Writer/artist Keith Giffen joined Image Comics in 1993, with his creator-owned series TRENCHER, which, according to Wikipedia featured “a zombie-like anti-hero named Gideon Trencher, as he endeavors to complete his mission of exterminating souls that had been “wrongfully reincarnated”. It’s Gideon’s job to hunt down these beings, with the assistance of a voice in his head named Phoebe, who is his dispatcher, giving him information on his targets, his surroundings, and who also serves as character foil for the otherwise isolated character. He moves from one name on the list to the next, usually receiving heavy damage to his body, frequently resulting in what should be fatal injuries (such as having his head blown from his body).”
The series only lasted 4 issues, but it was in #3 (published in July 1993) that Giffen has Rob Liefeld’s SUPREME as a guest-star. Unaware of Trencher’s true nature and mission, Supreme simply views Trencher as a murderer, so he attempts to apprehend him. This leads to a 15-page brutally violent battle between the two anti-heroes, that only ends with Trencher manages to teleport away. The issue, and the series in general, provides the kind of violent action and morbid humor that Giffen had been known for with his DC Comics creation Lobo. The series was eventually collected in tradepaperback.
Giffen’s next time writing Supreme was in the series BLOODSTRIKE, in issue #5, published in November 1993.
Bloodstrike were a covert team of superhuman assassins for the U.S. Government. The twist is that there were all reanimated corpses, which is what made them the perfect killers, because they could always just be revived, via the government’s top-secret Project: Born Again. The team, who had briefly appeared in Supreme #3, is ordered to assassinate Supreme, who’s been causing a lot of violence since he’s returned to Earth, and they underestimate him because of his age. After they track him down a fight ensues. Well, it can’t really be called a “fight”, more like a slaughter, as Supreme easily rips each of the team members to pieces (literally). With Giffen writing and Chris Alexander penciling, this issue is a bloody mess. And it’s awesome!
But Rob Liefeld must have been a fan of the way Giffen wrote his character, because he soon enlisted Giffen to write a second Supreme solo-series titled THE LEGEND OF SUPREME, which lasted 3 issues, beginning in December 1994.
Giffen plotted and drew layouts for the series, while Robert Loren Fleming wrote the script and Jeff Johnson did the penciling, with Dan Panosian on inks.
I must confess that I always found this series a tad confusing. Although it was published alongside the then-ongoing original Supreme series (the first issue coming out the same month as Supreme #22) the exact timeline of when these events took place was unclear. While Supreme was powerless and therefor relying on Thor’s hammer during this time in the original series, he was fully-powered in this series. Likewise, he also seemed to act differently. While Supreme was always arrogant, and had referred to himself as “a God” before, in this series he seemed to literally believe himself to be God, as in the Christian version of God, or at least a messiah. In this series Supreme has been flying around killing people. He destroys corporations, leveling skyscrapers and killing everyone in them, that engage in genetic research and he flies to a jail that keeps supervillains and he kills them all. All the while he’s quoting Old Testament bible scriptures, claiming he’s doing The Lord’s work by eliminating these “abominations.” At some point the government releases a clone of Supreme (it’s not clear how they did that) and the two Supreme’s battle to the death, with “the real one” surviving.
Yeah, it’s confusing.
But the main subplot involves Maxine Winslow, the reporter who interviewed Supreme in Supreme #10, where he revealed his origin. Maxine decides that that origin didn’t sound believable to her, and she suspects that he was lying or hiding something, so she investigates Supreme’s background to find out the real truth. And this is what saves this series, because the origin that Giffen and Fleming came up with is much more creative.
Supreme’s real name is Ethan Crane, the son of A Preacher. Back in 1937 in St. Louis, when three men raped a 15 year old girl named Sophie, who was a friend of his, he tracked them down in a bar and calmly shot them all to death. As he was leaving he was shot by two cops, but he survived and was convicted of murder. A secret government program, run by a scientist named Dr. Wells, offered Ethan his freedom in exchange for volunteering for an experiment, which he accepted. The experiment was to create a superhuman. This involves injecting Ethan with some kind of radiation until he dies. Then he regenerates after 3 days, now stronger and more powerful. So they inject him with more radiation to kill him again, so then he regenerates even more powerful. This goes on for an unspecified amount of time, with them killing Ethan and him reviving 3 days later, until he is finally the supreme being that he is today. He escapes from the lab, but has partial amnesia. He’s wanders to a church where he is taken in by a priest, Father Beam, and begins working at Beam’s church until he learns of all of his powers. He then adopts the identity of Supreme and begins his superhero career. We also learn the truth of why Supreme left Earth after World War II (contradicting the story of Supreme: Glory Days). In an argument over Supreme’s violent actions, which Father Beam disapproves of, Supreme slaps and accidentally kills Father Beam. In his grief over what he did, Supreme leaves Earth.
In May 1995 Image released the SUPREME ANNUAL
Keith Giffen did the plot and the pencils for the main story, with Tom and Mary Bierbaum writing the script. This story takes place during the 40-year period that Supreme was exploring outer space, it suggests that it’s sometime during the 1960’s. An old Nazi war criminal named Vergessen whom Supreme had defeated and killed back in World War II has, through means which are completely unexplained, survived and now become some extremely powerful super shape-shifter, and is now working as an assassin for hire among galactic crime-lords. One such crime-lord hires him to kill Supreme, and so the two adversaries meet in deep space. Vergessen is able to transform into the deepest darkest nightmare creatures of dozens of alien races, and uses this ability to fight Supreme. It’s a great battle, very action-packed, with neither foe getting the upper hand until Vergessen gets to use his power to transform himself into the one thing Supreme fears the most…I won’t spoil that ending, but it’s a creative one.
In addition to the main story, this annual also contains a 7-page backup story called RAW RECRUIT, written by Len Wein and drawn by Shannon Denton. It takes pace in 1943, Supreme is on the battlefield fighting Nazi troops in France, when Glory, Super-Patriot and Die-Hard arrive to enlist Supreme’s help in a special mission and then see if he’d like to join them permanently in a super-team called The Allies. Supreme joins them on the mission, but his approach to the problem is a little more…extreme…than what The Allies expected. Suffice to say, this team-up didn’t end well.
Both stories are well-down, making this Annual highly recommended.
Image released BLOODWULF SUMMER SPECIAL #1 in August #1995
I always assumed that this was meant to be the fourth issue of Legend of Supreme, as it’s by the same creative team, with Giffen and Fleming writing and Johnson drawing, along with Steven Jones. Bloodwulf is Rob Liefeld’s analog of Lobo, whom Keith Giffen created for DC, so this was a natural team-up for him to write. A caption on the first page specifically says that this story takes place between Legend of Supreme #3 and Supreme #23. The story is that Bloodwulf and Supreme happen to meet in some kind of space station, inhabited my different types of aliens, and Supreme accidentally kills Bloodwulf’s aunt, which leads to a knock-down drag-out fight in outer space. It’s a decent little story, but not really essential, and could easily be skipped.
Giffen’s final contribution to Supreme came in 1997, when he wrote this 48-page crossover special with Marvel Comics
This special pits Supreme versus Marvel Comics’ alien Superman analog Gladiator. This story also takes place during Supreme’s self-enforced exile from Earth. As in Legend of Supreme, Giffen writes Supreme as a delusional religious maniac. He lands on an alien world and makes contact with the natives. But after seeing him in action, the natives begin to worship Supreme as a God, which makes Supreme angry for some reason, so he begins to go on a rampage. But this particular world is under the protection of the Shi’ar Empire, the galactic civilization that Gladiator belongs to and so he is sent to stop Supreme.
This issue is essentially one long fight scene. Nicely done but not particularly memorable.
I only read a handful of the Supreme comic books from the 1990s. I found the quality on them wildly uneven, something you also observed. And I wasn’t especially happy with the extreme violence (um, no pun intended) such as that issue of Bloodstrike where Supreme literally tears them limb from limb. I mean, I know Savage Dragon by Erik Larsen was also very violent & bloody, but the difference is the character of the Dragon definitely did not glorify in creating carnage. And there was equal parts humor in Larsen’s stories.
Oh, yeah, even though I do like Keith Giffen, I was not too fond of his work during this time because his art got extremely wonky… aw, great, I used the “E” word again! Well, you know what I mean.
Erik Larsen had a very good run on Supreme a few years ago, I’ll be getting to that later.
[…] history. So we get a recap of Supreme’s origin, using the Ethan Crane origin story from Keith Giffen’s Legend of Supreme, then Supreme’s actions during the war, his leaving Earth afterward and returning and what he […]
[…] so we had 40 issues of SUPREME, plus guest-appearances in comics like BLOODSTRIKE, and miniseries like THE LEGEND OF SUPREME, that brutally illustrated what that kind of superhero would be like. (Hint: There was lots and […]