Thursday, October 18, 2007

Analogous Supermen

Oh Supreme, you were so fun to read. How can I possibly describe you to someone who hasn’t ever really read superhero comics before? Basically, it’s Alan Moore exploring Superman’s history. In some ways it’s a glimpse of what the man would have done if he was given the title to write. There is an exploration of the history of the superhero both in terms of continuity and the medium of comic books as a whole.

It uses comic books as both the medium and the message. Yes, I’m aware that the medium is the message, but here it acts as both delivery mechanism or product that the audience experiences as well as a metaphor and storytelling element in itself. It’s a story about superhero continuity as much as it is about Supreme himself. And yet using it as both structure and subject makes the book more than it is. This isn’t just about being introduced to a character or the not-so-hidden history of Superman and DC. It is proof that in the hands of a good writer and artist, anything can be a good superhero comic book. As much as superheroes can get bogged down in silliness and grim rewrites they are still capable of being a story telling medium that is as well crafted and meaningful as anything else. This book is proof that comics are best when they are being comics – not comic book movies, or true to life, etc etc.

The first issue sets this idea in motion with Supreme being introduced to all the alternate iterations of himself in the Supremacy. As reality gets rewritten, new characters and supporting cast continue to show up each with different base powers and specific details changed. It's a brilliant idea that I was a bit sorry to see not used as much as its potential allows. It does clue the reader into the underlying idea of the story though.

I’m a true believer that comics are best when they work on their own terms and Supreme is proof of that. That, and the fact that superheroes have their own mythology that can be redone, reimagined, reintroduced and reworked to a form that is just as effective as using themes, stories and mythologies from outside superheroes. Yes, this is a very comic book geek comic in that knowing what the book is referencing helps in understanding the comic on a certain level, however, I suspect that someone can enjoy the book on it’s own terms as well. You don’t need to know the specifics to enjoy the ideas but knowing them can help get the joke or the idea on a bit more intimate terms.

This isn’t Tom Strong, but it sort of feels like they are related. Whereas Tom Strong was more an abstracted idea Supreme is a very specific avatar. It’s close but not really the same because where Tom Strong explores the pulp hero basis of comic heroes and sort of creates its own internal logic of adventure comics, Supreme is very much about Superman and DC as much as its own story. Kind of the same idea used in Watchmen of using analogous characters in a vastly different story.

In some way, I sort of get a sense of sadness when reading Supreme. Not in the stories themselves but in the notion that if Moore was offered (and willing) to write Superman this could have been an incredible run. Akin to what Morrison is going for in Batman or All-Star Superman these days – using the past to weave exciting adventures today but not explaining away their silliness (including the silliness of the grim avenger).

Again, I’ve managed to get a book that is somehow connected to a creator making comic book internet headlines recently (as much as there is such a thing).

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