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Before his premature demise at only 43 years old, writer Mark Gruenwald requested that Marvel mix his ashes with the ink used to print the cover of the trade paperback for his magnum opus, Squadron Supreme. That remains one of the most famous cover gimmicks of the ‘90s, but it also overshadows the fact that Squadron Supreme was one of the definitive comics of the ‘80s. It even beat Watchmen to the punch by a full year, when it newsstands in 1985 with a complex storyline that challenged the conventions of superhero comic books.
Much like Watchmen’s Charlton Comics-inspired heroes, the Squadron Supreme were loosely inspired by DC's iconic heroes. Hyperion was a Superman analog, while Nighthawk and Power Princess were stand-ins for Batman and Wonder Woman, respectively. The key difference was that the Squadron lived on an alternate Earth that was careening towards disaster. To save the world, they decided that they had to take control of the entire planet.
For 12 issues, Gruenwald and artists Bob Hall, John Buscema, and Paul Ryan explored the dark implications of that choice. Hyperion and his teammates began with the best of intentions. They promised to solve all of the world's problems within a year. But their solutions included behavior modification that was used to brainwash criminals into falling in line.
Nighthawk couldn't stand for that, and he quit the team in protest before gathering his own forces to save the world from the Squadron's growing tyranny. Despite the ethical divide, there are few true villains in the story. That only deepens the tragedy when the heroes ultimately turn on each other.
Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns are often credited with pushing the comics medium forward in the ‘80s. But Squadron Supreme doesn't get the same credit for its accomplishments in the same time period. Regardless, its influence can be felt decades later in Civil War and other modern Marvel stories.
For more details about Squadron Supreme, check out the latest episode of SYFY WIRE's Behind the Panel!