Written by O'Brian Gunn
Almost every comic book publisher has its own version of Superman, the archetypal superhero with superior strength, speed, senses, looks, and morals all paired with a gleaming Colgate smile. While you might be (understandably) tempted to groan in frustration at the idea of reading yet another comic book/graphic novel with a Superman-esque character and premise, that frustration can easily morph into intrigue upon learning that it’s Alan Moore at the helm ready to take you on a supreme ride that’s totally unlike the experience of Watchmen (in a good way), but with the same level of care and attention to intricate detail. Now embarking on Supreme: The Story of the Year (S:SY).
One of the first things you should know about S:SY is that it’s not packed to the spine with leap-off-the-page action, slick-looking characters, or a complex story. But sometimes, just as it’s nice to take a breather from reality by immersing yourself between the pages of a comic book, it’s nice to take a break from the riveting, nail-biting action and mosaic comic book narrative/universal event that aims to blow your mind. Sometimes, it’s nice to enjoy the ride down a lazy 2D river and remind yourself of how far comics have come.
Jumping right into the story, Moore opens his retro-infused tale with our titular hero returning to Earth, only it seems as though his home has blended with a parallel universe revealed to Supreme’s special senses. Our main character has also recently dealt with alternate versions of himself, which only adds to his bewilderment. Upon landing in Omegapolis, Supreme is hit with a feeling of deja vu as he’s greeted by several other Supremes, including a black female Sister Supreme, a mouse named Squeak the Suprememouse, and another that has a strong resemblance to DC’s original Shazam.
After reaching a loose understanding, Supreme and his superhuman siblings travel to The Supremacy, which serves as a nexus for the many different versions of Superma--eh, Supreme throughout the decades, Moore’s way of paying homage to the various iterations of Superman that have been revealed since his original debut back in the late 1930s. There’s even a version of Supreme that’s only lasted “one short month, without even a second appearance.” The stockpile of Supremes (and some of their side characters) have been waiting for each other since their respective runs ended, gradually being joined by the next generation's iteration that will be replaced by an even newer, sleeker model. Moore gets a bit meta at this point (as if we’d expect anything less from him), explaining that “our” Supreme has gaps in his memory because those memories haven’t been written yet.
The story soars off in earnest when Supreme learns that he has an opportunity to return to his “newly-revised Earth,” an opportunity that none of the other Supremes have had. Our hero climbs up a golden staircase to his homeworld where he’ll fill in the blanks of his past and bear witness to his future.
From there, Moore uses a 50s-style comic book format blended with Supreme’s late 90s comic book look to explore our main character’s memories, which are all too reminiscent of The Superfriends and the Silver Age Justice League of the 50s. There’s so much to unpack with this dense graphic novel, from Supreme/Ethan Crane’s job as a comic book artist (who works on a comic that features a Supreme-like character) and his time as a member of The League of Infinity to the hero’s rogues’ gallery and the final showdown that you’d expect from a classic comic book between Supreme and a certain archnemesis.
One thing worth noting is that S:SY is Moore’s mea culpa for the dark tone steeped in his earlier works, such as Batman: The Killing Joke and Swamp Thing. Moore’s lighter tone is reminiscent of the hopeful, World of Tomorrow-esque and (now) slightly cheesy feel imbued in Golden and Silver Age comics. If you’d like to explore more of that bygone era, I highly recommend Brian Fies’ Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? graphic novel.
While S:SY might sound like little more than a creative writing exercise, it’s a collection that should be considered required reading for comic book fans of all ages. It takes you back not only to Rob Liefeld’s long-legged and barrel-chested art style, but to the birth of comic books. Compared to other Superman riffs, this selection reigns Supreme.
Next Up: The Four Trilogy. Warriors with superpowers. Wuxia. ‘Nuff said.