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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: realism.

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.

Yet the 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.

However, 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 earth?

Such has 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!

However, 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.

Most of 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.

The only 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…girl…sorta) discovers the wounded Spectrum healing himself in a prismatic cocoon at the bottom of the ocean, these people don't even know each other.

Instead 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.

Until now.

Now, Mark's 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.

That is, unless Doc Spectrum and the others have something else to say about it…


Jason Schachat

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