Review: Supreme Power #1

Marvel tries to revive its best MAX superhero franchise.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

It's been about eight years since Marvel first released Supreme Power, a reenvisioned version of the Squadron Supreme by J. Michael Straczynski and Gary Frank. So, it's likely that most of the comic book audience has forgotten about it and moved on. But for its time, Supreme Power was one of the best superhero books on the market and a trail blazer for most of the Marvel MAX books that followed.

The Squadron Supreme was always a blatant riff on DC's Justice League. Straczynski took the parallels even further by offering a more realistic take on the series and its Superman stand-in, Mark Milton aka Hyperion. Whereas Clark Kent was raised by loving parents and went on to become the world's greatest superhero, Mark was raised by the government and indoctrinated to become an exclusively American hero. And when he learned that everyone had lied to him his entire life, Mark was well on his way to becoming a potential threat to the entire world.

If the series had actually come to a conclusion, it might have been included among the classic comic books of the last ten years. But Marvel moved the book out of the MAX line and Straczynski subsequently abandoned the series in the middle of a storyline; effectively ending his run on a cliffhanger that has never been resolved. Marvel has trotted out the characters a few times since, but nothing has yet recaptured the magic that Straczynski and Frank brought to it.

The new Supreme Power series appears to be a step in the right direction. Howard Chaykin's last run with these characters was borderline unreadable, but new writer Kyle Higgins seems to at least have the sense to keep it close in spirit to the series started by  Straczynski. All you really need to know going in is that Hyperion finally turned on the government and he assassinated the President when he destroyed the White House. When the public rejected him, Hyperion left Earth behind seemingly forever, allowing Joe Ledger (aka Dr. Spectrum) to step into the role of Earth's greatest hero.

Surprisingly, Higgins resists the temptation to bring back the entire cast immediately. The focus is squarely on Joe as he attempts to deal with being the public face of heroism for the world. Think of it as Green Lantern trying to fill in for Superman. He's doing a good job so far, but even Joe seems to know that he can't keep it up forever. And the alien crystal embedded in his hand is beginning to reassert itself over his mind.

The primary action in this issue finds Joe taking on Malik Haspen; a superpowered Islamic warrior, who proves to be more than a match for Joe's abilities. Haspen's entire existence seems to play off the Bush-era paranoia of giving terrifying powers to an enemy of America. The script treats Haspen as if he's the Osama Bin Laden of this world and a later moment in the book seems like an exact parallel to President Obama's death of Bin Laden announcement earlier this year. Given the comparatively short lead time for to get that into this book, it's impressive that it seems so timely. However, the art doesn't live up to the moment with the same image of the President repeated four times for his entire speech.

Which brings us to the artist himself, Manual Garcia. When it comes to giving Joe larger than life moments as a Superman-like hero, Garcia really shines. Garcia also nails a two page flashback that shows the destruction of the White House during Hyperion's rampage. But some of his figures get a little shaky as the book goes on. And the previously mentioned Presidential speech reeks of a certain laziness. That moment demanded more than a simple copy and paste from photoshop.

The majority of the book is very readable. Higgins does a good job of setting up the essential conflict of Joe as he fears the loss of his own humanity from not just the alien crystal but from trying to live up to the world's expectations. Although Higgins is the only returning main character in the lead role, the cliffhanger ending suggests that someone else will soon be returning as well… if the government doesn't know enough to let sleeping persons of mass destruction lie.

This is a good start for the series, but Supreme Power has a lot of work to do in order to become a worthy successor of the franchise.

Crave Online Rating: 7/10