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Squadron Supreme 2 #1

Posted: Tuesday, July 1, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

Howard Chaykin
Marco Turini
Marvel Comics
Editor's Note: Squadron Supreme 2 #1 arrives in stores tomorrow, July 2.

Matthew J. Brady: 3 Bullets
Mark J. Hayman: 2 Bullets
Paul Brian McCoy: 3 Bullets




Matthew J. Brady 3 Bullets

The Squadron Supreme has had a long, interesting history at Marvel, originally starting as a riff on their rival DC's Justice League. There have been a variety of versions over the years, with the most famous story probably being Mark Gruenwald's 1985 maxi-series, which was kind of like a less-sophisticated Watchmen. The most recent incarnation of the team was Supreme Power, J. Michael Straczynski's ultra-slow-paced look at "realistic" superheroes, with plenty of violence and political manipulations. It was interesting enough, but it got tiresome around the point that it became revamped as a new Squadron Supreme series, gathering its characters together as a team to have some uninspired adventures before disappearing. To make matters worse, the characters got pulled into a crossover with Marvel's Ultimate universe Ultimate Power. This appeared to be a big, pointless romp, with lots of punching and little significance (can you tell I didn't read it?). Apparently, it ended with most of the main characters from Straczynski's run having disappeared, and Ultimate Nick Fury stranded in the Squadron Supremeverse.

So now Howard Chaykin is spearheading a revival of the series, continuing where Ultimate Power left off. One would hope he would try to do something interesting with the characters, since he has a reputation for innovative writing and political commentary. Unfortunately, he seems to be following Straczynski's style of pacing, taking a lot of time to set up the situation and accomplishing little in terms of forward plot motion. In an interesting twist on the Squadron Supreme concept, he seems to be going for a riff on Marvel characters rather than DC ones. Five years after the events of Ultimate Power, the main superpowered characters (people seem to hate them due to their casual destruction and lack of care for humanity, so they can't really be called superheroes) are still missing, and regular humans are trying to recover from all the destruction the crossover caused. The United States sends a new mission to the moon (on a shuttle called Icarus One, which one would think would be a terrible name for any sort of flying vehicle), and the four astronauts on board seem to be experiencing strangeness. At the same time, a female vigilante who spins threads of sticky ooze and wears some sort of web-like costume is starting to appear on the streets, along with a soldier-like fellow who clothes himself in tattered, bloodstained flags. Assumingly, future issues will see the introduction of a guy in metal armor, a godlike, weather-controlling fellow, and a large, uncontrollable monster-man.

Who knows, maybe Chaykin is going somewhere interesting with this, but other than establishing that he is emulating the opposite comics company from other Squadron Supreme stories, he doesn't really do anything worth writing home about. Other than seeing some of the new strangeness occurring, Nick Fury and a few minor SS characters sit around talking about their lot in life. We'll have to see what he has planned next. In the meantime, Marco Turini's art does a decent job, but doesn't do anything too spectacular that would merit further attention. The spider-lady's "webs" seem especially weird, more like gooey mucus than actual webbing. And I wouldn't have realized the super-soldier's flags were supposed to be bloody if a caption hadn't told me so. Also, Nick Fury looks really weird in a few panels.

So while it might turn into an interesting new direction for Squadron Supreme, I can't really say it's worth reading yet. Like so many comics these days, the best course of action is probably to wait for the trade and read the whole story at once.




Mark J. Hayman 2 Bullets

Once in a while you read a book and have trouble trying to get a grip on it, to find a handle. This new foray into the Supreme Universe is just such a book.

Problems abound, from the flat, cliché dialogue ("If there's something wrong with the crew of Icarus One, the American people have the right to know"), to the evident cover-up of Emil Burbank's central role in a disaster that's supposed to have severely damaged America's economy (though leaving the requisite billions available to send a quartet of bickering stereotypes on a lunar expedition masterminded by Burbank) and caused a "horrific loss of life," to Nick Fury being elevated to virtual folk hero status as an "ordinary man," despite what we're beginning to learn about him over in Ultimate Origins.

Let's for a moment write off these issues and focus on the purely visual. I appreciate that several large cities have been damaged or destroyed, but why after five years of clean-up and recovery is the Capitol building in Washington still covered with Burbank's "alien" goo? In a nation that takes symbols so seriously, and in a comic that's prefaced with a brief polemic on the brutalization of the "nation's psyche" and the elevation of the common man, why hasn't someone hosed off the Capitol, yet? Taking a mop and brush to the monuments would surely be job one?

Marco Turini provides narratively credible if uninspired pages, capturing much of the look and feel of the Supreme milieu established in part by Gary Frank. That there's more grit than gloss seems in keeping with the book's gestalt, one of ongoing aftermath. Apart from his own inconsistent shading techniques, Turini's work is somewhat undermined by the flat pallet from the lads at Guru eFx, who seem determined to prove that they really do have sixteen-million tones from which to choose (though I did appreciate the tint of Burbank's office windows, helping to establish the character as one who sees the world as a big bucket of crap that's continually being dumped on him).

One can't help but believe that this is another in a series of series by committee; the product of editorial statutes based on concept-driven meetings. In this context Chaykin's presence seems purely mercenary. While he's produced some worthwhile work within an editorial framework, there's surely little dispute that Chaykin's best moments have come when he's owned all the marbles. So in a broad sense I don't fault him for the patchwork of themes and sub-plots presented here, as merely being able to remember them all, let alone find some commonality, assumes someone of above-average ability. I can fault him for the dialogue, however, where every single character seems locked in sarcastic bicker mode. Then again, without a single character presented for whom we might be able to root or cheer--even the "victims" tend toward despicable--no fault is had with the actual characterization. It's just tiresome.

Beneath the surface there's a mystery happening, some sort of space-spawned spontaneous mutation that threatens to turn the world into a planet of freaks. The possibility that the underlying cause is yet another attempt by the US military to create a post-human strain--one that they can control this time--speaks volumes about the arrogance and short-sightedness of what we've come to know as the Military-Industrial Complex. Eventually the missing (and generally despised) "heroes" will return and try to sort things out, leading where we can but imagine. On the whole, though, this is a mighty cynical book filled with very cynical people. I don't need to spend money to hear that when I can just listen to myself talk for five minutes. The difference is that my brand of cynicism is coloured with a kind of blind faith in the potential of humanity to grow as a species. I find no such optimism here.




Paul Brian McCoy: 3 Bullets

I was a huge fan of J. Michael Straczynski's initial run of Supreme Power and also enjoyed, just not as much, its PG-13 continuation, Squadron Supreme. I have to admit, though, it was nowhere near as good once it was pulled from the Marvel MAX line in the hopes of a wider audience and improved sales. And then something happened. Suddenly, the book stopped mid-story with a helluva cliffhanger, and no one would say what was up.

We got a couple of mini-series spotlighting Hyperion and Nighthawk, by different writers, and they were good, but I still wanted to know what happened in the main series. It was never officially canceled that I know of. It just stopped. And, if you ask me, JMS hasn't written anything worth reading ever since. Very curious, eh?

Then, last year, something called Ultimate Power happened, and while I didn't witness it myself, survivors have told tales of horrible excess and nonsensical storytelling that I don't even want to consider. The Squadron Supreme was back, but they were interacting with Ultimate Universe characters and being alternatively written by Bendis, JMS, and Jeph Loeb. And it never addressed the halting of the previous series.

And now, after a couple of years and that latest batch of confusion, Squadron Supreme is relaunching with a brand new creative team: Howard Chaykin is writing and Marco Turini is doing the art.

So I'm coming into this not really knowing what to expect. The only comics I've read that were written by Chaykin since 1996's Cyberella was the first few issues of American Century (2000 or 2001, I can't remember) and 2004's Challengers of the Unknown 6-issue mini. I know he's written a handful of acclaimed works during that time, but none of them have really caught my attention. Which is odd in itself, since American Flagg!, The Shadow: Blood & Judgment, and Black Kiss all still rank highly in my list of favorite all-time comics.

And Marco Turini is an impressive Italian artist, who, from what I can find out online, seems to be inclined to illustrating porn and erotica with a science fiction twist. Most of the samples of the work on his website are in black and white and are both beautifully rendered and extremely NOT WORK SAFE.

But what about this comic, you ask? Hmmm. Good question.

It's okay. Not great, but not too bad, either. It's hampered by the fact that it is set five years after Ultimate Power and none of the big name characters are around at the moment. Sure, Emil Burbank and Arcanna Jones are here (as is Ultimate Nick Fury), but they were secondary characters. Hyperion, Nighthawk, Dr. Spectrum, and Zarda are nowhere to be found (actually, I think Zarda is in the Ultimates Universe now. Maybe. I don't know).

Instead of really getting into their stories, though, we are introduced to a handful of (sort of) new characters with (sort of) new powers and situations. But whereas the original Squadron were variations on DC's Justice League, these new characters seem to be alternate versions of Spider-Man, Captain America, and the Fantastic Four. There are significant differences, of course, and the appearance of these characters seems to have been triggered by the return of four astronauts from a lunar mission. Something is transferred from person to person to person, but so far only one of the people in the chain has definitely manifested powers.

But I'm not quite sure what to make of them. In fact, I'm not quite sure what to make of any of the new characters. Or any of their opening scenarios, really. Nothing really grabs me about this new iteration, and even the art, which I was expecting to really like, is kind of boring. The set designs are nice, and I like the way the story is laid out on the page, but I don't care much for the people that fill the scenes. There are a lot of dramatic angles where we get to see up people's noses, and I really don't like the "costume" designs for the new characters.

I'm not sure what it is about them I don't like, though. I'm confused. I should enjoy this, but I didn't. The feeling is very similar to my reaction to the first new issue of newuniversal: Shockfront, in that there seems to be a lack of momentum that is amplified by the absence of the characters that made me like the original series so much. It's like if you tuned in to watch The Dukes of Hazard, but Bo and Luke weren't there anymore. Instead you were watching the misadventures of their lookalike cousins, Coy and Vance. Or something like that.

Regardless, I don't think I care enough about this new scenario and these new characters to care about the mysterious cliffhanger at the end. It's not poorly done, by any means, and your mileage may vary with the new characters. As for me, I'd have preferred to read something this creative team could put together for the MAX line, instead.







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