Tuesday, May 03, 2005

SUPREME POWER #16

Supreme Power frustrates me because it often feels like it's shooting itself in the foot. I love the themes, the delivery, the new take on old archtypes; the dialogue is teeth-crackingly dry and Gary Frank's art is better for the story than anyone Straczynski had working on Rising Stars. (The two worked together on the brilliant Midnight Nation.) So why the lingering bad taste?

As far as I can narrow it down, it's a matter of focus. Each issue of Supreme Power is discrete: there is a beginning, a middle, a climax, an end. But each issue is also part of a larger story that serves to build up the world in which this iteration of Squadron Supreme will eventually stand. And while the individual issues are handling some aspects of that universe-building with great results, the overall picture is harder to grasp than it should be. All trees, no forest. The end result is that you can be happy reading month-to-month, but then you can go pick up the trade paperback, read it through, and wonder how the heck you missed so much of the story. There's a sense of incompleteness at the end of each issue, like music not ending on a tonic chord. (Warren Ellis does this with Planetary, but I'm mostly convinced it's intentional and the rest is the ridiculous delays between issues and, ultimately, Ellis isn't charged with building the Wildstorm universe with one title.)

Complicating matters is Straczynski's terrible habit of relying on spin-off miniseries to flesh out characters important to the plots of the main series. First, this is annoying because any series should be self-contained; related mini-series should be icing, not cake, and we shouldn't have to have read six issues of miniseries to understand a character's motivation for an action in the main series. Second, JMS has consistently chosen poorly when it comes to the writers of these minis. Rising Stars was not helped by Fiona Avery's appallingly bland Rising Stars: Bright mini (that she's also been granted minis for Laurel Darkhaven and Lionel Zerb boggles the mind). For Supreme Power, Samm Barnes' Doctor Spectrum was an awe-inspiring waste of paper and time, having neither a plot nor a point nor any real similarity to the Joe Ledger who appears in Supreme Power. There are upcoming mini-series for both Hyperion and Nighthawk, both scheduled as the Doctor Spectrum mini was to run during a hiatus, and I can't imagine them proving worthwhile.

This month's issue is hobbled by the fact that it came out three months after the previous one, which means four months since most of the events under discussion -- the fight with Redstone took place in SP #14. That's a lifetime ago. And so while there are some clever manipulations here, they all went completely over my head the first time I read this, before I went back and re-read half the series. Is Ledger helping Kingsley or just following his orders to bring her in? We know Nighthawk is perfectly happy to do nothing and let Hyperion be destroyed, but will Stanley, whose arc is parallel to Ledger's in the 'with great power comes great responsibility' department, do the same? What havoc has Zanda wreaked and what does her reappearance mean?

The feature matchup on the fight card is General Alexander versus Hyperion himself. As the series has progressed, JMS has consistently upped the ante -- while Mark was docile and ignorant, he had simple opponents and interactions; once he was made aware, his challenges grew accordingly. General Alexander explains the new direction, albeit to his granddaughter who doesn't realize he's not talking about watches. Hyperion is not quite ready to handle an associate like Nighthawk, which means he's not quite ready to handle an opponent like Alexander. And that's the key -- superpowered good guys are not much fun if their ultimate success is not in doubt.

And, speaking of doubt... this week's announcement that Supreme Power will be ending with #18 and then re-launching as a Marvel Knights title after the aforementioned miniseries. Many folks are looking at the shift Alias made, becoming The Pulse, and wondering if this isn't the end of the good times. I understand the concern. The problem with Alias becoming The Pulse wasn't the loss of profanity or anal sex; it was the total loss of purpose and soul -- Jessica Jones has been an unrecognizable pod person in her own book, appearing as herself only in Daredevil and Young Avengers. But if Supreme Power is to remain completely outside the Marvel Universe, then I really don't see the same thing happening here. Jessica Jones suddenly had the freedom to go anywhere and ended up going nowhere; The Squadron Supreme should be fine so long as they get to stay in their own sealed universe.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Brad Curran said...

Darkhawk's in Supreme Power? Seriously, though, I was led to this site via Jeff Lester's link at the Savage Critic and am greatly enjoying it.

Wed May 04, 02:26:00 PM EDT  
Blogger The Comics Shrew said...

.... *vaguely embarrassed sigh* Slip of the fingers, I guess.

The flip side of being cited as a someone to read is that there are suddenly many more people to catch your mistakes.

*goes to fix*

Wed May 04, 02:36:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Tom Bondurant said...

I bailed on Supreme Power after #12, because I figured my grandchildren might, if they were lucky, start reading the stories where JMS had the Squadron take over the world. (This would be when the grandkids were in college, mind you, and old enough to read a MAX book.) I re-read issues 1-12 and didn't get too much more out of them, except that they move very slowly.

I like your site too, by the way.

Wed May 04, 07:56:00 PM EDT  
Blogger The Comics Shrew said...

Thanks. And yes, absolutely. This is not a story moving at a gallop. Or a trot. It's one of those time-it-with-a-sundial tales, no question.

Wed May 04, 08:07:00 PM EDT  

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