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"We should not just randomly stop super-criminals, an alien invader, or a natural disaster, and leave the rest of the world's problems unaddressed... problems which inflict the majority of mankind with suffering and death."
A team of Justice League Captain Ersatzes who starred in a twelve-issue Marvel Comics comic book Miniseries credited with being one of the earliest Deconstructions of the superhero genre (it came out in the early 1980s, preceding DC Comics' Watchmen.)
The Squadron Sinister, four villainous Captain Ersatzes of the Justice League of America, were created by Roy Thomas and Sal Buscema and first introduced in 1969. They clashed with The Avengers in an unofficial intercompany crossover, with the two teams manipulated by Kang the Conquerer and the Grandmaster in one of their schemes. Subsequent stories focused on their heroic equivalents, the Squadron Supreme, which existed in the alternate universe of Earth-712. The Squadron Supreme themselves clashed with the Avengers in 1971 and 1975, with at least one of these encounters due to mind control.
Squadron Supreme came into its own in Mark Gruenwald's 1985 limited series. It takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth; flashbacks reveal that the Squadron Supreme was dominated by the alien Overmind, who used them to turn the United States into a fascist nation and conquer the planet. After the defeat of the Overmind, the Squadron decide that the best and fastest way to repair the shattered infrastructure, quell civil unrest, and restore people's faith is to take control of the world and get it back on track. The Squadron also decide to take the opportunity to address all of the world's problems, vowing to eliminate hunger, crime, war, poverty, and disease. With little resistance, the Squadron appear on national television and announce their "Utopia Program", promising to return control after a year.
The series chronicles the Squadron's yearlong efforts; their steps include forcible disarmament of the world's armies and individual gun owners, inventing a "behavior modification" device for brainwashing criminals against crime, developing non-lethal weapons and personal force-fields, and creating life-sustaining hibernaculum to keep the terminally ill in suspended animation. Along the way, the Squadron must deal with dissension from within and without, along with assorted super-powered threats, and their continued slide down the slippery slope of morality. And watching them all is former team founder Nighthawk, who assembles his own team to stop the Squadron's super-fascism...
A sequel of sorts, Squadron Supreme: Death of a Universe, was released in 1989, though it had little thematic relationship to the earlier limited series. The team was later given an Ultimate Universe version in the mature-rated Supreme Power series in 2003.
- Acrofatic: Pinball.
- Amazonian Beauty: Power Princess, the Wonder Woman Captain Ersatz.
- America Saves the Day: The Squadron is based in America, and all of its members are either Americans or otherworldly beings.
- Anyone Can Die: This series has a surprisingly high body count for a Marvel comic at the time. Also surprising for a Marvel is the fact that people stay dead.
- Ax Crazy: Lamprey, especially under his own control. Even his B-Modded self was nasty, and he couldn't do evil acts, because of his brainwashing.
- Badass Normal: Nighthawk and Golden Archer, the Squadron's Captain Ersatz for Batman and Green Arrow, respectively.
- Becoming the Mask: Hyperion's evil twin from the classic Marvel universe was recruited by Master Menace to infiltrate the Squadron but while he's there he falls in love with Zarda and decides he wants his new life. If only that other Hyperion hadn't shown up again.
- Big Damn Villains: The final showdown between the Squadron and Nighthawk's team is arguably this.
- Brainwashed: Courtesy of Tom Thumb's behavior modification machine, and the centerpiece of the Squadron's utopia program. The fact that it's the heroes doing the brainwashing is a major cause of conflict in the series.
- Cannot Spit It Out: Occurs several times in the series, whether voluntarily by one of the characters or due to higher-priority instructions during brainwashing.
- The Cape (trope): Hyperion, fitting as he is the team's Superman analog.
- Captain Ersatz: Aside from the blatant use of Ersatz Justice Leaguers, the series introduced much milder variants in Nighthawk's enemies - Remnant, Pinball, and Mink, who roughly correspond to Joker, Penguin, and Catwoman (although Mink is by far the most obvious), and the Shape, who is sort of like a good version of Clayface, himself a bumbling henchman (later, he would take up a Plastic Man type of role, despite coming out years before Plas joined the JLA).
- Nighthawk's new recruits, who join the Squadron as infiltrators, are Ersatz versions of the Outsiders.
- Classy Cat Burglar: The Mink
- Clingy Costume: Thermite, whose temperature-based powers require him to always wear his costume and regulator pack to keep them in check.
- Also happens with Nuke as the story proceeds. As his power continues to grow stronger, he has to wear a lead-lined suit to avoid killing everyone around him like his parents.
- Computer Voice: Aida, Tom Thumb's AI companion.
- Conqueror From the Future: The Scarlet Centurion.
- Couldn't Find a Pen: Taken literally -- the first edition printing of the Squadron Supreme trade paperback included the cremated ashes of writer Mark Gruenwald mixed in the ink, a request made in his will.
- Creator Provincialism: Although the story begins with the entire planet on the brink of collapse, the entire series takes place in the United States. This is especially jarring given that much of it focuses on how the Squadron's efforts are impacting the rights of individuals, yet the laws and traditions of different countries are never addressed.
- Crossover: In addition to the Squadron being a team of Captain Ersatzes from Marvel's "distinguished competition", the limited series also had a Crossover with Captain America (comics). Both titles were written by Mark Gruenwald at the time.
- Deal with the Devil: When Tom Thumb visits the Scarlet Centurion for the Panacea Potion, the Centurion agrees to give it -- if Tom will poison Hyperion in return. Tom even calls it "a deal with the Devil".
- Despair Event Horizon: Happens to Nuke. When he learns his radiation powers have given terminal cancer to his parents, he begs Tom Thumb to find a cure. Tom's failure to do so causes Nuke to blame him for their deaths.
- Doesn't Like Guns: Several of the Squadron members embody this trope, which makes it easier for the team to agree to disarming the populace. The Whizzer later gets a mild Heroic BSOD when he believes the Institute of Evil has brainwashed the team and attacks them with an automatic weapon.
- Dirty Business: Happens to Tom Thumb when he compromises his values to travel to the future and steal the Panacea Potion from the Scarlet Centurion's regime.
- Electric Instant Gratification: As part of the Squadron's effort to eliminate guns, Tom Thumb invents Pacifier Pistols, which incapacitate the targets with pleasure.
- Energy Absorption: Lamprey.
- Evil Laugh: Lamprey has one of the all time best. "Heh-heeya-heeya-hee!"
- Evil Overlord: The Scarlet Centurion, the Evil Overlord in the FUTURE!
- Evil Twin: Played straight when Master Menace recruits Hyperion's Evil Twin to infiltrate the Squadron.
- The Evils of Free Will: A mild version is invoked when the Squadron uses the behavior-modification machine on convicted criminals. Granted, they had the choice of whether or not to submit to the device, but still...
- Exposition Bomb: Squadron Supreme was a 12-issue limited series printed at a time when trade paperback collections were uncommon. As a result, each issue was written as if it could be the first one for any new readers, and contains scads of exposition as a result. It is entirely possible to read only the last issue and fully understood the overall events (if not the details) of the entire series.
- Fake Defector: The entire Squadron Supreme, when the Institute of Evil tries to brainwash them with the behavior modification device. Unknown to the Institute, Tom Thumb had earlier modified it to not work on Squadron members.
- Flying Brick: Hyperion, and Power Princess to a lesser degree.
- Flying Carpet: One of Remnant's abilities.
- Freak-Out: Nuke, after his parents die from radiation poisoning. He blames Tom Thumb for failing to find a cancer cure, runs away from the team, and lashes out at Doctor Spectrum when he tries to talk him down.
- Gadgeteer Genius: Tom Thumb and Master Menace.
- Glamour Failure: Moonglow when she's knocked out, as her illusion powers are deactivated. She's a frumpy, middle-aged brunette rather than the smoking hot blonde seen in the rest of the series.
- Arcana as well, with her pregnancy-concealing illusion dropping when she goes into labor.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck: The Comics Code was still in full effect. Squadron members routinely use Narm-fully mild language in dramatic situations - "Son of a fish" is probably the most hilarious.
- Hammerspace: Presumably, this is where Quagmire and Haywire get the mass/materials for their powers.
- Harmless Villain: Pinball, the guy whose power consisted of inflating his green jumpsuit into a ball and rolling into people.
- Heart Is an Awesome Power: Inertia. She has the power to transfer momentum from one place to another - a quirky, unusual power at the time of publishing. She manages to simultaneously disable and pummel the Captain Ersatzes of Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash with this power - she does the most damage to the Squadron by far, more than the resistance's supposed big guns.
- Heel Face Mind Screw: The brainwashed villains who join the Squadron; their ultimate fates and alignments varied.
- Hot Witch: Arcanna
- Hulk Speak: The Shape
- Human Popsicle: Unable to cure all disease, the Squadron develops hibernaculums instead. People near-death would be kept in suspended animation, presumably to be revived in the future once a cure to their ailment is found.
- Intelligence Equals Isolation: Tom Thumb is clearly the smartest member of the Squadron and their resident inventor, but he's socially isolated from the rest of the team, is often overlooked or belittled, and spends most of his free time in his lab instead. Though some of it has to do with him being very short, older than most of the team, and lacking the traditional heroic builds his teammates have.
- Istanbul (Not Constantinople): And how -- Every geographic location is renamed from its real-life counterpart. Mt. Rushmore becomes Presidents' Mountain, New York City is Cosmopolis in the state of New Troy, Washington D.C. becomes Capitol City, Magelland, so forth and so on.
- It's All My Fault: Invoked by Doctor Spectrum after he accidentally kills Nuke. Even when he returns to active duty, he remains hesitant as a result.
- Jerkass: Lamprey.
- Really? I vote Complete Monster.
- Lampshade Hanging: The fact that the Squadron are Captain Ersatzes of the Justice League was eventually lampshaded in JLA/Avengers when Hawkeye; upon meeting the actually League, notices the parallels and repeatedly refers to the JLA as "Squadron Supreme-lite".
- Large Ham: Master Menace is one part Doctor Doom, one part Lex Luthor, and all parts HAM.
- Logic Bomb: Former supercriminals are made to work for the Squadron with the directive implanted into their brains that they are to not betray any member of the Squadron. One such person witnesses a member covertly acting against the rest of the Squadron. Her mind is locked into a loop, as revealing the information would mean betraying one member of the Squadron, while keeping it secret means betraying the rest.
- Love Makes You Evil: Golden Archer, after his marriage proposal to Lady Lark gets rejected. He brainwashes her into loving him as a result.
- Mad Scientist: Master Menace.
- Maniac Monkeys: Ape X, a hyperintelligent simian whose lower torso is replaced by a treaded tank base.
- Master of Illusion: Moonglow, and Arcanna to a lesser degree. Moonglow appears to have numerous magic abilities like Arcanna, but they're all illusions. Arcanna sometimes uses her spell to change her appearance, most notably during her pregnancy.
- Mayfly-December Romance: Power Princess met her Steve Trevor-expy Howard during World War 2. At the start of this story, he's a sickly old man while his immortal wife is as healthy and active as ever. Its hinted that the relationship is loving but no longer sexual and Zarda is faithful to his death (though not for long after.)
- Mind Control Device/Morality Chip: Tom Thumb's behavior modification machine, which alters a person's behavior to the operator's wishes. Though Tom says the effects are irreversible, Master Menace later devises a way to undo the effects.
- Mind Rape: Golden Archer uses the behavior modification machine on Lady Lark after the course of her affections has passed to make her stay attached to him.
- The Mole: Nighthawk gets several to infiltrate the Squadron.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: Hyperion's Evil Twin develops an attraction to Power Princess and quietly kills her aged husband.
- Never My Fault: Nuke blames Tom Thumb, after his parents die from radiation poisoning. Even though it's obvious that Nuke's power killed them, he blames Tom for not finding a cure for cancer in time.
- Our Presidents Are Different: Nighthawk was the President of the United States when the Overmind invaded the planet. The Squadron moves to proactively take control of the planet when he steps down from office.
- Phlebotinum Overload: Happens to Lamprey, who actually exploded after he overdosed on Doctor Spectrum's power prism. He didn't get better.
- Pretty in Mink: The Mink. She even admits she was a Spoiled Sweet gal who got into crime For the Lulz.
- Promoted Fanboy: Mark Gruenwald, an unabashed lifelong Justice League of America fan.
- Reed Richards Is Useless: Possibly the first mainstream superhero comic to address this. The entire series is about the slippery slope of inverting it.
- Restraining Bolt: A logic-based version occurs when the members of the Institute of Evil were brainwashed to be loyal and obedient to the Squadron. Subsequently, several occasions arise where Institute members are unable to alert the Squadron about suspicious events because it would conflict with their orders.
- Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: After Foxfire turns on Nighthawk and kills him, The Mink stabs Foxfire a moment later.
- Runaway Fiance: Golden Archer, who abandons Lady Lark after she proved to be far too clingy when he brainwashed her to love him. And getting married was his idea...
- Shoot the Dog: When Quagmire falls into a coma and starts producing extradimensional muck at an unstoppable rate, Hyperion is forced to terminate his life-support to avert disaster.
- Sonic Scream: Lady Lark.
- Superpower Meltdown: Happens to Nuke during his rampage against Doctor Spectrum. He ends up getting killed as a result.
- Super Speed: Whizzer.
- Tin Tyrant: Master Menace.
- Walking Wasteland: Foxfire, who projects a luminescence rot that causes things to quickly decay. She uses them as a Touch of Death against Nighthawk as part of her Heel Face Turn at the final battle.
- We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future: Invoked by the Panacea Potion, the Scarlet Centurion's 40th century cure-all.
- Also invoked by the hibernaculums, whose purpose is to keep terminally-ill people in suspended animation until a cure can be found in the future.
- Even more so about the Panacea Potion, it's just a bit of pennicillin and some vitamins - eugenics and genetic tampering have made future humans so resistant to illness that's all they need.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Squadron itself.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Invoked several times during the series, most often by Nighthawk and Amphibian.
- Utopia Justifies the Means: The cause of the war among heroes.
- Wanting Is Better Than Having: After Golden Archer brainwashes Lady Lark into loving him, she turns into a Clingy Jealous Girl... with emphasis on the clingy.
- Wolverine Claws: The Mink.
- You Fail Physics Forever: A mild case for either the writer or the character. Inertia's power is clearly the ability to transfer momentum or kinetic energy, not inertia (which is an object's resistance changes in motion.)