THE SQUADRON SUPREMEMedium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1969
Creators: Roy Thomas (writer) and Sal Buscema (artist)
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Marvel Comics' Squadron Supreme has been called a blatant rip-off of DC's Justice League of America, and with good reason. The Squadron started out with an exact, member-for-member correspondence with the JLA. But it wasn't intended as plagiarism, designed
to sell comic books devoid of original characters. It was just a joke, intended to elicit a knowing smile from readers — modeling a quartet of Avengers villains after the JLA's four most prominent members.
In Avengers #69 (October, 1969), writer Roy Thomas (The Invaders, Man-Thing) and artist Sal Buscema (New Mutants, The Incredible Hulk,) pitted the group against a villain called The Grandmaster, who sponsored a team of stooges called The Squadron Sinister. The Squadron consisted of Hyperion (who was much like Superman), Nighthawk (who greatly resembled Batman), The Whizzer (quite similar to The Flash and, incidentally, named after a 1940s character of theirs) and Dr. Spectrum (very analogous to Green Lantern).
Naturally, the good guys came out on top, but the Squadron and its various members continued to turn up as villains, fighting Daredevil, Thor and other denizens of the Marvel Universe. Nighthawk (no relation, by the way) later turned into a good guy and joined The Defenders. The Whizzer is still active, tho he's changed his name to Speed Demon. The others were eventually killed off.
Meanwhile, as The Avengers were traipsing through parallel worlds, they ran across the superheroes The Grandmaster had based his subordinates on, who turned out to be residents of another Earth, which they called "Other-Earth". The Squadron Supreme, introduced in the 85th issue (February, 1971), had a few more members — Thomas, who wrote this one as well, extended the joke by adding Lady Lark (Black Canary), American Eagle (Hawkman, and no relation), Tom Thumb (not an exact counterpart to The Atom, but as much a one as he'd been of the original Atom) and a guy named after The Avengers' own Hawkeye (himself copied from Green Arrow). It was drawn by Buscema's brother, John (who, from Conan the Barbarian to The Silver Surfer, pretty much set Marvel's house style for that decade).
Being set on Other-Earth (later called Earth-S) was no more a barrier to crossovers than being set on Earth-Two had proven to be for DC's Justice Society of America. Later writers carried the joke perhaps too far by adding Power Princess (Wonder Woman), Arcanna (Zatanna), The Skrullian Skymaster (Martian Manhunter), Amphibion (Aquaman, later correctly spelled "Amphibian"), and Nuke (Firestorm). A couple changed their names (Hawkeye became Golden Archer; American Eagle went through several names), but that was the line-up as of Squadron Supreme #1 (August, 1985), after which The Squadron Supreme began its departure from the Justice League template.
The setting did confer one great advantage on writers. With nothing on Other-Earth affecting mainstream continuity, they could do whatever they wanted with it — for example, having Nighthawk retire from superheroing to become U.S. president (tho continuity issues hadn't kept Lex Luthor from winning the 2000 election in the mainstream DC Universe).
By the time the Squadron had its own comic (a 12-issue limited series running 1985-86), they were overwhelmed with the task of rebuilding after massive, world-wide destruction resulting from a run-in with a villain called The Overmind. They took it into their heads that things would be a lot nicer if they just took over and ran the world "right" — only until they could make everything perfect, of course, as good dictators always promise. This may seem a tiny bit hubristic, but considering they themselves had caused much of the damage while under The Overmind's mental domination, and it wasn't the first time they'd been under the mental domination of a super villain, it was actually extremely hubristic.
It was writer Mark Gruenwald (whose ten-year stint on Captain America probably stands as a record) who launched them on The Utopia Project, exploring the dark side of the superhero concept shortly before Alan Moore, fresh from Miracleman, did the same in his classic Watchmen. By the time the series had run its course, with some members dead, others demoralized, and new members recruited from former villains subjected to mind control, The Squadron Supreme bore little resemblance to The Justice League of America.
That series was reprinted as a graphic novel in 1997. Shortly before it went to press, Gruenwald died from an untimely heart attack. In accordance with his wishes, his body was cremated, and the ashes mixed in with the ink used to print the book. Perhaps to honor his memory, and perhaps because it was an extremely difficult story (or stunt) to top, The Squadron Supreme has been relatively inactive lately. Marvel launched a new version in 2003, rolling back the clock and starting over with JLA clones, but with a few minor twists (such as making a couple black, and mostly concerned with racial issues). It's too early to tell how this one will develop.