This week’s Avengers Assemble (season 2, episode 21) features Ant-Man and a continued focus on the Squadron Supreme members in the build up to the season finale. The Squadron Supreme has been Marvel’s version of the Justice League for several decades now, and has intermittently going through being good guys and bad guys (though a lot of this is due to alternate dimension nonsense being tossed about). In the show they have been fairly consistently cast as bad guys, and when combined with last week’s focus on Speed Demon (the Squadron version of Flash) it looks like they will be the big villains for the end of the season. That is not too much of a surprise since DC is (finally) getting their cinematic universe off the ground with next year’s Batman v Superman movie and this is Marvel’s chance to throw a little subtle dirt their way (not that the need to with the box office numbers they’re pulling).
The connection this week is to focus on Ant-Man (who is totally not joining the show just because he has a major movie coming out this week or anything…), who designed a device for Dr. Spectrum (the Marvel version of Green Lantern) and now wants the device back as a way of showing he has atoned for his dubious past. Spectrum is less than thrilled and fights back when the Avengers become aggressive, despite Ant-Man trying to be peaceful and talk it through. We are in familiar territory here with the veteran Avengers not listening to the new member simply because they think they know more, even though it is blatantly clear that Ant-Man has a certain rapport with Spectrum (he even knows the guy’s real name, when the Avengers do not). The Avengers, predictably, get their butts handed to them while Ant-Man is actually able to make worthwhile progress. There’s some hokey bits in there too with the Avengers needing to overcome their deepest fears and regrets, which goes about the way you would expect.
Overall it is a decent enough episode with some good fight scenes and a welcome display of Ant-Man’s value to the team, but there are some weak points. Most notably half the team is split for most of the episode while they explore the Squadron Supreme’s lair and are attacked by robot worm-things, which doesn’t really go anywhere useful except to expose that Spectrum really isn’t that bad a guy after all — it’s the gem that gives him his powers that they have to watch out for. The whole section with these guys is a bit of time wasting in action, and could probably have been a bit shorter without losing anything.
So let’s talk about the Squadron Supreme for a bit, since it looks like they will remain a focus for the last few episodes of the season. First and foremost they are, as previously noted, a direct translation of the DC universe’s Justice League into the Marvel Universe, although it tends to stick with five core characters instead of seven. Hyperion serves as Superman, Nighthawk is Batman and Power Princess is Wonder Woman, in addition to Speed Demon (originally called the ‘Whizzer’ in the comics… the change to ‘Speed Demon’ was well advised) and Dr. Spectrum. The team first appeared in 1969 as the Squadron Sinister and were created by the Grandmaster specifically to duel with the Avengers (at the time there were only four Squadron members, as Power Princess was not added until later). The Squadron was predictably defeated, and life moved on. The team next appeared as the Squadron Supreme, but only because these members were actually from an alternate dimension, and were heroes rather than villains. There was absolutely no distinction between the Supreme and Sinister members, which caused a bit of confusion even at the Marvel offices at the time. For the next several decades we would get alternating appearances between the Squadron Supreme and Squadron Sinister, with a few of the characters becoming full-fledged Avengers and Defenders (Hyperion was a core member of the Avengers in the recent build-up to the Secret Wars event, for instance).
Since this episode was primarily about Dr. Spectrum it seems fitting to take a look at him, too. The heroic version of Dr. Spectrum is Joseph Ledger, and has pretty much been the sole heroic bearer of the power prism in the comics whether it be in the Marvel Universe proper, or in the mature-audiences universe of the Max comics. There is a female Dr. Spectrum hero who appeared briefly in the build up to Secret Wars, but we have only a few details about her beyond the fact that she is expected to return after Secret Wars ends (despite dying to Black Bolt).
The villainous Spectrum is another story, though. The original Dr. Spectrum was a Ugandan named Kenji Obatu who did battle with Iron Man several times (including in the initial Squadron Sinister appearance), and never fared very well thanks to Iron Man finding out the gem’s weakness to ultraviolet light. In their final battle Iron Man appeared to destroy the prism, which depowered Obatu. He would die later in an unrelated incident. The second Dr. Spectrum is Billy Roberts, who was an evangelical preacher. During his tenure as Spectrum the prism actually abandoned him several times and attempted to corrupt multiple Avengers, including the Wasp and Thor. After Thor is able to reject the prism it appears to lose power. Lastly, though, the Grandmaster returns at some point and creates a new Squadron Sinister, along with a new Dr. Spectrum in the form of Hank Pym’s former lab assistance, Alice Nuggent. They fight the Thunderbolts, and are soundly defeated, which causes the team to fracture. To my knowledge they haven’t been seen since. Currently Dr. Spectrum is appearing in the Secret Wars spin-off books as Kenji Obatu again, but he is a Japanese man rather than a Ugandan this time around.
In the Avengers Assemble show Dr. Spectrum appears to be a cross between Kenji Obatu and Billy Roberts. He has Robert’s name (though prefers ‘Bill’ to ‘Billy’), but has darker skin like Kenji (the comics version of Roberts is about as white as you could find). He also is directly responsible for the destruction of his home planet (through manipulation by Nighthawk), which is a heavy burden he bears.
That wraps up our brief look at the Squadron Supreme and Dr. Spectrum. Avengers Assemble only has a few more episodes to go this season, and it looks like some of the other Squadron members will be getting some spotlight time, so expect for us to revisit their history in the coming weeks. Until then, this episode will have to tide us over, and fortunately it is entertaining enough to be up to the task.