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A Year of Cool Comics – Day 259

Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the comics posted so far!

Today we take a look at Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme maxi-series, which was drawn by a variety of artists, most notably Bob Hall (who penciled half of the series), Paul Ryan (who penciled the last four issues), John Beatty and Sam De La Rosa…

Enjoy!

The basic concept behind Squadron Supreme is “What would happen if the world’s greatest heroes decided to cure all of society’s problems?”

To show his take on how this would happen, Mark Gruenwald decided to use the Justice League analogues from the pages of the Avengers, the Squadron Supreme.

The series opens up with the team reeling from the effects of a recent storyline where a bad guy took control of the Squadron’s world. The key here is that Gruenwald decides to ask, “What would REALLY happen after something like that?” as we have seen plenty of occasions where bad guys take control of the world through brainwashing in the Marvel Universe (Doom has done it at least twice) and when it is over everything goes back to normal. Gruenwald takes a different approach…

Ultimately, Hyperion is convinced that they must use their powers to cure society and make it a utopia!

Nighthawk and Amphibian vote against it, but only Nighthawk seems to have a strong stance against the idea…

Ultimately, Nighthawk resigns his Presidency and then plans to kill Hyperion with a bullet that works like Kryptonite to Superman for Hyperion.

He cannot do it.

The art for that issue was done by Bob Hall and John Beatty. Beatty has a really nice, dark edge to it.

As the series goes on, we basically get treated to the perfect examples for “power corrupts,” as the Squadron decides to use “behavior modification” machines to make their enemies into members of the Squadron. Golden Archer, however, uses the device to keep his girlfriend, Lady Lark, from breaking up with him…

Amphibian destroys the machines in disgust (he had voted against using them) and quits the team…

Nighthawk’s plan to stop the Squadron makes up most of the major plot of the last half of the series, culminating in an absolutely brutal final issue.

These types of stories can be pretty rough, but when you’re dealing with characters who weren’t really being used much ANYways, I don’t have a problem with Gruenwald using them to tell his dark story. It’s a well-told tale, fully using its 12 issues-worth of story.

It’s interesting to note that this series began BEFORE Watchmen, so Gruenwald was really working in some uncharted waters with this series. As you might know already, Gruenwald was so pleased with this series that when he died, he asked that his ashes be mixed with the first printing of the trade paperback collection of the series.

21 Comments

An all-time classic story.

Ah, and better than Watchmen.

I particularly like the way that a standard plot device — villain brainwashes the planet — is used here to show how much things would really be screwed up.

I’d say this is a better superhero story than Watchmen, but Watchmen is a far better and more sophisticated piece of fiction and comics storytelling.

Watchmen is primarily interested in how superheroes would work amid “real-world” politics, psychology, and society, and its answer is that they wouldn’t, really. It’s about how a superhuman or costumed vigilante might exist in a non-genre-based model of reality: you can get a gritty, black-and-white urban vigilante, sure, but the guy’d hav to be as screwed up as Rorschach. You can have your super-genius hero out to save the world, but faced with real concerns he’d rather quickly give up on the standard “patrol for crime” idea. And you can even have your nigh-omnipotent post-human champion, but he’s gonna be painfully aware of his own distance and difference from humankind.

Squadron Supreme, on the other hand, doesn’t strip away any of the genre rules and conventions other than the one that requires that the status quo always snaps back at the end of the story. The characters behave like genre superheroes and supervillains, from their powers to their psychologies. A lot of what the Squadron does, in fact, is pretty standard-issue Silver Age superhero utopianism, the sort once offered up as an attractive, even “wholesome” fantasy.

Remember the famous “Superman Blue/Superman Red” Imaginary Story, where the superintelligent Supermen give everyone a perfectly happy outcome and fix all the universe’s problems? They do it by hypnotizing everyone in the world to refuse to commit crimes. That’s all the Squadron does here, but here, the longer-term consequences of such technology and methods plays out. Similarly, the brutal battle Brian alludes to is simply a standard superhero battle full of super-power tricks and gimmicky strategies…but the effects of being in such a fight, even in terms of the “superhero physics” that Watchmen eschews, aren’t simply ignored this time.

Watchmen is about how our world wouldn’t allow superheroes to be champions of unalloyed good, or even functional human beings. So far as superheroes go, its primary insight is that reality and fantasy don’t operate in similar ways. Of course, that’s a foregone conclusion; if they did, who’d need fantasy? But really, that’s not Watchmen‘s real interest so much as is the larger problem that people think in terms of fantasy more often han they should in general. The superhero genre’s model of fantasy is just one of many that Moore and Gibbons take on.

Squadron Supreme is about the way beings of unalloyed good who are functional human beings by superhero genre standards still end up doing tremendous harm and crossing ethical lines. The naive utopianism of the Silver Age doesn’t even work on its own terms in Squadron Supreme, and on that level, it may even be a more trenchant critique of the genre than the otherwise superior Watchmen.

I wonder how opinions of the two series would be different if they had swapped art teams.

I’ve always like Bob Hall’s art.

I’ve always loved this series, and I’m glad to know it was one of Gruenwald’s favorites of his own work. He set out to do something quite different than most comics of the time, and succeeded wonderfully.

One quibble, though: when mentioning the artists, you neglected to mention Paul Ryan, who did a significant number of issues of the series (and one of my favorite underappreciated artists).

Nah, that’s fair – I miscounted Ryan’s issues. He drew more than I figured. Definitely worth mentioning.

This is a great series. Definitely needs to go on eht re-read pile for me.

I think SS is an interesting story and was groundbreaking in its way, but the overall execution suffers from weak dialogue and pedestrian art.

Oddly, this series keeps popping up in the world, and my imagination.
I really need to get a copy, but all the editions I find are waay to costly, or just messed up.

Hoewever I did just luckily find the fist issue in a 50 cent box!
Want to go back there, and try looking for the rest.

yupyupyup

This is the one with Gruenwald’s ashes, right?

Oh, sorry, didn’t read the last line.

One of my all-time favorites.

Good analysis, Omar.

This is one of the best limited series ever, IMHO. I’d put it just behind WATCHMEN and DARK KNIGHT RETURNS…on a par with series like BATMAN: YEAR ONE.

It’s available in a trade paperback now, so get it:

http://www.amazon.com/Squadron-Supreme-Mark-Gruenwald/dp/078510576X

Also get the “Death of a Universe” graphic novel. It serves as an epilogue and is just as good.

P.S. More Gruenwald!

If you’re comparing on anything remotely resembling an objective criteria for quality, in terms of technique, form, characterization, dialogue, art, etc, then this gets pounded into the dust by Watchmen.

However, it’s well-done for what it is and stands out in its era as a pretty solid “elseworlds” type comic.

For those of you having trouble finding a collected edition, the original issues are pretty affordable… I snagged them all from a fairly well-known used comics website, for cheaper than the TPB would’ve been!

However you get the series…GRAB IT!

John Buscema Fan Alert – he draws #7, the beginning of the Hyperion/Master Menace/Hyperion clone saga…or did you really forget about the Squadron Sinister?

I slightly ashamed to say that I still haven’t read this particular story, that’s something I’ll have to fix very soon.

Even though I’m usually a total “writing trumps art” type of comics fan, I have to say that the art is the main thing (though not the only thing ) that holds it back from being the Watchmen-challenger a lot of people hold it up to be.
The lack of a single artist through the whole project (I won’t even bring up the whole “not Dave Gibbons” thing), the art not being as integral to the way the whole thing “works” as that of Watchmen, and the clear enforced quality compromises made to accommodate the crappy printing Marvel was using at the time are just a few of the factors that make this merely an interesting, but relatively crude precursor to the more carefully crafted, and, sorry, justifiably more acclaimed Watchmen.

Hey, Jack – see the Nick Fury LMD lately?

Bob Hall began the series with some of his strongest stuff, and John Beatty’s inks rounded out some of his stiffer poses; then who knows what gave? Sam De La Rosa took over on inks, then #6 introduced us to the stunning pencils of Paul Ryan. John Buscema was drafted for the first part of the Zarda love triangle [I've been waiting to type that phrase!], then we got Bob’s swan song. Paul Ryan finished up the series strong, in my opinion. You saw how strong the synergy was that existed between Mark and Paul; we’d see it for 32 issues of DP7.

If Paul had begun the series with Mark, I’d dare say that Marvel would have scooped DC – we’d all be referring to Squadron Supreme-like stories, rather than to Watchmen.

Thanks for including this story in your Year of Cool Comics. I loved this series and recall vividly that, although it didn’t get the global buzz that Watchmen would receive, many who read it at the time claimed that it was the best JLA story in years!!! The super group utopian idea has been revisited in Stormwatch and The Authority among others but Gruenwald did a great job of mixing that theme with good old fashioned comics! Many highlights occured in the 12 issues and don’t forget the crossover in Captain America which was a loving homage to the golden age Batman! Hmm, I think I’ll dig up my back issues and read it again myself!

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