Okay, so full disclosure? The first and last time I read a comic book featuring this character was 1992‘s Supreme #1, wherein the transparent Superman pastiche fights with the equally obvious Marvel super-team ripoff, Youngblood, in space. Since then, the character has apparently bounced between a host of reboots from some of the industry’s leading names (most notably Alan Moore and Erik Larsen) to varying degrees of critical success. In catching up with these twists and turns via the internets, I have learned that Supreme has contracted one of the most cancerous and convoluted histories in comics, which is frankly saying a whole lot. All of this begs the question, why would I want to read the reboot of a reboot of a reboot of a character obviously meant as parody? In short, what so appealed about Supreme Blue Rose #1?
Well, first of all, I’m a sucker for Warren Ellis, whose recent work has, for me, seen him return to form. With his involvement, and the wild art I’d seen previewed by Tula Lotay, I saw a good jumping-on point to familiarize myself with a character I’d only flirted with following previously, and I wanted to find out how they would breathe new life into a notion that had been resuscitated so many times before. But this? This I wasn’t expecting.
Supreme Blue Rose #1 basically follows nightmare-addled, recently unemployed (but award-winning) investigative journalist, Diana Dane (herself originally created as a Lois Lane imitation) as she is courted by reclusive billionaire and self-proclaimed peddler of “rare truths,” Darius Dax (yup, Lex Luthor) to look into a strange happening in the small town of Littlehaven, wherein something (or indeed someone) strange fell to earth. The only thing Dax knows for sure is that it has something to do with a man named Ethan Thomas Crane (who old-hats will remember as Supreme’s alter ego; a la, Clark Kent), and that he desperately wants to know more.
There is simultaneously so little and so very much going on in this first issue. At face value, it’s really just the beginning of a mystery and the investigation thereof, but if it’s one thing my research into Supreme and being a fan of Warren Ellis have taught me, it’s to not take anything at face value.
One constant so far with Supreme is that in each of its reboots, the given creator has borrowed some or another element of the established story while divorcing the rest from the previous iteration. Think of it kind of like the New 52 - some stuff stays, other stuff doesn’t, paradoxes exist and we are all asked to just get the hell over it.
With that in mind, it’s pretty clear that Ellis and Lotay are keeping up with tradition. For example, Moore’s creative contributions to the Supreme mythos are back (Dane, Dax and Crane) as is the tease of a character from the original series called Enigma. But it’s more than just a cast reunion. One of the most outstanding elements in Moore’s run was his meta-commentary, and with all the strange imagery and Ellis’ classically hypnotic poetic style, especially at the beginning, it’s hard not to think that this may be at least nod toward that direction again.
For instance, the script here speaks several times of “art and actors,” perhaps already pointing to itself as a work of fiction. It also - with a mid-issue intrusion of a pulp serial story about “Professor Night” - suggests that the Crane character may have retained his comic book creator job that was used as a vehicle for Moore’s commentary during his run.
The dream sequence that introduces the book alone is an almost ambient shoring up of different things that have happened throughout Supreme’s many incarnations, with a tentative grasp on the nature and length of its own existence: something that once was an integral part of Supreme’s origin story. And that’s just the beginning of this spiral that this issue sets up.
Speaking of things taking shape, another culprit in this story’s complexity is Lotay’s art, which is itself a gorgeous spill of styles that reminds me of Allred-meets-McKelvie, if viewed under an angrily-keyed pane of stained glass. Lotay’s work here really is beautiful, but more importantly, it’s scarred in the remnant blue pencil sketch marks an artist uses before applying inks.
That style to me always feels like it’s winking at the reader; that it knows it’s a comic book. Here those marks also feel like the chalk outlines around recently resurrected characters and concepts, like they’ve just gotten up from the spots in which they once died (without resolution, as one character points out), but came back not quite fitting the same space they once occupied. The same is true of Diana’s appropriately-named shadow, whose “birth defect” makes him look like he was once scratched out of existence and haphazardly brought back.
Of course, while singing this new Supreme’s praises for “passing the Bechdel test with flying colors,” Lotay (in the book’s solicits on the Image website) also mentioned that this version is “far from your typical superhero story, a million miles from the original Supreme. It's definitely strange, it's a sci-fi mystery with a Lynchian edge.” If that doesn’t sell this thing as self-reflexive and transcendental, i don’t know what will.
At the same time, if you’re like me and the only thing you know about Supreme is thanks to a whistle-stop blast through the internet, or not even that, I think Supreme Blue Rose #1 stands on its own as an intriguing first issue into a brand new story. yes, it helps to know some inkling of what is going on, but being caught up in the mystery is just as fun.
Sure, I’m nervous that I’ll miss something of significance going forward if I don’t first go back and read those old Moore issues, but I’m done with any further research. From now on, I’m just going to approach this with the limited information I already have and enjoy the ride.
Writer: Warren Ellis Artist: Tula Lotay Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 7/23/14 Format: Print/Digital