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Into the back issue box #19

So the rules of these posts are here.  You know the drill!

Today’s selection is weird.  It is written by perhaps the greatest comic book writer ever, but if a first-time comic book reader read it, they might be turned off of the medium.  What could it be?  Read on …

Supreme #51 (“The Supreme Story of the Year, Part 11: A Roster of Rogues”) by Alan Moore, J. Morrigan, Norm Rapmund, Al Gordon, and Rick Veitch.  Published by Awesome Entertainment, late July, 1997.

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Yes, it’s a comic from Alan Moore’s “slumming” period!  During this time, we got some decent stories (well, I enjoy his WildC.A.T.s stuff – he did a great job with TAO), some very excellent ones (1963), and I have heard that some people enjoyed his work on Supreme.  Based on this comic, I’m not sure.  It’s not that it’s bad, it’s that he’s going to a well that he went to with much better effect both before this (1963) and after (Tom Strong).  But how would a first-time reader react to this?  Let’s delve!

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We begin with a splash page in which a robotic creature who calls himself Cyberzerk crashes through a window into an office yelling that he wants to fight Omniman.  He says that the address was in his comic book, so he must be here.  In the foreground is a blonde woman with a typical mini-skirt on, a cigar-chomping older man, and a tall, white-haired gentleman, who is presumably our hero because he’s bigger and more muscular than the other guy.  The cigar guy lets us know that these are the offices of Dazzle Comics and that Omniman isn’t real.  Which is nice to know.  Cyberzerk grabs the woman, whose name is Diana Dane, and says that if she’s Omniman’s new love interest (she’s “taking over” Omniman, so she’s presumably the new artistic talent on the book), he will have to battle for her.  Lucas, the cigar guy, wonders aloud how people expect him to ship books on time if his talent keeps getting abducted, which has to be an in-joke, given this comic is a Liefeld spawn.  Our hero, whose name we still don’t know, zips into an office and changes into his Supreme costume!  He challenges Cyberzerk, who says, “It’s Cyberzerk versus Omniman in a fight to the finish we just had to call ‘When Titans Collide!!’”  But he gets confused because “Omniman” is wearing a different costume.  Supreme rips his cyborg arm clean off and puts it on a roof with Diana Dane still inside it, albeit freed.  Cyberzerk claims that Supreme couldn’t have severed his arm, because he lost the power in issue #232 of the comic, and it must be a continuity error.  Supreme smashes straight through Cyberzerk, knocking him unconscious.  Diana asks if he’s dead, but Supreme says he doesn’t kill.  He then reminisces about the good old days and the classy vilains like Dr. Nocturne and the Shadow Supreme.  Diana mentions that it’s probably because all the modern villains only read comic books for inspiration.  Supreme then recalls a time in the 1960s when he had so many colorful enemies that they filled a wing of the Supreme World Exhibition.  Cue a flashback!

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The flashback is pencilled by “Rambunctious” Rick Veitch.  In it we see Supreme and his girlfriend, Judy Jordan, arriving at Supreme World, where Judy wants to check out the main exhibition.  Supreme instead steers her to the Rogues’ Roster, even though Judy thinks it’s stupid.  So we begin a tour through Supreme’s villains, including the first one, Stupendo the Simian Supreme, who is now a friend of our hero.  They enter the exhibit and see his other villains – Darius Dax, “the child genius warped by bitterness at being overshadowed by Kid Supreme,” and Emerpus, “the Reverse Supreme.”  Emerpus came from a part of the universe called the Backward Zone, where time ran in reverse.  People began as the elderly and dwindled into babies.  Is the Backward Zone on Ork?  We move on to Korgo, the space tyrant, wearing a power belt, and Szazs the Sprite Supreme, who turned cars into frogs in Omegapolis.  Szazs might have the name of a brutal serial killer in the DCU, but he’s much more a parody of this guy.  Supreme continues to talk about his villains, but Judy is bored with it all.  Before they can go to the main exhibit, she notices that Darius Dax and Emerpus have changed places, even though they’re made out of wax!  Supreme tells her it’s just her “female imagination.”  Oh, that wacky Supreme!

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Judy has now decided to see the rest of the exhibit because her “reporter’s nose smells something fishy.”  Supreme shows her Optilux and the Televillain; Optilux converted himself to living light and then tried to convert the rest of the universe, while the Televillain was a television repair man who invented a suit that allowed him to invade T.V. programs – now that would be cool!  Judy is still suspicious, claiming she hears something moving behind them, but Supreme continues to dismiss her.  He shows her the two different enemies who called themselves Supremium Man, then the Shadow Supreme, a negative-energy carbon copy of Supreme.  Judy realizes they’re back at the statue of Emerpus, but when Supreme tells her that they haven’t gone in a circle, she says someone must have moved it … or it moved by itself!  Suddenly Emerpus and the Shadow Supreme come to life and menace her, but Supreme just stands there.  He laughs and tells her they’re just “suprematons,” made up to look like the villains, and he was playing a joke on her.  She gets angry until he tells her it was just a diversion to keep her from reaching the main exhibit hall before it was ready.  When they enter the main hall, it’s entirely devoted to Judy and her adventures.  We see Judy as a giant turtle, as a vampire, as a cowgirl, and as a pirate, among others.  Judy is all choked up and tells Supreme he’s forgiven.  All’s well that ends well!

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Back in the present, Supreme interrupts his reverie and tells Diana that he needs to call the authorities to haul Cyberzerk away.  When he flies away, Diana sits on the roof in awe.  And that’s the end of the story!

Well, not quite.  Following this is a ten-page “prologue” that leads into the conclusion of the Supreme Story of the Year.  A little girl named Hilda points out Supreme’s “sky-house” that’s floating right above them to her grandmother and asks if they can go there.  Hilda and Gran’ma hug each other and “pretend” that they can go, and Hilda somehow propels them into the sky, her feet blasting fire behind them.  When they arrive at Supreme’s house, they find no one home.  Hilda says he uses a lightning bolt to open the door, and when Gran’ma asks where they can get one of those, Hilda creates one.  They enter the house and are accosted by Suprematons.  Gran’ma tells Hilda she should just kill them all, so Hilda does.  Then they wait for Supreme, who’s bound to show up soon.  When he does show up, Hilda is in the mirror penitentiary room waiting for him.  He knows who she is, but when he asks her what she’s doing, Gran’ma activates the interface portal and traps him in the mirror penitentiary.  He gets up and sees Gran’ma, who’s actually Judy Jordan, his old girlfriend!  Oh dear.  He’s talking backward, so they can’t understand him and he can’t understand them, but somehow Hilda can communicate with him, and she tells him that everything’s working out fine, and that he should look behind him.  The Televillain and the Shadow Supreme have arrived, seeking revenge.  Hilda says that he doesn’t have any powers in there and that Judy needs to let him out.  Judy tells Hilda, “You just tell him from me, honey … Judy’s not who he’s talking to.”  Needless to say … To Be Continued!!!!!

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What a weird comic book.  First of all, let’s look at from the point of view of a first-time comic reader, since that is, after all, our purpose around these parts.  Moore makes hardly any effort to introduce readers to this story, throwing us in and expecting us to catch up.  For the most part, we can figure out what’s going on, except for the fact that Hilda seems to be rocket-propelled.  What the hell?  Supreme, we can figure out, is a Superman knock-off, just like Judy Jordan in the flashback is supposed to be Lois Lane.  However, we have no idea what’s going on, if Cyberzerk has any purpose in the book beside providing cannon fodder for Supreme and an opportunity for him to tell us everything was better before we were born.  Similarly, we have no idea what Hilda and “Judy” are doing in this story, or what connection they’ve had in the story prior to this.  I understand that this is Part 11 of a 12-part story, but that’s part of the bigger problem: for the first 14 pages of this book (not including the “prologue”), this does not feel like part of a bigger story arc.  If you picked this up on a lark and thought, “Well, it’s Part 11, so I might have missed some things but I’ll give it a chance anyway,” that’s one thing.  But this single issue has three rather disjointed stories that bear little relation to each other and don’t seem to be continuing any sort of grander, large-scale story.  It’s strange.

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The other big problem for a first-time comic book reader is that this entire issue is pretty much one big joke about the comics industry and the history of comic books, specifically the Superman comics.  You might recognize that Supreme is a parody of Superman, but beyond that, the joke would have no meaning for you and therefore you would have no reason to read this.  I mentioned both 1963 and Tom Strong, where Moore does this kind of thing much better.  You didn’t have to read early 1960s Marvel comics to enjoy 1963 – each issue tells one or even two complete stories that tie into a bigger story arc (which was sadly never completed).  It certainly enhances your reading experience if you are in on the joke, but you don’t have to be.  With this issue, however, you almost have to be in on the joke, and that means that this is not a good comic for a first-time reader.  Our reader might recognize the ridiculousness of Cyberzerk, but not specifically why he’s so stupid.  Our reader might chuckle at the various goofy villains in the Supreme World exhibit, but not understand the parodic aspects of them, and if the reader doesn’t get that, it’s simply a tour of a waxworks museum, and who wants to read that?

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Even as a long-time fan and someone who knows how good Moore can be, this is a disappointing issue.  I get the joke and it still wears thin after a while.  I know that a lot of people love Moore’s work on Supreme, and it’s possible this reads better as part of a whole, but as a single issue, it doesn’t feel like it’s part of a whole and feels more like a fill-in just to stretch the whole story to 12 issues.  Moore is one of those people who you can’t really accuse of “writing for the trade,” but here it feels like that’s what he’s doing.

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And the art.  Oh, the art.  I don’t know who J. Morrigan is, but the art is either in on the joke or part of what Moore is railing against.  It’s typical Image-style art, even less accomplished than the founders of the company.  It’s interesting contrasting it to Veitch’s art in the flashback, because Veitch, even though he’s drawing basically a bunch of statues, has a much better sense of anatomy, a much better sense of realism, and even makes his figures more dynamic even though none of them are moving.  Morrigan’s art, by contrast, is hyperbolic, excessive, and even confusing at times.  It’s not exactly offensive, but it doesn’t do anything to make the comic better.

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So that’s Supreme #51.  I know that people say this is a good run on the title, and maybe they’re talking about issue #53, when Chris Sprouse came on board as penciller, but this particular issue isn’t all that good.  It’s even worse if a first-time comic book reader took a look at it, because they might conclude that comics are silly, self-referential, and rambling.  That would be a shame.  If you want to introduce people to the best comic book writer ever, don’t give them this issue.  Give them Swamp Thing #21 instead!

11 Comments

Gotta say I disagree with you there. Supreme: Story of the Year is one of my favorite super-hero tales of the 90s.

But as to your last point, super-hero comics are silly, self-referential and rambling. That’s one reason why we fanboys love them so – even if it is seldom admitted.

I’m not saying the entire story is bad, Fortress Keeper. This issue isn’t all that good, though, and I wonder how it fits into the entire saga.

Alan Moore’s Supreme run was silly and self referential- but that was kind of the point. Your probably right in saying that a lot of people would be totally confused if this was the first comic they had ever picked up, but you have to allow for the fact that it was the 11th issue in the story (I bet if you read issue 11 of Watchmen in isolation that wouldn’t make alot if sense either).

It was around this issue “Supreme” began to lose its charm for me. It was so self-referential it didn’t have a life of its own. And the story-within-a-story device was beaten to death.

I think Supreme is some of Moore’s best work ever. I really do. Sure, it doesn’t work at all if you don’t know Superman forwards and backwards, but it isn’t supposed to. As for being written for the trade – well, that was where I read it, so I didn’t notice one way or the other.

I always thought Moores’ Supreme was a large comment how the comics industry at large works. It might even be his personal literal comment on the House of DC. It is a Superman Elseworlds story, but here Superman realises that his continuity is revamped again and again. Oh, and that Cyberzerk dude… I think he’s just a fanboy running amok, going to the publishing house of his favorite character.

I like Supreme, but for me it got better after the first 12 issues, when he didn’t feel the need for a retro-style flashback every issue.

I like Alan’s supreme run, because of what Alan was trying to sculpture Supreme into, and that was a tribuite to the silver and golden age Superman, which Alan grew up reading.

Issue 51 was not one of the best issues, some of his first Supreme issues was alot better, but all of Alan’s issues was 100% better than Liefeld’s Supreme run.

I think that part of the problem is that you’re not looking at this in a vacuum. A lot of the self-refential stuff like Tom Strong and All Star Superman and whatever else hadn’t hit yet at this point.

That was part of what made Moore’s Supreme so novel.

A lot like if you read Watchmen now as opposed to reading it when it first came out, how different the effect is.

I actually think this issue would stand alone better than you’re claiming. Sure, someone who knew absolutely NOTHING about comics would be lost, but I think even the average non-comics reader is smart enough to realize that Supreme is Superman with a name change. I mean, everyone knows Superman, right? Whether it would actually appeal to them is open to question–you’d have to have a taste for the bizarre–but again, that’s not something limited to superhero fans. As I’m hardly the first to point out, the Supreme stories are deliberately hearkening back to an era when comics were much, much more popular and widely read than they are today.

Anyway, I think Supreme is actually better than the two series it “bridges”, 1963 and Tom Strong, because it grew totally organically out of an existing comic that Moore revamped (and given that, did a rather brilliant job). His reconception of Youngblood (which in turn grew out of Supreme) is one of the great, disappointing never-happeneds of the comics. And then there was Glory, which was basically a trial run for “Promethea”, and in fact probably would have been better than that series as well (I liked the idea that the heroine was schizophrenic, and that the whole Supreme universe may have been taking place in her head). In each of those cases, Moore was taking a comic that was already popular with the mid-90s Image fanboys and trying to reintroduce them to the classic, goofy, imaginative wonder of Silver Age comics. And given the direction the comics industry went after that, he seems to have succeeded.

Agreed about the art, though–though again, if you’re going to make a meta-commentary about mid-90s comics, you have to have it drawn in a mid-90s style, which usually means it’s going to be pretty crap…

Loved story of the year, but i can see Greg’s point.

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