Veteran writer Warren Ellis and artistic powerhouse Tula Lotay have come together to create a gorgeous avenue for introducing new readers to the well established Image Comics character, Supreme. In the first issue of “Supreme Blue Rose,” the creative team pairs a dizzying kaleidoscope of visuals with clear, effective writing; which makes for a very enjoyable reading experience.
Written by Warren Ellis
Illustrated by Tula Lotay
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. We are speaking to you from the ultimate bunker within the structure of multiversal time. Do not trust Darius Dax. We are all going to die. SUPREME: BLUE ROSE. Re-introducing the central Image Comics character, with WARREN ELLIS and TULA LOTAY.
Ellis has constructed a structurally sound, crisp and clean call to adventure that folds seamlessly into a deceptively simple narrative. His writing anchors Lotay’s beautiful, vertigo-inducing artwork; ensuring that this story always has one foot in reality, while the other dips its toes into a dreamscape, where nothing is as it seems. The contrast of the streamlined story with the chaotic, organic illustrations creates a unique world, which Ellis populates with memorable characters.
We are introduced to Diana Dane, an unemployed investigative journalist, as a mysterious stranger in a dream issues the warning, “Don’t trust Darius Dax.” Mere panels later, Diana is offering herself up to Dax, as an oyster might offer themselves to a walrus, or perhaps, a carpenter. We learn that Dax is a powerful businessman, accustomed to getting what he wants, and in this case, he wants Diana to to investigate a strange happening in the small town of Littlehaven. In this moment, he offers her a solution to all her problems, giving her a chance to practice her craft, escape the drudgery of her life and become financially secure. Promising her $300,000 for her time, his offer demands her attention. However, the ominous warning from Diana’s dream makes her seem less of an Aladdin and more of a Faust as her wishes are granted.
Ellis suggests a desperation in Diana that makes her instantly sympathetic. She’s hungry for more than what life has had to offer thus far, and in her longing for escape we are given a chance to do so ourselves. As readily as we identify with Diana, we are willing to dislike Darius Dax. His arrogance and transparent manner of manipulation make it obvious that there are few redeeming qualities in this character. The writer’s characterization never feels contrived. Naturally integrating biography and personality into dialogue, we learn a great deal about each person we meet. The supporting cast members, Rueben and Noor, are well established; despite the fact that they are only given two pages each to make their impression. We are allowed to quickly learn their roles in the narrative, understand their temperaments, and learn a little about their personal histories in just a few short exchanges.
“Supreme Blue Rose” #1 establishes an undeniable tone of mystery. In this issue, we are presented with several pieces of the puzzle, so that we can be mesmerized as we watch them come together later in the series. From the outset, we are made to ask questions. The disorienting opening dream sequence reminds us that this story, though set in a familiar reality, is actually guided by otherworldly forces and a set of very high stakes. This dream tells readers that there is something special about Diana. Our uncertainty about what to believe is mirrored in her reactions to the extraordinary. She dismisses her prophetic dream as easily as she recalls it. Later, during her meeting with her ‘shadow,’ Rueben, she is as perplexed by his strange appearance and cryptic warnings as the audience is. This skepticism and confusion make Diana a perfect ambassador for this complex world.
All right y’all, I’m glad you’ve all stuck with me this long, but what is about to happen here may get a little, well, uncomfortable. The following paragraphs are going to be a full on Tula Lotay lovefest. In fact, this is between me and her, there’s no need for y’all to keep reading at all.Continued below
Seriously y’all, go away, I’m talking to Tula.[clears throat, begins again] Dearest Tula,
Your work in this book is extraordinary. Every creative choice you made comes together to create something so truly inspired and beautiful that it touches the summit of possibility for sequential storytelling. I am in love with this artwork.
You guys… stop, this is not for you. You can’t handle the love… Okay, fine. I’ll explain why the art is so great, as best I can, since you insist on sticking around.
In her illustration of “Supreme Blue Rose” #1 Lotay uses sparse fills and sparser backgrounds; allowing the reader’s mind to fill in the gaps. This forces the audience to become more invested in the story, as they are providing some of the detail themselves. Some scenes seem to float in a kind of barren dream space, while others swirl with emotionally evocative textures and colors.
In fact, Lotay’s visuals are constantly swirling. There is a dynamic energy in her work that uses organic line to move the eye through the issue. This effect might be achieved by allowing the wind to catch a character’s hair, or through chaotic lines scrawled in pencil across the entirety of a page. Those lines, a bold, but highly effective choice, extend beyond the borders of the panels, putting another layer of reality between the audience and what is happening within the story. These lines look like the kind of thing you might find in a library book, left by someone who was passionately striving to understand the text. These little roadmaps make this book feel like a relic, something precious that has already passed through someone else’s hands, rather than a window into this fictional reality. ‘This is a message to the audience, not merely a story to entertain,’ these lines say, ‘look here,‘ they demand, ‘don’t you see?‘ The color palette contributes to the book’s connection to antiquity, as well. Lotay uses tones one might find in a sun-faded, vintage family photographs in this issue. This creates a sensation of familiarity and personal remove. Like photos of our parents from before we were born, this all relates to us; though we aren’t quite part of the story yet.
Within the pages of this issue, the sign becomes greater than the signified. For example, early in the issue, Lotay renders the surface of the water being disturbed. In that rendering of a splash, we can see all the media and effort she used to create it. In that way, this is not a realistic representation, but on the other hand, it is one of the most accurate depictions of water in motion I’ve ever encountered. She’s not drawn the image, she’s captured the feeling. In that panel she has given us the schema for water, drawing all of our shared experiences and personal understandings together and forcing us to remember water, rather than sense it. This kind of expressive nuance drives home the theme, perception is not reality, that guides this issue.
“Supreme Blue Rose” #1 is a gorgeous book. Ellis’ writing is expertly paced and engaging. This invitation to join Diana on her journey unfolds easily, while holding its cards close to its chest and preserving the mystery that will propel the series forward. Paired with Lotay’s stunning visuals, this well crafted plot springs to life, and is elevated to another level of brilliance.
Final Verdict: 8.5 – The art alone is worth seeking out; the promising starting point for a great mystery is purely bonus.