Avengers #18 // Review
Somewhere in the 1970s, writer Roy Thomas decided that it might be cool to create a team for Marvel that was based on the Justice League. He introduced the team, known as the Squadron Supreme, in the pages of The Avengers. Years later, the team has been re-introduced a number of times in a number of different places including a mini-series that series writer Mark Gruenwald loved so much that had his cremated ashes mixed into printer’s ink for a special trade paperback collection after his death. Years later, the team returns in the latest issue of The Avengers written by Jason Aaron with art by Ed McGuinness, inks by Mark Morales.
In an issue completely lacking any of the actual Avengers, the series introduces Hyperion (Superman), Power Princess (Wonder Woman), Nighthawk (Batman), Whizzer (Flash), and Doctor Spectrum (Green Lantern): the Squadron Supreme. In this particular iteration, SHIELD’s Agent Phil Coulson has established the new team as a Washington D.C.-based group of heroes who are told that they are America’s Mightiest Heroes. They are earnest in heroically defending the US from supernatural threats, but it’s revealed that Coulson may be a bit deeper into the shadows in his creation of the team than they may suspect.
Roy Thomas’ idea for a direct Justice League analog in the Marvel Universe is a cute idea, but it’s never really caught on. The idea has been tried with a few different permutations by some pretty talented people who really didn’t know what to do with it. Here Jason Aaron is putting Marvel’s Justice League in the service of a plot that’s a direct homage to Alan Moore’s work on Marvelman for England’s Warrior Magazine back in 1982. The premise of heroes being brainwashed into a false reality by a sinister government organization feels kind of fun here, but way too derivative. Alan Moore and Alan Davis’ work on Marvelman was brilliant and edgy 30 years ago. It’s fun to see the literal road to Hell being paved by Coulson’s good intentions, but so far there doesn’t seem to be enough in the new Squadron Supreme that feels fresh. So much of what’s being done here had been done much more masterfully by Alan Moore in Marvelman.
McGuinness and Morales make the origin story of another Squadron Supreme feel fun without reaching too far. The story of a group of government superheroes springing to action feels solidly constructed on the page with a reasonably satisfying amount of dramatic intensity and some rather explosively dynamic action. The sharpness of the drama could have been pushed a little bit more. Nice-guy Coulson’s affability would have looked brilliantly disturbing contrasted against some of the truly awful things he’s engaging in here if the dramatic end of things was amped-up just a bit more, but the art gives the story a solid foundation.
The idea of super-powered heroes being brainwashed by the government was kind of disturbing when Moore tackled it in Marvelman back in ’81, but in an age as truly messed-up as the one we have come to live in, the idea needs to be ratcheted-up in order for it to have the kind of impact it needs to have. In the current political climate, the darkness of a fictional manipulative government needs to be that much more sinister in order to have any impact at all. Aaron’s going to need to get darker if this Squadron Supreme is going to make an impact.