August 20, 2014

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Supreme: Blue Rose #1 and #2

Supreme: Blue Rose #1 and #2
Written by Warren Ellis
Illustrated and Colored by Tula Lotay
Lettering by Starkings
Design by John Roshell
Image Comics

There are comics that ease you into a new world, comics that drop you right into that world, and then there's Supreme: Blue Rose.  After 2 issues I can't tell you exactly what's going on in this book, only that it's beautifully illustrated, complex, and very "Warren Ellis-y."

By way of background, Supreme was originally created by Rob Liefeld in the early 1990's as a Superman analogue. He was subsequently written by Alan Moore in a highly-regarded run (for which Moore won an Eisner award). More recently, Erik Larsen wrote the character. However, not having read any of those issues should not be a deterrent to pick this comic up. Because of the way this comic is structured thus far (as a mystery involving the character Supreme himself), a reader should be able to unravel the mysteries of the character at the same time the other characters within the story are doing so. Put another way, I'm not sure reading the prior Supreme stories will help you understand any better what's going on in this book.

I'm going to do a bit more plot summary than usual, but stick with me. It's important to understand just how complex this story is, especially if you're initially turned off by the Liefeld connection. This is not your father's Image book.

The first issue begins with an extended, somewhat surreal dream sequence where a woman (whom we learn is journalist Diana Dane) is talking with an unnamed man in a wheelchair, approaches a man wearing a helmet over his face (or which maybe is his face) who tells her all about his encounters of a red-headed woman from the future. The man in the wheelchair warns Diana "don't trust Darius Dax." Dane wakes up and is on her way to see wealthy industrialist Darius Dax (head of National Praxinoscope Company, or NPS), who works in the field of "tactical foresight" and specializes in "rare truths." He wants to hire Diana to investigate a mysterious crash of objects (including an enormous arch with the words "SUPREME" which now sits in his office) that took place upstate, and the connection between that crash and a man named Ethan Crane. By the end of issue 1, it appears that Diana has decided to take the job.

Issue 2 opens with another dream. This time there's an older man named Storybook Smith sitting on the deck of a house by the water. He's talking about, and then talking with, the same red-headed woman from the future (in issue 1), whom he knew long ago. The story then moves to Diana. A driver (named Linda, code named "Twilight Girl Marvel") shows up to drive Diana to her destination, a mysterious unknown city. As the car rides past a pedestrian, we follow the unusual pedestrian to inside a restaurant where Dr. Chelsea Henry, a mathematician and researcher who is working on a mathematical theory that will permit her to write enable her to communicate with the future, is explaining her work to a colleague. She's found an uptick in background radiation that can be graphed in a curve that goes ahead to the 30th century and back to a point approximately four months before the present. Chelsea is then shown at work in her office; she makes contact with the future, which proceeds to tell her that protection of the new time-frame is the supreme priority, and which proceeds to send some sort of probe back to the present. The story lastly moves back to Diana in the car. She's talking to Linda, who's only recently been assigned by NPS to be a driver. Normally she works on the Versioning Unit, which spends time thinking about alternate realities. As the issue ends, we see another dream and the return of another mysterious figure from early in the story.


I describe the plot in detail only to note that there's a lot going on in this book (even more than I mentioned). In addition to all of the threads noted above, each issue contains a short look at an online serial that Diana loves about the mysterious "Professor Night" and his own investigations into a murder mystery.

This is a complex, dense story, with all sorts of layers and clues and mysteries. This seems to be in keeping with the tradition of reinventions that the character of Supreme has had over the years. Each author has brought his own distinct spin to the character, and Ellis is no exception. With his usual wit (and timely references to things like a "Nick Denton linkbait farm") it feels, even after only two issues, like Ellis is bringing some of the ideas that concern him most. Here's he's using an old superhero character (who, through two issues, we haven't yet met) as a jumping-off point to build a remarkable world involving mathematics, alternate realities, time travel, and the hidden nature of reality. Darius Dax will feel familiar to readers of other Warren Ellis stories, as he is the head of a secretive organization which works to predict the future and is interested in investigating impossible phenomena.

None of this is to say that this story is just Planetary revisited. This story has a highly intriguing, dream-like, stream-of-consciousness quality, and the reason for this appeal is the artist, Tula Lotay. She is a serious talent. Her work here is like some combination of Fiona Staples, Sean Murphy, Mike Allred and some sort of psychedelic fever dream. Lotay's work has a soft, watercolor appearance to it which also adds to the dreamlike feeling. What you first notice about Lotay's art in this book is the women. She draws some of the most beautiful, striking women I've ever seen in a comic book; faces you can't look away from.

Her depictions of dream worlds have a remarkable creativity to them, as they have enough reality to make you question whether it is a dream, until you encounter a man with a helmet for a face looking out onto the water where a woman is standing on the water, taking a staircase up into the sky. She also displays a remarkable versatility in these issues, as the story moves from the dream world, to Diana's time outside in the mundane New York City streets (rendered with great details that really captures the winter gloom), to Darius Dax's offices which have a futuristic, psychedelic quality to them; each environment is rendered with great care.

It feels like Ellis and Lotay are setting the stage here for something big. For a light-hearted, easy-to-follow superhero romp, don't pick up Supreme: Blue Rose.  However, do pick it up if you're intrigued by a stunningly gorgeous, complex mystery involving superheroes, mathematics, alternate realities, the future and maybe the entire universe.