Books Entertainment

Comics You Need to Read: Supreme: Blue Rose

6 minutes to read

You are not dreaming. We are trying to communicate with you. Local reality has been reinstalled. Things have gone wrong. The revision has corrupted. Finding Ethan Crane is your supreme priority.

Diana Dane is a very unemployed investigative journalist who can’t afford food, let alone the double-handful of medications she’s supposed to be taking. So when she receives a lucrative (and potentially dangerous) job offer from mysterious businessman Darius Dax to find out what’s going on in the isolated town of Littlehaven, there’s no saying no. Sounds simple enough, right?

Supreme: Blue Rose
takes this premise and spins it into a universe-spanning story about superheroes, fate, and comic books. It’s a story with interesting pedigree; the character Supreme was originally conceived by Rob Liefeld as a kind of knock-off Superman with no aversion to violence, and hasn’t existed as much more than that for over two decades. But Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Freakangels) takes this dollar shop Man of Steel and uses him as a tool to examine comic mythos and storytelling on a grand scale. While Diana Dane is chasing leads in Littlehaven, several members of something called the League of Infinity – a kind of time-traveling JLA – are trying to figure out why the reality they’re all living in is only three months old.

Zayla Zarn, one of the central characters in Supreme: Blue Rose.
Zayla Zarn, one of the central characters in Supreme: Blue Rose.

The answer comes from the format itself. Mainstream comic universes – think DC & Marvel – start to get cluttered after a few years. There are too many storylines and too many characters playing them out and the world feels less exciting than it used to. To solve this problem, publishers like to shake things up with huge events (Marvel’s Civil War, DC’s Blackest Night) or wipe the slate clean entirely by rebooting the continuity of all their books. At the time of Blue Rose’s publication, DC had just done this with their New 52 storyline. Characters had their lives and motivations altered – Superman was now romantically involved with Wonder Woman rather than Lois Lane and Commissioner Gordon wound up becoming a kind of mechanized Batman following Bruce Wayne’s apparent death – and everybody was made much younger.

Chelsea Henry, a scientist with a secret identity she doesn't even know about.
Chelsea Henry, a scientist with a secret identity she doesn’t even know about.

Blue Rose self-consciously takes place after that kind of revamp; the universe has changed, but not the right way. Something has gone wrong with what multiple characters call ‘The Revision’- the world, only recently reconstructed, is beginning to fall apart. Its destruction is preceded by many strange events: the appearance of three-winged birds and a road to the moon, and a golden arch inscribed with the word ‘Supreme’ falling on the town of Littlehaven. In an effort to kick-start a new revision, the League of Infinity is on the hunt for Ethan Crane – the man behind Supreme – and Diana Dane quickly becomes wrapped

up in their machinations. It’s all very complex and intangible, and kind of like watching a David Lynch film. Indeed, the title is a reference to Twin Peaks, where the FBI uses ‘Blue Rose’ as a codeword for very strange cases, as blue roses don’t occur naturally.

Tula Lotay employs colour in a way unheard of in mainstream comic books.
Tula Lotay employs colour in a way unheard of in mainstream comic books.

The comic feels like it’s taking place at the end of the world. Tula Lotay’s art gives the proceedings a melancholy air – it’s all soft lines and pastels and watercolour highlights – and it has to be some of the most unique comic book work in recent memory. It’s a far cry from the (frankly hideous) illustrations Supreme featured when the character debuted, and symbolises that this is indeed a very different story. The book is packed full of interesting characters, like the quantum physicist who’s so obsessed with looking into the future that she lets the present run away from her in a string of failed relationships, or the superhero from a parallel reality where North Africa became a technological powerhouse and conquered all space and time.

Where Blue Rose succeeds the most is its versatility as a story. There are many different ways to approach it. You can take it as a continuation of Alan Moore’s run on the series, which established many of the features of Ellis’ rendition and moved Supreme away from his ‘edgy’ Liefeld roots, which it is; you could take it purely as a sci-fi story about alternate universes and transhumanism and the future of the human race, which it is; you could take it as a weird detective story, which it is; or you could take it as a metatextual examination of comic storytelling devices like alternate characters and reboots, which it is. Even those unfamiliar with the roster of Image characters featured within the book will have a good time, as the world they move in is airy and open to subjective interpretation.

Zayla Zarn and Doc Rocket, a member of the League of Infinity.
Zayla Zarn and Doc Rocket, a member of the League of Infinity.

By the end of Blue Rose the universe is well on its way to stability again, but there’s the feeling that something has been lost. A climactic meeting between Ethan Crane & Diana Dane solidifies their shared backstory – they were lovers in a previous Revision – and brings the world to a nice, neat end. A bittersweet ‘post-credits’ scene shows us that the world of Supreme: Blue Rose, and other comics, are just a constantly changing story; a kind of literary Samsara that will keep on turning, churning out new stories and universes and characters for us to experience before they’re whisked away in the next Revision.