An alien being crash lands on earth as a child, bringing with him incredible powers the world has never seen and changing the course of human history with his mere existence.
This story has been told numerous times in comic books from earnest American folklore takes to broad comedies, but one of the most recent and realistic twists on the core superhero story remains J. Michael Straczysnki's "Supreme Power" run of comics. Starting in 2003, that writer took Marvel Comics long-standing Justice League analogies The Squadron Supreme and redrafted their origins in a project that put human emotion and political intrigue at the forefront. And this weekend at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (AKA C2E2), the publisher announced a continuation of that story under the pen of new writer Kyle Higgins with art by Manuel Garcia.
In the four-issue MAX line comic that begins shipping in June, the new creative team will pick up the "Supreme Power" universe a while after the last iteration – Howard Chaykin's 2008 run with the Squadron Supreme – with lead character Hyperion in exile after an attempt at taking over the government while Doctor Spectrum attempts to fill the void in the government's superhero ranks. Below, Higgins – who broke out on comic fans' radars with his 2008 short film "The League" and will soon co-write DC's "Batman: Gates of Gotham" – speaks on why realism is the name of the game when it comes to "Supreme Power," what each of his leads will grapple with as the story progresses, when we'll see the rest of the Squadron and the whole enterprise's surprising connection to "Superman IV."
Kyle Higgins: Oh, man. It's hard to think you can already quantify it as having been "years" since I finished the short. That's kind of depressing, actually. [Laughs]
I know I've told the first part of this story before, so I apologize to those who've heard it already, but I actually got a shot in comics because of Joe Quesada and Tom Brevoort. One of my friends, writer/artist Eric Wight, passed along a copy of "The League" to Joe. He seemed to really like it and offered to spread it around the office, in hopes that an editor might respond to the material. Tom B reached out a week later – I assume he didn't hate the film, though I've never actually asked. [Laughs]
As a result, Alec Siegel and I did a Captain America one shot and a few other things that aren't out yet. Then this past summer, I got a crazy idea for how to bring back "Supreme Power," and spent a late night writing up a diatribe. Tom liked the idea and we slowly turned it into what the take is now, along with Alejandro Arbona (who's editing).
So I've been busy on that, as well as some Batman projects – "The Nightrunner" late last year and now "Gates Of Gotham." At the same time, Alec and I are actually finishing a script that I'm aiming to direct as my first feature. It's an adaptation of Duane Swierczynski's "The Wheelman."
So coming in to "Supreme Power," place this story a bit for us. I know that Howard Chaykin last worked on the property in a series that played with the Ultimate Nick Fury character, but since then he's gone back to the Ultimate U. Will you be piggybacking at all on what happened there, or will this series take place at a different point in the timeline?
Higgins: Our story takes place a few years after Chaykin's run. When we last saw everyone, Mark Milton (Hyperion) had attacked the Government, causing an explosion that leveled the White House and killed the President. Mark took off for outer space, in something of a "self imposed exile," while Joe stayed behind. So we're following all that, but we're not referencing much of it. Meaning, no Ultimate Nick Fury. [Laughs]
The other key thing to check in on with this book is how you'll be picking up where JMS left off. Where did you start in terms of what JMS was doing, and how do you plan on making it your own?
Higgins: Well for me, as cool as some of the elements were that "Ultimate Power" and Chaykin's run introduced, I felt the book kind of changed a bit. This was originally a series that focused on super powers in the "real" world and explored these very flawed, often contradictory people. That's the kind of storytelling I like, but it's also the kind that makes crossing the book over with other universes really tough to pull off. One of the big reasons we connect to the characters is because it's a world that feels familiar – it's OUR world. The second you move away from that, you better have a really good plan and vision.
So, my goal here is to bring the book closer to its earlier days. I'm going to keep pushing the characters, but I'm going to do it in a way that pulls a lot from who JMS set them up to be. You won't have to have read the book before for the story to make sense – this is also a jumping on point – but If you HAVE read the JMS' run, there'll be a lot of things you'll recognize.
As with all things Supreme, Hyperion is the fulcrum of how the team functions, and from appearances it looks as though he's a bit off the stage at the start of this series. What's your take on the hero raised by the government and what his role in this story is?
Higgins: "Supreme Power" has always been Mark Milton's story, and that has much more to do with him as a character than it does with him leading the Squadron Supreme. He's really the catalyst behind everything in the modern world, including the introduction of super powers (which came from his ship). Beyond that, this is a guy who's been lied to and manipulated for the better part of twenty years. He's been brainwashed into loving a country – and a planet – that he'll always be an outsider in. And yet, at his core all he's ever WANTED is to be loved. He's wanted to fit in. Later in the series he flirts with that idea of taking over, and in Chaykin's run he kind of half heartedly tries to (before everything blows up in his face) though that moment has always read to me as more concept driven – "wouldn't it be great if Mark Milton attacked Washington?"– than it has as part of his arc. That's not to say his arc WON'T or SHOULDN'T go there, but I do think it's something that has to be explored a bit more first.
Emil Burbank has a great line in "Squadron Supreme" #3 or #4 (the JMS run), when the Squadron is talking about taking over the world – and this is after Mark has seen a possible future (where he HAS taken over). Burbank retorts "yes, we COULD take over the world – but then what would we do with it?" Mark kind of stops to think about it and realizes that he doesn't have an answer. And it's not because he wonders whether it's "right or wrong." It's more because he wonders "what's in it for me if I do?" And that, to me, is incredibly interesting and in a weird way, very relatable.
On the flipside, it feels like we'll be getting a lot of Dr. Spectrum out the gate of this book. He's always played a bit against Hyperion and now it seems he's taken the dude's job to boot. In what ways does the spotlight affect him, and how will we remeet the character in issue #1?
Higgins: Outside of Stanley Stewart, Joe is the closest thing we get to "idealism" in "Supreme Power." Sure, a lot of what he does could be considered "morally ambiguous"– wiping out villages anyone? [Laughs] But at the end of the day his actions are in service to something greater than himself – his country. Joe's a soldier first and foremost, and that's still the case here, even though his role has changed. Joe stayed behind after Mark's "attack" and has been forced to deal with the fallout and the rebuilding, which has thrust him into a much more public role. And for the time being, that's exactly what the country seems to need.
Of course, outside these two forces of nature, the cast of "Supreme Power" is quite huge. What other heroes and heroines are you looking to play with over the course of the series, and when might they show up?
Higgins: Well, at this point the book is a four-issue mini series. There are some other characters popping up- – Stanley Stewart, Emil Burbank, etc – but it's primarily a story about Joe and Mark. It's about redefining what the world is, bringing it back closer to something that feels like our own, and setting the stage to go forward. If we do more books, I have a much larger story that this will tie into, but right now it's most important to re-establish Joe and Mark – who they are, what they want, and what they're willing to do to get it.
On the flipside of that, the regular human element and particularly the humans who work for the government have always loomed large in the book. Who's pulling the strings of this Supreme team, or who might be primed as targets in the battle between "super powers"?
Higgins: General Alexander will be prominent, in a new role that gives him a lot more power. The president is featured, as are several world leaders. And then there's also the Powered Arms Committee – a new branch of the U.N. that formed in response to Mark's attack against the United States.
Overall, the hook of the "Supreme Power" concept has always been a more grounded, realistic take on superheroes – one where there are not only high stakes but also high levels of personal conflict and petty human nature. How are you playing with these ideas in the book? In other words, in what ways have you been thinking about the tone of the story?
Higgins: Well, like I said – "it's our world... but with super powers" is what we're gunning for. These are real people with often selfish goals and motivations. The world of the book will be familiar; it's going to be grounded.
When I originally pitched the book, I brought up a story that one of my mentors, the late Tom Mankiewicz, used to tell. In the 1980's, Christopher Reeve almost brought Tom and Richard Donner back to Superman with "Superman IV." It didn't work out, but Tom did sit down with Christopher Reeve to give his thoughts on the script. And the first thing Tom told him was to lose the nuclear storyline. Reeve was a producer on the project, and it was important to him that the film tackle one of the world's biggest problems: nuclear disarmament.
Tom listened to Reeve's argument before explaining why it was a bad idea. Superheroes, Tom explained, "can't deal with the world's problems – at least not ones as big as as nuclear disarmament." In tackling the nuclear issue, Tom thought Reeve was opening Pandora's box. "Superman can fly near the speed of light, lift God knows how much, and (in the first film) reverse time. But the second you have him rounding up nuclear weapons, flying them into outer space and heaving them into the sun, you start to wonder what's stopping him from harvesting millions of pounds of food and delivering it to all the third world countries. You gotta remember belief in the world is paramount to writing compelling superheroes...but the stories are still escapism."
I used to argue with him all the time about this, especially while I was doing "The League." I'd explain about "Squadron Supreme," "Watchmen," etc. I'd tell him how you COULD do that story now in something like "Supreme Power," but how you'd follow it with the U.N. up in arms about international air space and the farmers outraged over the land being barren from over-harvesting. I'm not sure I ever swayed him, but the debates did give me some story ideas. [Laughs]
Manuel Garcia is drawing this book. As an artist, he's always done widescreen action with a light, brushy style. What's been your impression of what he brings to "Supreme Power" this time out?
Higgins: Manuel's a beast – plain and simple. He's as big a fan of the series and the tone we're going for as I am, and his pages show it. Again, he's bringing a nice sense of realism to the story. The quiet scenes have real weight to them, and the widescreen action pops. I think people are going to be very impressed when they see what he's doing.
"Supreme Power" #1 – the first of four issues – ships in June from Marvel Comics.