Squadron Supreme: Death of a Universe
Issue(s): Squadron Supreme: Death of a Universe
Oh no, not these guys again! Couldn't someone, like, just blow up their whole universe so i don't have to deal with them any more? Oh, that's exactly what this issue does? Great! But that results in some of the Squadron moving in to the real Marvel universe? Awwwwww, man!
Ok, so obviously i don't like the Squadron Supreme. As i've said before, as a one-off fake JLA for the Avengers to fight, fine. But after that it just got out of control and i keep getting tricked into reading about an off brand Superman and friends. Now, for Mark Gruenwald's maxi-series i was happy to make an exception, because he was able to use the fact that they existed in an alternate universe to create a really worthwhile What If story that was groundbreaking in the themes it explored. Even in that series, Gruenwald introduced a whole host of additional DC analogues beyond anything sanity required, but i guess it was in the service of a good cause. This story, if it was the last we saw of the Squadron Supremers, would have been a nice clean-up coda to that, just closing the door to these characters forever. But the fact that just a little over a year later Mark Gruenwald starts using these characters again in Quasar turns this into just yet another Squadron Supreme story.
Gruenwald was never much for characterization, and the nature of this story doesn't leave room for downtime scenes, but he does get some mileage out of the fact that the characters are legitimately facing the deaths of themselves and their universe. And the plot is certainly high stakes enough, and even uses a bit of Gruenwald's old Marvel Two-In-One work. So i did find myself enjoying this in spite of myself.
We begin in the distant future of the Squadron Supreme universe, looking in on a Scarlet Centurion that is suffering from ennui (and a surprisingly boisterous Overmind).
I can also confirm that in the Squadron Supreme-verse, the Scarlet Centurion is in fact Magneto.
Scarlet Centurion is bored because he's already conquered just about everything, save for a small period time around the modern day Squadron Supreme, including a veil that he can't pierce. His scientists then come to him with some information: the veil has been temporarily lifted, and what's seen behind it is pretty weird.
We then jump back to the present day. It's been a week since the end of the Squadron Supreme mini, and Hyperion is in the process of officially transferring power back to the civilian leadership when he's contacted by Professor Imam, that world's Sorcerer Supreme. Imam has detected the same giant hand that Scarlet Centurion saw in the future, and the entity will encompass the sun in twelve hours. There isn't really much that the Squadron Supreme can do about it, but Imam wants to try flying out into space to talk to the entity that is pushing its way into their universe.
The Squadron, however, don't have space flight capabilities, so Hyperion has to swallow his pride and go to Master Menace. Menace has also detected the entity, and he's also been contacted by Scarlet Centurion. The Centurion notes that since he's still alive, he must not actually be from the same timeline as Menace and the Squadron Supreme. But he still wants to help.
So when Hyperion makes it to Master Menace, he finds that he gets more than just a borrowed spaceship. Scarlet Centurion takes Master Menace to his own timeline so that Menace can work on a way to stop the giant entity outside of the twelve hour constraint. Menace is supposed to return in a minute, but Hyperion ends up waiting over 45 minutes. When Menace comes back, he learns that Menace had been working on the project in the future for 15 years.
So the Squadron Supreme get into Master Menace's spaceship and start the trip to the other side of the sun. It turns out that the powers of Redstone tie him to earth specifically, and he winds up dying when he goes off planet.
Eventually they get to the point where some of the Squaders leave the ship to deploy Master Menace's device.
Space being so huge, this takes a while.
In the meantime, the villain-turned-hero Inertia tries to use her powers to slow the giant entity down. She's supported by the magic of Professor Imam and Arcanna (who has disguised herself for reasons i'll discuss below). Inertia's attempt doesn't work and, worse, her powers get directed back on herself and she is killed by getting dispersed into atoms.
Even worse news is that Master Menace's device doesn't work either. Stunned, he teleports away to another dimension, abandoning the others.
Scarlet Centurion also disappears, but he says he's coming back with help. In the meantime, the Squadron float helplessly in space. The four characters that flew out to deploy Master Menace's device each decide to do something either heroic or suicidal with their remaining time. Doctor Spectrum sends messages to the other races of the universe, Hyperion tries to go to the others and try to at least pull them back to the Squadron's spaceship, and Lady Lark and the Whizzer both decide to fly towards the entity, for different but similar reasons (Whizzer wants to go out fighting while his family is still alive and i'll talk about Lady Lark below).
At this time Professor Imam makes contact with the entity per his original plan, and he learns that the entity is Tom Lightner, from the "real" Marvel universe, in his Nth Man identity.
The process of simply making contact with Lightner kills Imam, so there's no way to stop him.
At this point the Scarlet Centurion returns with a now elderly Overmind, who has agreed to use his powers against the entity. The effort blows his head off.
The Scarlet Centurion returns to his own time with the corpse of the Overmind, refusing Arcanna's request to take her freakishly rouged baby Benjamin Thomas Jones with him.
So that's it. No hope, and the characters basically resign themselves to die. But they decide to fly back to Earth to die there, flying ahead of the expanding Nth Man. They don't make it with enough time to land. But while they're floating in orbit and Nth Man's expansion reaches them, Arcanna's baby starts talking to her telepathically.
It turns out Benjamin Thomas was destined to become the next Sorcerer Supreme, and Imam passed the mantle on to him before he died. So Benjamin reached out to Thomas Lightner (ironically, he couldn't do this until they were inside Lightner's expansion, which they had just spent a lot of effort trying to outrun), who it turns out is bored with going from universe to universe and destroying them. So Lightner agrees to swap places with baby Benjamin. Benjamin becomes the Nth Man and begins reversing the expansion (although he can't undo all the death and destruction that has taken place in the various universes), manifesting as both a New Seed baby and the Star Brand logo before fading away.
And Lightner becomes Sorcerer Supreme.
Sure Lightner seems like an ok guy all of the sudden, but just wait. That's actually the last we'll see of him and the Squadron in this issue. The final page shows Scarlet Centurion in the future regretting his failure and (ironically, since it's what saved them) feeling bad about not taking the baby. I've seen it erroneously said that it's this book that takes the surviving Squadron Supreme characters to the main Marvel universe, but that actually won't happen until the their Quasar appearance. There isn't really even a "Death of a Universe" here since that's all fixed thanks to Baby Ex Machina.
So that's the story. But let me jump back and note a few character moments, such as they are.
The first has the character Redstone being upset with the Squadron's lack of progress in dismantling their Utopian programs like they promised to do. And Power Princess fails to be diplomatic about it and instead gets into a fight with him.
The next one i want to call out has the illusionist Moonglow. We found out in the maxi-series that she's actually fat; she had just been using illusions to make herself look skinny and sexy. And one week later, she's still hiding out invisible, embarrassed of her appearance.
Not only is the idea of that pretty bad, but her thought bubbles are just awfully scripted. Pure expos.
Moonglow's embarrassment works into the next part of the story. Arcanna had just recently given birth to Benjamin Thomas, so despite the universe-destroying level threat of the Nth Man, Power Princess decides to ground her. That just seems like such a bad decision. When you have a threat you don't know how to beat, you really want to take your magic people along with you. Arcanna manages to go along anyway by disguising herself as Moonglow. But if Arcanna hadn't been using some of her energy to disguise herself, would her efforts to help Inertia or Professor Imam have worked out better? We'll never know, but the fact that she brought her baby son along is what saved the day.
Another point is Lady Lark, who is still under the influence of the brainwashing she got from Golden Archer in the maxi-series.
She winds up using the wings of Blue Eagle (ironically the guy that killed Golden Archer before dying himself) (although i should note that all of the "dead" characters are actually there in stasis tubes), and she winds up trying to kill herself to be with Archer.
Finally, Power Princess gets "hysterical" when faced with the Squadron's failure.
I like my Wonder Woman analogues to be a little more stoic.
To summarize, Power Princess makes a bunch of bad calls and becomes an hysterical woman, Moonglow is so embarrassed she doesn't live up to female comic book standards that she literally disappears from the story without any kind of redemptive "I'm proud of who I am" moment, and Lady Lark has no agency. As far as character moments go, the female characters don't make out so well. And there really isn't much else in terms of character aside from acts of heroism. I do like the conflict that was set up between Redstone and the others about not dismantling their programs fast enough, but he ends up looking foolish when he continues to push that in the face of the impending death of the universe. For the most part, this is just a high stakes adventure story with mediocre scripting.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: This story begins a week after the end of the Squadron Supreme maxi-series. It takes place over the course of twelve hours. As far as i know, there's no evidence that time passes differently in the Squadron Supreme-verse than ours, so even though this was published in 1989, i've pushed it back into 1986 a little while after the end of the maxi-series. I should note that the MCP list Doctor Spectrum as being behind the scenes for this issue, i assume based on revelations that come in Quasar. I've listed him as a character.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showAndy Jones, Arcanna, Benjamin Thomas Jones, Captain Hawk, Cerebrax, Doctor Decibel, Doctor Spectrum, Drucilla Jones, Foxfire, Golden Archer, Haywire, Hyperion, Inertia, Katie Jones, Lady Lark, Maddie Stewart, Master Menace, Moonglow, Phillip Jones, Pinball, Power Princess, Professor Imam, Redstone, Scarlet Centurion (Squadron Supreme), Shape, Sheldon, Thermite, Tina Stewart, Tom Lightner, Tom Thumb, Whizzer (Squadron Supreme)
I actually liked the Squadron's future appearances in Quasar. I had not read any of their earlier stories in real-time. But, I was fascinated with the alternate universe aspect of their history.
Posted by: clyde | November 13, 2014 3:51 PM
I love the Squadron Supreme!
fnord, I'm not sure why you think Moonglow should have some redemptive moment here. Some people simply get themselves into a rut and take a LONG time to get themselves straightened out, emotionally. Moonglow may simply be that type of person. She built herself up around illusion and tricks, she wasn't very sincere. I wouldn't expect any big change of character from her.
At least that's my view of her.
Posted by: Bill | November 13, 2014 7:12 PM
Fnord, the problem with placing this issue in 1986 is that Quasar 13 takes place a few minutes after this story ends. That's why it's sometimes said that this book takes the Squadron to the mainstream Marvel Universe- for all we know Lightner had already shifted them to the main Marvel Universe by the end of this story.
Posted by: Michael | November 13, 2014 7:38 PM
Couldn't the simplest solution be that they were shifted through a portal in time and space? This way the ending stays the same. The beginning of Quasar 13 is where they catch up to us.
Posted by: clyde | November 13, 2014 8:06 PM
Yeah, I always assumed they were shunted thru time and space (dimensions). That's the quick and easy explanation.
Posted by: Bill | November 13, 2014 8:34 PM
Yeah, Clyde's solution is what i was thinking. Lightner's magic for whatever reason also pushes them forward in time.
Posted by: fnord12 | November 13, 2014 9:18 PM
Bill, obviously your mileage may vary. I just find Moonglow's depiction as part of a cumulative problem with Gruenwald's writing of women in both this series and the maxi. It's definitely accidental and it's because he thinks he's thought of cool twists and some deliberately problematical scenarios (Archer's brainwashing of Lark). But the cumulative effect is there's a lot of effective rape and cases of women using illusions to hide their non-perfect bodies (Arcana did it in the maxi to hide her pregnancy). And this is on top of the industry's general increased exploitation of females as we approach the 90s. So here we have this character Moonglow and she's actually "schlumpy" but she was using illusions to make herself appear sexy. Fine twist, but Gruenwald did that in the maxi. Now he brings her back and... does the exact same thing. No further examination of that. It was really a good opportunity for a female character to say "You know what? I have super-powers! I don't need to be sexy to be a valuable member of the team. If they know what's good for them, they should accept me!". But he passes on that and so her scene just looks like a "Ha, ha, she's fat! Well that's what she gets for being vain!". Again, definitely not Gruenwald's intent. He included that scene to remind us of Moonglow so Arcana could replace her, because that was the cool twist he wanted. Understandable. But it's annoying to me as part of what i see as the large picture.
Posted by: fnord12 | November 13, 2014 9:26 PM
Okay, I see your point, fnord. Personally, I felt like maybe Gruenwald was benching Moonglow for future appearances. She's essentially a dangling plotline, the type of continuity bit that Gru seemed to love using later on down the road in stories. Unfortunately, his death prevented anything like that from happening. Gru seemed like a guy whose heart was in the right place, so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this (which I wouldn't be so willing to do with some other writers of the 90's).
On a side note, has Moonglow appeared anymore since this story? I know she wasn't in the "New World Order" trade from the late 90's. With the Squadrons sporadic appearances, it's hard for me to keep track.
Posted by: Bill | November 13, 2014 9:50 PM
According to the MCP this is her last appearance, and yeah, knowing that this was the last we ever see of her probably influenced my opinion.
Posted by: fnord12 | November 13, 2014 10:19 PM
fnord, you'll love this part even more:
Death of a Universe is the Squadron's Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Posted by: BU | November 14, 2014 1:14 PM
I suppose Moonglow could have gone on the "Karma Diet" - be shunted backwards in time and put in a desert so you lose weight naturally over a couple of months.
Posted by: clyde | November 14, 2014 2:12 PM
BU, you're just trying to get my goat and i'm not falling for it. :-)
Posted by: fnord12 | November 14, 2014 4:51 PM
No, I really do think Gru was deliberately doing Crisis w/o the Infinite Earths - that pointing it out would bug you was just gravy.
If I was only trying to get your goat I would assert that the limited series was ripping off Kingdom Come ten years before Kingdom Come.
Nighthawk's Redeemers was Batman and the Outsiders, BTW.
Posted by: BU | November 15, 2014 1:18 PM
I agree that the white destructive force is a nod to the antimatter wave in Crisis, but if the Redeemers are really supposed to be Batman's Outsiders, then the analogues are really weak. I can kinda see a link between Geo-Force and Redstone, but nobody else on either team seems to match up.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | November 15, 2014 1:31 PM
Yeah - Redstone being Geo-Force is all I got in that sock. The Joker, The Penguin, Catwoman and the Parasite were never in the Outsiders, afaik, and I could never figure out who any of the others were supposed to be.
Of course Batman and a team of junior heroes, plus Green Arrow, DID work with Lex Luthor in Kingdom Come...
Posted by: BU | November 16, 2014 11:14 AM
Does your database configuration allow you to track the same character with multiple names? Because Moonglow does appear after this, only it's Arcanna in the Moonglow costume. I think.
Posted by: Andrew | March 5, 2015 8:04 AM
I can only track a character under one name, so i would just continue to track Arcanna as Arcanna unless she later became more prominently known as Moonglow, in which case i'd rename the tag.
Posted by: fnord12 | March 5, 2015 9:54 AM
Wait, the Squadron comes into the main MU? In Quasar? Can't decide if I'm bummed I missed it or if I stopped reading comics just in time.
Posted by: Erik Beck | June 12, 2015 11:22 PM
Erik, when did you stop reading comics? Quasar 13 was cover-dated August 1990- it came out the same month as Gambit's debut in X-Men 266.
Posted by: Michael | June 12, 2015 11:34 PM
My apologies for anyone who doesn't want to read a personal aside, but here's my answer to Michael.
Well, to be fair, I never read an issue of Quasar. I dropped almost everything by late 89 except X-Men, Avengers and Avengers West Coast. I continued Avengers until late 1990. X-Men was sporadic through mid 91 and I gave it up completely when Claremont left. I kept Avengers West Coast going all the way through #79 (cover date Feb 92), so I was completely done with comics by late 91.
While a freshman at Brandeis in the fall of 92, I had a friend who sucked me back in with X-Cutioner's Song. That got me back into the X books until the double whammy in the summer of 93 of killing off one of my favorite characters in one issue (Illyana) and reversing one of my favorite death scenes in the next (Magneto) made me quit again.
In the fall of 2005, I had a friend I worked with at Borders who got me into Whedon's run on Astonishing, specifically with the hilarious Kitty / Peter sex scene, and because Kitty was my absolute favorite character and I was so happy to see her treated well, I got really into Whedon's run. When he trapped Kitty in the bullet, combined with financial factors, I gutted some 98% of my collection. I sold some 1000 or so comics, kept about half a dozen individual issues (in terms of Marvel, it was New Mutants #45, Squadron Supreme #12, X-Men #1-3, Uncanny #153 - in the Classic X-Men reprint) and several of the best GN collections I had (which, for Marvel, meant Dark Phoenix Saga, Days of Future Past, God Loves Man Kills, Born Again, Spider-Man: Blue).
Since 2009, I have read a lot from my local library, both in terms of classic collections, and my recent stuff (just read Ultimatum this past week - had I read it before I did my rant about excessive comic deaths I would have included it in that rant), but the only thing I have actually purchased was the five volume trade collection of Simonson's run on Thor, because I was so impressed with it once I finally read it in whole in the Omnibus.
Posted by: Erik Beck | June 13, 2015 6:01 AM
I just read (bleedingcool.com) Paul Ryan passed away over the weekend, aged 66.
Posted by: Jay Gallardo | March 8, 2016 3:55 PM
There's a colouring error at the beginning of the story (which isn't corrected in the SS omnibus I have): Overmind says he puts his bet on the blue gladiatrix, and even though she clearyl loses the battle (as we see in the first scan), Overmind claims he won the bet.
There's also no explanation why Overmind has red hair and looks middle-aged in the beginning, but when the Scarlet Centurion brings him to the 20th century towards the end of the story, he's not gray-haired and elderly. Another colouring mistake? (Of course it's possible SC picked up Overmind from some later point in his life, but since SC needs the Overmind to be as strong as possible, why would he do that?)
Posted by: Tuomas | September 29, 2016 2:38 AM
Sorry, a typo there, I meant to write "he's now gray-haired and elderly".
Posted by: Tuomas | September 29, 2016 2:39 AM
Also, if Lightner was a human to begin with, I fail to see how merely scanning his mind would kill Professor Imam, and trying to control it would blow up Overmind's head? In the 616 universe, strong psychics have been shown to contact the minds of true cosmic beings (not just humans who've turned cosmic) without such drastic results.
Posted by: Tuomas | September 29, 2016 2:42 AM
The fact Scarlet Centurion arrives with Overmind, who is now old, is flat-out the point...
Posted by: AF | September 29, 2016 6:53 AM
Well yeah, but what I was wondering was, how come at the beginning of the story we see a red-haired, middle-aged Overmind as Scarlet Centurion's lackey, but when SC (who's explicitly the same guy as seen in the beginning, not some future version of him) later on goes to pick him up, he returns with a gray-haired, elderly Overmind? Are we supposed to think that it took hundreds of years for SC to persuade him? Or is the red beard a colouring error?
Posted by: Tuomas | September 29, 2016 7:37 AM
I absolutely love Gruenwald's work. Best two-in-one's stories, best Cap run and I loved both SS books.
Posted by: will | December 20, 2017 11:23 AM
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