What do you even write about Alan Moore’s Supreme? I mean, it sounds good as an abstract idea, certainly. “Alan Moore rejuvenates a scathingly stupid character from Rob Liefeld’s Extreme imprint and invests him with an un-self-conscious love of Silver Age Superman, only for the whole thing to fall apart through no fault of Moore’s own.” The story’s pretty much that cut-and-dry, which is why Gary Spencer Millidge barely spends two pages on it in his handsome grimoire, Alan Moore: Storyteller.
Millidge quotes Moore, talking to Clifford Meth: “Given that a lot of the stuff I do is very serious these days, perhaps even tending towards the heavy side, doing some silly-ass superhero stuff in amongst all that is quite a tonic and a panacea. It’s a refreshing sorbet between main courses.”
There you have it, from the man himself: this is a sorbet, and a silly-ass one, to boot.
I don’t know, though–maybe it’s exactly that quality that keeps people buzzing, if not chattering, about Supreme, twelve years after Moore’s most recent issue was published. (He had one or two more scripts that were never illustrated; Erik Larsen will be handling them for the title’s revival next week. Sure, Alan Moore is the guy who gave us sex with monsters both consensual (Swamp Thing) and otherwise (Neonomicon), among other heavy fucking topics, but sometimes a man just has to let his beard down and have some fun, right? I won’t lie: one of my favorite things from the whole of America’s Best Comics, beyond even the likes of Promethea, was First American and U.S.Angel, a strip he did in the Tomorrow Stories anthology. It was straight-up slapstick humor, full of sex gags and rude meta-farts, like a comic book version of the Carry On… movies if neither superhero comics nor Carry On… movies were written by retarded people.
It’s not that Supreme is particularly weightless, either–it’s not like we’re sitting here, trying to hurl a piece of paper the same way one might toss a stone. It’s just a peculiar kind of weight. This is a comic book series designed to be fully understood by adult fans of superhero comic books. (Aren’t they all, now? But seriously, folks.) Its resonance is targeted at people who have strong ideas about the likes of Superman, god help them, and people who are keen to enjoy a Super-saga but need a comforting blanket of distance and irony in order to not feel quite so fucking juvenile about the whole thing.
This concept paints Alan Moore in a bad light, maybe. It depends on whether or not you feel like that’s a worthwhile enterprise: “adults making kid-safe adult-oriented comic books about the comic books that adults read when they were kids.” To be fair, this is easily a million times more ambition than Moore showed in his WildC.A.T.s comics, which had the seeming authorial mandate of “well, there’s nowhere to go but up, isn’t there?” Still, the subtext of such a series is thin gruel unless you’re one of the initiated, or failing that, a weirdo comics anthropologist trying to vibe to the big ape tribe’s backwards brainwaves. That’s not great, from a purely intellectual standpoint, but you also have to remember: that there is a subtext, at all, even a shallow one, puts it head and shoulders above an astonishing proportion of the competition, and certainly all previous issues of Supreme.
Supreme was Liefeld’s third big creator-owned initiative at Image, and it ran for forty issues, with some mini-series and stuff besides. First, there was Youngblood, which was his Avengers, then there was Brigade, which was his X-Force, and then there was Supreme, which was his Superman. Okay. Superman’s kind of boring, though, right? I mean, this is 1992 and we’re sitting here and they have to kill the stupid bastard off to get anyone to sit up and read his comic books. Supreme doesn’t sit around worrying about, hell, Jimmy Olsen. Who would? You? You’re ten years old, man, maybe even eleven, you’ve figured out that going to channel 300 gets you scrambled technicolor tit-wave porn fragments and you’ve seen at least two Friday the 13ths, and on top of all that your baseball cap is backwards because who cares what Mom thinks? You need a hero that speaks to you. So Liefeld picked up on that, him and Brian Murray, and they said “we got you, kid,” and they came up with Supreme, a hero who combined the power of Superman with the amorality and violence of Lobo, or maybe a berserk Wolverine. Is he mankind’s greatest hope? Or is he the planet’s most dangerous enemy? Isn’t that your dream, kid, to leave everyone guessing like that, to make them really feel the truth when you snap “You don’t know me!“–?
Forty issues of this! More, even! More than any other Extreme book, Supreme got passed around from writer to writer, each struggling to make heads or tails of how to create a sustainable book about a mad god. (Even Peter David, god bless him, was starting to crack under the strain of keeping Captain Marvel involving, once he made the title character certifiable.) So, whatever, they gave him more relatable supporting cast members: Kid Supreme, who was a carjack of the 90s Superboy, and Lady Supreme, who took all of the confusing, boring backstory of the Matrix Supergirl and added a slingshot thong bathing suit. Gary Carlson tried. Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming, they tried. Terry Moore tried!
So Alan Moore, he’s doing a bunch of work for Image, if only to keep his self-published darlings afloat. He did a mini-series where Spawn fought a vampire, and a couple brain-dead goofs starring Spawn’s enemy, the Violator. (People who call Deathblow: By-Blows the most inconsequential, lightweight thing in Alan Moore’s oeuvre have never read Violator vs. Badrock.) He did the 1963 thing and that didn’t work out. So Eric Stephenson–the guy who’s in charge of Image Comics these days–he calls Moore up and says, well, hell, Jim Valentino’s been writing this book, but he’s on his way out, maybe you could come give our psychotic roid-rage Superman a bit of that old Alan Moore shine?
“Sure,” Alan says, stroking his beard contemplatively. “But I want carte blanche to ignore the stuff I don’t want to use, or keep.”
Eric’s struggling to stay in his chair, he’s so excited–like hell he expected Moore to say yes. “Oh, yeah, yeah!” he blurts, maybe a little too quickly, probably a little too loudly. “I mean, you name it, it’s wiped out. What are we talking here–the Starguard? That whole Probe/Lady Supreme storyline? Thor and Loki?”
Alan sits for a moment, looking out his window, the corners of his eyes tensing up a bit as Stephenson rattles this stuff off. Probe Lady Supreme storyline? he thinks. What the hell kind of a deviant book is this? “Hurm,” he says, finally, before drumming his heavy, ringed fingers on the tabletop in front of him. “Actually, Eric, how about all of it?”
Even though this entire conversation I’m typing out is wholly imagined on my part, I can’t imagine Eric Stephenson having even the smallest, most secondary second thought on that.
Now we’re back to figuring out how to write about it again. You could compare and contrast the old and the new, but honestly, who wants to read forty issues of Supreme just to say “well, the twenty that came after are better?” I’ll leave that archaeology to the kinds of people who still think it’s clever to post reaction vlogs to no-hoper werewolf movies.
Another approach is a direct archaeological one: excavating the pages of Supreme to track down every last speck of Curt Swan’s blood laced into the ink. Someone already did that, though. It’s a 137-page MS Word document, and once there’s one of those things, how many more do you fucking need, especially for a sorbet?
So you know what, let’s just stop wringing our hands. Let’s just do this.
Image Comics. Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by Joe Bennett. Inked by Norm Rapmund. (Flashback sequence penciled by Keith Giffen and inked by Al Gordon.) Colored by Reuben Rude, which is a pretty amazing name, and I.H.O.C..
The recurring trend of Alan Moore’s Image days was the terrible trend of ol’ Uncle Alan having to work with hot-shot kid artists who weren’t in his pay grade. Some of them could step up to the plate: Bart Sears, Greg Capullo, y’know. The dudes he brought in himself fared the best, and here I’m talking the likes of Veitch and Bissette, old pros whose styles were just flat-out not Image-y enough for the Image Club. Then, uh, there was the Tony Daniel stuff, the Brian Denham stuff, the Todd McFarlane stuff… guys who just aren’t built for Alan Moore stories, especially when they were kids like Denham and Daniel (who was, I think, fresh off the Comico/X-Force boat).
You know this already–you’re someone who reads comic book blogs–but Alan Moore writes long, dense scripts. He’s the opposite of “Panel two: Dredd on bike”–he’ll describe exactly what flavor ice cream a little kid is holding half a mile away from the action. He does with his words what the likes of David Fincher do with production design. Every little piece is there to help build a plausible, inhabitable world, even if you give those little details no more thought than you do the trees in China. Joe Bennett’s grown leaps and bounds since 1996, but still, man, I don’t think I’d go to him now for that kind of gig. Solid super brick men gripping each other’s biceps and grunting from the strain, like Warrior and Hogan at WrestleMania VI–that’s some Joe Bennett shit.
Back then, Bennett didn’t even have that kind of stuff going for him. He was like a slightly more refined Chap Yaep, making dudes out of inconsistently size balloons, where the only things smaller than their feet were their heads. When you look at the first page of Supreme #41, the disconnect between Moore’s script and the abilities of the artist is right there, laid out, perfectly: Supreme is staggered by the fact that “my world looks like a double-exposed photograph!“–and instead of that double-image of Earth being the most prominent thing on the splash page, your eye is instead guded toward Supreme’s giant white left thigh, rendered with an even more bizarre system of muscles than a Total Justice action figure.
The meat of the issue, of course, is Supreme’s new status quo being introduced: instead of a singular cranky-pants Superman, he’s part of a vast spectrum of multiversal Supremes, from ‘Original Supreme’–a riff on Siegel/Shuster’s Superman, although Bennett draws him more like a C.C. Beck type–to Squeak the Supremouse. Again, this is where the inconsistency of Young Mr. Bennett doesn’t do the story any favors. He pulls off the giant Kirbyscape obelisk of the Supremacy, but all of his figures look like Joe Bennett drawings of Supreme, with bits and pieces changed. Can you image if someone like J.H. Williams had done this–Sister Supreme done up in Billy Graham or Legion-era Mike Grell trappings, a proper golden-age-Superman Original Supreme… It doesn’t help to sit there, reading this, going “what if someone else had done the job,” but sometimes you can’t help but see a blown opportunity for what it is.
Norm Rapmund tries to help out as best he can, but thin lines can only do so much.
It bears stating: this is clever as fuck. A lost city of misfit Supremes, living in their gold and chrome Valhalla after being written out of continuity by forces they can’t begin to explain, let alone control–”the unfathomable periodic changes in space-time we call revisions!” Alan Moore drops jewels out of his pocket as if he doesn’t even need them. He doesn’t just make fun of the whole process, either–his jabs are soft, loving ones. There are ironic references to stuff like ‘Superman Red and Superman Blue’ and why kid sidekicks and spinoffs appear and whatever the hell else, but it’s not sarcastic or even a little mean. Even Probe and Kid Supreme get bundled off into a happy ending, to live forever in bliss, before Supreme steps through the gateway to explore his new world.
Image Comics. Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by Joe Bennett. Inked by Norm Rapmund. (Flashback sequences illustrated by Rick Veitch.) Colored by Steve Oliff and Olyoptics.
The cover of Supreme #42 is another blow against what Moore is trying to do, and what the Extreme imprint’s house artists were capable of. Sure, I’m not gonna go out there and say “every silver age DC artist was a shining star,” but they could draw everyday stuff, you know? That’s part of why people can’t remember any of them beyond Curt Swan and Carmine Infantino these days–they knew how to draw what you could see if you looked outside. So on the cover of this issue, where it’s called for, like, a kid finding a magic rock, or a dog, or just a lady, it all goes kind of cock-eyed. Speaking of, Supreme visibly does not have a penis in the cover’s center image. Like, egregiously dickless, here.
What’s important about #42, though, is that this is the first appearance of Rick Veitch as Supreme co-artist, and the most consistent collaborator Moore would have throughout his run. (In #41, we get a flashback page done by Keith Giffen, which was I suppose some kind of dry run for the idea.) Veitch is so perfect for this because his sense of humor is just as perverse as Moore’s, but he’s able to keep a straight face throughout–you can’t tell if he’s cracking wise or dead-serious when he does an extended Curt Swan vamp for pages and pages, explaining the new origin of Supreme in the “don’t think too hard, kid, you might sprain something” language of 1950s comics.
Or, as Ethan “Supreme” Crane puts it himself in a narrative caption: “The woods were full of memories, colorful and simplified, the way things seemed when I was young.”
What also makes #42 stand out is that because so much of it is given over to Moore and Veitch recreating “past adventures” that never were (or at least, never were until they said they were), this is the first issue of the run where you really need some kind of knowledge of Superman to get past the cutaneous layer of the story. Darius Dax and his Tremendroid can only be stopped with the help of Kid Supreme’s friends from outside time, the League of Infinity–how many people are going to get that joke? Comics nerds, certainly. DC nerds, definitely.
I mean, as I hope we’ve established thus far, Alan Moore ain’t no sucker. He’s not going to write a comic book that only makes sense if you’re engaged with the minutiae of Super-continuity. The question I have is, would it be as effective with some other superhero, though? I mean, speaking from the perspective of a comic book nerd, Superman’s backstory never really stops to think about itself. We don’t have stories that try to reconcile the 1950s version of Smallville with the 1980s version with the present idea, just a neverending flip where each turn of the coin reveals a totally different side. Because Superman’s history is never explored so much as overwritten, I would argue that Supreme is more effective as a work of comic-hero metahistory–Batman, to cite another example, has too intensely self-scrutinizing a personal continuity to really have this kind of fun with, and other heroes like Wolverine are just so full of years of fluff and filler that digging deeply into their pasts would be tapping a dry well. Maybe Spider-Man would work, but he hardly has the sense of cosmic joie de vivre that silver age Superman–and by extension, Supreme–has.
Classic Superman and Adventure Comics and all that are, I’d reckon, not as widely read as Lee/Ditko Amazing Spider-Man–so there’s that, too. It’s like going into a city you’ve seen in the movies but never actually set foot in, and recognizing some of the buildings. Because the stories aren’t as, like, enshrined, it’s easier for us to swallow gags like “the Tremendroid”–who the fuck knows if there as actually a “Stupendobot” or whatever in some silver age Lex Luthor scheme? (Whoever does know: why would you bother to?) The idea of the Tremendroid is enough to carry us backwards. It’s something that might as well have been in some old Action Comics joint. ‘You’re not autistic,’ Supreme #42 says to us, ‘right? I mean, you can see where I’m going with this.’
Also of note: Dig those tiny spandex briefs Ethan Crane sleeps in on the last page. What?
Published by Maximum Press. Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by Joe Bennett. Inked by Norm Rapmund. (Flashback sequences illustrated by Rick Veitch. ‘Omniman’ sequence penciled by Dan Jurgens and inked by Norm Rapmund.) Colored by Reuben Rude and I.H.O.C..
Unrelated to Supreme, Rob Liefeld got himself in some shit with his fellow Image Comics honcho, apparently related to trying to headhunt the late Michael Turner from Image co-founder Marc Silvestri’s studio. He quit before he could be fired, and as such, two issues into Moore’s run, there’s a publisher change from Image to Liefeld’s own Maximum Press. There’s also a title change, from Supreme to Supreme: The New Adventures, for no really obvious reason. We’re also treated to some really horrendously brutally ugly Stephen Platt covers. Like, I’m sure the guy is making his Hollywood overlords cream in their jeans with his storyboard work, but back in his Prophet days, nothing he drew looked human, human beings least of all.
Meanwhile, we get a glimpse into Omniman, the comic book drawn by Supreme’s alter-ego, Ethan Crane. (A Superman analogue drawing the adventures of a Superman analogue. You get it.) “Not while I can still… unnnggh… tear my own heart out in a final statement that juxtaposes art, mysticism and absurdism!” Moore’s gotta be taking a shot at himself there. Writer Bill Friday is left rambling about “Omni-Dog’s rape-ordeal in #247,” which is like Moore halfway-scrying his own future Internet discussion.
Speaking of that kind of stuff, in this issue, Veitch’s flashback sequences make it really, really obvious that Supreme has a penis. The contrast between this artistic choice–a rare break from stiff-backed silver age parody–with the modern Maximum Press “smooth as a Ken Doll” style leads to the uncomfortable implication that Supreme has literally lost his genitals in the years since these adventures took place. Sadly, it’s more of a happy(?) accident than any kind of thematic overture. That’s a damn shame. Alan Moore would run rings around a Supreme penectomy story nowadays, especially since he doesn’t give a fuck about writing for kids and tweens anymore.
This issue also gives us our first glimpse of the Allies–nee the Allied Supermen of America–who are as unabashedly a parody of the Justice League of America as Supreme is a Superman riff. That’s what gets me thinking. Okay, like, we’ve got Alan Moore doing the Justice League and having a zany old time, but how is that different from, shit, just about any other Rob Liefeld / Extreme concept? We’re talking a company that did a book called New Men, which was basically a bunch of teenage X-Men rip-offs being led by a Niles Caulder rip-off, that then “reinvented itself” as–get this–New Force. So where’s the line? What separates a clever parody like the Allies from a craven long-sigh like the New Men? After all, it’s not like Moore is telling genius, epic stories with these Allies flashbacks. He’s blenderizing old Gardner Fox stories after plier-ing their teeth out, and coming up with cutesy (but sharp) alternatives to classic hero costumes and codenames. The New Men might not have been bright–codenames like “Pilot” and “Exit,” for god’s sake–but they told their own stories, right? (I refuse to actually read them, so I presume they told their own stories.) What makes the difference?
It might be love, but don’t quote me on that.
As to the narrative thrust of this issue: Supreme returns to his old Citadel to find his robot double, S-1 the Suprematon, has gone robo-insane, and is living in a false paradise with robot copies of all of Supreme’s friends and family. After three issues, Moore is able to craft a story that plays easily on common themes and large-print emotions to actually make you feel just a little bit for this guy. More importantly, for whatever reason, they used the panel of Supreme holding the bisected corpse of a robot of his dog for a house ad, without any hint of context as to why Supreme is standing there ripping a robot dog in twain.
Maximum Press. Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by Richard Horie. Inked by Norm Rapmund. (Flashback sequences penciled by Rick Veitch and inked by Bill Wray.) Colored by Donald Skinner and Extreme Color.
#44 provides our first viewing of Glory, who had debuted a year or two prior as Rob Liefeld’s answer to Wonder Woman–even, I believe, poaching away Mike Deodato, artist of Wonder Woman’s own book, to draw his knock-off instead. There’s not much to say about her, though. Moore treats her with a modicum of respect and restraint (beyond having aged heroine Alley Cat make a crack about Glory’s tits), and it’s like, some days that’s all you really want, especially if the dude who used to draw Chapel is going to absolutely wreak havoc on your anatomy and proportions. You gotta take your small victories, sometimes.
Meanwhile, in this issue, two months after Liefeld left Image forever and ever amen, Image partner Erik Larsen’s characters Super-Patriot and Mighty Man appear and seem deeply connected to Supreme’s history. Oops!
If you’re gonna read this issue, though, it’s gotta be for Supremelvin!!!, Moore and Veitch’s rip on Mad Magazine and Harvey Kurtzmann. It’s just too much–gags smash into one another with reckless disregard for narrative flow and panel space. It’s the same manic-episode approach Moore took to stuff like First American and that one Tom Strong story he did with Peter Bagge where Tesla burns the house down smoking crack. “It’s goodbye Meaty Man…” “…and hello Nightie Man!” Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. Because some other guys already did, and you’d be copying.
As an aside, this is like the fourth straight issue where there’s no real prominent plot beyond “Supreme piecing together the details of the new Supreme continuity,” which might be where Geoff Johns got the idea that doing something like that was okay for just, you know, everyday babytown frolics.
Maximum Press. Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by J.J. Bennett. Inked by Norm Rapmund. (Flashback sequence illustrated by Rick Veitch.) Colored by Laura Penton and Extreme Color.
Billy Friday visits the Citadel Supreme: “Oh my god, this is just great! This is, like, a classic superhero fortress. You’ve got the giant trophies, you’ve got the big machine with the flashing lights… This is like, a sort of post-ironic statement, yeah?”
Well, there you go, huh? So speaketh Moore.
Then, you know, five pages later:
“Great gosh, young Sally! Now the radiation from that mysterious meteor menace has turned your brother into Modern Art Supreme! How many more bizarre transformations can he take?” and there’s Supreme looking like fucking Guernica.
Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by J. Morrigan. Inked by Norm Rapmund. (Flashback sequence penciled by Rick Veitch and inked by Jim Mooney.) Colored by Laura Penton and Extreme Color.
This is the last of the Platt covers, and I gotta say, it’s been years since I’ve first seen it and I can’t get over how fucked up Suprema looks. Like, her right thigh and her left eye are both just so totally off that it sort of hurts to look at.
This is two key things: one, the first issue of Suprema, and two, the issue where Suprema’s satanic archnemesis, Satana, poses as Suprema and uses it as an opportunity to launch some old lady’s cat over the horizon. Seriously, that’s just such an elegantly fucked-up idea–from the creators of Watchmen and Brat Pack, true believers! Plus, Satan has seven heads, one for each of the deadly sins, so there’s always one that’s sleeping and there’s always one that’s happily jamming a whole fucking chicken leg into his mouth. Comics! I swear to god, this is why they’re great, and if you disagree, go read some old John Francis Moore X-Factor comics or something.
Anyway, this story prefigures that one Jeff Parker out-of-continuity Avengers story where Ego the Living Planet somehow tries to fuck the moon, by having Gorrl the Living Galaxy imprison Suprema in a black hole for thirty years, presumably so he can watch her pee or some other creepy abusive-galaxy-boyfriend thing. Everything in this issue is maximum fucked up, which I guess is the freedom you were allowed at Maximum Press.
Maximum Press. Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by J. Morrigan and J.J. Bennett (who between them form one Jolly Jonah Jameson). Inked by Norm Rapmund. (Flashback sequence illustrated by Rick Veitch.) Colored by Laura Penton and Extreme Color.
Could no one at Extreme draw a fucking dalmatian? At the bottom of page one, Radar looks like a cross between a stuffed toy and all of my nightmares, ever.
The first scene of this comic is where Alan Moore realizes what a gift he’s given himself with Suprema, whose standards of decency flash-froze sometime in 1966. Corralling up some foul-mouthed bank robbers, she casually drops the wall of a building behind her while she lectures: “Language like that isn’t big, it isn’t clever, and it isn’t funny! It’s just immature!” As a foil, Suprema is worth her weight in gold, just because she’s so prissy as to drive everyone up the walls, but what can you really charge her with–demanding that discourse be more civil? A more eye-twitching article would go on and on about how this reflects the tension between modern “bam! pow! comics aren’t just for kids anymore” and the fabled idea that up until the year 1997 or so, comics were friendly for kids, all the time, forever, and marketing to adults is why everyone’s unhappy.
Really, though, Suprema acts as a counterpoint to Supreme himself, which is how it should be. Supreme is a dude who’s spent seven issues now exploring his past as a means of preparing to deal with his future. Suprema’s content to live in the past and seems to suffer, if not actively resent, the forward march of social conventions. Between them is Radar the dog, who just wants to do right and make his masters happy, and because his sense of self-worth is contingent upon direct personal relationships, he feels none of their tension with their surroundings.
Meanwhile: now that we know Supreme’s Lex Luthor (Darius Dax), we also get to meet his Batman (Professor Night), Robin (Twilight), and their version of the Joker (Jack-a-Dandy). What I love about Jack-a-Dandy is that he’s honestly the mascot icon dude for The New Yorker, which suggests that the archenemy of the most popular comic book franchise in history (i.e. Batman) is, naturally, America’s most esteemed magazine of literary and cultural reportage. The rest is really just gravy.
Maximum Press. Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by Mark Pajarillo. Inked by Norm Rapmund. (Flashback sequences illustrated by Rick Veitch.) Colored by Laura Penton and Extreme Color.
Supreme and Spacehunter have the exact same face on the cover, minus the eyes. Like, the exact same. Not the same brushstrokes but it honestly might as well be. It’s creepy as shit.
This issue is all about the Allies, Extreme/Maximum’s fake Justice League (co-starring two Erik Larsen creations!), get back together to go on a mission to save some old friends from an alien soul-slaver. It’s full of amazing fake Veitch covers, each with running narration by the Allies as they bullshit about their old adventures the way people do when they see old friends.
“If I remember right,” goes one anecdote from Supreme, “Prysmalo turned up right after our first encounter with Florax. Posing as a famous intergalactic artist, he flattered the allies into sitting for him, little suspecting that his painted images would siphon away our life force. We should have suspected. The fact that Prysmalo had only one cyclops eye should have alerted us! I mean, how great a painter could he be without stereo vision?”
It all comes back to that Moore quote about his Supreme run. It’s a sorbet. You pay your $2.99 and you get your comic about a super-team that hadn’t even properly existed a year prior meeting up for the first time in twenty or thirty, and talking shit about their old adventures while sieging a slaver’s soul-space citadel. You’re not gonna learn much about yourself other than, like, maybe remembering what a good time you had with old-ass 1960s superhero comics, or what a good time you feel like you’re having with the idea of old-ass 1960s superhero comics. Do you follow? Maybe your hard-on for this is just an imaginary story. But then, aren’t they all?
Monday: Supreme: Judgment Day and the Awesome Years
March 28, 2012
Let’s see how long I can keep up with this.
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis and Jason Aaron. Drawn by Frank Cho. Colored by Jason Keith.
I was bored of this comic book within three or four pages. M.O.D.O.K.–the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing–is sort of a human potato fetus who’s been jammed into a cross between a hoveround scooter and a boxer’s headpiece. In the hands of truly deranged artists (and I mean that in the best possible way), he’s a true monster in the “this should not be” sense. In the hands of anyone else, he’s a punchline, because he’s a giant head. He’s also died, on panel, something like four thousand times now. They don’t bother keeping track anymore–if he shows up somewhere, well, I guess he’s alive, you know?
That’s part of what bugs me about using him as the villain of the Scarlet Witch story that leads off Avengers vs. X-Men #0. The important stuff is covered early on, which is to say there’s a full page splash of Scarlet Witch where her breasts are easily as big as her head and which will probably sell to a private collector for $10,000. Then we get into M.O.D.O.K., he of the irrelevant personal continuity, spouting dialogue like: “Aarrghh! What is this? Who are y–? Wait! I know you! You’re the Scarlet Witch, the disgraced Avenger!” On the one hand, yes, it’s good to use an ‘introductory issue’ for the big summer crossover to establish what the deal is with the major players.
On the other hand, your chosen method of exposition is to have M.O.D.O.K., a cyborg whose brain is the size of a Buick’s engine block, bleat out “The rumor was that you’d lost your mind and turned on the Avengers,” while he and the Scarlet Witch gamely zap at each other with ray-beams. This is like Brian Bendis trying to do Roy Thomas, only Roy Thomas had the good sense to make banal exposition come out in the form of feverish free-jazz dialogue blurts that attempted to convince the reader that Hawkeye’s carny upbringing was a matter of more emotional electricity than an African civil war.
Then there’s Spider-Woman coming in with “Boom! I won’t lie to you, ladies, I kinda needed this,” which is I guess the 2012 equivalent of Hank Kanalz’s “I gotta admit–this gets me pumped!”
Anyway, the first story is one of the most half-baked lowballs Marvel has pitched in years. Where it should have gone for turgid, throbbing melodrama, it tried to play things both straight and cute, and those two flavors blend into bland. Cho, who’s got Kevin Maguire’s knack for varied facial expressions in his DNA, isn’t even given much to work with on that front–characters mostly seem “a little sad” or “a little annoyed” or, most frequently, “a little flummoxed.”
The second story–Jason Aaron giving us Hope vs. Cyclops, and then Hope vs. the Serpent Society–fares better. Aaron is more comfortable with the style that seems to be the editorial remit here: early-90s PG-13 superheroing with a side of sniffling angst. There are good lines, good opportunities for Cho to stretch his legs, and a relatively sound plot–and it introduces us to Hope besides. It’s not going to stand the test of time as some sort of hidden classic, but when your job is just to prime the pump for 12 issues of hooting and punching, it’s nice to see that mission both understood and delivered on.
Marvel Comics. Written by Hawkeye. Penciled by Hawkeye. Inked by Hawkeye. Colored by Hawkeye.
This is sort of like what if Spider-Man and Captain America were published by DC’s online fan community. That is to say: it’s a comic where Spidey and Cap sort of talk about feelings in a roundabout way and more time is spent on the heroes goofing around and being bros than on their skirmish with the villains (who are also the villains from the second half of Avengers vs. X-Men #0–on a different coast!). Captain America’s old pre-super-soldier comic strip art gets found and put up for auction, and upon realizing that America’s living legend is enough of a dork to have drawn comic books, Spider-Man tries to bond with him. Okay. Meanwhile, on the cover, Cap tries to cut Spider-Man’s arm off at the shoulder with his shield.
As a low-impact superhero buddy story, it’s fine and will go down in the collective memory to whatever space all those other fucking Spider-Man “let’s bond” stories live in. It gives Leinil Yu a chance to draw stuff that doesn’t involve people leaping around dislocating their hips–he’s actually gotten pretty good at the whole “humans showing human emotions” thing in the past couple years, since Secret Invasion. That said, he’s the wrong choice for this–his whole thing is loose-lined shadows and grim stares of determination and that’s way more noir than a story about Spider-Man and Captain America sitting around having a comic book jam session. Just two clean-shaven sensibly-coiffed white dudes in tight shirts having a good time and maybe drinking some soda pop. If Marvel hadn’t lost Clayton Henry to Valiant, that’d be his kind of jam. Cap’s ‘Fletcher Hanks drinking whole milk’-style comic, though, starring “Sir Spangled”–solid gold.
Plus, they either forgot or willfully ignored the storyline where Captain America was, like, a penciler for Marvel Comics for years. Like, seriously, back in the 80s he’s out there hunting the Scourge of the Underworld, who was going around serial-killing bad guys, and he stops mid-investigation to go “Oh, darn, I need to FedEx a couple pages of art to Marvel! Golly, I’m glad that comic book artists don’t need a fixed address, since I’m living out of my star-spangled Avengers Quinnebago!” I mean, that whole thing was just so weird that it’s a shame to whitewash it.
Marvel Comics. Written by Mark Waid. Penciled by Paolo Rivera. Inked by Joe Rivera. Colored by Javier Rodriguez.
You know, Mark Waid is such a good fit for this character that it’s practically obscene. What people vibe on in Daredevil comics is the level of emotional intensity–Miller had it, Bendis’s best days had it, Brubaker had it, Kelly had the start of it, and some other guys had it too. Then there was the rest of the post-Miller stuff that was just, like, all of the dark gritty clenched-teeth trappings but none of the molten core. When it comes to superhero comics about to have an aneurysm, no one can touch Waid.
Look at the guy’s history, even all the way back to shit like The Comet–where once he was upgraded from scripter to full writer, he did a story where the Comet’s life fell apart, he found out he was a shapeshifting alien clone, all of his friends were working against him, and he went insane and became the greatest threat Impact Comics ever faced, aside from low readership. Then look at the stuff people actually read–Waid’s the co-father of Kingdom Come, which is easily as good as it gets for comics that deal in unsubtle, provocative human sturm und drang. Superman clamping his super-hand over Billy Batson’s mouth and lecturing him on the burden of godhood, before launching into the air to try and actually shove away nuclear death. That’s Mark Waid!
And that’s what we’ve got here: Mark Waid, the man who’s both a superhero classicist and a leering agitator, taking the vein-popping man-child turbo-emotions of Matt Murdock and steering them into situations that evoke more of a Lee/Romita feel than Bendis/Maleev or Miller/Janson. Paolo Rivera, teaming with his father Joe, might be the next Wally Wood–he’s deft and clever enough to give us both the harmless, cartoony sad-sack bloat of Foggy’s face on the last page, and the shadowed rock-hard teeth-baring power of Daredevil on the first. In between, we get two emotionally stunted grown men–Daredevil and Marvel-nerd old-school favorite the Mole Man–screaming about their personal issues, having a quietly majestic staff-fight, and fucking each other over. It’s beautiful. People sweat this comic so hard for a reason. I do, too.
DC Comics. Written by Peter Milligan. Drawn by Admira Wijaya and Daniel Sampere. Colored by Admira Wijaya.
Peter Milligan is writing one of the best comics on the stands right now. Unfortunately, that comic is Hellblazer, and this right here is Justice League Dark. Honestly, Milligan is kind of like Bendis in his own weird way, where he can work wonders with a single protagonist or a small ensemble of them, but if you give him a seven-person team (or however many people are on the JLD–I don’t even remember!), they all blob together and it becomes a big case of Stuff Happens.
Granted, when Milligan Stuff Happens, it’s at least usually weird and cool. Here, not so much: a vampire lord is “stealing all the magic” (their description, not mine), and Gotham City is apparently 50% on fire and 50% besieged by vampires, to facilitate a crossover with I, Vampire. (Batman and Batgirl show up to remind readers that this is a shared universe and do nothing else at all.) The fill-in art–by two artists–is a step down from Mikel Janin, who balances Milligan’s weirdness by trying to skew realistic. Honestly, that’s been a lot of the fun of JLD thus far–Janin’s figures look like they’re lightboxed from 3D modeling dummies, and it gives them a kind of stiffness and plasticine glaze that actually passively enhances Milligan’s safe-for-capes nightmare winks.
Still, we’ve already hit the “b-list crossover” section of this book’s lifespan, and I can’t even begin to explain what the hell Madame Xanadu means by: “I have drawn together this team of damaged, distressed characters. Mainly because they’re all too dangerous to be left on their own…”
Oh, well, at least it’s not Red Lanterns. Am I right, ladies?
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Drawn by Alex Maleev. Colored by Matt Hollingsworth.
Now this–this is the Bendis we like. Moon Knight has been the best Bendis/Maleev collaboration since their Daredevil glory days a hundred years ago. These two guys are like a heavy metal band, or something–Bendis is the guy who wants to do every song in fractional time signatures and can’t find a rhythm section that can keep to his personal Bizarro Didley beat, and Maleev is the guy who can thump his pen to it in perfect time. Naturally, the best work they’ve done together in years is also selling too little to meet their page rates, so we only get another issue of it after this one.
In this issue: Moon Knight and his new sidekick Buck Lime (in keeping with the tradition of Moon Knight’s buddies having ridiculous names like “Frenchie” and “Marlene”) steal the deactivated head of a killer cyborg from Iron Man villain Madame Masque, using the cunning plan of “pretty much just barging right in and getting into a 20-page fistfight.” So what? Maleev owns it, gratuitous butt-shot angles and all. At this point, with the end in sight, and no guarantee that the peculiar “Moon Knight is hallucinating that fellow members of the Avengers are always telling him what to do” plotline will ever continue past this series (see also: the “SWORD wants her to hunt runaway Skrulls” idea from the Bendis/Maleev Spider-Woman series), it’s just a party, and this issue is a My War Black Flag mosh pit before Erol Alkan plays “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” and the night’s over, and that’s okay by me.
DC Comics/Vertigo. Written by Brian Azzarello. Drawn by Eduardo Risso. Colored by Trish Mulvihill.
Ape-men, child trafficking, exposed lady butts, txtspeak, boating, unlicensed therapy, reality television surviving after the collapse of civilization, gold prospecting…
Look, this comic is great, okay? And Eduardo Risso wrote his name on the surface of Mars. That’s more amazing than anything you or I did today, and we should get behind him on this. Fuck Team Comics, this is Team Comics From Mars, and we don’t care.
I took some time off but now I’m back.
One of my favorite comics currently being published is Image’s Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker, written by Joe Casey and illustrated by Mike Huddleston. #8 is due out Christ-knows-when, but in the meantime, the book could always use more support. I know, I know–but it’s seven issues in, you won’t know what’s going on, blah blah blah, whine whine.
Don’t worry–I took the liberty of crafting you a recap. Here follow the most important panels of the first seven issues:
March 9, 2012
I can say with something like 100% certainty that I have zero interest in actually reading this comic book, but the cover came perilously close to tricking me into the possibility. Most James Bond parody covers fall on their asses like drunk uncles trying to act out a silly dance they saw on some variety show in 1978, but I dunno, this one clicks.
Unrelated, but when I first saw it, I was dead sure it was by Butch Guice, but I guess it isn’t–someone named S. Clarke Hawbaker.
I can’t say that it ever actually bothered me, but ever since the first time I read this scene, I was a little puzzled by John Romita Jr.’s artistic choice to put Matt in a bodybuilder’s speedo. I mean, fair enough and all, it just doesn’t really fit in with my conception of Matt Murdock, whose overwhelming Catholic guilt and constant sexual apocalypses would no doubt compel him to own nothing but ball-crushingly tight white briefs.
Seeing the original art provides a bit more context, since both characters had clothing obviously penciled on after the fact. I guess Marvel just wasn’t ready for Elektra’s sideboob (well, more than her costume already displays) and Daredevil’s naked Irish lily-white ass.
March 7, 2012
Brandon Graham currently writes Prophet but needs to be feeding me more Multiple Warheads like the fucking piglet I am when it comes to his work. There’s a certain level of–I don’t know what to call it, but it’s a space that, among American comics people, is occupied only by him and Pope. It’s all about the way they treat urban environments. People who live in big cities, who are in tune with that kind of living, they get it–a city isn’t just a backdrop, like a big canvas draped behind a school play, it’s a huge thing that you need to immerse yourself in. These are the only American guys I can think of off the top of my head who treat cities like that in their comics, constantly pulling back to remind everyone of that necessary and overwhelming scope.
March 5, 2012
Sue me: I love comics that get high on human growth hormone and then go into shuddering, uncontrollable rage-fits, kicking all the scenery over while screaming that the end of the world is at hand. I’m not indiscriminate–I still don’t know what the fuck Fear Itself was supposed to be–but it’s easy to make me love stories where beloved superheroes enter into a kind of histrionic endgame scenario. I love the end of Unity when Solar pretty much just goes “fuck this a lot.” I love the end of X-Men: Omega when everything is spiraling out of control and Colossus accidentally stomps Kitty into paste, before nuclear bombs kill everyone. I love Kingdom Come just in general, and the part in New X-Men where Logan accidentally reawakens the Phoenix Force. Crucible: The Final Impact, which was probably only read by me and two other people on Earth. God help me, I even like bits and pieces of Onslaught.
Emphasis on “bits and pieces.”
Marvel’s Onslaught mega-crossover spanned across their entire product line for a summer, but there were two books that served as prologue and conclusion, respectively: Onslaught: X-Men and Onslaught: Marvel Universe. The writing on both was split between Mark Waid and Scott Lobdell–they collaborated on the plot, and Waid did the final scripting. Waid does an all right job, considering. I mean, the overall plot of Onslaught is lunacy, and it’s not a coincidence that you hear a lot of wayward ex-readers saying it turned them off of the X-Men, or Marvel, or superhero comics. It was the payoff to a long-running X-Men plotline (one whose twists and turns were invented as they went along) about a traitor within the team, who turned out to be the X-Men’s founder and father-figure, Charles Xavier. (There was an elaborate justification and who cares.) By the end of it, Onslaught was a glorified lead-in to the next thing up Marvel’s sleeve: Heroes Reborn, a “side universe” where Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld offered their takes on some of Marvel’s most recognizable heroes. The ending of Onslaught, where the heroes nobly sacrificed themselves in a baffling, plausibility-busting Comic Book Science sequence that defeated Onslaught at the cost of their lives, was singularly stupid among 90s Marvel, which had no shortage of contenders for that spot.
As you might guess, then, sometimes Onslaught: Marvel Universe is a confusing read. People either spew exposition, or let out small character-tic lines designed to underscore just how apocalyptic the whole scenario was. The former was clunky, the latter generally more successful. What I like about this page is that you can see both sides in action. In the middle of a fight with the Hulk, unprompted by anything, Onslaught squats on Hulk’s chest and starts ranting about how he hates everyone, in a monologue that goes nowhere. And that makes Hulk… well, you know.