japanese civilians have become complacent as he looks to bring Japan into its “next great era”. He tells his hostage (who turns out the be Hiro’s still-living mother) that she, her son and Sunfire will help usher in this new age with a vengeance.
Back at the Giri Corporation, Hiro and a de-powered Baymax are in the interrogation room as he’s confronted by the rest of Big Hero 6. He ask for a glass of water as Honey Lemon conjures one up within her Power Purse and fulfills his request. Afterwards, he informs the team about his recent encounter with Everwraith who teleported his mother away. He’s been ordered by their foe that he has to bring Sunfire to him if he ever wishes to see her again. However, Harada and Leiko tells him that they’re unable to fulfill his request. As such, Hiro dumps his water into Baymax which actually powers him up and has him fending off his teammates. As Oshima expresses his disappointment with how dysfunctional his team has become, Hiro notices and lets off his attack.
After learning about Shiro and how his powers have affected him, Oshima arrives to let Hiro in and see his heroic idol but with a dour look. The lad is rightfully shocked to see Sunfire lying ill on a bed. Despite being properly informed by Oshima, Shiro says that he doesn’t have long to live as he thanks Hiro for always believing in him. The lad tearfully doesn’t want him to die since he proclaims him as “the very heart of all Japan”, but Sunfire only apologizes. Afterwards, Hiro gathers himself and says that he’ll persevere despite being disappointed with his hero as he takes his leave. As such, Issue 2 ends with Hiro’s book-ending narration while Shiro wretches in pain.
Issue 3 opens with our five heroes confronting Everwraith as Silver Samurai orders his team to hold up from attacking since they must fully understand what they’re up against. However, GoGo Tomago launches herself at their foe as Everwraith stops her forward motion and flings her back. Honey Lemon is able to save her teammate as she pulls a net out of her Power Purse and catches her. With Everwraith looking to kill our heroes, Baymax begins to retreat with Hiro in his grasp in order to protect him. The lad tells him that there may not be anywhere left to run to by the end and they won’t be able to save his mother as he convinces his guardian to stay.
Back on the battlefield, Silver Samurai demands to know how his foe acquired his powers as Everwraith simply explains that he’s the embodiment of every past, present and future Japanese citizen. As such, Harada tells his teammates to retreat as Hiro narrates about a single look from Kenichio which gave him a strong feeling that the Giri Corporation made the right choice on choosing the team’s leader. From there, Silver Samurai forms a tachyon field on his katana blade and lunges at his foe, slicing the transparent adversary apart. Afterwards, he addresses his teammates about their victory when Everwraith suddenly recovers and phases through him. After knocking Harada out and demanding a new challenger to step forth while claiming that he can’t be destroyed, everyone gets a huge surprise as Sunfire arrives and forms some atomic flames around his teammates in order to protect them.
When he finds out that they haven’t learned about their foe’s motivation, he proceeds to ask Everwraith himself. After stating how glad he is that someone finally got around to asking him, he begins to explain about himself. During America’s bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the end of World War II, the various souls of annihilated Japanese gathered together to form Everwraith. He then spent the next several decades planning to strike back on the United States before he had a realization in that the bombings has made Japan stronger. As such, he looks to commit this same level of genocide upon the land again. He then reveals how he’ll accomplish this goal by firing some necto-plasmic energy at some billboards which hid some specialized solar panels while also revealing that Hiro’s mom is still alive to our heroes. The final shot manages to hit Sunfire as Everwraith explains that he’s using Shiro’s power to ultimately create a “cleansing rain of flame” in order to “purify” Japan.
As Silver Samurai becomes frustrated with Big Hero 6’s first foe being nigh-impossible to defeat, Honey Lemon begs to differ as she pulls some raw necroplasmic energy out of her Power Purse. From there, Hiro steps in to plan out their attack. Harada & Aiko will take on Everwraith, GoGo Tomago will take out the solar panels and Baymax will rescue his mother. With their game plan set, Big Hero 6 springs into action as Honey Lemon throws the necroplasma onto Everwraith, thus allowing her and Silver Samurai to physically harm him. Meanwhile, Leiko bounces around and tries to take out the panels. However, Everwraith had built them to withstand her energy strikes. Despite that, she gets back into action. Over with Baymax, he’s climbing the building when he notices Hiro getting too close to a flaming Sunfire. Despite his internal programming telling him to save his creator, he remembers what’s more important at the moment and continues with his rescue mission.
While the necroplasmic energy starts to fade from Everwraith’s astral form, Shiro tells Hiro to maintain some distance from him since he’s having trouble holding back his power. However, the lad tells him to cut loose as he explains that he saw the body scans and that the bio-kinetic charge was actually the treatment he got from Department H. Realizing that he was misinformed and lied to about his medical condition, he uses his injected energy to break free from Everwraith’s control. However, the solar panels are still a threat to Japan as he tells his teammates that he’ll be able to take those devices out, but “as a cost”. He won’t be able to protect his teammates from the intense heat, but they’re not able to evacuate in time. After getting the respect of his comrades with Silver Samurai telling him to “do what he must”, Sunfire flies up and seemingly envelopes Tokyo with his atomic flame. As Hiro points out in his narration, he focuses his blasts onto the solar panels as Everwraith ends up perishing in the heatwave.
With the day being saved, we cut to sometime later as Mr. Okishima meets with Harada to praise the team for saving the civilians from harm while expressing some concern for their “techniques”. Fortunately, Kenichio says that if given the chance, Big Hero 6 can “bring much honor” to Japan. With Sunfire seemingly obliterated in his own blast, Okishima assigns Harada with finding a new teammate to fulfill the vacant sixth spot on the team. Afterwards, he heads back to the Giri Corporation where Hiro, Leiko and Aiko are in a shrine in memory of their fallen teammate. GoGo mentions in a rude comment that Honey Lemon actually pulled out a military humvee in order to shield her teammates from the blast. Aiko has to remove her from the room before letting Hiro know that “things get better” as she kisses his forehead and leaves with her teammates. Afterwards, Shiro emerges as it turns out that he faked his own death with his self-sacrifice. He tells Hiro that he’ll sneak back to Canada’s Department H in order to learn about the bio-kinetic energy in his body and why they lied to him about his condition. And so, the series ends with Hiro reminding him that he’ll always be in his thoughts as they share an embrace.
Believe it or not, Big Hero 6 was originally meant to debut in a second volume issue of Alpha Flight (given how they were created). As I mentioned earlier, a scheduling conflict prevented the team from debuting here. By the time Alpha Flight #17 finally rolled around (with the original creators, Steven T. Seagle & Duncan Rouleau, actually working on the story’s plot as Seagle works as the writer while Rouleau handles pencil duties), it appears to have been retooled as a sort of follow-up tale. Because this is in another book, I’ll try to keep this as slim of a recap as possible by only talking about what mainly happens to our featured team.
Ever since the original three-part story, Big Hero 6 has gotten its own unique headquarters within an amusement park called Cool World while Hiro now wears a technological flight suit. Suddenly, they’re attacked by a giant transforming monster called X The Unknowable. As the five heroes struggle to fend it off, Hiro says that they must contact Sunfire for help. As such, Honey Lemon takes out a giant phone from her Power Purse to call him up.
Meanwhile, Shiro bursts into Department H and confronts Alpha Flight as he demands them to bring him Dr. Huxley so that he can get a proper explanation for why he was lied about his medical condition. A team representative named Mr. Gentry tells him that the project he was previously under is no longer active here since he made sure to purge this facility of General Clarke’s sins ever since. Even with Alpha Flight backing him up, Sunfire doesn’t entirely believe them due to his tortured past. Suddenly, he actually picks up Honey Lemon’s incoming call as it turns out that his costume has a uni-directional communication projector. After she tells him to return to Japan in order to help combat a giant monster, Shiro leaves to take care of the situation but warns Alpha Flight that he’ll return to get the answers to his questions. Later, Gentry meets up with Huxley who was actually in the compound the whole time as he informs him of Sunfire’s claim. The doctor explains that he did expose Shiro to a “bio-restorative energy source” called Zero Fluid which gave Sunfire great power, but he couldn’t do much with him since his program was shut down. When Gentry asks on the worst possible state that Shiro could end up in, Huxley replies with the fact that Japan’s champion could quite possibly explode.
Later, Sunfire is flying back to Japan as he correctly assumes that Alpha Flight is following him. He flies so fast however that they’re not able to catch up and keep pace with him. Sometime later, they arrive at Cool World as Big Hero 6 is cleaning up the collateral damage left over from the fight against X. As Alpha Flight lands, we learn that Aiko got her codename from a similarly named TV show while Silver Samurai personally doubts about being second-fiddle in the eyes of Hiro. Alpha Flight’s leader named Guardian tells our heroes that they’re looking for Shiro, but Harada says that their teammate hasn’t returned. Despite that, Alpha Flight offers to help them with victims who’re injured and/or trapped under rubble. During the process, Hiro gets excited over meeting the Alpha Flight teammates before he and Baymax strike up a conversation with the designated man-bot.
During the operation, GoGo Tomago and Vindicator discover a group of kids who hid in the Haunted Pagoda during the attack since one of them named Tomi promised to show them “his monster”. When Hiro joins in, it turns out that the kid had heard of a man who wrote & drew the famous monster named X and that inspired him to draw the creature himself. The sketches show X attacking Cool World and doing other lethal activities as Guardian and Silver Samurai look at the drawings for themselves. Guardian thinks that Tomi is somewhat psychic as he suggests that they send one team to investigate the possible attack sights while another team tries to find Sunfire. While Harada joins Vindicator, Puck and Man-Bot as they venture towards a nearby nuclear power plant, Hiro and Honey Lemon join Guardian in an aerial pursuit of the monster. Guardian wonders how X could have possibly eluded them, to which Hiro explains that the beast could have shape-shipped into a human and escaped before turning back into a monster. Baymax rejoins them after Hiro had him scan Tomi’s story as well as his drawings before the giant footprints leading away from Cool World suddenly end. Just then, Baymax informs the group that the boy had X walk backwards from Tokyo as it turns out that the monster has returned to Mt. Fuji, prompting them to head out to their destination.
Back at Cool World, GoGo Tomago, Radius and Flex were ordered to stay behind in case Sunfire returned. Suddenly, they hear a growing roar as Reiko sees that a stuffed animal resembling the amusement park’s mascot has changed size, realizing that X stayed in the park all along. The monster manages to eat Radius but before GoGo and Flex attempt to save him, X gets blasted as Sunfire arrives and frees Radius before it flies off. It then comes into the sight of Guardian’s group before flying right past them at a fast enough rate where they’re knocked back by the sonicboom. As it makes its way past the power plant, it comes across Silver Samurai’s group as Harada waits for it by the nearby mountain range.
He manages to plunge his sword into the monster’s mouth just as the rest of the heroes arrive to join in. Just then, Sunfire flies in and unleashes his full power while Guardian uses his EMP power to contain the blast. Vindicator even joins in as she manipulates the lava and sends it onto X as they finally bring its rampage to an end. Afterwards, they all wonder if they brought this monster to a permanent end before Hiro looks up Tomi’s drawings. According to the boy’s artwork, X becomes a human being and marries a princess before he tosses them into the lava. As such, the story ends with Sunfire letting everyone know that he’s staying put in Japan since “a hero’s place is with his country”.
To sum up the early days of Big Hero 6, this line-up was fairly interesting. It does establish Hiro’s super-intelligence as a mainstay and while he doesn’t get a technical outfit until his appearance in Alpha Flight, he does present himself as very competent and never displays any sign of worthlessness. As a basic introduction to one of the team’s mainstays, he presents himself as energetic, wide-eyed and optimistic while leaving himself open for future development. Baymax does display an ability to change its size, but also shape-shift between two different forms. Seeing that it could become a dragon-ish creature whenever he and/or Hiro is threatened and is presented as a high-functioning being expertly created by our young genius, it successfully shows off its early usefulness. Honey Lemon and Gogo Tomago don’t get much in terms of major character development, but it’s more than likely that they’ll get fleshed out as future series come along. Despite that minor hiccup, their skill sets are exciting enough to present themselves to the reader, though Aiko is able to outshine Leiko on a consistent basis due to the Tardis-esque infinite space of her Power Purse. Their actual names aren’t presented in either the original mini-series or in the single issue of Alpha Flight, but that’s a moot criticism in hindsight. As for the two X-Men characters that take part in the original team, Silver Samurai has some struggle with his role as team leader while he proves to move past his villainous ways. There’s not much of that present, but that could possibly be that this team and its main concept is being introduced to a general audience. Still, he does his best with what he has to work with and is driven to make the Giri Corporation impressed with him turning over a new leaf and guiding a newly-formed team against a foe that is challenging but not completely impossible right out of the gate. With Sunfire, he’s an honorable and noble protector to his home country until one past battle sent him on a torturous path and I feel for him throughout his journey. While we get an idea as to why Department H screwed him around, Shiro doesn’t necessarily learn this himself nor does he get resolution for this plotline in the present comics that we get here. He also somewhat as a tendency to be a Deus Ex Machina and arrives at just the right time to save the rest of the team and be the one factor that defeats the main foe with an extensive use of his searing atomic flames. Despite all that, these four comics have set a foundation for the team and presents likable characters that can be given further development during their next venture. Venture over to Part 2 where it’s 2008 and the team shapes up to a more familiar roster prior to the House of Mouse’s acquisition of the Big Red M.
Big Hero 6 (created by Steven T. Seagle & Duncan Rouleau) is owned by Marvel Comics.