Alan Moore & about a million others
Supreme: The Story of the Year (1997)
I was looking in the other direction by 1997, so it came as a huge surprise when I recently noticed that Alan Moore had spent some time at Image Comics, at least time beyond that spent on 1963, the six-issue Jack Kirby pastiche which Grant Morrison now claims was all his idea with wearisome inevitability. I love a Kirby pastiche as much as the next man, but six issues seemed plenty to me, and I suspect appreciation depends on how highly you regard those sixties comics in the first place. Personally, whilst I love much of the art, actually sitting down and reading them is another thing, what with my now being nearly fifty years old and all.
Anyway, Supreme is a character created by Rob Liefeld, essentially Superman with the serial numbers filed off so far as I understand. Even with Alan Moore doing his best to rescue the story from its creator, this presents a bit of a problem in so much as a chain is as strong as its weakest link, and the Ramones doing a cover of Mr. Blue Sky by ELO will only ever be a great band playing a shitty tune originated by the musical personification of a branch of Athena in Birmingham's Bull Ring shopping centre on a wet, windy day in 1974. Moore did his best with the title, twelve issues of which are collected here, but it was an uphill struggle.
He copes well, enlivening an underwhelming character with a fairly amusing back story, inventing for him a retroactive history stretching back into the forties through a series of interludes in the style of the comics of that era. For all that these interludes are flawlessly observed in terms of period detail, as with 1963, the idea tends to work better than the experience of sitting there and reading them, at least for me. Worse still, excepting the art of Chris Sprouse and Al Gordon on one issue - both of whom went on to draw Moore's Tom Strong - the lion's share of the present day material is illustrated by artists who aspire to be Rob Liefeld, which may actually be even worse than this stuff would have been as drawn by the man himself. Everyone looks like they're about to take a dump, massive Bill Clinton faces straining away behind a wall of unnecessary cross-hatching, tiny little mouths full of gritted teeth, each one a tiny puckered facial anus huffily demanding you take it seriously. It's surprisingly ugly, page after page of clenching, not least because it doesn't really work that well with the prose.
There's also the paradox of Supreme as a character. He's basically Superman with his own versions of Smallville, Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Kryptonite, Krypto the Super Dog and so on. It's a story which is dependent upon the monolithic quality of its own legend, and yet that legend - even so transparently photocopied as it is - feels thin due to having no real existence outside this comic. Superman on the other hand is known, and has been appearing in films, television shows, comic books, and on lunch boxes for more than half a century, and so he already has the myth working for him. Supreme doesn't, and whilst Moore does his best to convince you that he has whilst you're reading the comic, crappy art spoils the illusion, and Professor Midnight and all of the others feel like characters from an issue of Flaming Carrot - which would be otherwise wonderful, but just not here. On the other hand - to get to the aforementioned paradox - I'm not sure this story actually could be told using Superman and all the attendant weight of continuity baggage and expectation. So it is what it is, and it does what it can.
Despite everything, and the feeling of earlier chapters - or issues, I suppose - having been written mainly for the sake of paying a phone bill, it gets there in the end, everything coming together quite nicely in spite of itself. It works well as a peculiarly self-aware history of superhero comics from which Grant Morrison seemingly managed to extend his career by at least another fifteen years - unless I'm just saying that to be a dick and because I like how it sounds; and whilst we're here, the character of Billy Friday the controversial British comic book writer is a lot funnier than any of Morrison's clumsily bearded pot-shots, not least because it's difficult to identify Friday as representing any one individual. Supreme also works well in so much as it quite clearly took Moore to where he wanted to be, serving as a dry run for Tom Strong and others; and just as the Ramones doing Mr. Blue Sky would be worth hearing because it's still the Ramones, Supreme is still pretty satisfying despite everything.