Saturday, July 18, 2015

Squadron Sinister #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Mark Gruenwald's "Squadron Supreme" mini-series from 1985-1986 remains one of my favorite stories to this day.  It's downright Shakespearean, exploring a full range of moral quandaries that superheroes face.  Gruenwald shows how quickly heroes can become villains when they begin to view themselves as better than civilians, and I'm hard pressed to think of comic that ends as tragically as issue #12 does.

Guggenheim does a great job here of recreating the rivalries and tension that led to that tragedy.  We learn that Squadron Sinister is in the process of annexing its neighbors, defeating other versions of the team each time.  However, they're not the unified front that they publicly appear to be.  Both Nighthawk and Warrior Woman are working to undermine Hyperion, the baron of Utopolis, though we're not yet privy to their motives.  Moreover, Iron Thor pays a visit to express concern over the pace of the annexations, only to appear dead in Hyperion's bedchamber later.  In true Shakespearean fashion, it's pretty clear that we've got a number of players engaged in shenanigans here.

Unfortunately, Guggenheim never really gives us a clear picture of the setting for these shenanigans, making it hard to appreciate them.  To continue the Shakespeare theme, it's like reading "Henry VI" without knowing the difference between England and France.  The main problem is that Guggenheim doesn't make clear the difference between a province and a domain on Battleworld.  For example, we begin this issue with the Squadron annexing Supremia Province and end it with the Squadron defeating the heroes of the Shadow Province.  However, both these provinces appear to be within the domain of Utopolis if you look at Marvel's Battleworld map.  They're definitely not neighbors; the map shows that K'un Lun, King James' England, Doomgard, Higher Avalon, and Weirdworld surround Utopolis.  As such, are we seeing Hyperion consolidate his power in a way that leads to the situation that the map already describes?  Were these provinces previously independent domains eventually brought into Utopolis by the Squadron?  Is that why each "province" has its own version of the Squadron?  Again, it's not a moot point, since this series so far is all about these power relationships.

Although I thought that Guggenheim did a great job making these characters feel like real people full of flaws and insecurities (just like Gruenwald did in the original series), this lack of clarity on the political situation distracted me throughout the book.  I found myself in desperate need of some sort of map or cast of characters so that I could understand the players in this drama better.  Hopefully it'll get clearer next issue.

** (two of five stars)

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