Monday, September 15, 2008

Squadron Supreme #3

It's been five years since the world's greatest heroes – the Squadron Supreme – vanished without a trace, suddenly leaving a beaten up, worn down planet to fend for itself. As a means to move on with their lives, humanity has shifted its sights to lunar exploration. But when the first set of astronauts return from their voyage and begin demonstrating super powers of their own, it sparks a new superhuman age. The skies have begun filling with costumed warriors once again, whether the Earth is ready for it or not.

Howard Chaykin is just the latest in a line of big names to pen the adventures of this notorious squad, and quickly demonstrates he's a much better writer than he is an artist. Of course, I don't think I could care any less for his artwork, so that isn't much of a compliment. Regardless, his writing here is solid, if somewhat slow moving. Chaykin works with an extra-sized cast in Squadron Supreme, but still manages to give each of them a unique voice without weighting down the issue with a lot of meaningless dialog. That's not to say there aren't a lot of word bubbles in this edition, because there are, but the strength of Chaykin's cast and his knack for believable dialog ensure that the book is never a laborious read.

Where the heroes of Mark Gruenwald's original Squadron Supreme were clearly based on prominent members of the DC family, the four astronauts at the center of this story bear more than a passing similarity to the Fantastic Four: a set of space explorers (three guys, one gal) return to Earth and exhibit powers, one of the four is freakishly disfigured, the loudmouthed blonde brat creates crystal from thin air (which somehow enables him to fly), the squad's leader has an intimate relationship with the lady, and all four of them flee into the desert to figure things out. Fortunately, most of the similarities end there. The group is nowhere near as closely knit as the Four is, bickering and steaming when Reed, Johnny, Ben and Sue were giving the old “all for one” pep talk, and speak more like the self-absorbed generation of today than the classic 1950s nuclear family. What's more, they've each got secrets darker than anything Reed Richards could ever imagine. If he was going to borrow from a well-known origin, Chaykin could have chosen worse. At the end of the day, this more modern, relatable take on a classic tale benefits from the comparison, rather than feeling like just another knock-off.

Artist Marco Turini adds a flavor to the book that's hard to describe. The simplicity of his linework and effective use of crosshatch is often reminiscent of John Romita Junior's efforts, but Turini's work lacks the vibrancy and constant sense of motion that sets Romita's style apart. While Turini's compositions are generally very effective and easy to follow, he does have a strange tendency to hide central figures in the scenery. Whether they're turning their backs to the camera or hanging around behind a few props, his cast never seems that interested in taking center stage for any length of time. To a certain extent, that gives the issue a subtle voyeuristic angle, as though we're merely a casual passer-by, eavesdropping on these events – and that works well with the tone of Chaykin's storyline. Turini's work with architecture and city skylines is spectacular, far and away his greatest strength, but he doesn't bring that same level of ingenuity and dedication to the rest of the book.

I enjoyed this issue – it's a smart read, mature and analytical in the same vein as Warren Ellis's New Universal, if not quite as well written. Chaykin's work holds up a funhouse mirror to many of Marvel's most well known individuals, distorting and altering a few very important details and coming out the other side with a fresh, if strangely familiar, cast of characters. Marco Turini's artwork has room for improvement, but does enjoy its moments in the sun throughout the issue. If Chaykin can deliver some fireworks on the home stretch, this could be something to keep your eye on. For now, just borrow it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 6.5

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