Feb 21, 2013

Alan Moore at Awesome, Day 5: Supreme, the Return

Welcome to Day 5 of The Comics Cube!'s retrospective series on Alan Moore's time at Awesome Comics. You can read about this series here.

Supreme: The Return
Awesome Endings

After The Story of the Year, Chris Sprouse took over Supreme as the regular penciller for five issues, some again with flashback sequences. There would then be a rotating cast of artists for the last five issues. 

Since Sprouse's style wasn't at all exemplary of the 90s zeitgeist, what contrast there is in the art styles is merely a stylistic, not thematic, one. And that's fine, because Moore pretty much got done saying what he had to say about the evolution of comics and comics art in the first book. He wasn't done making little jokes about it, however, and in the first story in the trade paperback The Return, Supreme finds that one copy of the book he draws, Omniman, has become an issue of Supreme! In fact, it was the very issue that contained the story, and this leads to a fight between Supreme and a suddenly physically real Omniman. This issue introduces Carl Chambers, Dazzle Comics' new assistant editor, who's quick to point out that yes, these superheroes have ludicrous anatomies and the people in that world have to deal with it.

It's a good Silver Age–type of a fun issue, complete with the reveal that "Omniman" is actually Szazs, a mischievous imp who is Supreme's equivalent of Mr. Mxyzptlk. Supreme "cheats" by just reading the solution out of the Supreme comic book he's holding. It's really a quaint little touch and done with the delicate balance of the Silver Age spirit and modern day storytelling and the right amount of in-jokes.

The next issue features "The Ballad of Judy Jordan," which focuses on Supreme's original girlfriend, whose body was taken over by Darius Dax in The Story of the Year, her consciousness scattered. Wanting to save his oldest and dearest friend, he manages to piece her mind together in the body of a Suprematon, one of the robot bodies he has in his citadel. While his intentions were noble, this poses a problem.

 The opening act, drawn by Rick Veitch, instills that sense of history, connecting it with the flashback sequences of The Story of the Year. Joe Bennett went and drew the second act, though it felt more transitory than anything, and Chris Sprouse closed it off with a conversation (he's so good at those. He could do a whole comic where people just talk and I'd buy it.) between Judy and Supreme, both acknowledging the past, and knowing what could never be.

The resolution is so obvious, and, I feel, poignant, as is the follow-up story featuring the League of Infinity, involving a history where the South won the Civil War.

That's followed by a two-parter in which the villains from the Hell of Mirrors escape and wreak havoc on Earth. And this is where reading the book gets kind of weird. The first part builds them up strongly as a threat, as if Supreme is in for the challenge of his life. Here's the Negative Supreme (based not on Bizarro, but this little known Superman villain), bragging about killing Suprema's dog Radar.

He was bluffing, it turns out.

You'd think that would mean the stakes were raised, but in the very first scene of the next issue, the villains Korgo and Vor-Em basically make it a farce, challenging Bill Clinton to a duel and then taunting him in the manner of playground bullies.

There's also the matter of Optilux (Supreme's Brainiac) blasting a bunch of Bon Jovi fans to Amalynth, the Prism World, which Supreme just takes in stride.

With the combination of the Clinton jokes (Korgo eventually gives himself up because he couldn't handle being around Hillary Clinton), the Bon Jovi jokes, and an added joke about Friends (the TV show), what should have been Supreme's ultimate challenge ended up becoming more of a laughing matter. I'll admit to laughing the first time I read it, but it quickly got old after a couple of readings, and I do wonder how Moore would have done it, had he treated this kind of threat with the level of direness it truly deserved.

The next issue shifts things a bit to Darius Dax, who "died" at the end of Story of the Year. He's taken to Daxia, which is just his counterpart of the Supremacy, and is brought back to the present day to wreak havoc on Supreme's life. (This was apparently the opening plot for Erik Larsen's run on the rebooted Supreme last year.) Just a plot development that unfortunately didn't go anywhere while Moore was still at Awesome.

The next three issues focused primarily on Supreme's growing relationship with Lois Lane Diana Dane. She's introduced to the other Diana Danes in the Supremacy, which is where she realizes that she's supposed to be with Supreme and finally gets together with him.

After their kissing somehow inspires Radar to go into heat and impregnate just about every female canine in Omegapolis in a story that is regrettably neither cute nor funny, Diana manages to somehow figure out that Ethan Crane and Supreme are one and the same person—the idea being that she is just written into his story, and it's truly just meant to be.

There's one more issue after that that features a time-looping villain called the Supremium Man and basically writes out Billy Friday, the British comic book writer (maybe Moore ran out of jokes) from the supporting cast. And the TPB ends with a tribute to the King of Comics, Jack Kirby.
Supreme, drawn by Rob Liefeld, travels to a section in the Himalayas called "New Jack City," where a whole city and a whole civilization have materialized. Supreme runs into one pastiche of a Kirby character after another, including armor-plated Dr. Dread (Dr. Doom) and the gods Solorus, Wodek, and Marzeus (any number of mythological deities mixed together). And finally, Supreme runs into the  being that all the city's inhabitants call "The Regent," who is quick to point out that "King" will do.

Rick Veitch draws all the Kirby characters and landscapes and backgrounds, and his thick inks and Kirby fluorishes really contrast with Liefeld's Supreme, who is drawn with more rendering and inked with a thinner line. It almost serves to highlight how Jack Kirby never really worked on Superman, except for a few issues here and there, and how he never really made his personal mark on the Man of Steel, despite being the most influential artist in the field that the Man of Steel started. There's a whole sense of historical storylines running in parallel there, with Kirby's influence on the one side and Superman's in another, and I do think that if you consider the fact that The Story of the Year's flashbacks included tributes to Jim Steranko, Wally Wood, and Bill Elder, but not any to Jack Kirby, "New Jack City" is a great way to close the Supreme storyline.

There are hints in the final sequence, with Supreme and Diana Dane, that the Omniman comic, which will contain its own version of the Supremacy (the Omnigarchy), will end up playing a major role in future storylines (and it did with Larsen's relaunch last year), but since Awesome folded, production basically just tacked a "The End" sign on the last panel (in Comic Sans, and so discreetly that I didn't even notice until I reread it).

And you know what? That's good enough for me. In The Story of the Year, we got a great interplay with a straightforward superhero romp and some metatext, resulting in a really fun read that set up Supreme's new status quo. In The Return, we got stories playing in that new status quo, with a variety of range, and although they were mostly stories with easy resolutions and were perhaps a little too light, it still provided a fun ride. And what's more, it ended with a tribute to the King of Comics, which is fitting because so much of the series was a tribute to the entire history of comics. And after this came America's Best Comics.

So I'm okay with the fact that it never finished. It ended on a good note, and made way for something better.

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