The Squadron Supreme were created about 40 years ago by Roy Thomas and John Buscema, first appearing in Avengers #85 and #86 as analogues to prominent DC Comics heroes (Hyperion = Superman, Nighthawk = Batman). They didn't take a starring role until a 1985 12-issue miniseries written by Mark Gruenwald, widely considered to be the greatest work of the late creator and editor's career and one of the first "deconstructionist" superhero stories.The characters got revitalized in a big way with the 2003 Supreme Power series by writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Gary Frank, part of Marvel's mature readers MAX line and one of the most acclaimed comics of the time for its real-world approach to superheroics. After 18 issues of that, the characters saw several subsequent iterations including a return to the Squadron Supreme title and a move away from the MAX imprint. Starting this June, both the title Supreme Power and its mature readers status are back, with writer Kyle Higgins (co-writing the upcoming Batman: Gates of Gotham with Scott Snyder) and artist Manuel Garcia (most recently of Widowmaker) at the controls for a new four-issue miniseries set firmly in the world built by Straczynski and Frank. Newsarama talked with Higgins about his take on Supreme Power, which two characters are at the center of this story, and the relative intimidation factor of taking over from Straczynski. Newsarama: Kyle, at first glance, this series seems like a tough one to take on — even though some very talented writers have contributed to the mythos, the Squadron Supreme characters and concepts as we know them in the modern era are so closely associated with J. Michael Straczynski (and the original series so critically acclaimed) that it seems like it'd be a tall order for any writer to follow up on that. Is there an intimidation factor there?
Kyle Higgins: I don’t think “intimidated” is the right word — I certainly hold what JMS did in very high regard, and the direction of the book is going to show that, but I would say I’m more excited than anything. This is a great opportunity to continue a book that had a very clear vision and direction, and it’s one that fits quite well with my sensibilities. JMS laid the foundation, and now I’m looking to explore and push the characters in new ways while staying grounded by who he established them to be. It’s challenging, but incredibly exciting.
Nrama: The original Supreme Power was a very big deal at the time it came out. How much of a fan are you of that original series?
Higgins: Huge. It’s one of my all time favorite books. Like most people, I was and am a big Watchmen fan. However, I’ll openly admit that when JMS was in the midst of his Supreme Power run, I preferred it to Watchmen. Everyone talks about Watchmen as being a deconstruction of superheroes and a commentary on the genre — and that’s very true. But you could make an argument that the deconstructionist approach is also one of Watchmen’s biggest weaknesses. The book isn’t terribly accessible unless you’re well-versed in superheroes and the tropes of the genre — both things that we take for granted.
Supreme Power, to me, was much more accessible. It wasn’t a commentary on the superhero genre as much as it was a character story about unusual, powerful people in a world that that you or I could very much live in. If you want to call it a deconstruction you still can, but I would argue that if you’d never read a superhero book the story would still resonate.
Nrama: The 2006 Squadron Supreme series ended rather abruptly — is this series picking up on those threads at all?
Higgins: Not too much. I really want to know as much as anyone what happened in that standoff between Mark, Stanley, Kyle and Redstone (JMS’ final issue ended on a cliffhanger). It’s something I’d love to go back and finish someday, but for now we’re leaving it alone.
Nrama: Fleshing out that question a little bit more, when does this story take place? How much time has passed since the last time we've seen these characters?
Higgins: This story takes place a few years after [Howard] Chaykin’s run, after Mark sort attacked the U.S. Government, causing the explosion that leveled the White House and killed the president. He took off for outer space, in a self-imposed exile, while Joe stayed behind to clean up Mark’s mess. And that’s pretty much all you need to know, coming into our story. [Laughs.]
Nrama: It sounds like this is very much about Hyperion and Dr. Spectrum. When this story begins, Hyperion hasn't been active as a superhero for some time — what's retirement like for him?
Higgins: Well, he’s been somewhat on the run. After things deteriorated between him and the United States, he took off seemingly “forever.” So the way he comes back into the fold is as much about the state of the world as it is about what he’s looking for in his own life. And those two things may or may not be compatible.
Nrama: Dr. Spectrum is in his place as America's top superhero, for sure an interesting position for that character to be in. How is he handling the job?
Higgins: I think outside observers would say he’s doing rather well. In the first six or seven pages you’ll see what exactly Joe’s position means — it’s a different set of responsibilities from his previous work as Doctor Spectrum. He’s had to bring stability to the U.S. in the wake of Mark’s exit. But what I’ve had so much fun writing is the why. And the why is really what separates him and Mark.
Nrama: Beyond Hyperion and Dr. Spectrum, what other characters can readers expect to see playing important roles?
Higgins: There are a couple faces that will pop up—Emil Burbank, Stanley Stewart, and General Alexander come to mind. Though at the same time, this is really Mark and Joe’s story, aimed to reestablish both characters. In the new direction of the world, how do they fit in?
Nrama: This is sort of speculative, but is the idea of this story to sort of relaunch the property, setting up more stories down the line? Or is this wrapping these characters' stories up for the time being?
Higgins: I think a lot of that depends on how this mini does. I’ve got four issues that I think will reestablish Mark, Joe, and the direction of the book — if it were to continue. I know Marvel is high on the property, and it’s certainly something that I have a number of ideas for. At the same time, I’ve approached this story in a way that it’s not just setup for a bigger run. It’s very much a contained piece that, while it could certainly tie into a new series, it also has a very definitive ending.
Nrama: The original Supreme Power was a mature readers MAX series, though the comic eventually moved to Marvel Knights under the traditional Squadron Supreme name. Is it fair to assume that it continues to play with some more sophisticated themes?
Higgins: Yes, very much. And actually, this is a MAX book. That was one of the first things Tom Brevoort said to me when Marvel approved the project — they wanted to give the story the right sandbox to play in, to help me better ground the world. So I’ve been really lucky — a lot of the ideas I’m playing with have been really enhanced by the flexibility I’ve had under a MAX banner. That, and it lets us do some pretty intense action. [Laughs.]
Nrama: It's still a few months before issue #1 is out, but what can you share about working with artist Manuel Garcia?
Higgins: He’s been fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed his work for the last couple years, but I can say with absolute certainty that these are my favorite pages of his yet. The look of the book is so important to pulling off the “real world” feel — and Manuel 100% gets it. The stuff I’ve seen so far has been really, really nice. I think people will really dig it.