Tor.com comics blogger Tim Callahan has dedicated
the next twelve months more than a year to a reread of all of the major Alan Moore comics (and plenty of minor ones as well). Each week he will provide commentary on what he’s been reading. Welcome to the 40th installment.
With Optilux resurgent and the vile forces of evil, like Korgo, Vor-Em, and the Shadow Supreme, ready to assault all that’s good and just in the world, Supreme #57 never appeared.
It wasn’t until the spring of the following year that Alan Moore’s Supreme series resumed, this time subtitled “The Return,” even though the character had been frozen in mid-moment by the delays of publication and not because Supreme actually went anywhere. He was just waiting for the series to resume, and “The Return” named in the series title has more to do with what fans of the series had been waiting for: the return of Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse, who we hadn’t seen for nearly a year and a half, without any warning.
Even the editorial comments in issue #56 mention something about issue #60 and something to watch out for, so clearly the series suspension and relaunch was not planned in advance. It appears that there was a delay, and then rather than resume the series with issue #57 a year after it had been originally solicited, the folks at Awesome Entertainment chose to go with the tried-and-true sales boost that comes with a new #1 issue. Hence Supreme: The Return. Six issues of which would be released before another stoppage.
And this time the delay was considerably longer.
Supreme: The Return #1-6 (Awesome Entertainment, May 1999-March 2000)
Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse pick up the story where they left off, so deftly, in fact, that it’s difficult to believe that this new issue #1 wasn’t already finished and ready to hit the shops as issue #57, so it’s much more likely that it was a business-and-production delay, or maybe a delay on what followed, rather than a creative delay on their part.
But Sprouse only sticks around for this one last issue, and then it’s a rotating artistic team for the rest of the series, and that, coupled with the delays in release, lead to a frustrating ending for the glory days of Alan Moore’s second year on Supreme. (It was a second year, by the way, that would end up taking fifteen years total to reach the readers, but I’ll get to that later.)
So Supreme: The Return #1 concludes the battle begun in the final issue of the previous series, without even a Rick Veitch flashback to break up the action. Because the comic takes place in the 1990s, Moore throws in some political humor as Korgo, Trampler of Galaxies, seizes the White House, knocks Bill Clinton unconscious and orders Hillary to have herself “perfumed and brought to [his] chamber,” where she will consummate her status as his new “wife number one.”
By the end of the issue, Korgo is quietly begging Supreme to put him out of his misery so he can escape her domineering clutches.
Other than that, it’s pretty straightforward action.
Maybe this Chris Sprouse-era Supreme wasn’t as great as I had remembered. It’s still compulsively readable, but there’s not much meat on its bones in this final, Sprouse-drawn issue. Looks nice. Really nice. But that’s about the extent of its substance.
It’s with Supreme: The Return #2, after Sprouse’s departure, that Alan Moore begins the third act of his overarching Supreme saga. This issue, drawn by veteran artist Jim Starlin (creator of Thanos, who is a pretty big deal in Marvel media these days), skips back to the moment of Darius Dax’s demise, when he merged with Supremium and flew backwards through time.
We learn that he didn’t meet his end in that previous story, but had actually traveled to a place he didn’t know about, a land “rubbed outta the continuity.” Daxia. Home of all incarnations of Darius Dax, just as the Supremacy is the home of all variations of Supreme.
In Daxia, our Darius meets Daxman, the pimped-out version of himself, along with bearded Original Dax, the cyborg Daxor, and that mallard of menace known as Darius Duck.
Completely ridiculous and totally in keeping with what Moore had been doing with Supreme up to that point.
The entire issue, except for the two-page epilogue back at the Dazzle Comics offices, focuses on Daxia and the Dax incarnations throughout the ages and realities. Even with their genius intellects and super-technology, the best they can manage is for one Dax to return to Earth, to leave Daxia to plot revenge against Supreme. It is, of course, our Dax, the villainous star of this particular show, who returns, and sets up the scenario which will lead into Alan Moore’s final issue.
But first, more Supreme adventures! This time, drawn by Matthew Dow Smith for two issues as Moore does his pastiche of the Superman Kandor stories, with Supreme and Diana Dane playing superhero in the city of light known as Amalynth, disguising themselves as Dr. Dark and Duskwing, just as Superman and Jimmy Olsen patrolled Kandor as Nightwing and Flamebird in the 1960s. Jim Baikie, Moore’s old partner on the Vigilante two-parter and contemporary teammate on the Deathblow miniseries, comes in to help finish Supreme: The Return #3, with a Rick Veitch Supreme-meets-futuristic Fighting American story in the middle of the issue.
It’s all good, clean, Silver Age retro fun, cover to cover with a few jabs at the sexism of that era thrown in along the way.
Issue #4 is more Matthew Dow Smith art, in a story focusing on Radar, the Dog Supreme. It’s not one of Moore’s best, but it has moments of wit, as Radar moves to create a race of super-dogs and fly off into space to create a new canine society. Diana Dane also reveals a plan of her own in the issue, as she decides, after having learned the truth about Supreme and the Supremacy, that the idea of multiple revisions and variations of the same character would be perfect for the Omniman comic book series. That decision would come back to haunt her later.
What’s best about Supreme: The Return #4 is the League of Infinity back-up story, drawn by Rick Veitch. It’s the most direct predecessor to Moore’s later work on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and it’s a spot-on parody of one of the greatest eras of Legion of Super-Heroes history when Wildfire, aka ERG-1, first joins the team. In Moore and Veitch’s pastiche, it’s Pilot X-U who is the cocky new member of the League, and only the combined heroes from throughout time can stop his secret plans and reveal him as the villainous Optilux.
It’s a story that would have been better placed as part of the first issue of this revived series, but as a stand-alone short story, it’s one of Moore and Veitch’s most absurdly delightful collaborations.
Issue #5 brings in the Supremium Man and writes Billy Friday out of the story once again, and it’s largely forgettable with Ian Churchill art and only the typically-good Rick Veitch flashback story to recommend it. The biggest problem with #5 is that it is completely overshadowed by what follows: Supreme: The Return #6, a comic so brazen in its homage that it slaps Jack Kirby’s glowing face right on the front cover.
This issue – the final in the series before a twelve year delay and resurrection under new management – is titled “New Jack City,” and it’s more of a tribute to Jack Kirby and his amazing imagination and creative gifts than to any of the typical Superman precursors. Unlike other issues of Supreme, this issue blends the Rick Veitch art with the main story, as Rob Liefeld draws Supreme exploring a Kirby-by-way-of-Veitch landscape, populated by The Little Tough Guys and the shield-sporting Custodian, and Sgt. Strong’s Dambustun’ Dogfaces who team with the Battlin’ Yank to oppose the Steel Swastika. I could go on. Moore and Veitch do, with hundreds of Kirby-created ideas to draw upon for inspiration.
Moore and Veitch’s tribute to Kirby ends with the King of Comics’ giant head floating in Idea Space, or as he would have called it, according to the issue, “the Psychoverse or the Cognitive Zone, or whatever.” Actually, he calls it home. As the giant floating Kirby head tells Supreme, and reminds us, “in the world of ideas, there ain’t no hands. There’s only mind. The creations can just pour out of me!”
For Moore and Veitch, Jack Kirby never died, he just moved from his human limitations to a place where he could create, unfettered by the design flaws of the mortal world.
Supreme: The Return #6 is more than just an amazing, celebratory tribute to the greatest comic book creator who ever lived – though it is that – but it’s also a declaration of purpose for Moore’s Supreme series as a whole. It’s always been about the power of ideas, and their ability to influence the world. Moore and his artistic collaborators have been tapping into that power, but mostly in recognition of the ideas that have been transmitted to them via the comics of their youth. And they’re passing those ideas on to a new set of readers.
Oh, and the floating Kirby head offers one last idea to Supreme: “What if there were these two worlds, one totally good, the other totally evil, okay? And they have this war…”
We never get to hear the end of Kirby’s idea. Supreme dismisses it as “rather unlikely.” But such a war, between Daxia and the Supremacy, was already coming. It just took a while to get here.
Supreme#63 (Image Comics, April 2012)
Thinking back, I don’t recall being dissatisfied with Supreme: The Return #6 as the end of Alan Moore’s run on the series. There were loose ends, but concluding with the Jack Kirby tribute issue, even one that promised more in the “Next Issue” box in the final panel, seemed a fitting way to walk away from the series. As a reader of the comic all along – at least during Moore’s stint – I didn’t give Supreme a great deal of thought in the years that followed, and I certainly didn’t spent sleepless nights wondering what that nasty Darius Dax would do to poor old Supreme.
So I was as surprised as anyone when, at the New York Comic Con in 2011, the folks at Image Comics announced that not only would they be relaunching some of the Rob Liefeld titles with new, unexpected creators, but that Supreme would make a comeback, with a never-before-published Alan Moore story signaling its return.
Supreme #63, resurrecting the old numbering and counting the six-issue miniseries in between, came out earlier this year, drawn by Image co-founder Eric Larsen and Cory Hamscher. It’s the story I didn’t realize I had been waiting for: the revenge of Darius Dax. He discovered, you see, that issue of Omniman that Diana Dane wrote after her experiences with Supreme. Dax deduces that the only way the creators of the comic book would have come up with ideas like the Omnigarchy and the Omniman variants was if the real-life Supreme had a multiversal sanctuary of his own, just like the Darius Daxes had in Daxia.
Thus, the war between Daxia and the Supremacy begins.
We never get to see how the war ends. Alan Moore only wrote up to issue #63 and then, reportedly because of financing issues with Awesome Entertainment, he moved on to create “America’s Best Comics” at Wildstorm, leaving the Supreme saga unfinished.
So Supreme #63 is part one of the two-part final story, with the second part unwritten and never-to-be-written by Alan Moore. But Erik Larsen took up the mantle of writer-Supreme and finished the story in his own way in issue #64. It’s decidedly not the way Moore would have ended it, and that was Larsen’s purpose. He wanted to wrap up Moore’s loose plot threads but then take the series back to its pre-Moore roots. To tell stories about a Superman analogue without a moral compass. To write an unrepentantly badass Supreme.
Moore’s ending in Supreme #63, such as it is, shows Ethan Crane and Diana Dane in bed together, in love, as the full moon outside their window becomes speckled with something in the distance. It’s Darius Dax, times a hundred, flying into for their final invasion on rocket boots and wings and hoverbikes and floating cars. Their eyes filled with hate. Sneers and sadistic grins on their Darius Dax faces. The caption, Diane Dane’s voice trailing off, reads, “…and as if there’s nothing in the world but love.”
I prefer to let the story end there, with that moment. Larsen’s follow-up exists, and will always exist, but it’s not part of Moore’s run on the series. And it’s not needed. Moore’s run speaks for itself and presents a version of a superhero universe, a comic book universe, where hope and imagination always win in the end. Even when it looks like it’s about to lose.
NEXT TIME: Judgment Day is upon us. Will Alan Moore’s “Watchmen for the 1990s live up to the hype?” Spoiler: not even close.