26 Mar 2008

Working The Boxes: SQUADRON SUPREME #1-12

In Working The Boxes we highlight any recent back issue purchases we've found buried in comic boxes or discovered on eBay that we think are worthy of further attention.

By Matt T

It’s rare that, in a single comic, the origins of a whole plethora of others can be seen. Within the twelve issue run of the much-missed Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme, the foundations for many of the JLA, Authority, Avengers and countless other major mainstream comics can be seen. Left with some seemingly unrecoverable continuity and a group of characters that were little more than Justice League proxies, Gruenwald forged a truly remarkable run that transcended the ostensibly predictable origins and created an exceptional piece of work.

First, a little history: Roy Thomas created the Squadron within the pages of the Avengers, with the villainous version turning up in #69, under the moniker Squadron Sinister, and the benevolent Squadron Supreme arriving in #85. After confusion and the standard battle, the two forces join against a common foe. The next significant appearance of the Squadron is in Defenders #112, in which an alien entity known has Overmind has successfully enslaved their home planet of Earth 712, with the intention of leading an assault force against the other dimensions. Although the combined might of the Defenders and Squadron were triumphant, their world was left in tatters. The fact that the public were left in the dark as to the Alien mind-control, and Kyle Richmond aka Nighthawk is still president, means mass riots and general chaos is running rampant. The Squadron are accordingly left to clean up the mess, with the civilians less than grateful.

The mini-series picks up in a mire of disaffected civilians and ragged heroes, trying to rebuild a society pushed to the brink of destruction. After growing tired of constantly fire-fighting and simply reacting to worldwide issues, the group decides to take larger actions, such as banning all weapons. Nighthawk disagrees, and promptly leaves the group. After unmasking, the team set about creating a Utopia, installing themselves as peacekeepers elect. And all this in the first issue! The following eleven are split between smaller sub-plots, such as the nuclear-powered character Nuke (!) accidentally infecting his parents with cancer and subsequently going insane - only to be killed by fellow Squadron member Doctor Spectrum - and the bigger picture of trying to change the world.

One element that proves to be the team’s undoing is a brainwave modifier, which is first utilised on standard criminals then on those of the powered variety. After being knocked back by his supposed girlfriend Lady Lark in #3, the Golden Archer employs the machine to change her mind and accept his marriage proposal. Unfortunately the modifier works all too well, and Lady Lark becomes virtually obsessed, barely giving the Archer a minute to himself. As a result both quit the team as the Archer is forcibly thrown out and Lady Lark leaves by her own modified free will.

With numbers dwindling, a few new members mysteriously appear, showing remarkable powers and a willingness to help the cause. New members Redwood and Moonglow are not as they appear, being plants by the former member Nighthawk, who has been observing the morally flawed behaviour of the Squadron from the sidelines. With a remedy for the modifier used on the supervillains that had been enlisted to make up the numbers, a final battle ensued that left both sides suffering seriously losses. The fact that smaller plots and bit-part characters are so expertly woven into the story make for superb, and ultimately rewarding reading, and the moral battle is strangely reminiscent of Marvel’s Civil War. For a bunch of throwaway facsimiles of more famous characters, Gruenwald instils some individual character traits and Bob Hall’s pencils work well in both the action set-pieces and dialogue driven sections.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Big thanks to Matt C for catching a couple of my faux pas, and to the guy off eBay from the Bronx who sold me the comics for an extremely fair price. And to Andy, who then pointed out to me that the whole run is available in a collected edition. Bugger.