So Sayeth the Odinson: Squadron Supreme: A Retrospective

Greetings from the Odinson,

They are the World’s Greatest Super Heroes, but they are not the heroes you are thinking of, and their world does not reside in the DCU.

Squadron Supreme: A Retrospective

Before Injustice: Gods among Us.  Before Authority.  Before Kingdom Come.  Even before Watchmen.  There was Squadron Supreme.

Who are the Squadron Supreme?

The Squadron Supreme is Marvel Comics’ thinly veiled homage to DC Comics’ Justice League.  Their original seven members mirror that of the JLA’s core seven.

Hyperion (Superman) – The team’s powerhouse commander has super strength, speed, endurance, he can fly, and he has Atomic Vision.

Power Princess (Wonder Woman) – This statuesque warrior princess possesses superhuman strength and combat prowess.  She is armed with an arsenal of magical medieval weapons and capable of standing toe-to-toe with the toughest heroes and villains of any universe.

Nighthawk (Batman) – Kyle Richmond has a genius intellect, is a world class athlete, and superb hand-to-hand combatant.  He is also armed with an array of sophisticated crime fighting equipment and gadgets.

Doctor Spectrum (Green Lantern) – He possesses a cosmic crystal which gives him the ability to do nearly anything he sets his mind to.  Mostly he uses it to make powerful constructs made of pure energy.

Whizzer (Flash) – He’s the fastest man alive, on his world.

Skymax (Martian Manhunter) – He’s a shape-shifting alien Skrull with super human strength, a calm wise demeanor, and an array of super powers both mental and physical too numerous to list.

Like the Justice League who have evil doppelgangers, the Crime Syndicate of Amerkia from Earth-3, the Squadron also have evil twins that hail from an alternate dimension – the Squadron Sinister.  The Squadron Sinister have clashed with the Avengers, Defenders, and Thor on a few different occasions.

Their Supreme Origins

The Squadron Supreme do not hail from Earth-616, the core Marvel Universe.  Their home is an alternate dimension that greatly mirrors that of the DC Universe.  Originally, the Avengers first met the Squadron Sinister as they battled across time and space to stop the malevolent machinations of Kang the Conqueror and the cosmic Elder, the Grandmaster.  Later, the Avengers were drawn to a parallel world where they fought against and ultimately beside the Squadron Supreme to save the Squadron’s world from destruction.  Basically, writer Roy Thomas and artist John Buscema created the Squadron so they could do crossovers with DC’s Justice League within the continuity of the Marvel Universe.  Parallel worlds and alternate universes are nothing new now, but back in the 1960s and 1970s Marvel and DC were just beginning to open up and explore the Pandora’s Box that is the multiverse.

Eventually, many more members were added to the team, heroes that are Marvel versions of the Justice League’s classic lineup – Arcana (Zatanna), Blue Eagle (Hawkman), Golden Archer (Green Arrow), Lady Lark (Black Canary), and Nuke (Firestorm).

Their Supremely Tragic Story

 

As I pointed out, before Watchmen explored a more dramatic take on the super hero genre, before the Authority and the Ultimates explored stories where the world’s premiere super team took a more proactive role in shaping the world’s status quo, before Identity Crisis explored the ramifications of heroes crossing a line in the name of justice, and long before stories like Kingdom Come and Civil War explored the devastating effects a super hero civil war would have on the landscape, there was Squadron Supreme by Mark Gruenwald.

Writer Mark Gruenwald orchestrated a beautiful, heart-wrenching drama that sees the Squadron Supreme decide to make their world a utopia by any means necessary.  The first thing they do is take over the world.  They relieve all governments of power and begin to run the planet themselves.  Next, they set out to end world hunger and wipe out all crime.  Sounds great, right?  However, in order to ensure their utopia remains, the Squadron begin to mind wipe super villains and brainwash them into becoming heroes.  Still think that’s not that bad?  How about when they brainwash anybody that disagrees with them, especially politicians and world leaders?  Or, better yet, how about when Golden Archer uses the mind-altering device to brainwash fellow hero Lady Lark into falling in love with him.  Slowly, but surely, the Squadron’s forced utopia begins to show cracks.

This comes to a head when Nighthawk feels that the heroes have gone too far and decides to put an end to it.  The superhero community is split down the middle, half of them side with Nighthawk, the other half with Hyperion, and an epic battle for the fate of the world ensues.  By the end of the story, many prominent heroes have fallen and the group’s resolve is cracked, leaving them, and the world, vulnerable for what comes next.  Much like how Civil War left the Marvel U vulnerable for a Secret Invasion and that in turn left them susceptible for a Dark Reign.

Death of a Universe picks up a few years after the super hero civil war.  Because of what came before, the Squadron Supreme is at its weakest and unable to prevent the utter destruction of their world!  This is a complete reversal of the norm for in comic book history, the good guys always won and somehow always found a way to save the day. Using an alternate version of the World’s Greatest Super Heroes, writer Mark Gruenwald is able to explore an avenue rarely ventured.  What would happen if our heroes failed?

Since this story, many other writers have explored this very motif.   First, in alternate universe tales like What If the Avengers Lost Operation: Galactic Storm?  Then later, in actual cannon like when the Illuminati were unable to stop the final incursion which led to the destruction of the Marvel Universe and to the birth of BattleWorld.  Plus, in Marvel: The End, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are powerless to stop the end of all existence and shockingly it falls into the nihilistic hands of Thanos the Mad Titan to witness the end of all things and ultimately restore the Marvel Universe to life.

Their Supreme Legacy

Left without a world of their own, the Squadron Supreme was stranded on Earth-616, the main Marvel U, where they clashed with the Avengers and ultimately met a gruesome fate thanks to the Marvel Zombies virus.  In the wake of Secret War, the Squadron Supreme was reborn, comprised of members from Squadrons from all across the multiverse including Supreme Power and the New Universe.

Today, the Squadron Supreme has reverted to its more proactive role and have set out to bring justice to the world by any means necessary, no matter who may stand in their way.  Just ask the Sub-Mariner.

In the end, what the creation of the Squadron Supreme has done is allow writers and artists to explore themes and motifs they would not, or could not, have done with mainstream heroes like the Avengers and the Justice League.  In doing this, good or bad, it seems the tales of the Squadron Supreme have had a profound impact on the landscape of comic books.  Modern day stories like Injustice: Gods among Us, Civil War, Identity Crisis, and others can all trace their roots back to Squadron Supreme by Mark Gruenwald.

Unfortunately, Mark Gruenwald died in 1996 before he had a chance to see the influence he has had on the modern day landscape of comic book storytelling.  However, he will always be here in spirit.

NOTE: Mark Gruenwald was cremated and his ashes were mixed in with the ink used to print the 1st printing of the original Squadron Supreme trade paperback.

This is Odinson bidding thee farewell

NOTE: The Odinson has written a book.  It is my love letter to the slasher genre of the 1980s.  For those interested, there are still a few FREE copies available to read online.  Just follow this link – The Survivors: A Glen Haven Tale.

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About Odinson

I am a lifelong comics fan and pop culture enthusiast. Comic books, novels, games, television, movies, I love it all. From fantasy to science fiction, drama to comedy, as long as the writing and execution are interesting, I love it, and I want to talk about it.

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