If you’ve been following these reviews for the past few weeks, or if you’ve been reading along, you know that Tom Thumb has been sick for sometime now. It’s faded into the background with literally everything else going wrong. But the cover of this issues promises a cure to his cancer.
Just don’t get your hopes up too high. It’s still “Squadron”
Written by Mark Gruenwald
Pencils by Paul Ryan
Inks by Sam De La Rosa
Colors by Max Scheele
Letters by Rick Parker
Hyperion recovers from his injuries as Tom Thumb searches for a cure for his illness.
The creative team changed again! Non-former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has stepped in for Bob Hall again. And while the art continues to be solid, that random surgeon on the opening splash page probably didn’t have to go that hard– oh wait, that’s Dr. Decibel. Nevermind. That pose is definitely worthy of a former supervillain. But so far that’s the only real shakeup this issue. Christie Scheele still colors. She’s just credited as “Max” this issue. It was a nickname given to her by letterer Dan Crespi (reportedly after a particularly short haircut), who passed away from Leukemia around this time. Scheele started using the nickname as a tribute.
But as to why the first issue opens with surgery, last issue’s climatic battle was so brutal Hyperion literally went blind. It takes a brainwashed supervillain working with hyper advanced lasers created by genius inventor Tom Thumb the day before to reattach his retinas. And he’s still told it’ll maybe be a couple days to get fully healed up. But what’s great about this scene is the insight it gives us into Hyperion. He’s the Superman of the group; one that’s getting progressively power hungry as the series has gone on. He’s not fond of feeling this weak and helpless.
But contrasted to that is Power Princess, who doesn’t know what the hell to think anymore. Her true love was murdered by another true love who look remarkably like a third true love that has no interest in her whatsoever whom she literally pulverize the second true love. That’ll mess with your head a bit. But before the end of the issue, she acts on her feelings for Hyperion. How that’ll play out we’ll see. But narratively, that’s the only direction you could really take it.
But Dr. Decibel isn’t the only former Institute member taking to life on the compound. The B-Modded bad guys are actually fitting in quite well at the compound. Lamprey is Whizzer’s new tennis partner. Ape X helps Tom Thumb in the lab, with an unexpected amount of romantic tension. And Firefox has taken more-than-friendly interest in Doctor Spectrum. Even Quagmire has earned the respect of Blue Eagle, who blames himself for the lethal amount of toxic fumes the punk inhaled last issue.
But going back to Tom Thumb, he still hasn’t told the team about his cancer. So his computer does. At least Ape X, since they’re to the point of calling each other “babe.” Tom Thumb has been pounding his head against the wall for almost a year now trying to find a cure for cancer to no avail. However, early in the series, it was established that the Scarlet Centurion has his own cure for cancer. He just wouldn’t give it up without a trade off. Seeing as Tom wasn’t up to poisoning Hyperion, the deal didn’t work out. But maybe if they could steal the formula from the tyrant, Thumb could reverse engineer it and introduce it to their new Utopia.
Now we get into B-Mod logistics, which are kept fairly consistent. Ape X can’t help Thumb go to the future and steal the formula, because stealing is a crime, and The Institute had a machine specifically reprogram their brains to tell them how bad crime was. Tom’s not even super thrilled about the prospect either. However, if another former Institute member were told the formula was already stolen, they would believe they were doing the right thing. As long as they’re not aware they’re doing a crime, the programming won’t kick in. Side note: This, and Scarlet Centurion’s return, are cleverly foreshadowed in a scene earlier. She mistakenly attacks Spectrum when he plays a joke on her, while she’s watching historical archives. They make up on the next page.Continued below
But I love the loopholes in the brainwashing. The fact The Institute are aware of their reprogramming, at least in the purely factual sense, is an interesting wrinkle. And it leads to characters poking holes in their own programming. That gives us Thumb’s plan to convince Lamprey that Kang-but-red has stolen the cure for cancer and taken it to the future.
Before we go any further, allow me to ask a question: Were you having fun this issue? Maybe this particular installment was a little light and cheery for you? Well strap yourself in, because the next few pages are about to get heart-wrenching and depressing by “Squadron Supreme” standards. The mission was a success theoretically. The vault in the Church of Eugenics (keep that gross name in your head) is full of various compounds, most of which are destroyed in the attempt to secure the cancer cure.
Tom agonizes over it. He holds the cure to his own illness in his hands. But it’s the only one left. He could save himself right then and there, but he refuses, taking the antidote back to the present. But guess what! It’s not a miracle cure. It’s basically just penicillin and vitamins. Apparently after twenty centuries of genetic tampering, that’s all it takes to cure cancer. Tom accepts his fate, taking the compound back to the future. Because it’s stolen, after all.
Then the part that got me the hardest. A single, thin panel of white text against a black background, stating that Tom Thumb passed away while working in his lab. It almost feels like an afterthought and for me at least, evoked memories of Poochie’s “death” in The Simpsons. But the bluntness and frankness of the announcement hit surprisingly hard. Particularly with the previous panel of Thumb walking out with the compound. It really is a case of an ending being greater than the sum of its parts.
So… I wonder if next issue with be less hard— *looks at cover* Quagmire no!!