May 15, 2015

The First Few Issues: Early Writings of the Giant Box of Comics

(I dropped the ball on my Shadowline posts, part 2 of which was supposed to go live today. I just haven't had the energy to put toward the kind of post I'd like to do about them. I really think they're important comics, so I want to get it right. By way of apology, and I'll be keeping a few of these queued up just in case I drop the ball again, here's some of the earliest "critical" writing I did on comics, circa 2001. I haven't edited or changed anything. I think it's important to recognize where you've come from. Be gentle.)


A review of issues #41 - 52b, by Alan Moore and various artists

Having just finished re-reading these 13 issues, I feel like I've been reading Supreme for about 60 years. That's not a bad thing. In a world where a continuity error in a comic book can completely eclipse a really good story, Alan Moore has found the solution: Create your own continuity. Taking a second-rate Image universe character and wiping the slate clean, Moore has created a super-hero that the more well-known Man of Steel wishes he were.

Supreme started out existence as a sort of violent Superman, Image's and more
specifically, Rob Liefeld's, answer to the Man of Tomorrow. That the book lasted through 40 issues and various mini-series' is a testament to his popularity, but it wasn't until #41 that both fans and the industry sat up and took notice. Perhaps in an effort to tell the Superman stories he couldn't tell at DC, Alan Moore took over the book, and in many ways, the whole universe he existed in.

In each issue of the 13 I'm talking about, Supreme in the 90's confronts a problem that puts him in mind of past events, which are then presented as flashbacks. A common enough trick, yes, but the way it is pulled off here is what makes the book special. Each flashback, illustrated by the amazing Rick Veitch, is drawn in the style of the era it is supposed to represent. For example, when we see Supreme's origin in issue #42, set in the 1930's, it is drawn much as a comic from the very beginning of the Golden Age was. Moving on a few issues, a story of Supreme in the 70's (long-lived fellow, that Supreme) is drawn in the appropriate fashion. Even the pages these stories appear on have been artificially yellowed to enhance the effect. 

The effect these flashbacks have, especially in the later issues where Liefeld had departed from the ranks of Image and taken his characters with him, is to set up an entire super-hero history that you can get the scope of in only 13 issues, hence the 60 years of reading Supreme. In much the same way he parodied / tributed old Marvel titles in the 1963 series, Moore takes all the conventions of the DC universe and makes them new. For those familiar with comics there are in-jokes a-plenty, yet not so many that new readers will feel lost.

As for the story of Supreme itself, I'd rather not give too much away. We meet Supreme on his way back to Earth after a mission in space. He finds that the universe is about to undergo a revision, a fact made clear to him by a multitude of other Supremes he meets who have already been revised. In this way, Supreme is finding out about his past at much the same time that the reader is. Moore has taken the approach of single issue, stand-alone stories, with one or two two-parters. There is a story running through all 13 issues, but not one that precludes reading issues out of order. The series continues up to issue #56 and picks up again with Supreme: The Return, which has so far produced 3 issues. Awesome Entertainment's unfortunate financial circumstances have made the further adventures of Supreme sporadic at best, but maybe once the second year of stories is complete (Supreme: The Return #8), it'1l be the huge seller it deserves to be, and I won't need to review them to get people to read it.

This is a comic for anyone who misses the wonder a super-hero title used to give. It's not grim, it's not violent, it's not full of sex, but it will make you smile and laughand be moved. The opinion I've most heard expressed about this series is it's contrast to Watchmen, Moore's most well-known work. Where Watchmen seemed to be about deconstructing the super-hero ideal, Supreme is about how wonderful an ideal it is. 

 Supreme is only currently available in back issue, and they're very scarce. There are plans to release a hardcover of the issues I've reviewed, but no firm date. Supreme: The Return #4 - 6 are supposed to be out in March - April 2000.
Supreme was published monthly by Image, then by Maximum Press, and then by Awesome Entertainment.

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