June 19, 2009

Talk about a rough time!

I've been a fan of the Squadron Supreme since my grade school days. How come? 'Cuz that's when those fantastic issues of The Avengers came out -- y'know, the first George Pérez Marvel issues, #s 141-150 ('cepting #s 145-146) -- where Earth's Mightiest took on the SS in an all-out donneybrook that took several issues. (If you're a Vision fan like me, Avengers #147 is pure android action GOLD!) I even had one of those Marvel notebook binders with the classic cover of Avengers #141 on it (check out the lower left of the pic). But it wasn't until years later that I realized that the SS's first appearance took place in the pages of The Avengers way before -- specifically issue #85.

No, no, NO! Not issue #70, as you may be thinking! Cripes, even Marvel's own writers could not keep the Squadron Supreme distinct from the Squadron Sinister. Look at the cover to Avengers #85 -- it says "Featuring the sensational return of the Squadron Sinister!" NO! The Squadron Sinister, whose first appearance was, again, in issue #70, was a creation of the cosmic gamester the Grandmaster -- to use against the Avengers who were fighting for Kang the Conqueror. The Squadron Supreme are earth's mightiest heroes of an alternate dimension. Marvel made this boner again with the classic #141 cover, and of all people Steve Englehart didn't know the difference as evidenced by Iron Man's battle with Dr. Spectrum in #148: as Shellhead zaps Spectrum with his ultraviolet beam, he says "I'm sure you remember it!" But how could he? Iron Man had only fought the Squadron Sinister's Doc Spectrum previously (in Avengers #70 and in Iron Man #63-65)! The ironic thing is, back in #141, Englehart has Hyperion telling the Avengers that "That's Supreme, not Sinister, Avengers. Just so you'll know who creamed you!" Sheesh!

Now that that's straight(!), back to the topic of this post. The Squadron Supreme's earth has had one rough time of it over its sporadic history at Marvel. Not so subtlely a copy of DC's Justice League, the SS's first planet-threatening hassle came in the aforementioned Avengers #85. A mutant child named (aptly enough) Brain Child (at left) had grown fed up with the taunts and ridicule of humanity, and planned to launch a rocket into the sun -- causing it to go nova and destroying all life on Earth. The Squadron Supreme thought they were merely assisting with the launch of a solar exploration vehicle; however, thankfully, a quartet of Avengers (who were dimension-traveling back from Arkon's dimension) got sidetracked to the SS's earth -- but a couple days after Brain Child's rocket had done its job! After witnessing the extreme destruction and before they completely materialize, the Scarlet Witch throws a hex in the proverbial nick, and the quartet is whisked back to a day before the missile's firing.

After the usual "let's fight because we don't believe each other" scrap, the four misplaced Avengers manage to convince the SS's Nighthawk of their pending predicament. Of course, to get even more action into the mag, the three members of the SS overseeing the rocket launch -- Hyperion, Dr. Spectrum and the Whizzer -- don't believe the Avengers, nor their own team member. Eventually, though, the Avengers manage to halt the rocket launch, and then the teams join forces against Brain Child. (The WTF moment at the end is when Dr. Spectrum uses his power prism to turn BC back into a normal kid; like, why couldn't he have done that previously? Like, y'know, give him the appearance of a normal kid, yet allow him to retain his enormous intellect? Sheesh ...).

We next see the Squadron in the aforementioned Avengers #141. This time, the United States of the Squadron's world had been overcome by the influence of the Serpent Crown, essentially turning it into a fascist state. (The Whizzer tells Captain America in #147 that their United States is "more advanced, socially," which I take to mean a form of socialism.) The Crown's representative on our earth, Hugh Jones, had summoned the Squadron to help dispatch of the Avengers on our world; however, when they became too big a threat, Jones shunted both teams to the Squadron's dimension (Avengers #144). Remarkably, it merely took the Beast, disguised as the Squadron world's US president (Nelson Rockefeller, of all people), to illuminate the Squadron as to just what had happened to their own country! In the waning panels of Avengers #148, we see various Squadroners pondering all they "to worry about right here."

Things get a lot worse by the Squadron's next Marvel appearance. The ultra-powerful Overmind has discovered the Squadron earth (henceforth "Earth-S") and has taken over the mind of the new US president, Kyle Richmond, who was the Squadron's Nighthawk (see Defenders #112-115). As Richmond summons the Squadron, the Overmind attacks -- and quickly take control of the team, save the mighty Hyperion. Hyperion flees and manages to enlist the aid of our earth's Defenders. Eventually, the Defenders manage to defeat the evil mentalist as well as Null, the Living Darkness, which had occupied Overmind. But this victory shows just how insidious the Overmind's influence was: the planet is now is total chaos as the United States had attacked and plundered the rest of the globe while it was under the control of the villain. Without this control, anarchy ensues.

The acclaimed Squadron Supreme Limited Series by Mark Gruenwald picks up almost right after the Squadron's victory over the Overmind/Null. The team is distraught over the world situation due to their brainwashing, and they're determined to do something about it. They ultimately decide to institute a "Utopia Program" whereby they promise to eliminate crime, disease and even death! However, several team members, notably Nighthawk (the recently resigned President Richmond), are horrified by the program saying it will be a dictatorship led by the Squadron. Since he's outvoted, Nighthawk decides to quit the team rather than be part of another authoritarian government, however beneficient. Eventually, Nighthawk recruits allies to his cause, especially after witnessing the Squadron's "behavior modification" of criminals -- a procedure which literally brainwashes people and removes whatever degree of free will the programmer wants.

Richmond and his "Redeemers" ultimately face off against the Squadron, resulting in several deaths -- including that of Nighthawk himself! Hyperion and the surviving Squadders decide to abandon the Utopia Program, albeit incrementally so as not to lead to anymore chaos.

Such was not to be. Shortly after the Squadron renounces their program, a cosmic threat appears! A massive "hand" has appeared near the sun and will extinguish it in a matter of hours! As detailed in the "Death of Universe" graphic novel, the team has to join forces with their arch-enemy, Master Menace (Emil Burbank) in order to defeat the cosmic entity! The entity turns out to be the Nth Man, who was shunted from our own dimension. He's already consumed numerous whole universes, and the Squadron's is next on his list. The Squadron's Arcanna ends up sacrificing her youngest child, with whom the Nth Man trades places, to save her universe!

But before the surviving team members can return to [their] Earth, the dastardly Master Menace (who fled the Nth Man by shunting himself to another dimension) quickly forgets their recent teamwork and shunts the SS to another universe -- our own! (This act was revealed in the Squadron Supreme: New World Order graphic novel.) The Squadron hooks up with the hero Quasar, and ends up shacking up at Project: Pegasus (see Quasar #13-17). The head of Pegasus turns out to be the mind-controlling villain Corruptor, and so for a third time the Squadron falls prey to mental manipulation! The Corruptor, who's working for old Avengers baddie Imus Champion, uses the Squadron to tarnish the reputation of the newly-back-in-action Avengers (having just returned from the "Heroes Reborn" pocket universe; see Avengers volume 3, #5-6). The Avengers eventually thwart the Corruptor's machinations, but Champion isn't through yet. He manages to get both teams to meet him on his own terms (Avengers/Squadron Supreme Annual 1998) with the threat that if they do not defeat him, millions across the globe will die. Thankfully, Firestar yuks it up with some ants -- which quickly inform Hank Pym, aka Giant Man, and he shuts down Champion's various death devices.

Iron Man discovers an "Nth Projector" among Imus Champion's acquired artifacts, and soon programs it to send the Squadron back to their own dimension. But upon arrival (as chronicled in "New World Order"), laser satellites blast the team's craft out of the sky! Huh?? Dr. Spectrum hauls Squadders the Shape and Skylark to a hospital for help, only to discover that the government is a fascist dictatorship! Hyperion discovers that a "Global Directorate" was elected -- yes, elected -- to power after the Squadron failed to come back to Earth and continue to dismantle their Utopia Program (because, as noted above, Master Menace had shunted them away to our universe). The people of the world "chose order over chaos," a member of the GD informs Hyperion. In addition, the GD had captured Menace upon his return to Earth, used an old Squadron "behavior modification" device on him, and forced him to invent technological wonders for them. The Nth Man, now in the form of an entity dubbed Mysterium, informs the Squadron that they need to get the original members of the team back together in order to defeat the Global Directorate. Indeed, Hyperion, Dr. Spectrum, Power Princess and the Whizzer seek out the disillusioned Amphibian (who, like Nighthawk, had quit the team over the Utopia Program) and the meek Skymax the Skrullrian Skymaster, and implore Nighthawk's son, who's taken up his father's mantle, to join them.

In The Exiles (#77-78), we learn that the Squadron had defeated the Global Directorate and a new democratic government had been elected. However, the Exiles inform the Squadron that the new government had engaged in massive, worldwide vote fraud. The two teams then oust this new government and the Squadron reasserts their role as the world's leading super-team, continuing to assist with the reconstruction of society.

The latest appearance of the Squadron Supreme was in the pages of the "Ultimate Power" series. The story intersected the "Ultimate" universe and the "Supreme Power" univese (or "Supremeverse"), the latter being a reimagining of the Squadron Supreme. However, the original Squadron -- from Earth-S -- also make an appearance, declaring that one of Ultimate Reed Richards' interdimensional probes has laid waste to their planet, just like one did to their reimagined dopplegangers!

Whew! So folks -- you think the "standard" Marvel Universe (our own) has it bad with threats from Doc Doom, Galactus, and the Skrulls? Just thank the Maker you're not in Universe 712, home of Earth-S. To recap, there, a small hyperintelligent child almost fried the planet, an alien crown clandestinely subdued the United States, an alien super-telepath took over the world and caused mass anarchy, a cosmic entity threatened the entire universe, a fascist cadre of corporate heads took over shortly thereafter, the subsequent government came to power through massive fraud, and then an interdimensional probe wiped out your planet.

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