Early on in Squadron Supreme #2, the character of Nighthawk infiltrates an oil refinery, having discovered that the mass-to-weight ratio of the fluid being stored in its tanks doesn’t conform to any known hydrocarbon. I’ve worked many jobs over the years, among them being plant operator at refinery in the New York harbor. Like Nighthawk, I was tasked with calculating the grade and amount of product in our inventory (though in actuality the industry does so not according to weight and mass, but volume and density based off of the American Petroleum Index). Robinson clearly included the scene as a testament to Nighthawk’s intelligence, but having performed the same task for years ad nauseum, it spoke to me more so of the tedium and mundanity which surely occupies the majority of super-heroism.
If all of the work a detective or scientist character actually performed was removed from the gutter spaces and displayed in the panels, the decompressed narratives would be to comics currently as a real tour of military service is to a six-hour Call of Duty campaign. The latter is better storytelling, to be sure. I have veteran friends who love military shooters, and I’d have found it painful to see Nighthawk studying a screen with FuelsManager on display, but even the inference of such still proved one of the more surreal and absurdist moments I’ve had while reading comics lately.
The second issue as a whole lacks the intense action or immense consequences of the debut, but fills in the requisite character-building that was absent. Hyperion channels his inner Clark Kent, immersing himself in the heartland, walking among its denizens as a fellow salt-of-the-earth everyman, guised in a quintessentially American white tee and blue jeans. This superman who’s survived the destruction of a planet, then a universe, then a multiverse, who’s fought Beyonders head-on, demonstrates effortless humility, hearing out earnestly the no-so-sage advice of a big rig trucker patroning the same diner as the demigod. It shows a far more sympathetic side to the character than the ultraviolent and vindictive vigilante suggested in the previous issue.
The real highlight of the issue comes from the interaction between Doctor Spectrum and Blur, the latter of whom Robinson absolutely nails. Hailing from the New Universe, an earth somewhat similar to our own, Blur is the closet character to an audience surrogate, his responses the same as the readers’ would be in such a situation. When Spectrum ponders what makes their adoptive world worth saving, Blur matter-of-factly points out it’s the only one they’ve got. Better yet, when she inquires whether he actually likes the 616, he can’t help but articulate how amazed and awestruck he is to inhabit so fantastic a reality, replete with aliens, monsters, magic, and more. Who could be homesick for monochrome Kansas while traversing the technicolored Oz?
Alongside Ewing’s The Ultimates, Robinson’s Squadron Supreme is easily the best book to come out of the mostly flat All-New Marvel Now initiative. As such, the book deserves better art than Leonard Kirk is currently providing. Most series in the last several years have settled in to very stylized art, signature and unique to the penciller producing it (e.g. Matteo Scalera, Sean Murphy, Skottie Young) or an ultra-bombastic and highly detailed house-style, as drawn by the superstars of the industry (e.g. Ivan Reis, Jason Fabok, Jim Lee). Kirk’s lacks the novelty of the former and the sheer skill of the later. He communicates Robinson’s script, but adds little to it.
Still, the story Robinson is weaving shows promise enough for now that it outweighs any weaknesses in Kink’s art. As long as such continues to prove the case, Squadron Supreme should remain an excellent substitute in the absence of any decent series with “Avengers” in the title.