It all started as an injoke.
Then became something far bigger and far better and far badasser.
It’s called the Squadron Supreme and it is Marvel’s version of the DC’s Justice League. Or something like that.
Waaaay back in the 1970’s or so, Marvel Comics decided to have abit of fun with their Distinguished Competition DC Comics and, over the course of several years in several different comics, introduce an alternate Earth filled with replicates of Superman and Batman and such. Besides similar origins, they also sported motifs and themes related very heavily to the source material.
So Superman was Hyperion, Batman was Nighthawk, Wonder Woman was Power Princess, Lex Luther was Master Menace, and you get the picture. And instead of being bald, Master Menace had too much unruly hair, all the fault of Hyperion.
For years these characters bumped along from place to place and storyline to storyline until in the Defenders comic their Earth’s United States was devastated by an alien invader. The villain was defeated and the Squadron headed back to their Earth. End of story.
But it wasn’t. Legendary writer Mark Gruenwald saw this as an opportunity to do a pet project of his. What if superheroes tried to run the country?
This led to the twelve part Squadron Supreme maxi series where Gruenwald dealt with real world issues, complex characters, constantly changing dynamics, and several deep philosophical discussions. And a bunch of nasty battles as well along the way. Someday I plan to reread this one again and do a review of all its glories.
Some years after the series, Gruenwald returned to the Squadron with a graphic novel called Death Of A Universe. This became his final full voice on these characters as he passed away some years later.
This collection starts with that story, as the Squadron Supreme, merely a week after the series ended, face a looming deadline of an impossible to fight foe intent on destroying everything. And in typical Gruenwald fashion, we see complex issues and interesting characterizations flow smoothly from page to page. Oh, and fascinating ways to die, which seems to be a hallmark of his as well.
With a surprise ending and an even newer status quo formed around them, the Squadron Supreme is ready to keep fighting the good fight.
Unfortunately, they are exiled into Gruenwald’s Quasar series, where they did not much of anything for quite awhile. This collection skips those non events entirely.
A look at the old pre-Gruenwald version of the team is showcased with an issue of Thor. It is… of its time and interesting to get a taste of what came before.
They then pick up the current flow in the Avengers comic, the run by Kurt Busiek and George Perez, where momentum finally happens again with these characters. But it does take awhile. They fall back on the old trope of the Squadron being mind controlled, which has been really really overused, and shove another Squadron Supreme versus the Avengers fight down our throats. I had heard this was a celebrated run of this series, but I cannot fathom why since it feels so repetitive in every way.
That story leads directly to the Squadron Supreme New World Order mini series, where our heroes finally return to their proper universe. But of course, during the time they were gone, what they built went to hell and became corrupted.
Writer Len Kaminski picks up the heavy mantle of Gruenwald and runs with it with very very capably. How would the country react when a power vacuum is created with the authority vanished? Other factions pop up and seize and fight for control. Kaminski is so good at channeling Greunwald, and still manage to put his own stamp on it, that I really wish Marvel had continued on this track with the Squadron. When you see some of the new directions taken with say, Amphibian, who is Aquaman, and how a surprise character is made into the Phantom Stranger.
My understanding is that this was the end of the line of this incarnation of the Squadron Supreme. The whole things was rebooted some years back and never really completed. Not to sound like a grumpy old codger that I am, and someday I might even read the shiny new version and like it, but I do wonder why Marvel took the DC radical surgery route, especially on a series that did not need it.
I always recommend Squadron Supreme to people who want comics with a meaty philosophical edge. Gruenwald took a mild giggly idea and made into a history making series that so many know nothing about.
This collection is a good step to rectifying that.
…is currently reading The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler