Whether mockery, parody, homage, or something else entirely, Marvel is reinventing their own number one competitor, and doing it in brilliant fashion.
Supreme Power Vol. 1Publisher: Marvel/Max Comics
Contributors: Gary Frank (Artists), Jon Sibal (Artists)
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Item Type: Comic
Publication Date: 2004-07
The first thing that prompted my attention to this book was the "Parental Advisory: Explicit Content" disclaimer on the top left of the cover. You know, like the black and white label on CDs that are there to enhance sales rather than prohibit minors from purchasing them. In line with this titillating marketing ploy, the Max imprint is Marvel's way of saying that this is an adult comic book and that you should buy it. Secondly, the name was reminiscent of Supreme, the Alan Moore extravaganza that I so loved when it was in circulation. So, I picked it up and looked inside. One deciding factor for me in choosing a regular title is the artwork. For some reason, Gary Frank's pencils did not appeal to me, so I put the book down and picked up the latest issue of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen instead. That was nearly 6 months ago.
Now, after happening to skim through a friend's copy of Supreme Power #6, the tables are turned. This title has turned out to be the comic I have been searching for since returning to comics a year and a half ago! The story now just beginning to developed, as well as the highly detailed, and realistic art work (hey everybody's views change!) of Gary Frank and Jon Sibal make this a book well worth the read. So, I had to go and get the trade paperback covering issues 1-6 as well as the following two issues.
There are not many books that are as compelling and intricately woven into current political issues as Supreme Power. By "political issues" I not only mean this country's administration and its dealings in foreign policy, but also the subtler, more sinister politics of comic book company rivalries. It is apparent by the first few panels of the book that this is a new approach to the Superman myth, complete with the pick-up truck and cornfield. However, after the next few panels, you realize that this isn't the Superman origin you're familiar with. And it takes off from there. When you realize that this is actually a Marvel title, the issue becomes more and more intriguing.
The main character (so far) is Mark Milton, a Clark Kent raised not by two friendly Americans from Kansas, but two government agents posing as Average Patriotic Americans in a high-surveillance, remote area, all part of a top-secret government funded project called "Hyperion". Mark was found in a spaceship that crashed somewhere in the United States, and the government took him in and has kept him under a watchful eye for his entire life. Mark knows this, and he also realizes that he has extraordinary powers that neither his parents nor the soldiers posted outside of his home have. For example, when Mark is still young, his foster parents get him a puppy. The puppy instinctively realizes that Mark is not human and barks at him. In reaction to this Mark unwillingly pulverizes the pup with his eyes and leaves a canine ash stain on the kitchen wall.
Straczynski's writing is interesting because we see the reaction of his foster parents. Although government agents, they have to raise a child who could potentially kill them with a glance. The briefing before they commit themselves to this "bubble (non-stressful, idealized and as all-American, Norman Rockwell, Father-knows-best)" for "the very long haul" shows two eager agents naïve to what they are heading into. By the last page of issue four you see two employees stressed and suffering and clearly sick of each other. Straczynski never fails to show the deteriorating relationship between these two who are otherwise supporting actors in this drama. This is a glimpse of just how in-depth and detailed Straczynski's plan for the title is. Also, Gary Frank's pencils communicate the stale resentment, the love/hate relationship between these two so well that you feel sorry for them, because they wasted the prime years of their youth as pawns in a larger game.
Along with the compelling story, there is plenty of action within this series. When Mark reaches adulthood, he is ordered/persuaded by the government (incidentally, it is president Carter that starts the Hyperion project, and we see cameos by George Bush and Bill Clinton, with a sure bet that we will be seeing Dubya real soon!) to act as a secret operative for the United States of America. Here Frank's pencils really make the comic book stand out. You can almost hear the bones crack, and the evildoers scream in agony as their body parts are detached from the rest of their body. Numerous times you experience a realism not often seen in comic books that actually makes you think "this is probably how it would happen in real life!"
We also see a slowly growing group of individuals who also possess unique powers. This is another on-going subplot: Mark longing for companionship and wanting to live a "normal" life like everyone else while surrounded by people who genuinely fear him. One scene has him suggesting that he wear glasses to hide his identity, which may have worked for a certain man of steel, but does not fly in this Marvel-ous reality. So he naturally looks toward his own "kind" and begins to investigate strange reports and sightings in hopes of finding a companion. One is a racist vigilante of the night that hunts on evildoers called Nighthawk (it should be noted that Nighthawk is African-American, and his racism is directed exclusively at white criminals and in defense of the African-American community). In Atlanta, there is a man that runs so fast that no one is sure of his existence. Ledger, a government agent, is exposed to the energy source of the ship carrying Mark. And an amphibious mutant is just being introduced into the storyline, along with another mysterious antagonist that has yet to be developed. Each new character parallels the classic DC heroes: Hyperion vs. Superman; Nighthawk vs. Batman; Ledger vs. Green Lantern, with more to come if my prediction is correct. Whether mockery or parody, Marvel is reinventing their own number one competitor.
I cannot over emphasize the intricacy of the writing and artwork. Throughout Supreme Power I found myself in awe of the story that was unfolding and the detailed realistic art that gives this book its edge. Another thing I cannot shake off is the thought that this is a very political comic book. In addition to the contemporary political commentary, it almost seems as if this is retaliation against the miserable failure of Marvel legend Stan Lee's retelling of the DC universe. You can almost hear Marvel saying "this is how it should have been written!" But as with the majority of all political conspiracies, it will remain as speculation and nothing more.
If nothing else, this is an ingenious ploy on the part of Marvel. It will be interesting to see how this book develops, and if it ends up picking a fight with the competition. Overall this is a book that is well worth checking out. It has so many intricate plots both in and outside of the book, the art is superb, and the best part is that it is only just beginning!