Fire & Water #160 – Squadron Supreme vs Justice League

Shag welcomes Paul Spataro (from TWO TRUE FREAKS) to discuss Marvel’s SQUADRON SUPREME vs DC’s JUSTICE LEAGUE! We compare the characters and then the Squadron Supreme limited series versus the Kingdom Come mini-series! It’s the Amphibian and Nuke Podcast!

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Opening theme, “That Time is Now,” by Michael Kohler.Closing music by Daniel Adams and Ashton Burge of The Bad Mamma Jammas!

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13 responses to “Fire & Water #160 – Squadron Supreme vs Justice League

  1. Interesting episode, given the battle fever going on. My intro to the Squadron Sinister was more tangental, in Defenders. My cousin had a broken run that covered late Gerber and early David Anthony Kraft, and there was a little bit of Kyle Richmond’s past there, though I was foggy on it. With the sporadic distribution of the 70s, I kept missing Squadron appearances, usually seeing an issue before or an issue after. It was the later Defenders, where the Squadron are under the control of the Overmind, that I was fully introduced to the group, after reading their entries in OHATMU. I saw the maxi-series on the stands; but, poo-pooed it as “Watchmen Lite.” It didn’t help that Paul Ryan’s art was still developing and the reproduction of the comic (and a lot of DC and Marvel, of that era) wasn’t great. I skimmed, the later issues, but didn’t read it. I ended up reading it, in retrospect.

    In reading Squadron Supreme, I still feel it feels a bit lightweight, though not for lack of trying. It does bring up some interesting conflicts; but, I also felt it disposed of them rather quickly. Mark Gruenwald was a writer I liked; but, he often seemed to have better ideas that the actual stories he put on paper. It always seemed like he was reaching for something higher and falling short. I still think Paul Ryan’s art lets him down and the production of the comic does hinder it. Watchmen had a massive advantage in that, as DC was willing to spend a bit on prestige projects, like Watchmen.

    I’ve read the comparison’s of Kingdom Come and Squadron Supreme and have always felt they are mostly superficial. The comparison is stronger in the climax than in the body of each work, in my eyes. One thing about KC, though. You credit Mark Waid for the writing; but, the series concept was conceived by Alex Ross, who brought the idea to DC. Waid was not part of the original pitch. In fact, Waid and Ross had several opposing viewpoints on certain elements (like Superman), which is part of the reason the original idea of a sequel didn’t come about. In at least one interview I read, Ross seemed to take exception with how much credit Waid was given in creating the story. I mostly bring that up to ponder how much of the similarity is due to Ross’ original plot or Waid’s additions, as they developed the series? One thing is certain, both series had less than spectacular follow-ups. Squadron had a sequel idea, which morphed into a rather bland graphic novel. KC had The Kingdom, which had some moments here and there; but, nothing really cohesive, apart from bringing back the multiverse.

    I am flabbergasted that Shag didn’t know The Whizzer. How can you miss out on a character with a name like that, who, to top it off, wears a yellow costume? He’s even made fun of in Jules Feiffer’s Great Comic Book Heroes. The character was Timely’s attempt at the Flash, as Bob Frank is bitten by a cobra and his scientist father gives him a transfusion of mongoose blood. Seriously. Timely was always one to jump on a bandwagon and rarely did it well. However, the Whizzer stuck around longer than the Red Raven and made it out of WW2. Roy Thomas revived him, in Invaders, as part of the homefront Liberty Legion; and, then part of the Invaders. The character also, for a time, was the potential father of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. he was the father of Nuklo, a radioactive creature fought by the Avengers. Check out Giant-Size Avengers #1, Avengers Annual #6 and the Invaders series (as well as Marvel Premiere 29 and 30, which crossover with Invaders % and 6, introducing the Liberty Legion). I kind of liked the idea of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver being the children of Miss America and the Whizzer, more than those of Magneto. Their powers seemed a closer match to the WW2 couple, than Magneto.

    Supreme Power started well; but seemed to just stall, as Staczynski was too involved in Hollywood and the book lost momentum. Same thing happened with The Twelve. It is a very dark and cynical take on things and reads more than a little similar to Straczynski’s own Rising Stars. As much as I love Babylon 5, Straczynski’s comic work is a little too dark for my tastes. He’s got a great sense of humor but it doesn’t seem to come through his comics as well as it did his tv work.

    If you’ve never seen it, check out the Kingdom Come Companion, from Comicology. It’s a little rare, as it was pulled from distribution over copyright and trademark issues. However, it has really great articles and illustrations of Kingdom Come, with annotations of the various homages, a breakdown of all of the characters (including those that are mostly just filling up scenes). It also covers all of the other similar stories that share themes, like Marvelman, Watchmen, Squadron Supreme, Alan Moore’s “Twilight Proposal,” and Robert Mayer’s novel Superfolks. It also had a very cool Alex Ross cover, with the KC characters in a parody of the Super Friends title card.

  2. Great episode! Paul is a heckuva nice guy, and I’m always glad to hear him guest on a show, because I’m a big fan of Back to the Bins.

    I picked up a few issues of the Squadron Supreme mini off the stands, but I wasn’t able to get the whole series. I did read the trade later, and it’s amazing how many comics have touched on some of the themes, yet this one goes somewhat under appreciated.

    The Squadron Sinister debuted the same month DC ran a VERY vague analog for the Avengers in JLA #75. The Destructors were evil duplicates of Batman, Green Arrow, Atom and Black Canary (who joined the League that issue) that made vague references to Marvel characters. Evil Batman threw a trash-can lid like Cap; the Evil Atom tried to grow like Goliath, etc. That was a coordinated effort between Denny O’Neil at DC and Roy Thomas at Marvel, but the DC side is so subtle, it’s easy to miss. They got it right later when Mike Friedrich did the Heroes of Angor, or whatever.

    I think The Justice Lords from the classic Justice League Animated episode “A Better World” are very Squadron Supreme-like. That story continued the series well into the JLU phase, so its just a great idea to explore; super heroes who take control. Gruenwald got there first!

    Again, great show! Sorry I had Rob over at my house, listening to records. :-)


  3. Cool episode fellas! While I don’t quite agree with Paul’s assessment that the SS mini is of a par with WATCHMEN, it is quite excellent and has been unjustly forgotten as a seminal comics work. In many ways it “works” better than WATCHMEN because it looks and feels like a regular Marvel comic, which makes the events that take place all the more upsetting. I bought it off the stands at the time and by issue 12 I was like “What the holy hell is going on?!?”

    I’d comment more, but I have a bus to catch…

    1. I’m admittedly biased on this, and I’m a fan of the SQUADRON SUPREME mini-series, but I really can’t put this on par with WATCHMEN.

      I respect the book’s ambition , and its use of analog heroes to break down the superhero genre. I can see the similarity of themes between it and WATCHMEN, but there was always something lacking in the execution to me. I feel that WATCHMEN has aged quite a bit better.

      If anything, I think SQUADRON SUPREME has far more in common with the later parts of Alan Moore’s run on MARVELMAN/MIRACLEMAN, where a superhero isn’t just a guardian of the status quo who runs around and puts out fires… but the hero actively tries to fundamentally change the world for the better by taking it over.

      Maybe the fact that it reads more like a standard superhero comics of its time makes SQUADRON a bit more accessible to comics fan, but I tend to prefer the Moore/Gaiman approach, which I think is richer in general.

  4. Oh, and while I was sorry to miss the show, the afternoon at Chris’ house listening to records was AWESOME. We had Yoo-Hoo and Twinkies, and Chris let me play with all his Super Powers figures. I love Brainiac’s Nuclear* Kick!

    (Shag: pronounced “new-clee-r”)

  5. The current speedster in Squadron Supreme is the Blur from the New Universe.

    Somewhere in the multiverse there is a world where Mark Gruenwald left Marvel in the early 90’s and has been Editor-In-Chief at DC ever since.

  6. Fun episode!
    First off, Paul sounds exactly like Mike Francesa! I was waiting to hear about the Knicks’ woes! (For the record, I am a Boston fan.)

    My only experience with Squadron Supreme is the Straczynski/Frank series which I absolutely loved. I am not a big fan of harsh dystopia or deconstruction of superheroes. But I am a sucker for good stories. And that one was done right.

    I have heard a lot of good stuff about the Gruenwald work but have never got it. I keep searching in the bargain trade bins at cons for it. Maybe I just need to pony up the full amount.

    Lastly, I encountered the Whizzer in Invaders and the Vision/Scarlet Witch mini-series. I always like him being Wanda’s father.

  7. Thanks for the shout out to Super-Team Family: The Lost Issues! I heard you wondering about some of the artists featured – just check on the labels below each cover – that’s where I list them.

  8. Very interesting podcast – thanks Shagg and Paul. I see Chris mentioned the stealth Avengers Analog in JLA#75. It was very vague indeed with the duplicate JLA members just making references – the Duplicate Superman said he was “as mighty as Thor”, while the duplicate Hawkman made reference to Iron! LOL There is a very good discussion about this in the Twomorrows JLA Companion – I think the reason that the DC side was not overt was because Julie Schwartz was heavily involved in the plotting and the writers found it hard to bring up this unofficial crossover.

    I know the Champions of Angor from the JLI issues and will be covered more fully in Shagg’s Bwa-ha-ha podcast. I remember that they expanded that line up in JL Quarterly 3 with analogs of Iron Man, Hawkeye, Giant-Man and Wasp. During Countdown, there was a series “Lord Havok and the Extremists” which included a very mean-spirited presentation of the Avengers if I recall correctly – it came out after Civil War and parodies it to the extreme.

    Great show and look forward to the next one.

  9. Howdy guys! This was an interesting episode, and I enjoyed the coverage of the squadron, but especially the overlooked gem that is that maxi-series. I read that a few years ago, and I was really amazed by it.

    In fact, I enjoyed that story and those characters so much that I made sure they were on my list for inclusion in my Freedom Force mod. I’ve now got the Squadron in my Marvel mod update that I’m working on. They show up in an Avengers mission where their whole roster faces off against the Assemblers. All of this discussion about them also prompted me to fire up the game and put the team through their paces against the Avengers. They are a lot of fun to play with. You can see some screenshots, in honor of this week’s topic, here:

    On a more serious note, I particularly enjoyed your discussion of the value and merit of these books in relation to the Watchmen. I hope you’ll forgive me if I add my two cents as a professor of literature. This is sort of what I do, and I can’t resist conversations like this!

    The Watchmen is, unquestionably, the greater work in terms of literary merit, if we’re defining literary merit as CRAFTSMANSHIP. It is a work of incredible depth and emotional weight, and it is also a work of consummate skill. Yet, until very recently in our collective history, mankind has always recognized that there was a lot more to literature than just craftsmanship. The very first records we have of folks talking about the importance of literature have a focus on its edifying qualities. The whole idea of having people read the poetry and learn the stories of a culture was that it was supposed to make them BETTER as citizens and as people.

    I’m of the school of thought that this is a very important element of what constitutes the quality of a work that could be called “literary.” I’ve read more than a few texts that were written with exquisite skill, but which left me the worse for wear, in terms of the health of my soul, my spirit, that part of me that is human.

    Those books were missing something, something important. C.S. Lewis might have called it the echoes of ‘the distant land,’ the resemblances, however faint, of the True story, but I think Raymond Chandler captured it just about right when he wrote that “In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption.” That quality, and the hope it represents, is what is missing, almost, from Watchmen. It is an amazing book, but it is so dark, so cynical, that it leaves little room for that most important element of story, redemption. There is a trace of it at the end, but it is only a trace, a thin sliver of hope.

    On the other hand, Kingdom Come is all about hope, even in the darkest, dimmest, most fearful moments, there is hope, because it is a world of heroes. Even if Superman is wrong, even if his efforts are flawed, he is still what Chandler would call a man of honor: “by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it.” The same is true for Batman, and the resolution, and thus the redemptive element of the story, comes about through that hope. There is more in that book to feed the soul than there is in the Watchmen.

    So, while the Watchmen is objectively the greater work of art in terms of craftsmanship, I do not believe it is the greater work of literature. I’d say there is more of value, true value, in Kingdom Come, and, perhaps, in Squadron Supreme, because there is more of true heroism in those texts as well. And heroism, selfless sacrifice, is the very heart of redemption.

    That’s my two cents; let me know if you want change.

    Well, thanks for an enjoyable episode, and Paul did a great job!

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