02 August 2005

Supreme Power, vol. 1 - "Contact"

Quick Comics History Lesson:
Back in the Sixties, Marvel Comics created the Squadron Supreme, a team of superheroes blatantly based on DC Comics' most popular heroes (Hyperion is modelled after Superman, Nighthawk is a Batman clone, Power Princess bears a striking resemblence to Wonder Woman, etc.). Originally intended as mind-controlled punching bags for The Avengers (whose ranks include Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and many others), the Squadron proved popular enough to make many guest appearances over the years, and even star in a few comics of their own.

Now, in the series Supreme Power, writer J. Michael Straczynski (creator of TV's Babylon 5 and the comics series Rising Stars) and penciller Gary Frank (JLA, Gen13) are using these characters to tell a dark, paranoid tale about what would really happen if superheroes suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
At first glance, the story might sound a bit familiar to you: An alien baby lands in the middle of a cornfield, where he is discovered by a young midwestern couple. On the next page, the story takes a sharp left turn, as the baby is seized by the U.S. government and placed in the care of two undercover agents posing as a typical American couple, to ensure that he embraces the American way of life wholeheartedly. As the story unfolds, the reader discovers that his arrival is responsible for more super-powered beings and costumed crimefighters appearing on Earth, whether directly (in the case of Doctor Spectrum, The Blur, and Kingsley) or indirectly (Nighthawk, Zarda).

Straczynski does an incredible job of taking these pastiche characters and infusing them with freshness. Hyperion isn't too far removed from his original incarnation (or from Superman, for that matter), but other characters receive altered personalities (Doctor Spectrum, formerly a clean-cut astronaut, is now a stone killer for the U.S. Government), nationalities (Nighthawk is now an African-American man who watched his parents get killed by stereotypical rednecks), names (The Whizzer has thankfully been renamed The Blur, and has also been made an African American), and genders (Kingsley, the Aquaman-type character, is now a woman who appears to be half-human and half-angelfish). Frank's art strikes a very delicate balance, and he makes the heroes seem equally larger-than-life and down to earth.

Recommended for: people who like comic-book movies, but wish that they had less explosions and more character development; people who loved superheroes as a kid, but feel that they outgrew them.
Not Recommended for: people who don't like the idea of superheroes that curse and/or have sex; people who refuse to question the motivations of the U.S. Government (the comic is still fairly non-partisan, though; Presidents Carter, Bush Sr., and Clinton are supporting characters, and all come across as somewhat machiavellian).

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