The Greatest Super-Hero Team of Any World!
Squadron Supreme (September 1985 - August 1986)
Writer: Mark Gruenwald
Penciller(s): Bob Hall/Paul Ryan/John Buscema
Inker(s): John Beatty/Sam DeLaRosa/Joe Rubinstein/Jackson Guice/Keith Williams
This miniseries is writer/editor Mark Gruenwald's Magnum Opus. He challenged many super hero conventions by taking a team of archetypal super heroes living in a world outside the Marvel Universe and allowing them to make global wide-spread changes to society and political.
The Squadron Supreme is the premier super-hero team of a parallel Earth in the Marvel Universe. Interestingly, this super-hero team is a character-for-character match of DC's Justice League of America:
Hyperion = Superman
Nighthawk = Batman
Dr. Spectrum = Green Lantern
Whizzer = Flash
Power Princess = Wonder Woman
Skrullian Skymaster = Martian Manhunter
Amphibian = Aquaman
Nuke = Firestorm
Hawk = Hawkman
Arcanna = Zatanna
Lady Lark = Black Canary
Golden Archer = Green Arrow.
The Squadron Supreme made their first appearance in The Avengers #85. A simple misunderstanding led to an all-out battle. However, once everything was sorted out, these heroes do what comes natural to heroes: they save their worlds.
After a few more appearances in the pages of The Avengers and The Defenders, there was enough fan interest for a 12-issue limited series. The series began in the aftermath of the Squadron Supreme's lowest point in their history. An alien entity known as the Overmind had mentally controlled the Squadron Supreme and used them to subject the planet to his rule. They rebelled against the Overmind and defeated him, but their world was in ruins and its population despised them.
This series is truly Mark Gruenwald's defining work. He delivers a morally complex tale of heroes who decide to take an active role in reshaping society as they see fit. The world is in utter chaos and the Squadron Supreme wants to restore order, especially since they're to blame. The Squadron Supreme's leader, Hyperion, convinces his team that, despite the public's mistrust and hatred, they must "actively pursue solutions to all the world's problems ... abolish war and crime, eliminate poverty and hunger, establish equality among all people, clean up the environment and cure disease."
In short, they set themselves up as nothing less than moral dictators. However, Nighthawk, one of the team's founders, disagrees with Hyperion and believes that humanity must achieve and earn their own utopia and not have one forced upon them. The majority of the Squadron supports Hyperion's Project Utopia. Nighthawk resigns from the team and even considers assassinating Hyperion.
To eliminate crime, the Squadron Supreme sanctions the use of a mind-subversion machine on criminals to change their ways, which also extends to the Squadron's super-villains who are then invited to join the team. This topic sparks a series of debates on the extent of this machine's use and the determination of what behavior should be corrected.
Highlights of this series's subplots include an attempt by the Squadron Supreme's scientific genius Tom Thumb to cure cancer; the manslaughter of a hero who became emotionally unbalanced when he learned that exposure to his powers are what had killed his parents; the disarmament of the United States; and the use of the mind-subversion machine on a fellow teammate by a scorned lover.
The series builds to its climax as Nighthawk, who has joined forces with the Squadron Supreme's mortal enemy, Master Menace, assembles a new team to free the world from this super-hero tyranny. The climax is a dramatic and deadly battle that forever changes the Squadron Supreme.
My biggest complaint is the constant shifting of the art teams. Bob Hall and John Beatty's art in the first couple of issues is well done, if you look past Beatty's heavy inks. There's a switch in inkers and then finally a new art team settled in with issue #9. Issue #7 features a great pencil fill-in by John Buscema and inks by Jackson Guice. I found that, by the end of the series, the Ryan/DeLaRosa art just wasn't at the same level that was set in the early issue. This weaker art detracted from the climatic build up to the last issue. Ryan's pencils aren't as dramatic and his panels aren't focused enough.
The writing is top notch and Gruenwald handles a large roster of characters very well. The series is an enjoyable, thought-provoking read.