Just as I was about to write off J. Michael Straczynski completely, I decided to try another of his books. I picked up the first collection of Supreme Power and I have to say I enjoyed it a great deal.
First off, this is not the most original book I have ever read, but when this came out in 2003-ish it was something that had not been seen as much as it has in the last few years. 8 years on, it feels a little “done before”, but that does not make this any less enjoyable. JMS and artists Gary Frank and Jon Sibal offer a sort of “what if” story. It is a redux of the Squadron Supreme from the 70’s era Marvel, but to be honest, you really get the DC vibe more here. The characters are all pretty direct analogs of the main DC heroes and there is no attempt to cover that. Since the original book was a direct “marvel version” of the DC Justice League, that really should not be a surprise. In fact I can not think of a less subtle way of doing it. This book’s versions of Superman and Batman have origins very similar to the DC ones and somewhat altered premises based on Green Lantern, Flash and Wonder Woman, in a very brief cameo, are all here. The obvious corollaries end there, though. These folks live in a very real world, surrounded by the real events that we grew up with. That changes the dynamic greatly. Suddenly, Batman is a racist, his African-American family having been killed by southern white supremacists. The people this character, called Nighthawk, helps are exclusively black. The Green Lantern variant here appears to be schizophrenic and the Flash, here called The Blur, is a fairly ordinary guy that wants to be a hero and has no problem cashing a check for doing that. The closest relation to the source material here is Hyperion, who stands in for Superman. Having said all that, if you feel this is a bit tired, you would not be entirely wrong. We HAVE seen this before and since. There are small touches here of what would become Superman: Earth One. The thing that set this apart for me was the complete feel of the book. Even well-worn ideas can seem fresh and exciting when done well by people putting their best work on display. Gary Frank’s work here is superb, the static feel his art sometimes gets a bad, and unjustified knock for, creates a stillness that works perfectly for the story. JMS hits all the right points to make this seem very real and believable. There have been other revisionist takes in comics. Watchmen, Planetary and even much of the New 52 try to do this, all with varying degrees of success. Where this book succeeds is that it is not at all self-aware. It feels like it is just as organic as any other origin story and does not reference anything outside of itself. I never feel as though this is ripping off, or standing on the shoulders of some other work.
Next up this week was Nova by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. I have come to really enjoy the writing of these two, known in the industry by the collective title DnA. This book is no exception. I have read the first two trades covering issues 1-12 and an annual. I was almost put off the duo by The Annihilators. The story was fine, the art was just this side of awful. Tan Eng Huat has generally been a good artist, but this book felt very rushed. While that one was a struggle to get through, Nova was the opposite. Having read some of the other DnA works like Guardians of the Galaxy, The Thanos Imperative and Ressurrection Man ( the last, a great title from DC from the 90’s, ressurrected for the New 52), I was ready to jump into more of this universe. Clean art and strong storytelling, mixed with characters that these guys really appear to understand, made this a very good read. Many fans today are a bit down on the cosmic books, and for a while, I was one of them. These guys have made this a staple of the work they have done at Marvel, and made themselves the go-to writers in the genre, the same way Jim Starlin was through the 80’s and 90’s.
Both of these books have made me want more. Fortunately, there are 6 total volumes of Nova and 2 more Supreme Power with this creative team. While it appears unlikely that JMS will return to write more of his book for Marvel, DnA are only just warming up. It is clear they will keep building the Marvel cosmic universe for a long time to come, and I cannot wait for more.