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Welcome to the five hundred and fifty-eighth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the first five hundred (I actually haven’t been able to update it in a while). This week, was Marvel’s classic 1980s Squadron Supreme series a mini-series because DC threatened to sue if it became an ongoing? Did Stan Lee really have Dan Adkins swipe Steve Ditko panels for Adkins’ Doctor Strange run? And did Harlan Ellison and John Romita Jr. nearly do a Doctor Strange series together?
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
COMIC LEGEND: Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme was going to be an ongoing series until DC Comics threatened to sue if the series kept going
As I wrote about years ago, Marvel invented the Squadron Supreme for a sort of “crossover” between the Avengers and the Justice League of America, with the Squadron working as stand-ins for the Justice League. The Squadron, though, evolved and expanded and would very often appear in the pages of the Avengers and other Marvel titles (the original Squadron became villains and the Avengers eventually traveled to a universe where GOOD versions of the Squadron Supreme lived – these good versions became longtime allies of the Avengers – one of the villainous Squadron members eventually became the longtime Defender Nighthawk).
Anyhow, in 1985, Mark Gruenwald wrote an ambitious maxi-series that was basically “What if the Justice League decided to fix all of the world’s problems?” Hyperion, the Superman character, explains the plan…
Nighthawk, the Batman of the group, decides he has to kill Hyperion before the plan can go into action. But can he truly kill his friend?
His decision to let things go leads into the rest of the epic 12-issue series examining whether it was RIGHT for superheroes to solve all of the world’s problems and whether that is even POSSIBLE. Nighthawk decides to try to stop his friend and the whole thing ends in tragedy. The remarkably thoughtful series actually predated Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen by a full YEAR! Gruenwald rightly viewed it as his masterpiece, and after he died, his ashes were mixed in with a printing of a trade paperback collection of Squadron Supreme (one of my very first comic book legends way back when).
So, almost eight years ago, reader Ken R. wrote in with the following legend:
Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme series was originally planned to be ongoing, but DC said they would sue Marvel if the published a continuing series featuring characters known to be copies of their characters.
The lawsuit stuff was basically correct, with Gruenwald telling Davis Smay in Amazing Heroes #97, after Smay brought up the Justice League connection:
Well, I guess I am a little sensitive about it because we were threatened with a lawsuit. And somehow we got out of it because the characters had passed beyond the statute of limitations [DC didn’t act when the Squadron Supreme first appeared several years back].
(Generally speaking, the statute of limitations on copyright infringement is three years of the discovery of the infringement – clearly, DC knew about it back in the early 1970s because they were PART of the debut of the Squadron Supreme!)
In that same interview, however, Gruenwald explained the real reason why the series didn’t go past a maxi-series, “I have approval to do a Squadron Supreme one-shot Annual special – double-sized – originally intended as an epilogue. However, there’s not a great demand for a continuation of the series.”
That one-shot presumably evolved into the bleak 1989 graphic novel, Death of a Universe…
So the series was done in by the most evil of villains – low sales.
Thanks to Ken for the question and thanks to the late, great Mark Gruenwald and David Smay for the answers!
Check out some recent entertainment and sports legends from Legends Revealed:
On the next page, the first of back-to-back Doctor Strange legends! Did Stan Lee have Dan Adkins intentionally swipe Steve Ditko’s art for Adkins’ run on Doctor Strange?
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