Friday, March 6, 2009

More on Moore: Supreme

Alan Moore is a genius.

Hardly the most provocative or enlightening of statements I know. The mind who brought us V For Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Promethea and of course Watchmen, Moore has long since justified his claim as one of the greatest comicbook writers the medium has ever seen. There's no question of the man's fierce talent, and justifiably so; his best stuff not only entertains on a purely escapist level but provides an equally beguiling and thought-provoking subtext as well. With the release of the cinematic adaptation of Watchmen this Friday, I thought it'd be fun to look over my shelf and pull down a few of the Alan Moore works that have blown me away. Yes, there will of course be the inevitable Watchmen review but I thought it'd be fun to take a look at some of his works that most newcomers to comics might not have heard of, and longtime readers might not have taken a look at. Without further ado, let's take a look at Alan Moore's reconstructionist take on the superhero with SUPREME: THE STORY OF THE YEAR.

If the character of Supreme looks a little familiar its because the character is largely a Superman pastiche, a take on the classic caped flying strongman archetype that was originally produced by Image Comics. An Image book created by one of the founding fathers of Image. . .a founder who was later shown the door. I'm hesitant to mention his name, for to invoke it is to bring his all-seeing eye down upon you. And aware of the references as I am, I'd rather say Voldemort 900 times in a row whilst dancing through Hogwarts and take the One Ring through the gates of Mordor whilst braying 'We Are The Champions' at the top of my lungs than mention the name. . .Liefeld.

Okay, okay, so maybe Rob Liefeld isn't quite that bad. In fact, in retrospect I'd have to say the guy is surprisingly canny. Who better to write a Superman pastiche than the guy who wrote 'For The Man Who Has Everything' or 'Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?' (and if you haven't read either of those stories. . .why? Seriously, Justice League Unlimited even did an adaptation of FTMWHE and it was one of their best episodes). Liefeld approached Alan Moore to essentially take over the monthly Supreme comic (then released by his company Awesome Comics). Up to that point the character had been a bit of nigh-omnipotent jerk, with a snarky personality that suited the Iron Age of comics and a series that hadn't really found any kind of direction. The character had jumped from overpowered to underpowered, sane to insane, sneering egoist to impassioned bible thumping megalomaniac and hadn't really done anything save take up shelf space at the local comicbook store. But by bringing Moore aboard, Liefeld gave him carte blanche to make of the character what he will, and oh boy did Moore will.

The essential premise of the story is at once simplistic but complicated, which is what you'd expect from Alan Moore. Supreme returns to Earth after a sojourn in space only to find the planet in a state of flux. The world is shifting around him, people and places going from contemporary to anachronistic and back again. No sooner does Supreme arrive and attempt to piece together what's happening than he's beset upon by a group of caped characters who all seem to be variations of Supreme himself! After tussling with Superion(seemingly a Supreme of the future), Sista Supreme(a funky superpowered lady who seems very '70s), the Original Supreme, and Squeak the Supremouse (I swear to you I did not make that up), Supreme is taken to an otherdimensional realm called the Supremacy, a Valhalla for previous incarnations of the hero that have been sent to this limbo-like place during previous paranormal events the inhabitants have come to call 'Revisions'. Here Supreme is warmly congratulated and lauded, the previous rough patches in his continuity smoothed over, and the hero is deposited in his 'new' reality as Ethan Crane, mild-mannered artist for Dazzle Comics and half of the creative team producing the seminal superheroic adventures of Omniman! And that is all within the span of the first issue people. Decompression need not apply when reading Supreme.

The series continued with Supreme making sense of his new reality and status quo. In this reality young Ethan Crane and his puppy were exposed to a radioactive element (later called Supremium). Gaining fantastic powers beyond those of mortal men, the boy defended his home town of Littlehaven from the forces of evil and the machinations of the evil young genius Darius Drax as Young Supreme! In later years he, his dog Radar (the Hound Supreme!) and his stepsister Sally (aka Suprema, Sister of Supreme!) fought evil from their headquarters, the floating fortress know as the (you guessed it) Citadel Supreme! Not alone in their struggle for justice, Supreme was a founding member of the Golden Age hero team The Allied Supermen of America, and was a contemporary of Professor Night and Twilight the Girl Wonder.
All this is related as Supreme regains his memory (or the memories provided him by the Revision are slotted in place) and each 'flashback' is seemingly culled from a previous iteration of the character (be it the hokiness of the Silver Age or the dour and introspective quest for 'relevance' of the Bronze Age to all points in between) in an art style appropriate to the comics of previous eras. The positioning of Ethan Crane as artist of Omniman at Dazzle Comics is no less a stroke of genius, as it allows Moore to comment on the wave of revisionism that swept through comics that dispatched a lot of the Silver/Bronze Age tropes he embraces and exults in with his work on Supreme. Billy Friday, the British writer who plans on overseeing the 'Death of Omniman' storyline is a particular hoot, doing his best to deconstruct all the heroic archetypes and superheroic things around him that challenge his iconoclast perspective(and one suspects Moore might be poking fun at the notion of the 'British Writer In American Comics Waxing Pretentious' that has arisen more than once in fanboy conversation).

Alan Moore once stated he regretted the degree to which the 'baby had been thrown out of the bathwater' with the revision of Superman in the mid-1980s. With SUPREME, he revisits all the old familiar places while at the same time crafting an exciting adventure story that doesn't exclude new readers. There's plenty of fun bits of business to enjoy while the overall storyline is taking place, and as I said the flashback sequences are a blast, as Moore and Rick Veitch just go all-out to replicate the wonderfully goofy fairy-tale mentality of the Silver Age of Comics. Moore's writing crackles off the page and you can really get a sense of his enthusiasm for revisiting an avatar of the Superman archetype and going all-out with it. A variety of artists put in work on the book but it's Joe Bennett, Rick Veitch, and Chris Sprouse who stand out in my mind. The fact that Moore was able to secure Dan Jurgens, one of the architects of the Death of Superman, to provide art for Crane's illustrations of the Death of Omniman is nothing short of gleefully insane genius. Chris Sprouse would later go on to collaborate with Moore again on his America's Best Comics creation Tom Strong. But that's a subject for another review.

Supreme: The Story Of The Year is a different side of Alan Moore, one in which he attempts to restore to the figure of the superhero some of the charm and the magic that Watchmen took such care in disassembling. Checker Book Publishing Group has the complete two volumes of Moore's work on Supreme, both in THE STORY OF THE YEAR and the short-lived but fondly remembered SUPREME: THE RETURN. If you're looking for what Moore might have done with Superman with complete creative freedom, a neo-classic spin on a primal archetype of the superhero genre, or just an awesome comic featuring everything from time-travelling teens from the future, micronized cities of light, a dog in a cape with a radio collar and reams of outrageous superhero fun and escapist adventure, then look no further. This book reigns supreme.

. . .

. . .okay, so the pun was lame. But c'mon, the placement was killer.

Until next time,

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