Along with variant covers and swimsuit editions, a new trend in the comic-book industry that picked up in the 1990’s was “zero issues”. Publishers would release issues of certain series as #0, usually to be part of some special storyline or tell a significant story. In August 1995 Rob Liefeld’s Extreme Studios line at Image Comics did this with several titles, including Supreme. #0 came out after #31, and then was followed up by #32.
With these next 10 issues, and the departure of writer Gary Carlson, the creative team continued it’s revolving door. Eric Stephenson is credited as writer for #0, #33-34, script for #35 (which has him and Rob Liefeld credited for “story”), and “story” for #36. Eldon Asp writes #32. Jim Valentino is credited with script (and layouts) for #36, then writer/layouts for #37-38, and then “story” for #39-40. Tom and Mary Beirbaum are credited with the scripts for #39-40. On the art side Todd Nauck, Brian Denham, Jeff Johnson, Joe Bennett, Karl Altstaetter, and Zebra MacPherson all contribute on various issues.
With #0, Stephenson, who was also editor in chief for Liefeld’s Extreme Studios since its formation, and therefor well familiar with all of his characters, appears to make an attempt to get this title and its main character back on track. Supreme meets Jack Simon, who was a young reporter during World War II, hired by the U.S. government specifically to write comic-books about Supreme’s adventures for the public. He takes Supreme to an abandoned secret military base in Arizona and fill him in on his, or rather on Supreme’s, 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 did up to his “death” at the hands of Crypt. Stephenson has Jack Simon making some meta-commentary on the state of the series itself. Recounting Supreme’s fights against Youngblood, Khrome, and Thor, Jack says “It was a strange time for Supreme-watchers like myself, because he seemed to lack the single-minded sense of purpose he personified during World War II.” And then later “One thing’s for sure, though: Supreme’s life doesn’t read right. It’s too inconsistent, too muddled.” Both of which are statements that accurately describe the first 23 issues of the series itself. Inconsistent stories with no real purpose.
And this is where it gets tricky. Jack tells Supreme that he is not the real Supreme, whom he suspects is still out there in space somewhere. And then the issue ends with a scene of SUPREME, the older one, in some kind of capsule floating out in space. SAY WHAT?!?
Okay, the next 9 issues get pretty complex and quite a bit confusing. Even re-reading them now, I can barely make sense of it all. I’ll give it shot. First, as part of an Extreme Studios crossover called BABEWATCH, in November 1995 all of Rob Liefeld’s male superheroes were magically transformed into women. This includes Supreme, Kid Supreme, and Charles Flanders. This occurred in SUPREME #33
Yes, inexplicably, this gender-switch also resulted in Supreme getting a new and much skimpier costume. That’s never explained, so never mind.
Anyway, when the magic spell is reversed, all the heroes turn back into men, except Supreme, who remains in female form. And, “his” memory is restored. This Supreme was actually PROBE, the telepathic female superhero from the STARGUARD, the superhero team from the future who claimed to be Supreme’s children. We’re shown in flashbacks that at some point in the past, the Starguard were in some kind of battle out in space against a nameless enemy who defeated and slaughtered them all, with Probe being the sole survivor. She found her brother Val-En, who lay dying, and tried to transfer her mind into his body and his mind into hers so that she can use his powers to save them both, but something goes wrong, Probe’s body is destroyed while her brain is stuck in Val-En’s body but she now had amnesia and headed towards Earth where she got involved in that fight with Lord Chapel and then knocked to Tokyo where everyone thought she was Supreme, so that’s what she went along with. So now that her real identity was restored, and she became known as LADY SUPREME, they set out to solve the mystery of what happened to the real Supreme, whom we were now seeing on some other planet that looked Earth, but wasn’t Earth. But before I get into that, let me talk about SUPREME #36
This was part of another Extreme Studios crossover (they did a lot of those), this one called HATE, where an Alien started using his mental powers to inflame racial tensions across America, causing race riots to erupt. Lady Supreme is off in space at the moment, so we see Kid Supreme dealing with this back on Earth as a race riot happens at his High School. He then faces a new supervillain, a young Latina named…LATINA. Really, that’s her “supervillain” name: Latina. She has electrical powers and hates White people, as evidenced by her repeatedly calling Kid Supreme “gringo” (and not in a nice way). They have a fight in the hallway, and Kid Supreme eventually knocks her out, but a man is killed during the fight, and Kid Supreme is dejected, blaming himself for not being more careful regarding innocent bystanders. He walks off, rethinking his decision to continue being a superhero, while Latina watches, vowing to get revenge on him someday. Thankfully, she’s never seen again.
So other than that little subplot regarding Kid Supreme, the main story focuses on Lady Supreme and her search for Supreme. She eventually meets a mysterious figure named Enigma:
Enigma’s origins are never clearly explained, but he has vast (and inconsistent) powers and knows a lot about Supreme. He leads her to OTHER EARTH. That’s another planet called Earth, out in deep space, which is very similar to our Earth, but with some slight differences. Supreme has been sent there somehow, but he’s also lacking some of his memories, like how he got there. There’s also another older, but unpowered, Supreme on that Earth. And a bunch of stuff about parallel timelines (also, Lady Supreme’s costume seems to skimpier in subsequent issues, including to where she pretty much has two small strips of cloth covering her breasts, and the front cleavage is cut down all the way to her belly button, and she’s got a thong in back). Yes, it’s very confusing, but it’s somewhat wrapped up in SUPREME #40
It turns out that this was all a plot of the Norse God LOKI, who’s been behind the scenes causing trouble this whole time, from the beginning of the series. Loki is bought before WODEN (Odin) in ASGARD where Enigma reveals all of Loki’s crimes. It’s reveal that it was Loki who tricked Thor into fighting for Hitler during World War II, as part of Loki’s plan to help Hitler win. But Supreme defeated Thor back then, and when Thor realized that he was being duped, it was Loki who had Thor imprisoned in a mountain, and then Loki vowed revenge on Supreme, for ruining his plans. So during Supreme’s time in outer space, Loki had some alien monster attack him, and Supreme was almost killed, only surviving by flying into the future (a power he never exhibited before, but never mind), where he met the Starguard. They agree to travel back into the past with him to help him fight Loki, but when they do Loki is ready for them and kills the Starguard (with Probe surviving by transferring her brain into Val-En’s body, as described in Supreme #33, but just before Supreme was killed by Loki, Enigma uses his powers to rescue him by teleporting him across space closer to Earth, but this action leaves Supreme with partial amnesia, not remembering anything about Loki or the Starguard, he thinks he’s just returning to Earth because he wants to go home. Hoping to jog Supreme’s memory it was Enigma who freed Thor from captivity, so that Supreme would seek him out and they could fight, because Enigma says that Supreme would need Thor’s hammer to defeat Loki. Then we learn that after Crypt killed Supreme, Loki rescued Supreme’s body at the last minute, because Loki wanted to kill Supreme himself, and transported Supreme to that other “Earth” in deep space, where he’d be powerless.
Y’know, even as I’m writing this I’m getting a little confused. And I have the issue right in front of me. There’s also some stuff about the other alternate Supreme who was pulled from an alternate timeline, but he ends up dead. I think the original Supreme takes over his body, which is how he gets his powers back. But the important thing is that in the end Loki’s treachery is reveal and he is banished to the land of the giants from which he came. Meanwhile, Lady Supreme decides that she’s going to stay on this new Earth, since it has no native superheroes, as it’s protector. And SUPREME, the original, prepares to return to Earth…
It’s far from perfect, but I do appreciate the attempt to wrap things up nicely, although it sometimes seems like they just made it even more complicated near the end. Overall, as I said when I first started reviewing this series, these 40 issues represent a lot of missed opportunities. I believe that much potential remained in the original concept, but it wasn’t fully realized. The first mistake was probably in having Supreme lose his powers and have to rely on Thor’s hammer, and then with having Supreme replaced by the younger version, which just made him closer to being a less-interesting version of Superman. By the 40th issue, this series had dropped to #105 on the comic-book charts, but the fact that it kept going this long definitely speaks to the health of the comic-book industry at the time. But now it was time for another drastic change, and that arrived in the form of a man whom you may have heard of, named Alan Moore…
Zebra MacPherson?!? Seriously? Is that an actual person? It sounds like someone working under a pen name. If I am wrong, please feel free to correct me.
Looking through your various posts on Supreme, I’m very bemused at the insane number of writers & artists who rotated in and out. I mean, I know that the 1990s was when blowing deadlines became almost fashionable among comic book creators, but even by those standards this book saw an insane amount of turnover. It reminds me of that rude expression about getting passed around more than a fifth of Jack at a frat party 🙂
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RE: Zebra MacPherson, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re right. Looking up the name online Supreme #31 and #34 are literally the only comic-book credits I can find for him (or her). And there isn’t any other info about that person, no social network profiles or anything. So it’s very possibly a pen name.
RE: the artists. Yeah, that’s one thing. Lateness was a big problem for many of the Image books in the 90’s, especially those drawn by the founders themselves. I recall that there were series that could take 6-8 months in between issues. So on the one hand this series, which was actually the longest continued running series from Liefeld’s Extreme Studios, and one of the longest overall from Image in the 90’s, which is probably due to the fact that they just did whatever they had to do to get this book out, including switching artists (and writers). Back at the time readers (like myself) were probably just happy to be getting new issues on a semi-regular basis, but now looking at the series collectively, re-reading one issue after another the constant changes become rather glaring. You’ll notice, when it comes to the artists, I stopped specifically listing which issues they worked on, because not only would artists on this series switch from issue to issue, sometime there would be more than one artist on a single issue. So it just became two time consuming. In retrospect, maybe it would have been better to let this series suffer more lateness if that’s what it took to get a consistent regular art-team on it? But hindsight is 20/20.
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Thanks for doing these reviews of Supreme. I remember picking up the first couple of issues and thinking, much like you, that there was a lot of potential in the concept. I quickly lost interest due to the constantly changing creative teams.
I picked up the first Alan Moore issue and was completely captivated. I followed the title through it’s various publishers until the Moore run was finished. Your blog posts are a nice way of seeing what came before.
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Thanks, man, glad ya liked it! I’m debating exactly how I’m going to cover the Moore issues. It’s been reviewed so many times by much better reviewers than me, that I don’t really know what extra insight I could even bring to it. It was the pre-Moore issues that have been largely forgotten, so I figured that’s what really needed a second-looked. But I do plan to get to the Moore, Larsen, and Ellis runs next.
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[…] project that Extreme Studios launched, originally published by Image Comics. At the conclusion of Supreme #40, Lady Supreme decided to remain on that other Earth in deep space, while Supreme returned home, so […]
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[…] Supreme. And looking back at the original series we can see where the change occurred. SUPREME #40 ends with Liefeld’s Supreme leaving the other Earth in deep space to return to original […]