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Supreme Power Special Edition #1
posted October 18, 2006
 

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Creators: J. Michael Straczynski, Gary Frank, Jon Sibal, Roy Thomas, John Buscema
Publishing Information: Marvel Comics, Comic Book, 88 pages, $4.99, 2003
Ordering Numbers:

This 2003 superhero comic was purchased for me by a friend at Hi-De-Ho's recent sidewalk sale. A slickly presented dark superhero saga of the '70s school, comics like Supreme Power apply a version of real world logic (more like television series or bestseller book logic) to the fantasy principles of the story, a dramatic take that runs counter to the more upbeat outlook of 1950s superhero cliches. It's still popular in television re-makes, and at the very least lends a veneer of sophistication and allows for some deconstruction of the original material. My memory is that Supreme Power was a very popular comic at the exact moment this came out, enough so the characters are still in play or due for revival sooner rather than later. In fact, the comics was popuar enough the version I have is a "special edition," a way to republish a first issue without republishing. It's a format that adds sketchbook material, a written page or two and two full issues of Roy Thomas-era Avengers as back-up stories, as those old comics feature the characters re-imagined here.

There's a lot that's really odd here, and none of it is the Supreme Power story itself, which is noteworthy only in that becasue the Squadron Supreme characters being used were a pastiche on DC's superheroes, what you basically have is a broody re-working of the DC Comics universe. In this universe, Superman (Hyperion) is provided a (fake) middle American upbringing by a semi-shady American military; Green Lantern (Dr. Spectrum) is a government black-ops guy who uses force of will to overcome his slightly naughty technology, and Batman's an African-American whose parents died in a random, racist incident instead of due to urban crime. You get the idea. As much as you're able to reference all of these pretty well known icon and narrative tropes, watching them turned on their head provides the invested fan a bit of a thrill. Whether or not this all adds up to anything other than riffing on some old comics is something I would have to read a lot more comics to be able to tell. This feels like a superhero show on the F/X network, full of naughty talk and manly bluster. I found it kind of boring.

However, there's tons of weird stuff to be found in the supplementary material. For instance, some of the costume sketch work comes with written material that features a lot of painful, low-level frat humor and even, essentially, a drawing of Wonder Woman's boobies. Ralph Macchio supplies a letter about the team's creation that expresses wonderment as to how Roy Thomas could have thought these characters up, which is sort of like wondering where Eddie Murphy got the Buh-Wheat and Gumby characters he played on Saturday Night Live. The two-part Squadron Supreme story is an even bigger hoot, plucked from the time period where the Lee-Kirby firestorm was starting to fade out and Marvel was settling down from its full-on sprint to more of a marathon-like jog. Expository dialogue is everywhere, which makes for less cinematic but likely very accessible comics. The breakout character is The Vision, which given his largely non-existent role in today's Marvel Universe is a shock to remember that he was once Marvel's answer to Mr. Spock.

John Buscema's art varies in quality from panel to panel, but what you notice is how underrated he was as an action cartoonist. Marvel characters were less all-the-time effective back in the day. They were frequently overwhelmed by a superior foe, and would often get their ass kicked, without the need for an explanation as to how this was possible, no thought given to potential loss of bad-ass status. Buscema does a great job showing really staggering punches and weird, grappling poses, like a panel where Nighthawk is picked up by his arms like a maraschino cherry. The art in general, though, looks like it was done a hundred miles an hour, and it's amazine that the work flows visually at all.