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Yeah, Alex, big fan, but would it kill you to make the characters' costumes match the interior of the book?

So. In the last installment of this piece we established how Alan Moore tweaked the conventions of the superhero genre, how Rob Liefeld (among others) rode the tail end of the trend to create a series of obnoxiously "grim n' gritty" (hereinafter GnG) pseudo-superhero comics, and how Moore became committed to reversing the damage by writing superhero comics that were fun and evocative of the classics.

In light of this, it therefore seems just a tad incongruous that the first monthly superhero title Moore wrote after 1963 starred a character created by Rob Liefeld.

You may recall that in the last installment I mentioned Liefeld's penchant for creating characters that were suspiciously similar to other well-known superheroes from the Big Two companies. This is actually one of the few things he has in common with Moore, and they even do it for the same reasons…in the same sense that a beaver shares a common purpose with Frank Lloyd Wright. Certain comics characters are so iconic that it becomes de rigeur to create "alternate" versions of them for the purposes of analysis or parody. And the most common of these archetypes is, of course, the character who started it all-Superman.

Ahh, for the days when 24 pages could be labelled a 'novel'.

Liefeld's characters, though, featured several levels of vileness. He created them for the purpose of "parody", but not in the sense that he made them funny or had anything interesting to say; it was more just a layer of ironic detachment that made it supposedly OK to create GnG versions of traditionally more-well behaved characters. What was really annoying about this, though, was that Liefeld clearly revelled in the violence and amorality he brought to the characters; but like a 6th grade bully who has snapped a girl's bra strap once too often, he wanted to be able to claim that it was just a joke, and can't you people relax? Geez!

Hence we got Youngblood, Rob's primary creation, who as far as anyone can tell is just an amalgamation of the various popular Marvel characters, particularly the Avengers; Shaft is Hawkeye, Vogue is the Black Widow, Badrock is the Thing, and so on. Ditto the "New Men" (The X-Men, obviously), "Glory" (Wonder Woman) and…Supreme.

Supreme was, if I've got this correctly, a super-soldier from the WWII era who had contracted amnesia during a sojourn in outer space; upon his return, Youngblood had to deal with this out-of-control metahuman. Besides being able to survive in a vacuum unaided and not aging since the 1940s, he could (obviously) fly at incredible speeds, was immensely strong, and has a kind of strange laser-beam vision. Oh, and he wore a cape. And he was an out-of-control killing machine, though of course that was slightly mollified when he became the hero of his own book. Slightly.

Look! Up in the sky! It's several birds and planes!

Whatever Liefeld was trying to say about Superman-and it's fairly doubtful Liefeld has ever had anything to say through his work, but let's grant him the benefit of the doubt-it didn't seem particularly compelling. Nevertheless, since Liefeld was one of the bigwigs at Image, had an immense cult following, and was pretty much committed to producing material, Supreme's comic ran for 40 uninspired issues throughout the mid-90s. With Liefeld himself only occasionally contributing, however, and with his departure from Image to form his own banner, the readership went into a slow decline.

It's at this point that the good folks at Maximum publishing (for such was Liefeld's imprint called at the time-it's also gone by the names of Extreme and Awesome, which reveals just about all there is to reveal about the creative workings of Liefeld's mind) had the brainwave of calling in Moore. Moore wanted to work on superhero comics but was at odds with Marvel and DC; Moore had just worked with Liefeld, sorta; and most importantly, Moore had turned around a low-selling comic in the past, with his renovation of Swamp Thing.

Come on, that's just cool.

Moore agreed to write the series for a 12-issue run starting on #41, with the condition that he could rework the character (for whom he had, understandably, little affection) in any way he saw fit. The Maximum folks agreed, and Moore took to writing the series with a deal of gusto that seems to have surprised even himself.

Issue 41 features Supreme coming back from space for some damn reason or another, only to find the entire Earth undergoing a bizarre process called "The Revision", in which history seems to be doubling back on itself. He's quickly confronted by multiple characters in Supreme costumes, who seem to be alternate versions of himself (this was actually a conceit of the series before Moore came on board, but Moore did much more interesting things with it-one of the alternate versions, for instance, is a cartoon mouse in a Supreme suit). They whisk him away to a place called the Supremacy, a world populated entirely by Supremes of various shapes, powers, and genders, as well as equally redundant versions of his supporting casts-people named Judy Jordan, Billy Friday, and others. In short, it's the place where all the revised versions of a comic superhero end up when they are dropped from continuity-and they're there to salute him as he begins his life as the latest incarnation of Supreme.

Suprema's skirt is made out of the same material as Dilbert's tie.

Upon his return to Earth, he finds himself in a new life as mild-mannered Ethan Crane, comic book artist, with with a cigar-chomping editor, a very young and slightly demented partner named Billy Friday, and a new colleague, the lovely Diana Dane. The Supreme costume hangs in his closet for when Omegapolis is threatened by evil.

In the second issue, Supreme (as Ethan) visits his old hometown of Littlehaven, and finds his memories beginning to re-emerge. It seems that he was gifted with superpowers (sorry, Supremepowers) as a small child, when he got too close to a mysterious substance called Supremium that fell from the sky. Here, Moore introduces an inspired concept: the comic book flashback sequence. The middle third of this book is drawn by Rick Veitch in an absolutely bang-on pastiche of Golden Age superman, right down to the lettering and the yellowed pages; Veitch easily trumps his 1963 work here. From here on out, every issue of the comic features a short story that recounts an episode from Supreme's history, lovingly recreated by Moore, Veitch, letterer Todd Klein and others, that weaves itself expertly into the main ongoing story of Supreme slowly rediscovering his past.

I can't believe it's not the Justice League!

What's fascinating about this is that Moore has made the character interesting by making him MORE of a Superman ripoff, not less. Actually, the term "homage" applies here, as you'd have to be developmentally disabled to overlook the correlation; Supreme has everything Superman had during the Golden and Silver Age, point for point. What's really impressive is Moore's detailed knowledge of Superman lore-not only does he nail the tone, he fills the stories with all kinds of cool (if frequently goofy) stuff that has since been dropped from even the real Superman. Supreme has an orbital fortress, the Citadel Supreme, manned by robotic decoy versions of himself; a kid sister with the same powers, Suprema, and even Radar, the Hound Supreme; an aversion to Supremium; membership in the Justice League-like Allies and the time-travelling League of Infinity; and of course, an archnemesis, Darius Dax…though we learn he's actually been dead since the 60s. Not that that will necessarily stop him from taking his revenge.

Moore also manages to incorporate all these in-jokes while still putting frequently interesting new spins on them; my favourite was Billy Friday, fired comics writer, who is both the Jimmy Olsen analogue and a composite parody of a lot of comics writers (including Grant Morrison and Liefeld himself) who embrace shock over substance. The comic is filled with this kind of meta-commentary on the state of comics past and present, and in the course of it all Moore manages to create something coherent and tremendously entertaining. The rich history Moore dreams up for Supreme grows ever more expansive, to the point where you can't help regretting that DC itself hasn't done this stuff in so long. Which is, of course, Moore's whole point.

He keeps his hand there for like seven pages.

The 12 issues (collected in the Trade Paperback "Supreme: The Story of the Year") form a wonderful self-contained storyline, but somewhere along the line Moore got so caught up in the fun of working with the character that he committed to a second 12-issue series. This next batch of issues continues to develop the series and tie up loose ends; it also sometimes goes in very goofy directions, such as the storyline in which Radar's philandering spawns a new race of super-puppies, or the occasion in which Supreme battles the comic book hero he's been drawing all this time at the behest of Szazs, the mischief-making sprite (and no, you can't get rid of him by saying his name backwards). We also follow the burgeoning romance between himself and Diana, which provides the emotional touchstone for the series, as well the return of Dax (who's discovered that he, too, has a dimension full of alternate versions of himself, and they're spoiling for a fight…)

There's also what is probably the artistic highlight of the book, Veitch's bang-on homage to Jack Kirby, who Supreme ends up meeting in a lost civilization in Tibet, surrounded by his own creations. In a way, it's not a bad send-off for a series that had done so much to restore the style and fun of classic superheroes. But it is a send-off that shouldn't have happened.

Unfortunately-and this becomes a sad refrain all through this article-Liefeld's flakiness put a halt to the fun before the second series could be properly finished. A major financier pulled out of Liefeld's publishing mini-empire, and despite the fact that the sales were good, Liefeld pulled the plug on Supreme just as the series was approaching its conclusion. The two final issues, which would have detailed the war between the Supremacy and Daxia, never saw print and were in fact not even finished. This lends the second collection an unsatisfying feel; without the final issues to put a capper on the series, the collection feels basically like a series of unconnected stories instead of a coherent story. Still, the retro fun and imagination of the first volume are present and accounted for.

Completed or not, Moore was hardly finished with his retro rampage; in fact, he was just warming up. Next time, we pass "Judgement" on one of the strangest collaborations, and most ambitious could-have-beens, in recent comic history...

That's why he's the King.

Continue to Part 3!


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