One of the most heralded tales in Marvel History comes from the mind of the late, beloved Mark Gruenwald. His 1985 12-issue mini-series Squadron Supreme is the story of a group of heroes who, tired of fighting for good without any long-lasting change, attempt to bring utopia to the planet by implementing changes they think will benefit mankind. Those include ridding the world of weapons and the creation of a device that will rid the impulse to break the law from the minds of criminals. What seems noble is soon viewed as fascism by the world they’re trying to save.
Squadron Supreme has long been viewed as a precursor to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen, as it gave its heroes a depth that wasn’t typically seen in comics at the time. With the Squad made up of thinly veiled takes on DC’s Justice League (Hyperion = Superman, Princess Power = Wonder Woman, etc), Gruenwald (along with artist Bob Hall) created a smart and dense tale that, when it arrived on store shelves, I couldn’t make heads or tales out of it. I was 8 years old, mind you, but I remember reading that first issue and feeling completely lost. Truth be told, I tried to read the series multiple times over the years, and I couldn’t get into it. And even more truth be told, I always felt guilty about it, because it’s considered Mark Gruendwald’s masterpiece.
My latest attempt came this past week, to tie in with the release of Heroes Reborn, a new limited series from writer Jason Aaron and artist Ed McGuiness. In that story, vampire hunter Blade finds himself in a world where the Avengers never existed, and it is instead protected by the Squadron Supreme.
Here’s the description from the House of Ideas:
REBORN #1 will welcome readers to a world where Tony Stark never built the Iron Man armor. Where Thor is a hard-drinking atheist who despises hammers. Where Wakanda is dismissed as a myth. And where Captain America was never found in the ice because there were no Avengers to find him. Instead, this world has always been protected by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes: the Squadron Supreme of America. And now, the Squadron faces an attack from some of their fiercest enemies, including Dr. Juggernaut, the Black Skull, the Silver Witch and Thanos with his Infinity Rings. But why is the Daywalker Blade the only man alive who seems to remember that the entire world has somehow been…reborn?
The concept is not a new one, having been done to absolute perfection back in the early 1990’s with Marvel’s Age of Apocalypse. Unsurprisingly, based on the attached talent, Heroes Reborn #1 was an excellent read. I’m a sucker for these alternate timelines and stories, and Aaron does an excellent job of highlighting the myriad changes to the world in the span of this first issue. He and McGuiness also do an impressive job introducing the Squadron Supreme to those that haven’t read any of their previous appearances. The splash page where Hyperion lands a huge punch on Dr. Juggernaut alone is worth picking up the book.
Heroes Reborn also had the impact of getting me to once more pick up Squadron Supreme (actually, after having found my hardcover collection, I wound up picking up the trade on via this past weekend thanks to ComiXology), and finally, the story clicked. Maybe it was my mood; maybe it’s the state of the world right now that Mark Gruenwald somehow managed to capture nearly four decades ago. Whatever the reason, on this reading I finally “got it”; this book is as good and as groundbreaking as I’ve long read, and disturbing in its precognition.
If you haven’t read the original Squadron Supreme, now is the time to remedy that, as I have. And then pick up Heroes Reborn #1 to see how the Squad figures into Marvel’s plans. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more and more of them, both on the page and, perhaps, on the big screen?