Supreme Power #9
writer: J. Michael Straczynski
artist: Gary Frank
Since its establishment, the superhero comic has struggled
with a demon that gnaws relentlessly at its underpinnings:
Whether it's trying to explain how someone could float through
the air, why one might choose to dress like a winged rodent,
or what the world would say if superbeings were found to be
living in our midst, the superhero genre has spent decades
trying to prove its legitimacy by showing how it's grounded
in our own reality.
flaw with the superhero has never been that we don't believe
in his or her existence; we believe in them simply because
we WANT to believe.
a significant problem HAS been portraying how all the major
concerns of the Earth would react to a superhero. Would the
President of the United States honestly shake hands with someone
who can crush tanks like empty beer cans? Would Soviet Russia
honestly create an army of supermen they had no way to control?
And, more importantly, would either of these powers have let
any person so threatening to their safety freely walk the
been the question of Supreme Power from the start:
if Superman really crashed to Earth, do you think the government
not only wouldn't notice this, but also wouldn't immediately
take the child into custody and brainwash it into being the
ultimate American weapon? You bet your ass they would!
as of issue #8, where Mark Milton (the superman in question)
glimpsed his true origins as the last survivor of an alien
ship, that great American plan backfired, and Milton went
on his merry way to the secret base that holds the answers
to his questions.
issue #9 is spent looking through the fearful eyes of those
running the base. They know Mark is coming, and, after the
devastation left in Africa from his battle with Doc Spectrum,
they know he hasn't just come back home for a friendly chat.
Realizing he's been holding back the true extent of his power
up until now, they picture the destruction he could rain upon
the United States, estimating he could score roughly one million
kills every 16.6 days and there wouldn't be a damn thing they
could do about it. General Casey, having been in charge of
the project from the start, always suspected this day might
come, of course, and flashes back to the first days Mark spent
at the base, where they repeatedly tested him and formulated
their "back-up plan" for this very situation, and,
as Mark strolls onto the base, barely noticing the artillery
shells that bounce off of him, Casey readies himself for the
disposal of his ultimate American weapon.
thing more surprising than how Supreme Power has taken
a Justice League ripoff and revamped it into one of the most
interesting books on the market is the gradual pace Straczynski
has weaved it with. Almost any other competent writer would
have easily compacted everything we've seen into a three issue
arc and then focused on the team doing superhero missions,
saving the world and stuff, from then on. Straczynski, on
the other hand, chooses to use that tension against us: we
know they're going to form a team, but, aside from Mark having
met The Blur (think Flash), confronted Nighthawk (a black
Batman), battled Doc Spectrum (evil Hal Jordan, anyone?),
and this issue's moment where The Amphibian (Aqua
discovers the wounded Spectrum healing himself in a prismatic
cocoon at the bottom of the ocean, these people don't even
know each other.
of shooting directly for a "hey, gang, let's team up"
story, JMS chooses to focus on one of the ideas that made
Warren Ellis' Stormwatch run feel so real: no powerful
country would fund a superhero to protect the world when they
could just as easily use them to further their own interests,
instead. The result has been a very realistic feeling of how
the American government would topple foreign powers and turn
the tide of international conflicts if they had their own
super-powered Boy Scout zipping around the globe. But, while
being reminiscent of the portrayal of Superman in The Dark
Knight Returns, it's played out more like the life story
of a CIA operative: another loyal son of America riding out
into the night, murdering for the "good" of his
country while doubt slowly eats away at him.
broken free of the machine (in a magnificently explosion-filled
manner, thanks to the ever-talented Gary Frank) and it's looking
like this universe's Superman is ready to rise up to his true
calling as defender of the globe.
unless Doc Spectrum and the others have something else to
say about it