The Return of Squadron Supreme


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The last time Marvel’s Squadron Supreme was seen was late last year, at the end of the Ultimate Power miniseries, and their world was…a mess, ravaged not only by a weapon designed by the Ultimate Universe’s Reed Richards, but also by the battle between the Ultimates, the (J. Michael Straczynski) Squadron Supreme and the original (Mark Gruenwald) Squadron Supreme.

Prior to that, volume 2 of the Squadron Supreme series had ended on a cliffhanger that was never resolved (although something terrible and unexpected happened afterwards).

Questions, it would appear, abound, such as: what happened after the cliffhanger? What’s the Supreme world like post Ultimate Power? Are those who stayed behind on the Supreme world still there? Will JMS be coming back to tell more Squadron Supreme stories?

Well, Squadron Supreme is coming back later this year as an ongoing series, written by Howard Chaykin, illustrated by Marco Turini, and edited by John Barber (a quick aside, the new series will not be under the MAX imprint as the original Supreme Power series was).

We’ll chat with Chaykin in a minute, but first, some broader answers from Barber.

As for why the series is retuning now?

“When I took over editing Squadron Supreme, Joe Quesada made the point that the only reason to do this book is because it’s good,” Barber said. “So there was no reason to rush out a book if it wasn’t right.

“And when I took the editorial reigns, it was a weird situation to come into. J. Michael Straczynski and Gary Frank had both left—separately and with no animosity. But it still wasn't the easiest editorial position to be in. So it took a little while--a little longer than we'd have liked, honestly, to get everything in place. But now that we're here--with Howard Chaykin and Marco Turini in place--I think we're going to be going to some new, really exciting places.”

Quesada was the one who suggested Chaykin, Barber said, which was fine with him – Barber had taken over editing Wolverine while Chaykin was drawing it, so the two already had a working relationship. “Howard’s got a very unique voice in comics writing. His writing over the course of his career has always had a big touch of the political,” Barber said. “Everybody remembers American Flagg! of course, but his throughout the entire Chaykin oeuvre you can see him balancing politics and sex. And there’s Squadron Supreme for you, right?

“He’s not going to play it safe; he’s not going to deliver a bland script. Some people will love this and want to see where we’re going—which won’t disappoint—and some will probably hate it.”

The series will be restarting with a new issue #1. As Barber explained, it wouldn’t quite make sense otherwise, given the 18 or so months since volume 2 issue #7. “Plus we had the story from Ultimate Power, which was always meant to be taking place after that battle, so it wasn’t something we could do anyway. So this is something of a fresh pick-up, but believe me when I say that we won’t be ignoring anything. It’s a great jumping-on point, but long-time readers: stick around, because the pay-off is going to be massive.”

Fair enough for a start?

Now, on to a chat with Chaykin.

Newsarama: Howard, how did this all get rolling in the first place? Given JMS’ involvement in the franchise from the start and even though Ultimate Power, many people assumed that if/when the “Supremeiverse” came back, it would be with his involvement. Where did your involvement come in?

Howard Chaykin: Tracking this way, way back – I guess about five or six years ago, there was talk of a sidebar miniseries, and I was developing a Nighthawk miniseries. Bear in mind, I’m a huge fan of what Mark Gruenwald did originally – I love alternate worlds and avatar stuff, the Philip Jose Farmer stuff and all of that. So I was approached about doing a Nighthawk miniseries, and for reasons that are irrelevant, is dissipated in the wind for a number of reasons.

NRAMA: So you were a fan of the more recent incarnation?

HC: Oh, I loved what JMS did in reviving the material. I thought it was probably the most interesting post-Watchmen take of superheroes in the real world idea in a long time. So yes, I was a huge fan.

A couple of months back, I got a call from Joe Quesada about whether or not I would be interested in taking over the franchise, and he laid out for me a general direction that he was thinking of, and it really hit me hard. I loved it. It took the material in a very different direction, and it recreated the franchise in a very different way. It was an opportunity to get eh best of both worlds – to jump on to something that pre-existed, but to jump-start it in a way that took it in an entirely different direction, so I jumped at it. It’s actually the second major writing gig that I’ve got going on at Marvel – the first hasn’t been announced yet, so I can’t talk about it – so don’t ask.

So – I was into the idea of bringing them back, and things got fairly fast-tracked, much quicker than I expected. I took Joe’s premise and put it together with my take on it, and was met with universal positive response. I was kind of amazed at that – I was expecting to go through a much deeper discovery and development process than that, but everything I delivered seemed to meet with “Okay, let’s go with this.” And I found myself writing a monthly book. The third issue script is in, I’m starting on the fourth, artwork from issue #1 looks great, we’ve seen some art form issue #2, and we’re moving ahead.

NRAMA: Did you get a feeling from Marvel that there was an urgency to get the project and franchise moving again, quickly?

HC: Actually, no. I didn’t see an urgency at all, to tell the truth. I liked the premise that I was handed, and the overall approach of what we were going to do with those characters and the world, and I didn’t get a sense of “We’ve got to get this moving,” but when I started delivering material, they were ready to start moving with what I was delivering.

NRAMA: Sow where and how are you picking things up? In the regular series, JMS left things on a cliffhanger in volume 2 of the series, and then the next time the characters were seen was in Ultimate Power…

HC: I’m picking up after the crossover - Ultimate Power. My story will start a couple of years after what we saw in that.

NRAMA: Broad strokes – what’s the status quo of the world of the Supremes?

HC: Well, what I can say is that what we’re going to be dealing with in the first three issues will be six new characters who are cut from the same cloth as Squadron Supreme, who also come from a very different universe, but will have an eerie familiarity much as the Squadron Supreme characters have, but will stand in direct opposition to much of what those Squadron Supreme characters represent.

So – new characters in this universe, and the guy who serves as ombudsman, the character who represents our sense of self will be Ultimate Nick Fury, who, as you’ll recall, stayed behind at the end of Ultimate Power. He will be our eyes and ears and moral compass in this world. And it’s a world that’s just getting over the impact of the events of that crossover. It’s literally struggling to get out from under the physical and spiritual wreckage left behind by that huge combat that took place across the country and world between the Ultimates, and Squadron Supreme and the original Squadron Supreme. That was a huge, kitchen-sink concept, and this word is now getting over it. What I’m dealing with then is how real people in the real world, which, to a great extent what JMS did most successfully was to create a “real world” in which we saw how real human beings would relate to people with these gifts. How these people deal with a world that’s been…physically beaten to shit by super-powered creatures.

NRAMA: Creatures?

HC: I say “creatures” for a reason, because what I’m going to be trying to do here is to blur the line between super-heroes and super-villains. I mean, when I was a kid, I imagined having the super powers and abilities that the superheroes have, and I can’t say that fighting crime was the firs thing on my mind. It just didn’t play out that way. Mostly, it was getting back at all the people who hurt me and dong all the things that we, in our day-to-day social recourse, indulge in. I want to see if I can do a book where that will be a character element as it was in those nascent days when Stan and Jack were reinventing the material.

NRAMA: Sure, and it follows along the road that JMS had already established – you saw those tendencies being strong in some characters, or starting to come out…

HC: Of course – I completely agree, and I am completely and utterly in debt to JMS – his world and how it was created. I’m elaborating on it. What I’m also doing is playing with the idea of these new characters who have seen the results, the impact on their world of characters with these abilities and their embracing or rejection of those results.

NRAMA: Er…so the new characters have gone through what it looks like the Squadron Supreme is doing on their earth?

HC: Right - but don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to sound too intellectual here, because frankly, there’s a lot of funny, nasty, action-based punching and killing. I’m a guy who, well, I like to think that I write really smart stuff that’s filled with lots of over the top-action. And that’s what this is about. It’s the motivation behind the action that might be a bit surprising and complicated.

NRAMA: With a story like this, set in a real world with super-powered beings…how do you stay away from roads that have already been travelled before, either in Gruenwald’s original Squadron Supreme miniseries to Watchmen?

HC: I think in terms of motivation – the “whys” of the characters, not necessarily the “whats” is important there.

NRAMA: You mean the why the characters choose to do what they do, rather than what they do?

HC: Right. One of the things that my generation did was sort of impose on the world at large the sense that our attitudes were the world’s attitudes. It wasn’t until we woke up a couple of years ago that we realized there were three generations after us that had changed their minds. It’s one thing to posit this idea from the perspective of a generation, and it’s another to re-think that idea as seen through the eyes of the next and the next and the next generation.

As an example, there’s a lot of talk about the collapse of reading. I’m a great reader myself, but I also recognize the fact that complaining about the next generation not reading is not going to get anybody to read. What’s going to happen is that something else will replace it. It will go away. The possibility of “going away” has always been present in my generation. I spent my boyhood assuming that I was going to be nuked to death in a conflict between godless communisms and godless capitalism. Now I’m caught in a war between two screamingly religious states – the irony of that escapes me never. Things change, and as a result, so do the ways that people look at and interact with the world.

So for me, the way to keep that world fresh is to re-think the motivations and whys. The whats are frequently familiar. When a guy leaps over a building in a single bound, or swing between buildings on webs, the whats are there. It’s the why you chose to do what you do that’s important. What’s the motivation?

When I started my television and movie writing career, one of the things you always heard from producers was “how can you make the character’s motivations more altruistic?” The irony is, of course was that question was coming from guys that you wouldn’t trust with your wife. So I don’t necessarily trust altruism as a motivation. I try to find the motivation in the darker parts of the human spirit, and see how things play out. The results don’t necessarily turn out to be dark in the end, though. The bad guys win, the good guys lose, and sometimes it’s the opposite. It’s a chaotic universe. Once you accept the chaos of the universe, you can move on and do some interesting stuff.

NRAMA: So this sounds to be a pretty good home for you, given your sensibilities.

HC: I think so, yeah. I find it’s a very difficult book to break down in terms of setting it up from a basic, paragraph-long concept per issue to breaking it down to pages. But once that’s done, the text writes itself. The language flows. It’s the ‘how does it all fit in the book?’ that become the problem then – the language and the whys are a breeze.

NRAMA: Back to the six new characters…

HC: There are more! I have ten new characters to bring in, but I was asked by my editor to pull things back a little.

NRAMA: When you say they’re eerily familiar, are you talking about being analogues or avatars such as the Supremes themselves are?

HC: Not going to say right now. Gotta leave a few surprises.

NRAMA: Fair enough. Going back to the bigger picture, when you said you’re basically taking the franchise over, are you talking about relaunching the series as well as the series of miniseries that spotlight the various characters, or are you and John just looking at getting the main series back on track for the foreseeable future?

HC: It’s a matter of re-introducing the readership to the series and characters at this point, of starting things over and seeing if they play well with others. It’s a big book – relaunching a franchise that’s been out of the public view for a couple of years is daunting enough without getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s get this moving first if you don’t mind.

NRAMA: That’s true – when you say it’s a big book, in other terminology, if it was a mainline Marvel book it would be called what…”Marvel Universe,” because it encompasses the entire earth and all of its heroes…

HC: Exactly. But is an ensemble book (and I just doubled the ensemble with my additions), and there’s plenty of stories to tell. I’m trying to take it very slowly and pace myself. There are a lot of characters, like I said. Nick Fury will be our eyes though, and we’ll be introducing new characters in supporting roles…but yeah, it’s a “big scope” book that could easily get out of hand if we’re not being careful.

NRAMA: One final question – if you had to break down the Marvel Universe to a core concept, you could probably put Stan Lee’s Spider-Man line of “With great power comes great responsibility” at the center. Not looking for something as pithy and timeless, but what’s the core conceit here in the Supreme universe?

HC: Not to be glib, but if I were to take as pass at it, it would be “With great power comes great moral ambiguity…and serious confusion.” What do you do?

And why?

Can't wait for this

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