Supreme Power #6 Review

Reviewer: William Cooling
Story title: Questions of Perspective

Written by: J. Michael Straczynski
Pencilled by: Gary Frank
Inked by: Jon Sibal
Coloured by: Chris Sotomayor
Lettered by: Virtual Calligraphy’s Rus Wooten
Editor: Nick Lowe
Publisher: Marvel/Max Comics

Superheroes first came to prominence as an escape from reality, a way for people to indulge their fantasies and so hide from the harshness of the world. However, during the Dark Age the idea that superheroes should be realistic became to dominate leading to it emerging largely victorious over the traditional, fantastical concept of Superheroes. The “Realism” that was portrayed in superhero that was based largely on a Marxist (or maybe functionalist in the case The Dark Knight Returns) structural analysis as to what the role of superheroes would be in contemporary society. This structuralist movement has largely held sway over “mature” superheroes for the last 20 odd years with the only notably rebellion against it being the anti-realist The Authority.

However, Supreme Power does not conform to the post-Watchmen Realism of the bourgeois state using superheroes for there own ends as it rejects the central precept of the Marxist dogma that Watchmen is based on, namely that the state is all power supported by a homogonous ruling class. Instead J.M.S develops a more Interactionist (placing the emphasis on the interaction between different social agents) view of the role of super-humans showing how super-humans do not how one sole function as the Realists claim but have many different functions and are influenced by many different and differing factors. By doing this he succeeds in portraying a Neo-Realistic perspective that stresses plurality over uniformity, micro over macro, the person over long-term forces.

This Neo-Realism is shown in how J.M.S insures that the four lead characters all conform to different archetypes-the hero, the celebrity, the soldier and the vigilante with each having a different motivation for their action with different forces determining their course of action. This difference is stressed in the lack of a JLA organisation with a common goal, the lack of which separates it from Realistic comics such as The Ultimates. In addition this Neo-Realism is shown in how J.M.S does not have deterministic forces guiding all the characters with the Atlanta Blur and to a lesser extent Joe Ledger and even Hyperion in a way guiding their actions due to their own sense of morality and self-interest. He also develops their interactions on the basis of their personalities as best shown by the interaction between Hyperion and Nighthawk, with Nighthawk’s disliking of Hyperion based on the incompatibility of their personalities and personal politics not on a conflict of functions (that scene also has heavy echoes from the meeting of Batman and Superman in Man of Steel).

Of course the theory of Neo-Realism would be irrelevant if the writing wasn’t any good but here J.M.S more than proves his worth with realistic, subtle writing that creates four developed characters. He has an excellent ear for dialogue and situations and is able to balance characterisation and the Bendis-esque retrenching of situations with the introduction of new elements into the story. His pacing is deliberate rather than slow and although we seem to be meant to accept this as the end of an arc the individual episodes haven’t felt like chapters in a book, more individual episodes of a TV series. Be warn though, there isn’t a lot of action in what is essentially a dialogue based/plot & character driven issue so if you want superhero fights then pick up The Ultimates 12 instead.

J.M.S’ script is complimented by the art of Gary Frank whose detailed, realistic and subtle pencils perfectly capture the spirit of the script with the superheroes all made to look like ordinary people instead of Adonises or stylised archetypes. This is further shown in the colouring, which rejects the Brechtian 4-colour pastiche of Higgins in Watchmen in favour of a realistic palette. Frank also excels at covering the little action covered in this issue with his portrayal of Nighthawk attacking a mob in a wonderful Batman style fight scene. In addition he shows great characterisation with his pencils especially in regards to Hyperion who he always gives a very stark, “dead” stare.

The art just adds to what is a great issue with J.M.S bringing writing some deft writing full of insight and verve made all the more readable by his willingness and ability to mix separate stories into a coherent whole. Whatever the theory behind his writing it doesn’t alter the fact that this is a great comic and a must read for those searching for a mature superhero story that isn’t dominated by Realism nor by Superherology with some of the scenes having a nice X-Files feel to them. I just can’t believe that the same person who wrote this wrote the 11/9 issue of Amazing Spider-Man.