Review: Supreme Blue Rose #4

The first thing you have to understand before approaching Ellis and Lotay’s take on Supreme is that it must be read as a comic book. I know that statement might sound self-evident or redundant, but I mean it more structurally. That is, you must accept that on some level, Supreme Blue Rose is self-aware. Its characters know - perhaps still on the atomic level for some, more clearly by others - that they exist in a comic book setting. Taken at that level, this becomes some fantastic, next-level storytelling; as is the Supreme tradition. Perhaps the biggest nod to this reading is in a conversation this issue between Doc Rocket and Zayla Zarn, both fairly minor characters in Supreme’s universe previously. In it, they speak of past permutations and iterations of the title’s mythos, while themselves existing as quite different versions from their earlier appearances in the book’s fractured continuity. There follows a lot of talk about “incorrect instances,” “spaciotemporal impact points” and “bubble continuums,” so it gets a bit high-concept gobbledygook-y, but in that delightfully comic book kind of way.

Meanwhile, and amidst snippets of intrepid reporter Diana Dane rubbing shoulders with the ongoing Littlehaven mystery, we meet back up with Dr. Chelsea Henry. Two issues ago, she disappeared because of math (been there, amirite), and her tumble since is even further indication that this book is tipping both its hat and its hand to the reader. “We are trapped in here,” she is told by characters at different levels down the rabbit hole (an intertextual allusion mirrored in Dane’s own Alice-like trip), before later regurgitating the message to us, herself, as a warning.

SupremeBlueRose04_CoverIt’s varyingly-linear, existential stuff, and it just might cook your noodle if you let it. And you really should let it. Of course, much of Ellis’ body of work could be called self-referential to some extent. As such, it must be leapt upon like a loaded gun or an armed mine. But I would argue Supreme Blue Rose demands at least some familiarity with the previous source material to be properly enjoyed.

I can see how the complexity of its plot could turn-off potential jump-on readers, but if you take the time to give this story the patience it demands, it will yield dividends. Saying that, a cursory look back into Supreme’s publication history and major plotlines should be enough to grasp an idea of what’s going on here. If you can manage that, then I can guarantee this book will blossom into what I hold to be one of Image’s strongest (and strangest) titles.

Lotay’s art continues to be something truly special within the visual storytelling medium, and quite frankly, some of the most resonating work on stands today. More and more, digital after-effects are being woven into comic book art to the great consternation of some fans. However, in Supreme Blue Rose #4, and everything previously leading up to it, Lotay marries the two together in a way that jars with purpose and actually achieves the intended effect.

Her style works perfectly for this story: a heady battle of layers, burning each other like two pictures from different eras exposed and merged together. Her thickly-lined figures are expressive and gorgeous at times, flawed and frayed at others; in so doing, she  showcases not just Character, but each one’s personal relevance to the greater story. Her background work may be something of an afterthought, but it certainly doesn’t hurt presentation in the slightest. In fact, it actually helps the reader focus, getting us up close and personal with the context of the story.

Her choice of visual noise - the pops and whistles of scratches, strings and scars - look like a collision of music given form; it’s Psybient pumped through an old phonograph, and I absolutely love how it echoes with the same layered approach Ellis takes to his narrative. Put simply, I can’t and don’t want to imagine this book looking any other way, but I do want to see Lotay on a lot more titles.

Just one last note about the art, the interlocking covers are beginning to take shape with the release of issue four, and I haven’t seen a trick like that pulled off effectively in some time. For once, it doesn’t feel gimmicky; instead, like every other element in this series thus far, it becomes an integral piece of Ellis and Lotay’s narrative puzzle.

As I mentioned earlier, Supreme Blue Rose isn’t going to be for everybody, but if you dig stories about the transcendental nature of comic book characters caught adrift in their own chaotic continuity, you might want to check this one out.

Score: 4/5

Writer: Warren Ellis Artist: Tula Lotay Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 10/15/14 Format: Print/Digital