Ten years ago, if you had heard that Howard Chaykin would return to comics in the first decade of the 21st century, and that he would not only end up drawing the Punisher, but he’d be writing a Marvel comic about a parallel universe, you’d probably think, “I bet it will be great, with Chaykin’s signature cynical wit.” Oh, how wrong you’d be.
Howard Chaykin, untethered from any sort of co-writer on “Squadron Supreme 2,” is producing some of his blandest work ever. The basic conceit of “Squadron Supreme 2,” if you haven’t been following along since its launch, is that characters who seem very similar to the Silver Age Marvel heroes have been popping up in the Squadron Supreme universe. Now, if you remember, this version of the Squadron Supreme is the J. Michael Straczynski more “realistic” version of the Mark Gruenwald sort of “realistic” version of the Roy Thomas characters who were based on the Justice League. Oh yeah, and during a crossover with the Ultimate universe, the Sam Jackson version of Nick Fury ended up in the Squadron Supreme universe too.
That’s the ridiculous foundation upon which Chaykin builds this series, and his approach has been to practically ignore the Squadron Supreme bits of, well, a Squadron Supreme comic, and instead focus on Ultimate Nick Fury and his long-term and mysterious plans for the Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America, and Fantastic Four analogues.
Now, it’s obvious to the reader who these characters are all based on. And Nick Fury has met and worked with all of their Ultimate incarnations in the past, but not once does he say, “geez, you guys sure remind me of the exact same kind of heroes on my world.” Maybe he’s thinking it. Fury is full of mystery, after all.
But as the story slowly creeps forward, and we get, in issue #5, increased conflict between the various factions within Nick Fury’s circle of influence, we still don’t get anything that marks this as a Howard Chaykin comic. Sure, his version of the Fantastic Four has a bit more overt sexual dysfunction, but it’s so tame compared to way superhero satire has pushed the boundaries in the past couple of decades. After Grant Morrison has explored the bizarre family dynamics of the FF, after Rick Veitch has exploded superhero sexuality and fetishism, and after Garth Ennis has slaughtered any sacred superhero cows, the slightly offbeat stuff Chaykin adds to the relationships in this comic seems exceedingly tame. It simply reads like a comic that could have been written by any generic writer from whatever remains of the Marvel bullpen. And I never thought I’d say that about a Chaykin comic.
Artist Marco Turini’s art doesn’t look generic, at least. But it doesn’t look great, either. I don’t know what his process is, but it looks like he’s doing a lot of “inking” with the computer, adding textures and crosshatching in a way that looks either compulsive or artificial or both. So panels look like scanned photos, while others look hand drawn, and they don’t always match up, except for the layers of crosshatching pulling them together. It has the look of Alex Maleev panels with rendering by Richard Corben, if that makes any sense. But while it makes the comic look a bit unusual, it doesn’t make it particularly good.
“Squadron Supreme 2” #5 is a great disappointment, and unless Chaykin and Turini can inject something new (besides retreads of the same old characters) to hold reader interest, I can’t imagine that this series will stick around for very much longer.