Mr. Gruenwald Plots Utopia

(Soundtrack: Rage Against The Machine — Evil Empire )

“Such a great gift… such a small sacrifice” (Scarlet Centurion to Tom Thumb, upon offering the morose munchkin the cure for cancer, in an attempt to induce him to commit a deadly act of sabotage, in SS #2; sadly there are no page numbers in the original issues)

Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme (Sept ’85 to Aug ’86) takes that tantalizing formula as its text, examining the proposition from every wacked-out perspective that the conventions of the superhero genre make possible… Instead of the “noble lie” of mythmaking, we get the dubious candor which results from the abandonment of “secret identities” in favor of fulltime super-dictatorship (this is “taking off the masks” as “taking off the gloves” in the “war on evil”). The superhero’s task is redefined as the quest to “abolish war and crime, eliminate poverty and hunger, establish equality among all peoples, clean up the environment, cure disease–and, even cure death itself” (Hyperion, in SS #1)… And they go about it systematically. They even develop a behavior modification machine! Why not right? Those’re indispensable!

You like Watchmen‘s “another body in the foundations”? There are a lot of bodies here–with the twist that, in Gruenwald, the founders themselves founder upon their own self-doubt. Squadron Supreme interests me more than Watchmen ever could, because it deals head-on with the contradictions inherent in the superhero creed itself (Hyperion explicitly invokes Peter Parker: “with great powers such as ours come equally great responsibilities”)–you might call it a Derridean look at the superhero, as opposed to Moore’s Foucaultian take.

Like all deconstructive projects, Squadron Supreme takes a fundamental binary and demonstrates, not merely the ways in which the two terms depend upon each other, but the ways in which they interrogate each other. For Foucault, “power” doesn’t exist in any one site, but in a “power relationship” between the dominant and the submissive; for Derrida, “power” doesn’t exist at all, except when considered in its relation to another term, like “responsibility”. (for example, what, exactly, are the “responsibilities” of the “powerful”–the responsbility to fix every problem that lies within the ambit of your power to act? the horrific duty of gritting your teeth and watching theoretically solvable problems fester? both? neither?Is there any way to use power responsibly?) It’s so much more interesting–at least to me!

Gruenwald doesn’t bother asking the question: “what if real people had super powers?” Instead he asks, what if superheroes took a more realistic look at their careers? Would they conclude, with Dr. Spectrum, that “I know I could have done far more for the world than the random stuff I’ve done”? Would they begin to see the “private lives” they’ve built for themselves as nothing more than “fooling around”, as Hyperion does? And if they did begin to see matters in this light, how would they attempt to change the superhero game? There’s really no need to bring in sexual dysfunction and power fantasies here (there’s a lot of sexual craziness in this series, but all of it grows out of ideas about love and romance that are as clearly articulated, and as “transparent”, as their political counterparts). These questions come to an early head in Nighthawk’s mind, in issue #1, when he contemplates the relationship of his plan to assassinate Hyperion to the Lincoln legend…would he be remembered as another “great emancipator”? (after failing to do anything positive as President of the U.S., thanks to the “mind-control” shenanigans of the “Overmind”–I wonder if Bush had a run-in with that bastard, ’round about March ’03?) Or as just another martyr-maker–a la John Wilkes-Booth? And what about Lincoln, anyway? Was his use of federal power against the “concurrent majorities” represented by the Confederate States justified? Every “emancipation” winds up “enslaving” someone, right?–just ask the paranoid, oppressed, antifeminist homophobes at Turnabout!

I have to go to school now!

Good Afternoon Friends!


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