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Supreme Formalism #1

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Time to switch gears here.

I’ve argued that Tim O’Neil underestimates the formal ingenuity of Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme, and it’s time to get down to specifics! In yesterday’s comments, Matt Rossi & I worked our way toward this tentative statement:

while I agree with [Matt] that Gruenwald doesn’t hit all of the notes, he does hit almost every note I can think of that he could have, and more notes than is generally supposed , (for example, to the extent that people talk about this series at all, no one ever talks about the extraordinary way that romance is dealt with in the series!) without deviating from his fundamental purpose of making something absolutely new, using only the basic conventions and style of the genre…

Later, Matt likened the series to a remix of the superhero tradition, and I think that makes a fair amount of sense too–but I’m still holding out for a less “parasitic” reading of the text. Of course, I would never deny that every work of art is, in some sense, a remix, but still, insofar as this characterization of SS lends credence to an interpretation of the series as Watchmen‘s “superficial” cousin, I’m agin’ it!

In Gruenwald’s hands, each cliched pitfall of superhero storytelling becomes a rabbit hole of Carollian depths!


I’ll do my best, in the next few days, to give you some examples of what I mean… starting with the fact that:

1. The series unfolds in real time

What do I mean by that?

Well, you might not even notice this on your first reading (I know I didn’t!)–but this twelve-issue series skips through a full year of calendar time. “Skips” is the operative word here. Every issue opens exactly one month after the last has concluded. Moreover, each issue covers exactly one day–and so many crucial milestones on the road to dystopia pass by in the intervals between these episodes/tableaux.

Roy Thomas slowed time down to a Joycean crawl in All-Star Squadron, and most superhero books merely tread events in the sea of an eternal now, but Gruenwald turns the periodical tables on the monthly publication scheduel, giving us one super-day for each of ours, and no more! Meanwhile, as each month passes, another deadline is missed, another raft of opportunities for understanding are left behind, and another month’s worth of bloody interest is realized upon the “Utopia Principle”. It’s a variation on the ol’ “iceberg technique”–which is strangely appropriate, don’t you think, given that this series is the genre’s Titanic?

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