Greetings, loyal readers!
This week, for my guest post, I wanted to draw attention to a book that garnered a lot of it when it first came out, but has drifted outside of the public memory to a large extent. That book is none other than Supreme Power.
Supreme Power is the evolution of a concept that began with a team called The Squadron Supreme. In 1971, Marvel Comics began a long-running habit of using analogs of DC Comic characters as punching bags. The Squadron Supreme’s members were comparable in ability and demeanor to the members of DC’s Justice League, and were regularly used as foils for Marvel’s flagship Avengers team. These visitors from another world were often victims of mind control or some other other trick that would be used to force them into direct conflict with the Avengers of the day before the inevitable triumph of Earth’s Mightiest.
In 2003, Marvel decided to tap scribe J. Michael Straczynski to pen a deadly serious take on the concept, published under the Marvel: MAX mature-readers imprint. The idea was to approach these characters starting with the idea that they would be introduced into a world indistinguishable from our own, with the oh-so-minor exception that people with extraordinary abilities exist. As with any interpretation of DC history, even one penned by the competition, there is only one place to start, and that’s with Superman. More accurately, they began with the Squadron’s Superman stand-in: Hyperion.
The core concept of Hyperion’s origin is unsurprisingly identical to that of Superman. As Grant Morrison summed up in All-Star Superman: “Doomed Planet. Desperate Scientists. Kindly Couple.” Like the iconic blue boy scout, Hyperion arrives on Earth in a rocket-ship, and is discovered by a the aforementioned kindly couple. What happens next is both ultimately believable and where the book takes a drastic departure from DC’s Last Son of Krypton.
In the dark of night, ferried aboard black helicopters, US Special Operations troops with guns drawn arrive and wordlessly relieve the kindly couple of their extraterrestrial burden. Mark Milton, as the child is named by his government handlers, is raised in an artificially-idyllic America that is part Stepford Wives and part The Truman Show. His parents, government operatives cast for their Cleaver-esque qualities, are terrified of this alien child’s abilities, which is understandable given that he flash-incinerates his first puppy, leaving no more than a charred outline on the wall. He is also kept strictly segregated from anyone not on the government payroll, cultivating a personality that is dependent on a sense of isolation unmatched even in the emotional Man of Steel version of Superman.
Mark is raised on a steady diet of Reagan-era conservatism in front of the television just like the rest of America. His classes include answering questions on how people can serve the good of their government.
This is not Clark Kent, and it is that distinction which shows precisely how critical that aspect of Superman’s nature is to his character. Where Clark is forthright, Mark is frightening. Where Clark is trustworthy, Mark is trained.
The first issue only sets the stage for this horrifying take on what would happen if unimaginably powerful beings were loosed on a world that reacts in a manner consistent with reality. Hyperion will be controlled by Presidents, used as a secret weapon, and will eventually find himself questioning the fitness of these people to rule the planet.
There are dollar copies of this book floating around in bins all over the country. Pick it up. It’s worth it.