The BEST Superman story that didn’t contain Superman
"The Double-Exposure Doom/Land of a Thousand Supremes/The World Made New"
Writer – Alan Moore
Pencillers – Joe Bennett and Keith Giffen
Inkers – Norm Rapmund and Al Gordon
Colorist: – Ruben Rude
Letterer – Todd Klein
Assistant Editor – Brent Braun
Editor – Eric Stephenson
It was low-hanging fruit.
Rob Liefeld felt the Image universe needed a Superman stand-in. In October 1992, issue 3 of Youngblood, Liefeld introduced the world to Supreme, his universe's version of a gritty, realistic Superman who spouted bible verses and had no code vs killing.
The world was underwhelmed.
I mean we'd seen this all before, from possibly every comics company that ever was: same power set (flies, super strong, super durable, fast…*yawn*) in the same package.
Yet in those days even stale concepts from Image were awarded series if they came from a top-name partner who could capitalize on their success while continuing to miss their own deadlines.
So Supreme got his own ongoing, a lackluster, brutally slow affair that had many rotating teams working on it. The character was shown as psychotic and thoroughly unlikeable.
But it was the 90's and people bought it anyway. At least in enough numbers so that four years later, Rob Liefeld could entice possibly the world's best comic book writer to take over. I'm speaking, of course, about Alan Moore.
There were caveats to Moore's tenure that would make Liefeld regret bringing him on board later. Moore was given complete control over the book and for Moore that meant he could wipe the slate clean of Supreme and remove elements that he didn't care for. And Moore didn't see much of anything worth saving from the prior creative teams.
"Well, when I was originally given Supreme, it’s so obvious that it is a Superman knock-off that has been based upon a kind of half-baked understanding of the comics of the mid-1980’s. It’s somebody who thought “Right, gritty realistic superheroes, that’s the thing to do. How do you do that? Well you take someone like Superman and make them a psychopath.” And so, he’d done that, and it wasn’t very interesting, the character wasn’t very interesting, none of the writers who worked on it seemed to be able to do anything with it because, actually, the idea of Superman as a psychopath is not a very interesting idea, and it’s one that other people had probably done better in other places years before. So when he [Rob Liefeld] initially suggested that I might want to write the character, I suddenly thought, “Well, how could I rescue this lame, appalling Superman knock-off?” And I thought, well, perhaps if I were to make it like a really, really good Superman knock-off, if I were to actually try -, because at the time, I remember thinking that the regular Superman book actually was at least as much of a lame Superman knock-off as Supreme was."
-- Alan Moore from George Khoury's "The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore" care of J.R. LeMar's iBLOGalot.com site
I love that he calls the character "uninteresting." The Crapbox has several Supreme issues from before and after Moore's run and I can state that everything done before or since to him is exactly that. Boring and predictable and not enjoyable to read.
But Moore's run is something so EXCEPTIONAL that it NEEDS to be read. If you are a Superman fan and you haven't read The Story of the Year and The Return, you have missed out on the best homage to silver and golden age Superman ever written. Those two collections should be on every Superman-fan's bookshelf. They are MUST reading.
And here, in the humble issue 41 I hold in my hands, a comic that I received in a pack of 30-for-$5 comics, is the issue that kicks off Story of the Year.
Allow me to whet your appetite for a REALLY good Superman tale…
Story of the Year begins with Supreme arriving back to Earth from space. In context of the character, that's exactly where Supreme should be, returning from an alternate Earth after helping an alternate Supreme defeat the Norse god Loki. He is shocked to find that the Earth appears like a double image, with one or the other phasing in or out of reality.
A perplexed Supreme flies in closer and uses his Micro-Sight to look at matter on a molecular level. Everything is shifting between two realities. Note that he doesn't seem sure he's ever used "Micro-Sight" before too. Supreme appears to be having memory gaps as well.
As he moves in to street level, noticing that everyone is frozen in the flux of two Earths, he is surprised by three very familiar individuals. I love their assessment of Supreme. That he has that "born yesterday" look and they say he might be a "nineties model" with powers "so poorly defined as to be virtually limitless."
An apt description of the character. It's easy to say "Superman." It's hard to actually distill what makes a Superman. Except Moore does just that, as we shall see.
Anyway, our guests end up being Supreme also. Just not THIS realities Supreme.
Moore still wants to show the Supreme character is in flux (just wait for the understanding to kick in here in just a bit), and so has Supreme act like a belligerent psychopath and attack them. Because that's what Liefeld's Supreme character was: a Superman that punched everything using his muscles instead of his brains. (as an aside, I love the black female Supreme speaking in "honkey-jive" Blaxploitation speak.)
Luckily for our trio of "not-Supremes," help arrives just as the real Supreme is about to clean their clocks.
Help in the form of a giant flying Supreme-mouse named Squeak The Supremouse.
Wait until you see the size of the cheese.
With Supreme no longer threatening everyone, their motives become a bit clearer. It appears they are trying to get Supreme off Earth quickly. Their destination is something called the Supremacy. With the real Supreme in a more agreeable temperament, that appears to be likely.
The rationale behind it all is to be off Earth before some kind of cataclysmic "reset" happens. A reset that each of them seems very familiar with.
The glowing portal takes them to a huge golden castle floating in emptiness, every buttress bearing some kind of likeness of Supreme. It's sort of like Gotham from the Batman & Robin movie only covered completely in gold paint.
This is the Supremacy and it is here that Alan Moore unwinds what is perhaps my favorite take on reboots.
This is Moore's answer to what happens from a character's standpoint when a reboot occurs or a new creative team comes in and changes the aspects of the character. They don't just disappear. They are instead shuffled off camera to a luxurious existence in a limbo realm with all their various incarnations. It is deviously simple and allows Moore to reference Superman's various incarnations, from his early Golden years to his Generations versions from the future.
As they fly past the statue it moves. We learn this is Macrosupreme, who warns Supreme to beware of Darius Dax. Dax is Supreme's version of Lex Luthor, a character Moore would introduce later. By teasing it here though, it not only whets our appetite but also allows us to put more of this realm's puzzle pieces together. If there's a Luthor…then there will have to be some kind of Lois, and a Jimmy, and a Perry, and a Legion, and a Phantom Zone, and a Kryptonite, and a Krypto and…all of it, really. Once one domino falls, all of them fall.
They arrive to meet the ruler of the Supremacy, the Supreme Supreme. I love that he greets them with the words that it must be like a hoax or a dream, words that had been blazed across the fronts of years of comics in the 1960's.
Also all of this has a very Kirby "Superman in Supertown" kind of feel that works for me. Even as Original Supreme explains how the Supremacy came together.
While this makes perfect sense to the reader, Supreme himself is having a bit of hard time with it. Supreme Supreme goes on to explain that when he was drawn into the Supremacy, his whole origin and thus his whole planet were wiped from continuity and thus ended up in the limbo realm.
I admit to wanting to post all of the pages. Not because so much happens, but just because Moore presents what is there with such nuance and relevance. Like the subtle way he drops in the word "revisions" and how he insinuates that Supreme's memories are only just becoming set.
He's like a sculptor who knows what to keep and what to take away. The little touches here with the subtle nods to Superman's history are so magnificently done that you can't help but be in awe.
And again we have more little hints of how far to the "Superman" mold Moore will be taking his run on the book. Not only that but he gets to remove ALL traces of prior creators fingerprints from it. Supreme #41 at any other company would have been a new volume and #1.
Watch here as he wipes out all of the prior cast so he can recreate them from scratch.
Goodbye Kid Supreme and "Probe". Who names a superhero Probe? Sounds like what my doc keeps trying to schedule to have done to me since I turned the half century mark.
As all the Supremes ever imagined give a final fly-by salute to Supreme, his timeline finally solidifies. And although he doesn't know what he will face, Supreme has the courage to walk up the steps and through the portal which sends him on his way back to…
…the broom closet of the building where he works as Ethan Crane drawing Omniman comics alongside his love interest Diane Dane and pal Billy Friday, all of them under the tutelage of Mr. Tate. This is Moore's Supreme universe now. Only what he decides will go in will be present. The next twelve issues were commissioned with Moore as writer. I cannot imagine the excitement that must of filled readers of the book at the time.
Especially seeing that the next issue would lead here…back to where it all began for Ethan…
Moore said he had a specific goal in mind when writing Supreme and this tale. I'll let him explain:
"And so, having come up with what I thought was the core intriguing and whimsical idea of The Supremacy, the idea that there was a some place where whenever a comic got revised, all of the stuff that had been revised out of the book ends up in some sort of limbo dimension. And that every conceivable misguided version of the character exists there somewhere, out of continuity. And once I’d come up with that fairly simple idea, I realized just how rich and funny I could make my treatment of it. The idea of a planet with hundreds of Supremes, every conceivable variation and where of course I could parody the various ills of the comic industry and where I could play with wonderful ideas, you know? Which was always the thing that Superman represented to me as a child. It didn’t represent to me power or security or anything like that; it represented wonderful ideas, ideas that to me at that age were certainly magical. Where, to me, they provided a key to the world of my own imagination. As so what I wanted to do with Supreme was to try and give some of that sense of wonder, some of that pure imaginative jolt that I’d experienced when I was first reading comics. I wanted to try and give that to the contemporary readership so they could get an idea of what it had felt like. The kind of buzz that those wonderfully inventive old stories and comics and provided."
He did just that. I got such a tickle reading the TPB of these. Currently The Story of the Year and The Return are out of print. However I cannot urge you strongly enough to either seek out the individual issues (I've seen several in the crapbox, so I know they aren't always bagged and boarded somewhere) or find both of those TPBs.
If you are a Superman fan, it is a must. If you love Moore, you gotta have them. Even if you are just a comic book collector, they are essential reading. Go. Get. Them! Highest recommend.