SUPREME was a new superhero created by Rob Liefeld, who made his debut in August 1992, appearing in a short back-up story in Liefeld’s YOUNGBLOOD #3, published by Image Comics, before debuting in his own ongoing series three months later.
SUPREME is Liefeld’s analog of Superman, but as he writes in an editorial at the end of the first issue:
Supreme is an idea that I’ve had for some time, but never had the opportunity to work on until I got together with the rest of the guys to form Image. I’ve always wondered what a person with a tremendous amount of power at their disposal would be like. Not just the strength to life cars or level mountains, but power enough to destroy entire planets. Would someone with this kind of mind-staggering power use his abilities for the benefit of mankind, or would his motivation be of a purely selfish nature? Most often in comics, heroes with such abilities choose to use their power for benevolent reasons; they are, after all, heroes. In the “real world,” however, I tend to doubt that would always be the case, Chances are there are those who would be motivated more by ego than by honor or sense of duty. Which, in a roundabout way, is how I came up with Supreme and as this series unfold, you’ll get a pretty strong idea exactly where Supreme stands in terms of these things.
So that’s the basic concept: an immensely powerful super man with an ego to match. One who won’t hesitate to get violent and even kill when he needs to. Unfortunately, the series never quite lived up to it’s potential. I blame this on the fact that over the course of the first few years it went through several changing creative teams. On the writing side, it starts off with a stable team with Rob Liefeld credited with the story and Brian Murray listed as the writer. #7 has Eric Stephenson and someone credited only as RIPLEY credited with the story, with Kurt Hathaway credited with the script. Hathaway is also credited with the script for #8-#12, with Ripley credited with the story for #8-9, and Rob Liefeld credited with the story for #10 and #12, Liefeld and Stephenson are credited with the story for #11. So with multiple writers contributing to the title in the first year (and I should put “year” in quotes because, like almost all of the early Image titles, SUPREME was often plagued by delays, while #1 came out in November 1992, #12 came out 15 months later in April 1994) this affected the flow of the stories, as subplots would get raised and then dropped, likewise with supporting characters, and SUPREME himself was underwritten, as it was difficult to get a feel for whom he really was, and what his motivations were.
Likewise, there was a revolving door of artists. In addition to co-writing, Brian Murray himself does art for #1-6, and #9-10. Then Shawn McManus draws #7-8, someone credited simply as PEDI draws #11, and Cedric Nocon draws #12. This kept the character from being established with a defining look, as some of the art-styles were vastly different (Pedi, in particular, doesn’t really fit this character at all), which makes the visual change, which included unexplained alterations to the costume, more jarring from one issue to the next.
In the first issue we learn that Supreme was an active superhero on Earth during the 1940’s. But then he left the planet for outer space in 1945, at the end of World War II (we’re shown, in flashback, that Supreme fought for the allied forces during the war, and he personally dropped the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Now, 47 years later, he is returning to Earth (this series, although it’s the first, is officially labeled “Volume 2”, to imply that Supreme’s original adventures were in Volume 1). In the opening issue he has a battle with the superhero team Youngblood, who are sent into orbit to confront him upon his return. When they learn who he is they offer him membership, but he declines. Instead he ends up being convinced by a wealthy businessman named Jason Temple, who runs a corporation called G.A.T.E. Industries to lead his own team of superheroes called Heavy Mettle (not to be confused with the Marvel Comics supervillain team of the same name). This, in my opinion, was the first mistake of this series. The heroes of Heavy Mettle (Skyraker, Menagerie, Riot & Decibel), who were all created by Brian Murray, are rather bland and don’t really add anything to this series. Especially since the concept is that Supreme is so incredibly powerful, they just feel like a bunch of third wheels, as Supreme doesn’t need them to accomplish anything. Plus it is never explained why Supreme agreed to work for Temple in the first place.
In the first 6 issues, we meet Zachariah Grizlock, a mad scientist (ala Lex Luthor), who was Supreme’s arch-enemy in the past, and is now in jail. Supreme originally went to kill him, but Heavy Mettle stopped him and Temple somehow convinced Supreme to leave him alive for now. Supreme’s first official mission with the team is when terrorists take over Dulles airport. The team arrives but then are shocked as Supreme just goes in and kills all the terrorists with his bare hands (while the members of Heavy Mettle just stand there watching in horror, showing how insignificant they are). Then an alien warlord named Khrome appears, he fought Supreme out in space and has followed him to Earth to get revenge.
A three-issue battle commences, in which most of the members of Heavy Mettle are injured, and thousands of innocent bystanders are killed. Supreme barely manages to defeat and kill Khrome in the end. After which, Heavy Mettle disbands and Supreme quits working for G.A.T.E.
Since, as noted earlier, this is where Brian Murray departs are writer, a couple of original plot-lines mentioned in these first 6 issues are dropped, never to be followed up again. We see some aliens who had been allies of Supreme while he was in space, and they follow him to Earth in their spaceships to monitor his actives from orbit to see if they can convince him to return to their planet. They just disappear and are never heard from in this series again. We also saw Supreme drag some large high-tech headquarters with him from space and put it on the moon. The purpose of that is never revealed or referenced again. Also, I mentioned how Supreme himself doesn’t get much characterization. The final panel of the first issue showed Supreme flying back into orbit while crying, and there was an allusion to some “great weakness” of his, but that’s never explained either.
Supreme #7 opens with Supreme being confronted by a group of 5 superheroes from the future, calling themselves the Starguard, who tell Supreme that they are his children from the future who have traveled back in time to warn him of a great danger that he will soon face, but they can’t say exactly what it is, and then they disappear.
As we later learn, the members of Starguard are Val-En, who has similar powers as Supreme (this will be significant later), Die Hard (a female version of the character from Youngblood), Godspeed (a super-speed character), Probe (a telepath) and Cougar (who appears to be the exact same version from Youngblood).
Then Supreme soon finds himself battling Rob Liefeld’s version of the Norse God THOR.
We learn that back during World War II, Adolf Hitler had somehow (it’s never explained) tricked Thor into fighting for him. Thor and Supreme had several battles during the war, on opposing sides. At some point Thor realized that he had been duped by Hitler and so the Nazi somehow trapped Thor in a mountain (again, not explained), where Thor has been stuck ever since. Thor has now escaped and, being unaware of how much time has passed, he goes on a rampage in Germany looking to get revenge on Hitler. When Supreme hears of Thor’s actions he flies to Germany to confront him and Thor assumes that Supreme must have taken his place as Hitler’s agent and, before Supreme has a chance to explain, he attacks him.
After a 2-issue battle, Supreme defeats Thor and steals his hammer. In Supreme #9, we get an attempt at deeper characterization of Supreme, as there is a scene where he visits the grave of a woman named Louise Masterson, whom was his love interest (his “Lois Lane,” so to speak) back in the 40’s, but she was killed by Grizlock after Supreme left Earth. Then Supreme goes to see an old friend, a man named Charles Flanders, whom we learn was Supreme’s former sidekick. As a young boy Charles could somehow “borrow” a portion of Supreme’s powers, and he fought alongside him as KID SUPREME. Charles, now senior citizen, advises Supreme to use the media to promote himself, like Youngblood does. So in Supreme #10, Supreme is interviewed live on television by news reporter Maxine Winslow, who’s father was killed during Supreme’s battle with Khrome. Supreme is unaware of this fact, or that Winslow’s real motivation is to try to make Supreme look bad on TV. During the interview Supreme reveals his origin. He doesn’t give his real name, but says that in the lead-up to World War II, he was forced by the U.S. government to take part in top-secret experiment. For weeks a team of scientists, led by Dr. Wells (the same scientist who created one of Liefeld’s other characters, PROPHET) injected him with experimental drugs and radiation and special pills until he became superhuman. At which point he simply flew away, and became SUPREME. In a cut-away scene we see some mysterious official in Washington D.C. watching the interview and getting furious as Supreme, whom he refers to as a “juvenile delinquent” for revealing “top secret government information.” Interestingly, he also says “if he was aware of his subterranean computer system, he’d probably leak that too!” But this is another subplot which is never followed up on.
Supreme #11 is a significant issue because Supreme faces a massively powerful supervillain named QUANTUM. This was part 4 of a 7-part crossover story called Extreme Prejudice, which ran through all of the titles from Rob Liefeld’s Extreme Studios at the time. At the end of the battle, Supreme is not only defeated, but Quantum has somehow drained all of Supreme’s powers. Supreme still has Thor’s hammer, so as long as he holds that he’s still invulnerable, super-strong and can fly. But beyond that he doesn’t have any natural powers. This is another issue that showcases how light the characterization was in this series, as Supreme is initially shocked by the loss of his powers but seems to get over it rather quickly. For someone who has spent over 50 years as the most powerful being in the world (and other worlds) and had recently taken to describing himself as a “God”, reverting back to human should cause a lot of introspection and possibly self-doubt. But, nope, not here. Supreme just seems to take it all in stride and proceeds to carry on with his work. The very next issue, armed with Thor’s hammer, he decides to go back to kill Zachariah Grizlock, which he’d planned to do back in the second issue. Since then, Grizlock who has escaped from prison. So Supreme tracks down an old henchman of Grizlock’s, a man called Simple Simon, to try to find him, and through flashbacks we see how Supreme and Grizlock first met and began their feud back in the 40’s, Grizlock was a scientist who, thanks to Supreme, got busted for espionage. Today, still wanting revenge, Grizlock as created a giant robotic suit of armor and is using it to attack the White House. The issue ends on a cliffhanger as Supreme arrives and he and Grizlock prepare to do battle on the White House lawn.
Around this time, a few of the Image Comics titles did a little experiment called IMAGES OF TOMORROW where each series would publish their “25th issue”, taking place one year in the future. The idea being that readers would get a sneak peak at where the series would be in a year, and then over the next twelve issues we could see how the series leads up those events. Of course, the downside being that this would lock those series’ into sticking with certain plots, just to make sure that they line up with what they showed in their 25th issues. This was particularly risky for this series, since it was already facing a revolving door of writers. Nevertheless, a month after Supreme #12, was published, we got Supreme #25.
The story was titled FAMILY RESEMBLANCE. It opens with us seeing “Supreme” on a rampage. We learn that this Supreme is from an alternate universe. This was connected to an earlier out-of-continuity crossover between Image Comics and Valiant Comics, called DEATHMATE, which Supreme was part of, so this is the Supreme from that universe. Grizlock’s former henchman Simple Simon has somehow managed to switch brains with that Supreme and was now using his newfound super powers to cause havok (it’s also mentioned in this issue that Grizlock is dead). The U.S. Army was sent after him and Simon is easily defeating them. We see the Starguard leading the real Supreme, who still doesn’t have any actual powers and is therefor still using Thor’s hammer, to the scene of the battle, and the two Supreme’s fight. Despite several mentions about “not interfering with the timeline” the Starguard help Supreme fight Simon, because he’s outmatched by the fully powered Simon Supreme. Eventually, with the help of Probe’s telepathic abilities, she’s able to help the alternate universe Supreme regain control of his own body. He then leaves back to his own universe, and the Starguard return to the future, leaving Supreme in the present.
It’s also interesting to note that the letters page in this issue had several fake letters printed from fans, talking about events in “previous” issues of the series, revealing more details that hadn’t happened yet. It was said that in Supreme #18 a new Kid Supreme, who is Black, made his debut, there’s also reference to two upcoming crossover stories SUPREME MADNESS and SUPREME SACRIFICE, and to a new series by Keith Giffen called THE LEGEND OF SUPREME. So these were all things that readers at the time had to look forward to, until the series caught up to this 25th issue.
So that closes out the first “year” of this character. As I said, it’s an interesting concept, but it’s hurt by the lack of focus. I’ll always wonder if Brian Murray had continued writing the series after #6 how this book would have turned out? Nevertheless, the saga of Supreme was far from over…