The Pre-War Years represents a change of direction for what was Supreme Power, as the nudity and swearing goes, the violence is toned down and J. Michael Straczynski and Gary Frank bring their alternate world superheroes to an all-ages audience. The narrative continues from Supreme Power: Hyperion, the graphic novels starring Doctor Spectrum and Nighthawk by creators other than Straczynski not relevant to the main story.

As he has been since start, Frank is a superb artist. He defines the cast as having power, allure or mystery, exemplified by endowing Zarda with all three traits. There’s no attempt made to disguise that by human terms she’s completely callous and psychotic, yet Frank still manages to make her desirable as intended. When he’s replaced for an episode by Juan Barranco, the difference is immense, and it’s not because Barranco is a poor artist, but because he’s not in the same class.

For reasons of his own, Hyperion has decided to comply with the American authorities while covertly following his own agenda, so a whole super team is publicly unveiled, ostensibly under US control. From there Straczynski rolls out a series of real world problems from 2006 and has the Squadron Supreme deal with them. Distressingly the problems remain of bloodthirsty African dictators armed by the USA, and middle Eastern countries concerned with enriching uranium, yet if the world is dysfunctional, then so are its would-be protectors. Inertia has been added to the team since the Supreme Power days, and her fractured background, explored at length, ensures she fits right in.

Straczynski uses the opening chapter to define the entire cast in shorthand, but he has his favourites, and Arcanna, Nuke and Tom Thumb are barely seen. The self-styled World’s Smartest Man, though, is featured heavily, Straczynski revelling in Emil Burbank’s two-faced behaviour, snide comments and depressing readiness. He is on a warning, having been told “I’ve never yet seen an I.Q. high enough to stop a bullet”.

The Pre-War Years is a thoroughly entertaining superhero graphic novel. It’s thoughtful, well drawn and Straczynski conceives innovative ways of cancelling out what are an inordinately powerful group of individuals. There is, however, one massive drawback. The story was never completed, or at least not as originally intended. The Hyperion graphic novel gave an indication of where things were headed, but that doesn’t resolve everything, and an intriguing alien agenda is left hanging in addition to the more ordinary cliffhanger featuring the return of a sadistic old enemy. Some of the cast appear in Squadron Supreme: Hyperion Vs. Nighthawk, but that’s a different story by different creators, not a continuation. The cast are revisited in the Ultimate Power crossover, but Straczynski only writes one portion of it, and the Squadron then pick up again in Power to the People.