Supreme Power (Vol. 1): Contact by J. Michael Straczynski
I guess you could consider J. Michael Straczynski’s Supreme Power the bastard child (or perhaps grandchild) of books like Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns in which the four-colour superheroes of old get a more ‘realistic’ make-over and are shown for the dangerous psychopaths they would all-too-likely be in our world. In this case we have Marvel’s Squadron Supreme coming under the deconstructive microscope. The Squadron is an interesting case even without the post-80’s Dark Age of comics lens being applied: back in the day they were Marvel’s thinly veiled version of DC’s League of Superheroes, thus Hyperion = Superman, Nighthawk = Batman, Doctor Spectrum = Green Lantern, Power Princess = Wonder Woman, etc. Also, the Squadron was brought to initial prominence (at least in my view) by Mark Gruenwald’s mid-80’s miniseries that has their trying to set-up a Utopia in their world by taking the reins of political power into their own hands. So now we have what was effectively an homage to another company’s flagship characters, who had already been used in a pre-Watchmen comment on the dangers of superheroes, turned into an even more deconstructed comment on the violence inherent in concept of the metahuman.
We start with a familiar scenario: an alien baby is put into an escape pod and sent on a trajectory that sends it to Earth where it will be met by a childless couple in their battered farm truck. Things diverge pretty significantly from the expected version from this point on. The government gets involved and what in the Golden Age of comics would have been a happy story of love creating a saviour for mankind, instead becomes a view into what happens when fear, greed, and hunger for power are allowed to raise a super-weapon under supposedly controlled conditions. Things do not turn out as anyone expected or hoped.
Suffice it to say that not only our alien baby (soon to be christened Hyperion by his handlers), but a plethora of others who are affected by the changes his ship introduced into our ecosystem begin to emerge, and the world finds itself in the undesirable position of having to deal with uncontrollable people with unimaginable powers. This first volume centres on the defining moments of a handful of these: the aforementioned Mark Milton aka Hyperion around whom the story revolves and whose childhood as a government experiment lays the groundwork for everything that is to come; Joe Ledger, a military professional exposed to an alien power source that turns him into perhaps the second most powerful man on the planet; the Atlanta Blur, a mysterious and some think apocryphal speeding ghost; Amphibian, a strange aquatic human; Nighthawk, a young African-American boy who witnesses his parents’ murder and vows vengeance on all those responsible; and a mysterious myth that seems to live in the underground temple worshiped by a group of would-be Amazons.
I like this kind of alternate reality take on established characters since it gives the writer greater freedom than the powers-that-be at comic companies are likely to allow with their flagship properties, but the characters often still retain the resonance of their antecedents. There isn’t too much surprising here: it’s pretty much by-the-numbers deconstructionist superhero fare, but if you like that kind of thing take a look. Beware: there’s lots of violence and nudity.