Sunday, 7 April 2013

Supreme Power

Supreme Power is an eighteen issue series that tells a confined story. That doesn’t necessarily set the book apart as anything special. There are plenty of series that have a self-contained story across a similar number of issues. The story that’s told is not a particularly memorable one. It has its moments and benefits from some thoroughly inoffensive art courtesy of Gary Frank but there’s nothing in the plot that makes this anything noteworthy.

Yet it is noteworthy. This is Marvel giving us an origin story for DC’s top characters, albeit disguised a bit to keep everyone’s legal departments happy. The original DC creations cropped up gradually over the course of several years, all from the minds of different creative teams. That’s always put them at odds with Marvel’s top names, a large portion of whom were created or reinvented by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby.

The stories of who should be credited for creating what are well known, but no matter where the truth lies it’s generally acknowledged that those three men all contributed to sixties Marvel’s popularity surge to a greater or lesser extent. The small team at ‘The House of Ideas’ meant there was a familiar feel to all of the books. The titles didn’t all immediately begin referencing one another but the fact that the same artists were used helped to create a feeling of a single coherent fictional universe, as did the general approach taken: normal people with super powers. That so many new creations debuted around the same time helped too.

Marvel has always felt like it’s designed to be a shared universe. DC often comes across as a collection of characters with nothing in common beyond their names being owned by the same company. The DC Universe often feels like it’s been retrofitted to function as the setting for shared stories. It all stems from those different creative teams.

Obviously the benefit of hindsight plays an important role in Supreme Power. Marvel can jettison what they know won’t work and introduce new elements to the characters. Most of the changes make the familiar cast darker and edgier. It’s the old Marvel trick of making superheroes real people with relatable, or at least understandable, problems. Superman and the gang traditionally have very little to worry about beyond the latest supervillain threat while Marvel has usually gone out of its way to give its heroes things to worry about in their day-to-day lives.

Supreme Power sees Superman become Hyperion, a man raised by government agents posing as a loving married couple. Batman is recast as a night-prowling psychopath who has no problems with killing. Wonder Woman is Zarda the Power Princess, a far less benevolent figure that Double W. Doctor Spectrum replaces Green Lantern and is immediately set up as someone who can rival Hyperion’s power, and as someone who proves far more loyal to the United States to boot.

The only character who isn’t obviously burdened by an overabundance of problems is Blur, the Flash analogue. He’s a rarity in the book, someone who’s mostly happy to have the powers he does.

The idea of Marvel creating their own DC universe is not an original one. Supreme Power has its roots in 70s adversaries to the Avengers, the Squadron Supreme. They were a group of villains based on DC’s Justice League. Marvel had originally wanted to produce a crossover but legal complications meant they had to resort to blatant analogues instead. Later on a second gang using the same name crossed over from an alternate universe, battling the Avengers before they realised they were all good guys and made friends. So Marvel aren’t just borrowing from DC with this book, they’re borrowing from themselves too.

Various mentions of these former teams crop up throughout the Supreme Power series. The various names of the characters, for example. SP also features several touches that had proven popular on Marvel’s Ultimate line. George Bush appears as the President of the United States, and the world we’re shown is presented as contemporary and adult. Childish fripperies are a no-no in Supreme Power.

As I say, the story that unfolds is not the best. It’s engaging enough but it’s not the most interesting thing the series has to offer. That is very much Marvel’s take on DC’s characters, a bizarre updating of analogues they first introduced three decades earlier. Anyone interested in comic book alternate universes or seeing a more coherent and contemporary origin for DC’s prime players will find plenty to enjoy here.

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