Last week we talked about the beginnings of Alan Moore’s run as writer of Supreme, and today we’re going to talk–well, I’m going to talk, you’re going to listen–well, I’m going to type, you’re going to read–well–about the big fat middle-to-end-ish section of that. For whatever idiot reason, I decided to break it up by “publishing companies,” which means last time we did 8 and this time we’re doing 20. Christ.
Anyway, to recap:
1. Rob Liefeld and Brian Murray invented Supreme for Image Comics, who was like Superman, but a psychotic zaniac.
2. Numerous writers attempted to invest some sort of creative direction into Supreme, including very talented ones; none really succeeded (go on, tell me all about Keith Giffen and Robert Loren Fleming’s origin for the character, if you can).
3. Alan Moore, who was bumming it with the Image cats at the time, accepted the Supreme gig provided he could just do whatever the fuck he wanted and ignore all previous continuity. That deal was struck, and despite some pretty garish art, Supreme won awards and stuff.
4. After two issues of Moore, Rob Liefeld and his Extreme imprint decamped from Image Comics and existed as a separate publishing venture, Maximum Press.
5. Maximum Press folded and Liefeld regrouped, banding together with Jeph Loeb, Eric Stephenson, and others to form Awesome Entertainment.
That’s where we are now–Moore hadn’t even gone a whole year on Supreme when suddenly Awesome was made manifest and they came to Ol’ Alan, saying, “Hey–can you rewrite our universe’s bible to make it, you know, good?”
Hence: Judgment Day.
Judgment Day Sourcebook #1, Judgment Day #α, Judgment Day #Ω, Judgment Day: Final Judgment #3, Judgment Day: Aftermath #1
Awesome Entertainment. Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by Chris Sprouse, Rob Liefeld, Gil Kane, Stephen Platt, Keith Giffen, Adam Pollina, Dan Jurgens, Steve Skroce, Jim Starlin, Terry Dodson, Jeff Johnson, Rick Veitch, and Ian Churchill. Inked by Al Gordon, Jon Sibal, Joe Weems V, Bill Wray, Larry Stucker, Alan Weiss, Rachel Dodson, Norm Rapmund, Dan Panosian, and Marlo Alquiza. Colored by Donald Skinner, Tanya Laib, Andy Troy, Brett Evans, Jimmy Yu, Ron Rife, Richard Horie, I.H.O.C., and Quantum Color FX.
Fuck’s sake, look at that credits listing. If everyone involved in drawing this book was at the top of their game, it might go down as one of the most fantastic jam-books ever to hit mainstream comics. As it is: not really, but not bad, either.
Judgment Day, as previously stated, is Alan Moore rewriting the “Extreme” universe into the “Awesome” universe. I’m lumping all of its various pieces here because, really, it’s not a Supreme story (and placing it here actually interrupts the ongoing narrative of the Supreme “Story of the Year” arc, but Awesome’s publishing schedule was so totally fucked that I just kind of gave up). Still, it provides a bit of context and color for Moore’s superhero work for Liefeld’s various companies, and it gives me something different to talk about for a couple paragraphs.
The prologue for all of this is the confusingly-labeled Judgment Day Sourcebook #1, which according to its cover was exclusively put out through American Entertainment. You might remember American Entertainment from their full-page ads in mainstream comics throughout the early 90s, offering discounted prices to people who ordered 5-or-more, 10-or-more, etc. of various comic books. The speculator bubble collapsing sort of fucked them up the ass, and by the end of the 90s they were struggling to retain some kind of foothold before they got muscled out by the likes of Midtown and Lone Star. Judgment Day Sourcebook #1 also features a static Liefeld shot of Fighting American on the cover, which might make you suspect that Fighting American appears anywhere in it. You’d be wrong.
What the prologue does is set up the idea that this Awesomeverse is going to piggyback off of the things Supreme had been bubbling with–the idea that there was an entire parallel comic book universe, spanning decades, with its own faux Golden/Silver/Bronze Ages, that we simply had never noticed. The Allies, the League of Infinity… all that. The very first page is a pastiche featuring “the Phantom Aviator” and “the Golden Age Prophet.” You follow? But, like, in three panels he and Chris Sprouse give Youngblood member Riptide a more meaningful comic manifestation than she’s ever been allowed in eight years prior.
After the brief comic segment, we’re treated to design sketched by Sprouse, and samples cut out from Moore’s scripts for the upcoming Judgment Day series. This is all one panel:
NOW WE JUMP TO A SCENE DURING A PRIMORDIAL DAWN OR SUNSET WHEN THE SKY IS A RICH AND ANGRY PRIMEVAL RED. GIGANTHRO STANDS TOWARDS THE FOREGROUND, FACING AWAY FROM US IN SURPRISE AND BEWILDERMENT TO WHERE A GROUP OF STRANGELY-CLAD YOUTHS STAND FACING HIM FROM THE NEAR BACKGROUND, SMILING AT HIM WITH SOME OF THEM RAISING THEIR HANDS IN GESTURES OF GREETING. THESE ARE THE LEAGUE OF INFINITY, AND WHILE THEY ALL STILL LOOK LIKE FAIRLY YOUNG TEENAGERS AS WE SEE THEM HERE, THEY ARE DRAWN IN A MORE IMPOSING AND REALISTIC STYLE THAN WE HAVE PREVIOUSLY SEEN THEM, JUST AS WE’VE DONE WITH GIGANTHRO AND DINO MAN. WITCH WENCH, FOR EXAMPLE, HAS A BLACK RAGGED CLOAK FLUTTERING OMINOUSLY AROUND HER AND A DARKER LOOK IN HER EYES THAN IN RICK’S VERSION. SHE LEANS UPON HER BROOM STICK MORE AS IF IT WERE A STAFF, GIVING HER A WISE-WOMAN LOOK. ACHILLES IS DRESSED PRETTY MUCH AS RICK HAD HIM, BUT JUST RENDERED MORE REALISTICALLY FOR A MODERN CHARACTER. THE SAME GOES FOR YOUNG BILL HICKOCK AND FUTURE GIRL. AS THEY STAND ON THE VOLCANIC DAWN LANDSCAPE GREETING GIGANTHRO, WE CAN SEE THE CRACKLING EDGED DOORWAY THAT LEADS TO THEIR TIME-TOWER HANGING OPEN IN THE EMPTY AIR BEHIND THEM. FROM THE FOREGROUND, GIGANTHRO EYES THEM WITH SURPRISE AND SUSPICION.
The idea behind this series is a mixture of the fantastic and the supermundane. On the one track, in 1997–illustrated by Liefeld–we have the murder trial of Youngblood member Knightsabre, who’s accused of killing his teammate Riptide during a drunken blackout. (This is more interesting a situation than Knightsabre was in at any point prior to this series.) On the other track, we’re bouncing throughout various time periods and guest artists, tracing the history of some sort of cursed, magical book as it passes from hand to hand. Instead of just riffing on the history of superhero comics, like he’d been doing in Supreme, Moore takes this opportunity to stretch out into just about every major genre of the 20th century, from Westerns to sword-and-sorcery to medieval boy’s-adventure fantasy to World War II.
The plots converge when it comes out that Sentinel, one of Youngblood’s many heavy-hitters–a character who, for years, we were told were terribly terrific and important, without much demonstration why–had been using the magical book to rewrite reality and effectively single-handedly create the “dark age” of comics. He’d killed Riptide in order to maintain control of the book, and so on, and so forth.
The real purpose of Judgment Day was to simply put a capstone on all of that, and launch forward. We were given dynamic, interesting new origin stories for the various Awesome heroes and villains. We were set up with a new status quo, one with new and exciting situations for the various characters, including a new Youngblood team and a revival of Supreme’s super-buddies the Allies. (This was meant to be a series, if I recall correctly, but was never released.)
Will Judgment Day provide you any insight into the nature of metafiction? Nah, but it’s a clever superhero story. You could put it in front of a 12-year-old and they’d probably be perfectly happy. They might even get their minds a little blown. It’s a superhero Law & Order, done well (mostly) and with a touching, sweet tribute to the legendary Gil Kane in the Aftermath issue. It’s a sorbet for a sorbet.
Awesome Entertainment. 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.
This is the second part of where we left off on Friday–Supreme, the Allies, and their… um, allies taking on the menace of Optilux and Hulver Ramik (the Soul Slaver). Sadly, this is the first point in Moore’s Supreme run where I’m left without much to say, or even much to make fun of. I think this is the point where it stopped being a self-aware, ironic parody of classical superhero comics, and started being a self-aware, unironic classical superhero comic. And that’s fine–no judgment. Still, it’s hard to really do much with a competently made superhero comic book, even a smart one, just because there’s a lot of them! There’s too many.
The best part about #49, by far, is Veitch and Moore doing a note-perfect rip-off of, like, Jim Starlin Captain Marvel. It’s not even a rib or a prank, it’s just this perfect little eight-page mini-comic, with a fraction of the mind-altering potency of a Starlin full-length feature. Even so, the jokes are like… how do you explain the joke of doing a Starlin parody? “Well, this one’s bugfuck crazy, and this one’s bugfuck crazy too, but it’s serious about it.”
Awesome Entertainment. Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by Chris Sprouse. Inked by Al Gordon. (Flashback sequences illustrated by Rick Veitch.) Colored by Laura Penton and Ron Rife.
Enter Chris Sprouse. He and Al Gordon are credited as “guest artists” here, but for all intents and purposes, this is the beginning of the Moore/Sprouse run. (Sprouse also illustrated the Judgment Day Sourcebook prologue story and a Glory sequence within Judgment Day proper, but c’mon, those don’t count–Supreme wasn’t even in ‘em!) When people talk about Alan Moore’s Supreme, this is the dude that they think of visually. His tenure is something like six or seven issues out of around thirty, but… well, that’s more than anyone else managed to do, except Veitch.
The reason Sprouse was a dream artist for this book is his mastery of drawing humans. When I say that, I don’t mean, like, “well, his anatomy is flawless” (although it is very good). I mean that Chris Sprouse can draw a human being just sitting back and not doing much in the way of superheroic action, and even though he’s very much a superhero artist, he can still make the everyday look absolutely thrilling. His style is distinct without showboating. He doesn’t bend pages into submission the way that, like, Neal Adams does. His style is refined, elegant, and so finely honed as to appear effortless.
Look at #50: the flashback stories excepted, it’s a story about Ethan “Supreme” Crane and fellow comic book creator Diana Dane, sitting around her apartment, talking about the Omniman comic book that they’re working on and trying to decide how to set the character up with a romantic relationship with his normal human identity’s normal human co-worker: that is, Omniman‘s Diana Dane, that is, Supreme‘s Lois Lane. After the straight-up Allies superhero caper, this is a return to the more metafictive Supreme, unashamedly dealing hard archetypes by volume like a crackhouse with a neon sign.
The way it shakes out is this: Ethan and Diana are trying to figure out who to hook Omniman up with, and they keep coming back to the idea of Omniman, in his civilian identity, getting into a whole romance thing with his non-powered female lead. Along the way, Veitch illustrates a series of flashbacks to Supreme/Ethan’s past attempts at romance–or, rather, his attempts at imagining romance, since all of these flashbacks are of Supreme watching simulations of what might happen, right? Meanwhile all of these simulations are just, like, straight up pubescent-boy paranoia fantasies–marrying a civilian tames Supreme, marrying an angel causes her to wither and become bitter, and marrying a superheroine creates a jealous, competitive, mutually destructive hell-pit. And then, just when Ethan has psyched himself up to make a move, it comes up just how dishonest it would be for a superhero pretending to be someone else to marry, or even date…
“Maybe you can come over again soon and tell me what happened to all those sweethearts of Supreme?”
“They all got along fine without him. Goodnight, Diana. You take care, now.”
Awesome Entertainment. Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by J. Morrigan. Inked by Norm Rapmund and Al Gordon. (Flashback sequences illustrated by Rick Veitch. Colored by Laura Penton and Ron Rife.
The knocks on modern characters are getting louder and more prominent. It used to just be Suprema and the characters who’d been time-frozen or soul-frozen or whatever for years. Now even Supreme is getting in on it: “‘Cyberzerk!’ What is it with all these modern villains and their stupid one-word names? At least crooks like Dr. Nocturne and the Shadow Supreme had a vaguely poetic ring about them…”
Cyberzerk, for the record, looks like a cross between Liefeld-created Youngblood foe Giger, Liefeld-co-created Spawn foe Overt-Kill, and a huge metal suppository.
Meanwhile, in the flashback, Supreme’s Girlfriend Judy Jordan: “Mm! These foot-long supreweiners are delicious!”
Oh, you guys.
Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by J. Morrigan and Mark Pajarillo. Inked by Norm Rapmund and Al Gordon. Colored by Ron Rife, Tanya, and Quantum FX. Backup stories illustrated by Rick Veitch, Kevin O’Neill, and Jim Mooney.
This is the climax of “The Supreme Story of the Year!,” Alan Moore’s year-long first big arc to reintroduce Supreme. Originally, it was meant to be published as a Supreme 80-page Annual or somesuch, but for reasons I can’t even begin to guess at, it was decided to publish them as two issues of the regular series instead. What would have been backup stories of the Annual–”Tales of the Supremacy”–were just split up between the two issues.
Throughout the year, we’d been teased with constant hints–always shown peeks of the Hell of Mirrors in Supreme’s Citadel, holding captive his worst foes, but the worst of them all, Darius Dax, had supposedly died of cancer decades ago. Well, of course he didn’t. He brainjacked Supreme’s Girlfriend Judy Jordan and grew old in her body, waiting for the moment to enact a Revenge Supreme. Now, here we are, with Dax using his Jordanself and an android granddaughter henchgirl to trap Supreme in his own Hell of Mirrors, with all of his worst foes.
“This showdown has been coming for sixty years…”
Of course it hasn’t, but it sure feels that way. I don’t want to keep going on and on about what a smart, talented, possibly handsome (who can tell under the beard???) guy Alan Moore is, but what makes Supreme work, beyond just the specifics of the parody and the carefully measured tone, is that he’s so deft and naturally meticulous a storyteller that he can make us believe in sixty years of Supreme history despite the title only having existed in its current state for twelve issues.
What I know about Moore’s scriptwriting is that because of the need for an artist to get a timely script, he does everything first-draft, and sends the scripts out in pieces as he writes it. This, to me, is insane. Not because it’s a bad method of working, but because it means that Alan Moore creates such a far-reaching wholesale-ready vision before he even scripts issue one of a book, that he can begin setting up payoffs a year ahead of time and still confidently carry them out as he intended. All the time, in long superhero-writer runs, it seems like stories get away from people, or mutate into different things, or get caught up in the needs of the greater universal body… and this guy just treats it like he’s driving a luxury car on a road so fucking flat and smooth it might as well be in a Wyoming suburb. Insane.
Then he goes and creates a Supreme strip about “National Flashlight Battery Inspection Day,” making jokes about turning kids into orphans. He’s just rubbing our faces in it.
Awesome Entertainment. Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by Chris Sprouse. Inked by Al Gordon. Colored by Ron Rife.
“Wow. So, like, then what happened?”
Alan Moore gets shit off some people for so broadly, obviously on-the-nose captions and transitions like the above line of dialogue, which begins the “second year” of Supreme and the formal start of the New Moore-Sprouse Adventures. Personally, I think those people can eat it. Sure, it’s transparently clever, but a magician who lets you know he’s doing a trick is still putting on a show. It calls attention to the artifice of comic-book-ery and comics storytelling, but people who want to get totally lost, ne’er to return, in page after page of static images are worse than people who go see 3D movies.
Meanwhile, for those of us who are able to handle our liquor, Moore and Sprouse have Szazs, the Sprite Supreme, show up and turn Supreme’s life as a comic book creator into a super-punching adaptation of If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, because in the 19th dimension, there’s only one way to compete: “…seeing which of us can come up with the most irrational and pointless stunt! I thought up this whole Omniman/Supreme routine just for openers! Ha ha ha! I’ve got a tiny little body, and everybody loves me!”
Take that, comics.
Awesome Entertainment. Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by Rick Veitch, Melinda Gebbie, and Chris Sprouse. Inked by Rick Veitch, Melinda Gebbie, and Al Gordon. Colored by Ron Rife.
Remember what I said last week about Suprema being Alan Moore’s best little gift to himself?
“By Saturn’s signet ring! That amateur avenger has forgotten about the flight paths up there!
“Lucky I’m here to give this jeopardized jet a shove supreme out of harm’s way…
“…after which I intend to give that Superjudy-come-lately a piece of my mind!
“Now you listen to me, Miss Trainee Titan! Your half-cocked heroics just risked innocent lives!
“Frankly, Judy, you don’t have what it takes as a cheesecake champion!”
I’m just saying.
Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by Chris Sprouse. Inked by Al Gordon. (Flashback sequence illustrated by Gil Kane.) Colors by Awesome Colors.
No shit, huh.
Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by Chris Sprouse. Inked by Al Gordon. (Flashback sequence illustrated by Rick Veitch.) Colored by Ron Rife.
I know I just did the whole “just post an image from the book without context thing,” but man, this is a great one. Even after what, twelve years, more, even… it’s one of the most indelible panels from the whole Moore Supreme run for me. It’s just so nasty and perfect and it says so much more–and so much more horrible stuff–than grisly maximalism ever could. It’s pure superhorror. I love it.
After #56, Supreme went off the air for a year. Moore had turned in scripts andbeen paid for them, as far as I’m aware, but Awesome Entertainment had a lot of problems both getting their product out on time, and getting investors to actually hold up their end of the cashflow. Moore took Sprouse, Veitch, and a collection of friends and other rogues over to Jim Lee’s Wildstorm, where he launched the America’s Best Comics imprint. In 1999, Awesome returned to the stands with the oddly titled Supreme: The Return, which continued the previous storyline with a new numbering.
Awesome Entertainment. Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by Chris Sprouse. Inked by Al Gordon. Colored by Awesome Color.
‘”I, Korgo son of Krugg, challenge you under the formal rules of the Cosmic Dictators Guild. What say you, William son of Clint?”
Alan Moore’s Supreme is some of the most endlessly quotable superhero comics ever written. After that yearlong layoff, Supreme returns, and in the very first scene, a kind of Space Genghis Khan is challenging Bill Clinton to one-on-one combat for control of America on the White House lawn, while this kind of a lion Battle Beast guy is hanging around laughing and calling Clinton a sissy. Tell me one X-Men spin-off with half the promise of that.
Then, then, an ant-woman goes around stealing babies from people, trying to use them to build her new ant-people empire, even though babies historically make extremely poor workers. It’s unbelievably silly, but no moreso than spandex bodysuits. Oh, I’m sorry, Captain American fans, wipe those tears away.
Then! Televillain, the villain who can go into and out of television broadcasts, uses his powers just to, like, shoot Monica on an episode of Friends. These are villains I can get behind. These are villains who commit the kinds of crimes that make a man proud to pay money for paper flaps of things that–that never were.
Awesome Entertainment. Written by Alan Moore. Illustrated by Jim Starlin. Colored by Awesome Colors.
“Statement: This ’90s model villain is dangerous. His almost complete lack of motivation makes him unpredictable.”
At this point, Moore is so confident in the world he’s built that it becomes self-meta. Darius Dax is a riff on Lex Luthor the same way that Led Zeppelin is a riff on old black bluesmen they didn’t pay any royalties to. Now, in this issue, we have riffs on Darius Dax, and on Supreme itself–this is a darkside re-enactment of Supreme #41, with a continuum society of cross-continuity Daxes instead of any sort of noble, gleaming Supremacy. In Supreme #41, Supreme advances into his new reality, knowing that Earth needs a protector and that its needs subsume his own. Meanwhile, Darius Daxes:
“The verdamnt Earth is currently without a Dax!”
“Well, it doesn’t have to be! Couldn’t I just go back there?”
“But you’re dead in normal space-time! It would be a breach of continuity logic!”
“It would shatter all the rules of existence itself!”
“Hee hee hee! It would lead to chaos and universal disorder!”
All Daxes in unison: “Hmmm…”
Not beautiful: There are two uncredited pages at the end of what looks like either Rob Liefeld trying to ape Chris Sprouse, or Liefeld inking very, very rough Sprouse pencils. It’s… it’s hard to look at. So I’ll just move on.
Awesome Entertainment. Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by Matt Smith, Rick Veitch, and Jim Baikie. Inked by Matt Smith, Rick Veitch, Al Gordon, and Rob Liefeld. Colored by Digital Broome, Matt Yackey, and Hi-Fi Colour.
You know, somewhere out there, there are people who like the old Superman Kandor Nightwing and Flamebird stuff, and if there’s any justice in the world, those people are being beaten to death in prison because the warden sadistically moved their child-molester asses into gen-pop.
Meanwhile, this issue has Veitch finally, finally doing a Kirby riff, and it’s fucking glorious, unlike most attempts to “do Kirby,” which are like watching creativity and talent hold hands and look directly into one another’s eyes, tears welling, while they have side-by-side third-trimester abortions.
Awesome Entertainment. Written by Alan Moore. Illustrated by Matt Smith and Rick Veitch. Colored by Digital Broome.
In this issue, Radar the Dog Supreme is a deadbeat dad who banged 378 dogs in, like, a day, and probably got them all pregnant, like John Stamos in that one episode of SVU where they actually had to write lines for Mariska Hargitay because Wikipedia didn’t have a “serial impregnators” article for her to quote statistics from.
Supreme stands around yelling at his dog for banging another dog. This is actually in a comic book, that people actually paid money to publish. Awesome Entertainment probably had like a dozen sharks circling it in open water at this point, and they’re sweating and mopping their brows and going “shit, only Alan Moore and Re:Gex can save us now,” and they open the treasure trove door to see what Uncle Alan’s got up his sleeve to singlehandedly restore the company to greatness and profitability, and they see it’s the script about Supreme’s dog getting his dog fuck on, and Jeph Loeb probably shat his pants.
“I just hope your three-hundred-and-seventy-eight-dog sex spree was worth it!” This shit is probably why Kevin Smith was so late with his Daredevil scripts–reading this issue of Supreme: The Return over and over and knowing he’d been fucked up the ass at his own game.
Awesome Entertainment. Written by Alan Moore. Penciled by Ian Churchill and Rick Veitch. Inked by Norm Rapmund. Colored by Digital Broome.
The title page of this issue has Supreme in such an unsubtly-clenched dick-thrust pose and Diana Dane in such a willing-receptacle mouth-popped-open state that instead of Suddenly… the Supremium Man! I wouldn’t have been shocked if the title was A Round o’ Blowies.
Maybe one person will get that joke, but you know what, who cares.
It’s beside the point, anyway, or at least a moot point–Alan Moore didn’t get into all that really freaky shit until he went full-time Knockabout with Avatar as his weekend girlfriend.
Awesome Entertainment. Written by Alan Moore. Illustrated by Rick Veitch and Rob Liefeld. Colored by Matt Yackey and Digital Broome.
And here we are.
Veitch does Kirby again. Moore does Kirby, too. “…BARAGOOM, the creature that walked like a thing!” Sticking out like a sore thumb in all of this is Liefeld doing Liefeld–Supreme is investigating this vast Kirbycity, and throughout, the figure of Supreme himself is drawn by Liefeld, all thin lines and weird blow-up doll lips in the midst of Veitch’s thick-lined, barrel-chested mania.
If there’s a trend of the Awesome era of Supreme, it’s an outward motion from Moore’s love of old Superman stories to a greater love of the whole history of superhero comics, culminating here–with a breathless, excitable tribute to the King himself.
Speaking of, he appears–years before Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo brought him into their Fantastic Four run. Here, it’s more of a novelty, even if it brings a thematic sense of conclusion to Moore and Veitch’s trompe l’oeil take on the history of guys hitting each other in bad clothes–who hit harder, or wore gaudier clothes, than the men and women of Jack Kirby’s pages? In Fantastic Four, Waid and Wieringo bringing in Kirby as a kind of God-figure was meant to resonate with the idea of the FF as characters who have grown into pseudo-living beings, whose existence is full of genuine emotion and weight simply because they’ll survive so long that they’ll be able to gradually accumulate so much more than any one real person. Here, well, let “King” explain it himself:
“It ain’t the physical stuff that’s important. It don’t last, you know what I’m sayin’? What’s important is the idea of a thing. See, all we are is ideas.”
Alan Moore, wearing the mask of Jack Kirby, spouting a sideways take on William Carlos Williams.
If this had been the ending, well, who could blame it? (Meanwhile, it’d be the only successful Superman riff to end with the line “Now, about this gay thing…”)
We’ve got one more issue, coming out on Wednesday. Erik Larsen drawing the last of the Moore scripts–one more to tie it all together, years and years later, and send us all on our way so the next people can take over. What’s next for Supreme?
Do tell, Erik:
A very, very different direction because Alan’s was very much a tribute to silver age Superman comics and I’m not into that. I mean, we have silver age Superman comics — those existed — if somebody wants to read them, they’re out there. I didn’t feel that that’s what made Supreme unique. The thing that made it unique was that he was Superman with a real twist in that he was kind of a dick. I’m kind of returning to that — Supreme as an asshole.
I could just go on and on for twenty pages.
In fact, I think that in the end, that’s exactly what I’ll do.
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
January 27, 2012
The thing about comic nerds — the ones who read comics when they were little, and then kept reading them instead of growing up — is that they’re always aware of the bigger shark in the water. The people who make the damn things aren’t immune to this, either. Back in 1950, comics (Krazy Kat excepted, I guess) were ways to shut the kids up in the car at best, and the reason they liked knifing people at worst. Real books had things like “literary criticism” and “respectable institutions” and “Honoré de Balzac” and all that. Next to that, it’s only natural that comics would worry about the size of their dick. Thus, Arnold Drake, Leslie Waller, and Matt Baker putting together It Rhymes With Lust – a “picture novel.”
It’ll always be like that. For most of the past while, comics have been aping film as best they can — look at how ubiquitous things like “widescreen” panel construction have become. Panels get statted with incremental changes to simulate the persistence of vision in a film. This used to be a once-in-a-while thing, usually a punchline to a gag — how else do you illustrate a double-take without drawing two faces sprouting out of one neck, hinged on a bunch of speed lines? Now it’s just “people talking, or whatever,” like the comic book equivalent of a sustained take. People can do what they want, and hell, some of them even do it pretty well.
Whether or not you like it, of course, doesn’t change the fact that it’s a precedent. For everyone content to lay flat in two dimensions and stick to the script, so to speak, there’s someone trying to make “a comic that’s more like a (insert something more popular than a comic book, like Mad Men or crack cocaine)!” Maybe they don’t even do it consciously — maybe for some of them it’s just like an itchy tag inside their shirt. Blah blah blah. The point is, “graphic novels” are occasionally more than just a novelty, and we have movies of Iron Man and all that now, so we don’t need comics that simulate Iron Man movies. Next: video games. Enter Prophet #21.
Back in the 1990s, Prophet was Rob Liefeld and Dan Panosian’s attempt to create the coolest, baddest, raddest, muscliest berserker there ever was, like if the Ultimate Warrior replaced his tassels with pouches and went around body-slamming spaceships or whatever. Before long, Panosian was out, and Steven Platt was in. Chuck Dixon wrote it for a while. There was an actual, not-made-up thing called the Prophet Babewatch Special. He had a sidekick that looked just like a dwarf Jack Kirby, named “Kirby,” who was sort of like what I imagine Jack Kirby would be like if he got hit on the head and, following the resultant brain aneurysm, went around shooting everyone he saw. The strangest part of all of this was that in some weird inarticulate way, John Prophet (star of Prophet, in the same way that John Renegade was the star of Renegade) was meant to be some sort of hyper-violent Christian role model, like a 12th-century Crusader or a guy who firebombs evil space-reptile abortion clinics.
Despite the overall genius and marketability of this, Prophet lasted 20 issues (apparently) across two or three separate stabs at an ongoing series. The last one was in 2000, under the aegis of Awesome Entertainment, and tried to relaunch the whole thing as being about John Prophet’s daughter. One issue made it to stores before Awesome’s financial backers disappeared in a fluttering paper-storm of unpublished Alan Moore scripts, and that was that. Prophet #21 ignores, well, just about everything I said above. Brandon Graham and Simon Roy wake John Prophet up in an unrecognizable future, and he doesn’t have time to worry about unresolved continuity snags or villains like Crypt and Judas. He’s got a mission, and he’s getting on with it.
Brandon Graham got his start in porno comics, where no one gives a shit what you do as long as you include the requisite amount of cumshots and tits. As a result, his cleverness was never beaten out of him. He’s more famous for doing King City, a comic that was half “actual story about stuff” and half “travel guide to a place he couldn’t visit, so he had to imagine.” The latter is, by far, the better part — it’s the kind of story where you forget about the plot for a page or two and check out the graffiti all over one of the buildings instead. Simon Roy’s made a bunch of things I haven’t read, like Jan’s Atomic Heart, but from his art that I’ve seen, he comes off like Paul Grist’s French-or-maybe-Italian cousin, replacing Grist’s brutal concrete-slab linework with something more delicate and watercolored. These men are categorically not going to deliver a standard superhero comic, and certainly not one in the mold of 1990s Extreme, where people mostly just shouted and punched one another, until the next crossover when half of them died.
So John Prophet wakes up, gets ready for his mission, does some busywork like “surviving in a shithole future,” and gets his information from an alien(?) monster-thing that he then has sex with. When you break anything down into its component parts, of course it looks like something else, but really: doesn’t this sound like a video game? Begin, whole and hale, in a world that you have no conception of and must get your bearings in. Kill whatever the local nuisance is in order to gain a bit of strength. Do menial tasks that involve a lot of walking back and forth for no real reason. Reach the cutscene that advances the story, and then fuck an alien(?) monster-thing for the Xbox Achievement. Shit, that’s practically a Fallout, right there.
Look at this right here: Prophet’s gear, laid out for the reader. We’ve long had things like Official Handbooks and other off-brand rip-offs telling us exactly what Batman keeps in all of his little belt segments, but to actually interrupt the story to go through one’s pockets — where else would one do that but in a video game, when you put the action on hold to go through your item menu? Then again, one guy did pull a similar stunt a while ago…
Anyway, stuff like that is why it’s tempting to call Prophet #21 the meaningful start of “Fallout comics,” which sounds better than “video game comics” in the same way that calling something “cinematic” sounds better than “like a motion picture, sans the motion.” It’s so unlike the rest of the pack — comics that still draw from movies, or novels, or television, or most abominably of all, other comics — that the Internet has been cumming blood for it. It’s quite good, too, and the praise is deserved, even well-earned. Graham and Roy are schlepping a new warm throat-slit carcass for the rest of the industry to bite whole chunks out of.
The irony is, it’s almost certainly incidental. Most people who comment on the DNA of Graham and Roy’s Prophet note its similarity to European comics albums, the kind of stories you get in Heavy Metal and then fail to read a single word of because you’re grumbling and looking for the tits. It’s a fair cop. You could even say that Prophet is cinematic, but in a pointedly non-Hollywood sense (let’s face it: when people call comics “cinematic,” they almost always mean “mass-marketed Hollywood action picture”). All of these things often strike at the same root nerve as modern gaming, though: it’s not just about being told “this is John Prophet, and here’s what happened to him,” but also (and just as deeply) about experiencing the world around him and knowing that someone out there took care and craft to build even the most inconsequential moment. When someone builds you a world, you don’t just ask where the exit is, you explore it. The only difference between this and a Final Fantasy is that Prophet comes on a 20-page-a-month installment plan, so it might be a little hard to put in 100 hours, and even though you’ll still be collecting folded-and-stapled paper and stuffing it into mylar bags, you won’t get anything as cool as the stuff in the Metal Gear ad on the back of that old issue of Sleepwalker.
It’s not good or bad that Prophet takes after video games, even if it’s a happy accident in the process of chasing the Moebius dragon. It’s kind of new, and kind of different, and it knows what it’s doing because it’s got some skilled people at the controls. Considering the sordid state of contemporary comics, Prophet isn’t that far off from being the Vault Dweller walking through the radioactive wastelands.