Back Issues: Alan Moore's 'Supreme' -- A Love Letter To The Superman Mythos
Examination of Alan Moore and his work reveals a medley of distinct characteristics. Some for the better, others…well, characteristics nonetheless. Two traits are universally acknowledged: The bearded Englishman is as bonkers as a badger’s bollocks. Also? He boasts absurd levels of storytelling talent.
Among comics’ most significant writers, Moore crafted characters and worlds that enriched the industry with fresh foundations of ambition and excellence. His influence rippled far and wide, inspiring creators and publishers to explore unchartered realms of imagination.
Splicing slick, elaborate writing with concise story structure, the likes of V For Vendetta and Watchmen further validated comics as a breeding ground for trailblazing creativity.
Alas, it’s not always Alan Moore’s work that attracts extensive attention. The Northampton native has never been afraid to voice dubious personal opinion…nor incur the wrath of fellow industry professionals. A toilsome feud with Scottish writer Grant Morrison has produced several noteworthy instances of public conflict. This quote encapsulates the spirit of them:
“I’ve read the work of Grant Morrison twice. Once when I wrote it. Once when he wrote it. As far as I’m concerned my image of Grant Morrison is of someone wearing a mask, a flat hat and a striped jersey and carrying a bag marked SWAG.”
Morrison isn’t the first comic book professional to enrage the bearded scribe. I highly doubt he’ll be the last.
Anyway. Back to the bloke’s writing.
His own dark, dystopian creations have certainly earned universal acclaim, but Moore also vaunts a rich reputation for revitalizing and, in many cases, reinventing existing properties. Among them? Rob Liefeld’s Supreme.
Originally an Image Comics-published, violence-fueled simulacrum of Superman, Alan Moore took charge of the book’s writing duties starting with issue #41. The most powerful figure in a universe of Liefeld-created characters, Supreme first appeared in issue #3 of Youngblood’s initial limited series.
His history was peppered with twists and turns: At one point he was an ultra religious angel of vengeance, though later incarnations saw the character deem himself a fully-fledged god. Beating up on an actual god—Thor, no less—fueled this haughty self-impression. This was set to change.
Enter Alan Moore.
Taking on the assignment under one make-or-break condition (freedom to dismiss everything previously done with the character), Supreme was rebooted as a personal nod to the classic Silver Age Superman. Moore felt a clean slate was required to achieve this—he went on record to say the character’s initial adventures were “not very good.”
Luckily for all concerned, the subsequent stories were rather brilliant. In my own humble opinion, Supreme ranks among Moore’s strongest work. It was certainly good enough to nab him an Eisner Award for Best Writer in 1997.
Later collected as two trade paperbacks—Supreme: The Story of the Year and Supreme: The Return—each issue of Moore’s run served as a tool to examine comic book history and the craft of storytelling. Along with celebrating the innovations of Silver Age artists like Julius Schwarz and Murphy Anderson, Moore’s Supreme could well be described as a sincere love letter to the Superman mythos.
(The Man of Steel is one of few true passions he’d admit to sharing with Grant Morrison.)
In a further nod to all things Superman, Moore’s Supreme had a sister called Suprema (Supergirl, anyone?), clad with identical abilities. Oh, and a superpower-infused dog: Radar the Hound Supreme. (Which I'm sure left Krypto cursing Clark Kent's bland naming skills. )
The Story of the Year featured one of Moore’s notoriously dense, meticulously plotted storylines, starting with Supreme’s newfound origin. It centered around Ethan Crane, an artist for Dazzle Comics in secret possession of superpowers…the aftermath of childhood exposure to a meta-element capable of altering reality. Supremium, to be precise. Delivered in the form of a meteorite.
Many mid-90s superhero titles were loaded with clichés of the genre, and the abovementioned backdrop confirms Supreme was no exception. But there was a distinct difference between this book and the foil cover-wrapped mediocrity released around the same time: Moore managed to embrace overused storytelling formulas—they furthered opportunity to return to and analyze tales from his childhood.
Speaking in later interviews, Moore noted that Supreme served as an apology-of-sorts for the bleakness of prior works… Not least deconstruction of characters like Batman and Swamp Thing.
Ethan Crane, when not soaring the planet as Supreme in search of evil-bashing opportunity, created the comic book adventures of Omniman. And like the series Moore himself was scripting, it was in the midst of re-launch and a change of writers. A comic-within-a-comic, if you will. Funny book Inception, minus the sound of Hans Zimmer’s booming blurts.
What I mentioned earlier re: disregarding of Supreme’s adventures up to and including issue #40? That’s not entirely true. They were acknowledged in the most Alan Moore way possible—as flashback memories from Supreme’s distant past. Erm, sort of.
See, issue #41 (Moore’s first) begins with Supreme returning to Earth after discovery of a shocking truth: He’s merely living in the most recent “revision” of his own reality. There have been many previous versions of himself. These retired incarnations of the hero dwell in another reality…an afterlife for characters whose stories have since concluded.
Originally blaming his mental murkiness on amnesia, Supreme realised these flashbacks—brilliantly illustrated by Rick Veitch in the style of various periods of comics history—formed his own backstory, now presented as a steady surge of lost memories.
To say any more would be criminal. Perplexing as I’ve likely made the whole thing sound, Moore somehow manages to unleash this multifaceted fable with painstaking precision.
Story of the Year wraps with issue #56, followed by Supreme: The Return. Six issues were published before the title (prematurely) perished. Additional Moore script existed, yet collapse of Awesome Entertainment forced swift, merciless cancellation.
Artist Rick Veitch long complained that Supreme’s biggest failing was ”…the final issue of the story was never produced. This volume takes care of that little problem by ignoring it completely and just tacking 'The End' on the last story."
This unfortunate blemish in Supreme’s legacy was addressed at 2011’s New York Comic Con, where Rob Liefeld and Erik Larsen announced the last Alan Moore Supreme story would be published and drawn by Erik Larsen. It saw the light of day in 2012, followed by five further Larsen-crafted issues.
Alan Moore’s run on Supreme is a unique reading experience. In equal part a parody, study, and celebration of comic books, it showcases a master of the medium operating in close to his finest form.
Yes, Mr. Moore is peculiar. Dare I say, a proper nutter. But he’s a bloody brilliant one.